Atlanta Professional Soccer: Who Knew?

Sports historians date a form of the game of soccer, or football as the rest of the world calls it, to China about 2,000 years ago.  The first recorded sighting of the game in Atlanta came in 1912 when amateur players gathered at Piedmont Park to play.  Leagues began to form in the 1920s and 1930s and Emory University started the first collegiate program in 1958. The game remained secondary to other sports until 1966.  During that year the World Cup in England sparked worldwide interest in soccer and professional sports finally came to Atlanta with the inaugural seasons of the Braves and Falcons.  In fact, Braves Vice President Dick Cecil led the charge to bring a team to Atlanta Stadium because of the hope of additional revenue that the game could produce.   Cecil, with the blessing of other Braves owners, purchased a team to begin play in 1967 during the initial season of the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). The seeds of professional soccer in Atlanta were planted at this point.

One of Cecil’s first hires proved to be a home run when Phil Woosnam took over as general manager and coach.  Woosnam had played the game at the highest levels with English powers West Ham and Aston Villa.  With that pedigree, Woosnam knew the type of athlete he wanted in Atlanta and with the help and resources of Cecil, the two scoured Europe, Africa and the Caribbean to sign players for the new team, which took the name “Chiefs” because of its affiliation with the Braves.  After player tryouts at Emory, the Chiefs’ training facility, Woosnam settled on the final roster for the season.  The Chiefs finished with a 9-10-12 record and finished fourth in the East Division.  Attendance for the first year was almost 7,000 a game.  After the 1967 season the NPSL merged with the United Soccer Association to form the North American Soccer League (NASL).

Arguably, the pinnacle of professional soccer in Atlanta came in 1968.  The Chiefs began play in March and battled into September, finishing the regular season with an 18-6-7 record. The club then dispatched Cleveland and San Diego in the playoffs to claim the NASL championship. Yes, the Chiefs won the city’s first professional sports championship.

However, three brushes with international royalty may have been more exciting than the league championship.  First, the English Premier League champion Manchester City came to Atlanta Stadium in May.  Before more than 23,000 fans, the Chiefs shocked Manchester City and the world by winning 3-2.  Angry and embarrassed, Manchester players and management demanded a rematch.  A month later, the two teams met again before almost 26,000 patrons.  Proving the first outcome was no fluke, the Chiefs beat the lordly English team once again, 2-1.  All the English players could offer as an excuse after their second defeat was the Atlanta heat.

Emboldened by their European conquests, the Chiefs convinced the Santos Football Club of Brazil to play a match at the end of August.  Santos had a young star on the team by the name of Pele.  Before almost 27,000 delirious soccer nuts, Pele and Santos put on a show.  Behind the superstar’s three goals, Santos brought the Chiefs back to earth with a resounding 6-2 thrashing of the home team.  Still, the 1968 Chiefs finished 2 and 1 in international contests and won their league championship.  Unfortunately, the club could not sustain the momentum.

The Chiefs played before modest crowds of 3,000 to 5,000 fans from 1969 through 1972 and could not secure another championship.  At the end of the ’72season, Tom Cousins and the Hawks’ ownership bought the team. The Chiefs became the Atlanta Apollos and played at Bobby Dodd Stadium on the Georgia Tech campus for the 1973 season.  After one season, the franchise folded.  Yet, the Chiefs would re-emerge behind Ted Turner.

Turner purchased the Atlanta Braves in 1976 and Dick Cecil remained with the organization.  NASL began a comeback in the late 1970s when the New York Cosmos lured such international stars as Pele to compete for the team.  Turner and Cecil purchased NASL’s Colorado Caribous in August 1978 and the new team, renamed the Chiefs, began play in Atlanta Stadium during the 1979 season.  The team struggled on the field and with attendance through 1981, when the franchise folded.  The Chiefs also participated in NASL’s winter indoor league during the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons in the Omni.  Attendance for the indoor games was better than the league average but the combined revenue for the indoor and outdoor seasons could not save the team.

Professional soccer in Atlanta witnessed an array of teams dribble in and out of the city over the next 35 years.  The Georgia Generals played one season in 1982 before folding.  Seven years later, the Atlanta Attack played in an indoor league from 1989-1991 before moving to Kansas City.  From 1991-1996, the Atlanta Magic played indoors with the United States Indoor Soccer League and won three championships.  The team also participated three seasons in the league’s outdoor version. Keeping with Atlanta soccer tradition, the Magic folded after the 1995-96 indoor season.

The Atlanta Ruckus began play in the outdoor American Professional Soccer League (APSL) in 1995.  The APSL renamed itself the A-League in 1996 and the league took over operations of the Ruckus following that season.  In 1998, the team found new owners, who changed the team name to the Silverbacks in honor of Willie B., a silverback gorilla at the Atlanta Zoo.

The Silverbacks continued to play in the United Soccer League before moving to the new North American Soccer League for the 2010 season.  The team folded in 2016 but re-emerged as an entrant in the National Premier Soccer League for the 2017 season.

Women’s professional soccer waltzed into Atlanta in the form of the Atlanta Beat. They played in the Women’s United Soccer Association from 2001-03, before the league folded and again in the Women’s Professional Soccer league from 2009-11, before that league folded.

Even with professional teams coming and going, Atlanta has demonstrated a passion for soccer.  Atlanta boasts a diverse population of over 6.5 million people, many of whom are passionate about the game.  When soccer matches involving international teams came to the Georgia Dome in recent years, fans packed the building.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank realized the passion for soccer in Atlanta and purchased a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise for the city in 2014.  In its inaugural season in 2017, Atlanta United FC leads North America’s highest ranked professional league in attendance.

Will the passion for Atlanta United continue as the seasons accumulate or will the franchise fade away into oblivion like so many of its Atlanta predecessors?  As Dick Cecil stated in 2013, “Atlanta is a big-event town.  They like the big event, they like to see winners…It (Atlanta United) will be successful at first. But you have to work it (to maintain the market share).”

From its auspicious start in 1968 with the Chiefs through the Dark Ages of the 1970s-2000s to the Renaissance with Atlanta United, professional soccer in Atlanta has survived.  The bet here is that professional soccer will thrive and flourish in this diverse city for years to come.  A-T-L!  A-T-L! A-T-L!

 

 

Atlanta-Green Bay Playoff History

When the Atlanta Falcons and the Green Bay Packers meet on Sunday this will be their fourth match up in the playoffs.  This will be the first time meeting in the National Football Conference (NFC) Championship game.  Let’s take a look at the prior three contests, and at the end, you will see a link to the “Fly High” Falcons fight song.  Yes, the Falcons actually have a fight song.

The Falcons and the Packers first met in frigid Lambeau Field in Green Bay during the Wildcard round on December 31, 1995.  Green Bay entered the contest with an 11-5 record and as a 9.5 point favorite.  Atlanta’s record was 9-7.  With a temperature of 30 degrees and a wind chill factor of 25 degrees, Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre threw three touchdown passes, running back Edgar Bennett ran for an eight yard touchdown and Antonio Freeman returned a punt 76 yards for a score.  Atlanta quarterback Jeff George threw two touchdown passes, including a 65 yarder to Eric Metcalf, but also two costly interceptions as the Packers dispatched the Falcons, 37-20.

Atlanta and Green Bay met once again in Lambeau at night on January 4, 2003 in another Wild Card round meeting.  Green Bay came into the game as a 6.5 point favorite, and the temperature at kickoff was a balmy 31 degrees.   The Packers finished 12-4 during the 2002 season while the Falcons stood at 9-6-1.  Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick started his first playoff game and what an impression he made.  Vick threw for 117 yards and rushed for another 64 yards.  He threw one touchdown pass to Shawn Jefferson and committed no turnovers.  Atlanta also scored on a T. J. Duckett six yard run, Artie Ulmer’s one-yard return of a blocked punt, and a 23 yard Jay Feely field goal.  The Packers committed five costly turnovers, including three by Favre, in Atlanta’s 27-7 victory.  This marked the first time Green Bay lost a playoff game at Lambeau Field.

The most recent contest took place in the Georgia Dome on January 15, 2011 in the Divisional round.  Atlanta entered the game as the number 1 seed in the NFC playoffs with a 13-3 record during the 2010 season and as a 1.5 point favorite.  Green Bay made the playoffs as a wildcard entry with a 10-6 record during the regular season.  The story in this game was Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers completed 31 of 36 pass attempts for 336 yards and three touchdowns.  He also ran for a score.  The game was basically over at halftime as Green Bay scored 28 second quarter points, including a Tramon Williams 70 yard interception return off of an ill-timed pass from Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan on the last play of the quarter.  Ryan committed three turnovers in the game as Green Bay routed Atlanta 48-21 on their way to an NFL title.

The Packers have a 2-1 record against the Falcons in the playoffs, 1-1 in Lambeau Field and 1-0 in the Georgia Dome.  Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan will square off again Sunday afternoon for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LI in Houston.  This game will mark the last one for the Falcons in the Dome before they move into the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the 2017 season.  Las Vegas oddsmakers currently list Atlanta as a 5 point favorite with an over/under of 60 points.  So expect a lot of scoring in this game.  It’s time to Rise Up Atlanta!  Go Falcons!

 

As promised, here is a link to the Falcons’ fight song.

http://www.falconsroost.com/flyhighfalcons.mp3

 

 

Peach Bowl History

Courtesy UserB

Courtesy UserB

Atlanta’s Peach Bowl showcased its first game in 1968 and is the fifth oldest college bowl game behind the Rose Bowl (1902), the Orange Bowl (1935), the Sugar Bowl (1935), and the Cotton Bowl (1937).  The Peach Bowl joined the College Football Playoff (CFP) system in 2014 and is one of only six Bowl games that are eligible to host a national semi-final game or the national championship game.  The Peach Bowl is hosting this year the semi-final game between Alabama and Washington. When it’s not hosting the semi-finals or the championship, the Peach Bowl will host two of the highest ranked teams not in one of the four semi-final slots.  The bowl has come a long way since its meager beginnings.

The Peach Bowl originated as a fund-raiser for the Lions Clubs of Georgia but in its early years struggled with attendance, revenue, and bad weather.  The first three games (1968-1970) took place at Georgia Tech’s Grant Field and moved to Fulton County Stadium for the 1971-1992 games.  Since 1993 the Georgia Dome has been home to the Peach Bowl.  The game will move into the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium after the 2017 college football season when the Peach Bowl will host the CFP national championship game.

In a December 14, 2015 article by Corey Clark in the Tallahassee Democrat, Clark spoke with Peach Bowl President and CEO Gary Stokan.  Stokan stated that the bowl game’s Executive Director Dick Bestwick approached the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce after the 1985 game.  Bestwick told officials there that if Atlanta’s business leaders did not support the game through ticket purchases and sponsorships, the bowl would not survive.

With only 18 bowl games in existence at that time, the loss of the Peach Bowl would be a loss to the economic viability and reputation of the city, according to Stokan.  Ron Allen, head of the chamber and CEO of Delta Airlines agreed to support the Peach Bowl and gave a check to Bestwick for $100,000 to put the game on a sound financial foundation.  However, the weather still caused problems for the game until it moved into the Georgia Dome.

After the move to the Georgia Dome, Stokan and Peach Bowl officials brokered an agreement between the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) to play one another in the game and attendance improved.  Beginning with the 1997 game, Chick-fil-A, Inc. became the major sponsor and the bowl game became known as the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.  With the help of Chick-fil-A’s marketing expertise, the game became a sell out every year from 1997-2013.  From 2006-2013, the game shortened its name to the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

However, as part of the agreement with the CFP system, the game reverted back to its original Peach Bowl moniker.  CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock noted that the other bowls in the system—Rose, Cotton, Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta—all carried singular names without a corporate sponsor in the title and therefore, wanted all bowl names to be parallel.  In order to be compliant with the CFP mandate, the Atlanta game changed its name.

From a fund raiser for the Lions Clubs of Georgia to the College Football Playoff system, the Peach Bowl has indeed come a very long way.  Much credit must go to Gary Stokan and his staff and to Chick-fil-A, Inc.

Below are the Peach Bowl records for the current SEC and ACC schools:

SEC                                                                             ACC

Alabama                      0-0                                           Boston College             0-0

Arkansas                     0-0                                           Clemson                         3-5

Auburn                        4-1                                            Duke                               0-1

Florida                         0-2                                           Florida State                 2-2

Georgia                       3-2                                            Georgia Tech                 0-4

Kentucky                    1-1                                             Miami                             2-1

LSU                             5-1                                             North Carolina             2-3

Mississippi                 1-1                                            NC State                        4-3

Miss. State                  1-2                                            Pittsburgh                     0-0

Missouri                      0-0                                           Syracuse                        1-0

South Carolina            0-2                                          Virginia                         2-2

Tennessee                    1-4                                           Virginia Tech                2-2

Texas A&M                  1-0                                           Wake Forest                 0-0

Vanderbilt                   0-0-1

 

How Atlanta Became the Host City for the 1996 Olympic Games: Part 1, Capturing the USOC Nomination

 

 

399px-1996_Atlanta_Olympic_Games_Torch_(Replica)

With the immortal words from International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Antonio Samaranch on September 18, 1990—“The International Olympic Committee has awarded the 1996 Olympic Games to the city of…Atlanta.”—Atlanta had officially won its bid to host the centennial of the modern Olympic Games.  Billy Payne’s vision had become reality.  He had help, and plenty of it, from a wide assortment of business and political leaders and a throng of volunteers.  The journey was long and arduous but certainly worth it in the long run.

Payne, a real estate attorney, first thought of bringing the Olympic Games to Atlanta in 1987.  He believed that if he had the right help, Atlanta could secure the Games.  He summarized his thought process this way, “If you believe that if you surrounded yourself with enough talent, enough good friends, enough people willing to push or pull all in the same direction, there can be absolutely no limitation on what you can achieve.”

As a first step, Payne formed a non-profit group called the Georgia Amateur Athletic Foundation (GAAF).  This group would be tasked with bringing the Games to Atlanta. Payne also persuaded fishing buddy Pete Candler to join him.  Candler’s relatives played an instrumental role in the founding of the Coca-Cola Company.  Payne then took a leave from his law profession to become a full-time volunteer with the GAAF and also borrowed $1 million from friends using real estate holdings as collateral.  In a short amount of time Payne convinced other friends to join him as volunteers for the campaign.  All had strong leadership skills, influence, and most importantly, contacts, which could aid the effort.  The group became known as the Atlanta Nine.  Besides Candler, the group included Horace Sibley, a partner with powerful law firm King and Spalding and one who also had strong ties to Coca-Cola; Ginger Watkins, known for her work as a charity fund raiser and with the Junior League; Linda Stephenson, also known for her work with the Junior League; Cindy Fowler, who managed an event-organizing business; Tim Christian, a construction company executive; Charles H. Battle Jr., a gregarious Atlanta attorney; Charles Shaffer, another attorney with King and Spalding; and Bobby Rearden Jr., an Atlanta businessman.

As the group moved forward, they realized they needed someone who knew Atlanta but had the respect of influencers nationally and internationally.  Andrew Young, then the mayor of Atlanta, could not have been a better choice.  People from across the globe respected Young for his work as a United States congressman and Ambassador to the United Nations.  He also was a revered leader of the Civil Rights Movement and former head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  Young endorsed the GAAF proposal for the Games and would later prove instrumental in winning international support for the Atlanta bid.

With his team in place, Payne directed his attention to the first hurdle: the official United States Olympic Committee’s (USOC) endorsement of Atlanta as the United States representative in the battle for the Games.  Payne developed a personal touch strategy for the GAAF that would carry through the USOC bid process and the international process involving the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  The first example of Payne’s strategy came in September 1987 when GAAF members hand-delivered the formal bid to the USOC offices in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The other 13 United States cities bidding on the Games, including Nashville, San Francisco and Minneapolis mailed their bids.  While there Payne and his associates gave their presentation to the USOC board.  The GAAF produced a video entitled “Live the Dream,” which focused on Atlanta’s enthusiasm for the Games.  The video also delineated Atlanta’s strengths:  the international airport; existing sports venues; the construction of new venues such as a stadium for athletics (track and field), the Georgia Dome for basketball and gymnastics and a natatorium on the campus of Georgia Tech; existing facilities for the athletic village; over 60,000 hotel rooms; an extensive rapid rail and bus transportation system; experience in handling large amounts of people because of Atlanta’s extensive convention experience; and private funding sources through corporate sponsors, television rights, and ticket sales.

Payne’s personal touch strategy manifested itself again when the USOC sent 100 voting members to Atlanta in January 1988 before the official USOC Site Selection Committee’s visit.  The GAAF entertained the voting members in an Atlanta house, where they experienced an elegant and intimate dinner.  When the Site Selection Committee visited in February, the GAAF took the group to all existing facilities, the different sites for the new venues, meetings with local political leaders, and a lunch hosted by the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce attended by prominent business leaders.  Upon leaving Atlanta the Committee told the GAAF that they were impressed with the group’s attention to detail, the overwhelming business and community support, and the overall enthusiasm for the Games.  The only negative cited was the city’s limited amateur athletic experience.

The possibility existed that the USOC would not recommend any city for the 1996 Games because Los Angeles hosted the Olympics in 1984 and the USOC was unsure if any American city could get the international nod so soon after LA.  However in March, the USOC moved forward with the process and cut the field from 14 to 2—Atlanta and Minneapolis.  Payne and the GAAF began preparations for the final presentation to the USOC Executive Board in April in Washington, DC.

The GAAF intensified their lobbying efforts.  They mailed each board member the formal Bid Proposal, hosted members in Atlanta to view competition sites, and met with national and international sports federation officials.  If the GAAF could not meet personally with board members, the group wrote personal notes, made phone calls or both.

Payne further exhibited his personal touch strategy by renting the famous Kalorama mansion in Washington.  By this time, Andrew Young was fully invested in securing the Games for Atlanta, and he, Payne and other GAAF volunteers greeted USOC board members in the mansion while a 10-piece string ensemble entertained them.  The next day, Young, Payne and Georgia Governor Joe Frank Harris reiterated Atlanta’s strengths to the board.

The USOC board carefully considered the city’s organizing ability, enthusiasm for the Games, venues, hotels, large airport, rapid transit system, and the capability of handling thousands of people for the duration of the Games.  These attributes pushed the city ahead of Minneapolis and compelled the USOC board to award their nomination to Atlanta.  Young, Payne and the rest of the GAAF had cleared the first hurdle.  Now they must convince the international community that Atlanta would be a worthy host for the centennial of the modern Olympic Games.

 

Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints Rivalry

 

Atlanta_Falcons_white_wordmark

206px-New_Orleans_Saints.svgThe National Football League (NFL) has its share of rivalries, including Dallas-Washington, Chicago-Green Bay, and Cleveland-Pittsburgh.   Yet arguably the one with the most vitriol between fan bases is the Atlanta-New Orleans rivalry.  At these games, fans have yelled obscenities at the opposing fans, fought opposing fans, and even attempted to urinate on opposing fans. Before looking at some series statistics and a review of some of the games in this blood feud, an explanation of why the rivalry exists is warranted.

The franchises came into the NFL one year apart, Atlanta in 1966 and New Orleans in 1967. Both cities reside in the Deep South and are about seven hours driving time from one another. The teams have played each other twice a year since 1970, except in the strike-shortened 1982 and 1987 seasons. Both have competed in the same divisions in the National Football Conference since 1970. Geographic proximity, twice-a-year contests, and direct competition for division titles and playoff berths tend to produce rivalries.

Atlanta leads the series 49-43, but New Orleans has won 13 out of the last 17 games. The Falcons are 24-21 against the Saints in Atlanta and 25-22, including a playoff game in 1991, in New Orleans and San Antonio (one game in 2005 because of Hurricane Katrina). New Orleans’ longest winning streak is six in the series while Atlanta’s is 10. Both teams have won five division championships, one conference championship, and have appeared in one Super Bowl. New Orleans has one NFL Championship by virtue of its 2010 Super Bowl (XLIV) win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The rivalry has produced some memorable games. In 1970 the two teams were placed in the same division for the first time and the start of two-games-against-the-other every season commenced. The series began to create some bad blood between the two division brothers in 1973 when the Falcons administered the worst Saints defeat in their history with a 62-7 drubbing at the old Tulane Stadium.

Both games in 1978 came down to the wire. With Atlanta trailing New Orleans in the Superdome with 19 seconds left, Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski threw a Hail Mary pass towards the end zone that was tipped by Atlanta receiver Wallace Francis into the hands of teammate Alfred Jackson for a 20-17 Atlanta victory. Two weeks later in Atlanta, the Falcons, down 17-13 at their own 28-yard line with 53 seconds to go, witnessed Bartkowski drive the team down the field and into the end zone with only five seconds left for another 20-17 victory.

In the only postseason encounter between the franchises, Atlanta defeated New Orleans in the Superdome 27-20 in the Wild Card playoff round. Falcons quarterback Chris Miller hit receiver Michael Haynes for the go-ahead 61-yard touchdown with just under three minutes left in the game.

New Orleans re-opened the Superdome on September 25, 2006 against Atlanta after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Before a delirious crowd and a national television audience, the Saints dominated the Falcons, 23-3. In the first quarter, New Orleans safety Steve Gleason blocked a punt that teammate Curtis Deloatch recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Atlanta could produce very little offensively the rest of the game. The contest became the highest-rated program in the history of ESPN. In July 2012, a statue of the Gleason punt block was erected outside the Superdome. Entitled “Rebirth,” the statue represents the resilience of the New Orleans people after the destruction rendered by Hurricane Katrina.

During the Saints’ Super Bowl season of 2009, the teams met again on Monday Night Football in the Superdome. After the first quarter, Atlanta led 14-7, but the Saints scored 21 second-quarter points to take command. Behind quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons rallied but saw their hopes dashed by a late fourth quarter Ryan interception at the New Orleans five-yard line. The Saints held on for a 35-27 victory.

During the 2012 season, the Saints came to Atlanta three weeks after giving the Falcons their first loss of the season, 31-27, in New Orleans. As the Saints players, coaches, and staff prepared to leave the airport in a charter bus, airport workers threw eggs at the bus. Possibly inspired by the actions of the soon-to-be unemployed workers, the Falcons intercepted Saints quarterback Drew Brees five times on the way to a 23-13 win.

Brees and the Saints gained a measure of revenge during a Thursday night nationally-televised encounter with the Falcons in the Georgia Dome in 2013. Brees threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham and a one yarder to back up tight end Benjamin Watson for a 17-13 Saints victory. Brees surpassed Warren Moon for fifth place on the all-time career passing list after throwing for 278 yards against the Falcons.

No matter the records, games between the Falcons and Saints bring out the best in both teams and the worst in the two fan bases. For the “Who Dat?” Nation and the “Rise Up!” throng, no victory is sweeter than the one against their bitter rivals.

Alabama-Georgia Gridiron History

CrimsonTideAlogo

Courtesy of Beussery at English Wikipedia

Courtesy of Beussery at English Wikipedia

While the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia do not play football against the other every year, the games seem to have conference and national implications when they do meet. In 2015, both schools rank highly in the Coaches’ Poll, Georgia sixth and Alabama 11th.  Alabama lost to Ole Miss earlier this season and another loss would keep the Tide out of the college football playoffs. Georgia wants to remain undefeated, thereby keeping alive its goals of conference and national championships. The game will mark the 67th meeting between the two schools; Alabama leads the series 37-25-4 while averaging 16.5 points per game to Georgia’s 12.1.

The series dates back to 1895 when Georgia defeated Alabama 30-6 in Columbus, Georgia. Alabama earned its first victory over the Bulldogs in a 1904 game in Tuscaloosa with a 16-5 victory. The two schools, between 1895 and 1930, played in six different cities—Athens, Atlanta, Birmingham, Columbus, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa. Interestingly, Georgia was Alabama’s first opponent in the Birmingham Fairgrounds (1905), Cramton Bowl (1922) in Montgomery, and Legion Field (1927) in Birmingham.  Alabama was the home team for 21 of the first 25 games. Beginning in 1934, the schools began a regular home-and-home series.

Many of the games have been memorable. Joe Namath made his debut against the Bulldogs in 1962, a 35-0 win at Legion Field. Georgia executed a hook-and-ladder play to defeat the Tide in 1965 in Athens by the score of 18-17. Alabama quarterback Jay Barker dueled with Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier in the 1994 game won by the Tide in Tuscaloosa, 29-28, and Georgia kicker Billy Bennett hit a game-winning field in 2002 for Georgia’s first victory in Tuscaloosa, 27-25. The last time the Bulldogs and Tide met in Tuscaloosa, 2007, Matthew Stafford hit Mikey Henderson for a 25-yard touchdown in overtime to lift Georgia to a thrilling 26-23 victory.

Yet arguably the greatest game in the series, and the one with the most at stake for the teams, took place in 2012 during the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship game in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  Alabama was ranked second in the polls while Georgia was third. The Tide took a 10-7 lead into halftime behind a Jeremy Shelley field goal on the last play of the half. The game appeared to be a tough SEC defensive battle, then the second half unfolded as an offensive display of power from the two behemoths. Georgia took the second half kickoff and marched down the field.   Bulldog running back Todd Gurley ran the ball seven times, including the final three yards. Georgia led 14-10. Next, the Tide held the ball for more than five and a half minutes before calling on Cade Foster to boot a 50-yard field goal, but Georgia’s Cornelius Washington blocked the kick and teammate Alec Ogletree returned the ball 55 yards for a touchdown. Georgia led 21-10. Alabama then drove the field behind the passing of quarterback AJ McCarron and the running of T.J. Yeldon.  Yeldon bulled his way the final 10 yards to the end zone and carried again for the 2-point conversion that pulled Alabama within 21-18.

After Georgia punted on its ensuing drive, Alabama used running backs Eddie Lacy and Yeldon to march to the Georgia one-yard line as the third quarter ended. On the first play of the final period, Lacy covered the final yard that gave the Tide a short-lived 25-21 lead.

During Georgia’s next possession, quarterback Aaron Murray hit receiver Tavarres King for 45 yards and Gurley scored from the 10-yard line to put Georgia back ahead, 28-25. The drive took less than two minutes.

McCarron gave Alabama the lead for good at the 3:15 mark after a 45-yard scoring strike to Amari Cooper. Down 32-28, Georgia summoned the red and black spirits of past gridiron greats and marched back down the field through and over the Tide defense. Murray hit Arthur Lynch for 15 yards, then 23 to King, and again to Lynch for 26. The ball rested at the Alabama eight-yard line as the clock ticked down and the Bulldogs out of timeouts. With nine seconds to play, Murray dropped back looking for the end zone and a victory that would go down as one of the greatest in Georgia history. Instead, a defender tipped Murray’s pass and Chris Conley caught the ball before falling at the five-yard line. As Murray hurried his teammates to the line for another play, the clock struck zero. Alabama escaped and later destroyed Notre Dame for the national championship.

The 67th installment of this great series takes place Saturday “Between the Hedges” in Sanford stadium in Athens. Odds are that fans on both sides will be breathing heavily and have hearts racing by game’s end.