The popular car tags of recent years have used the term “house divided” to point out the fact that members of a family may pull for two different college sports teams, but our residence on Saturday was briefly a house united in wildly cheering fashion.
My wife, Laura, and I went to the University of Georgia, so usually that is the only team being cheered for on Saturdays, although I am normally the only one of the two who gets a little carried away with excitement.
But this past Thanksgiving weekend, her son, Robert Whitelaw, and his wife, Michelle, and their family from the Oxford/Anniston area of Alabama were visiting. And guess what team they were cheering for while watching another game on another television set in another room?
That is right, Auburn.
Little did we know that we were all going to have an evening to celebrate and cherish as football fans for a long time.
I also did not know that a memorable scenario was going to unfold in both games.
As the Georgia-Georgia Tech game started, I was thinking how much respect I have for Georgia Tech under Paul Johnson. I never count them out, even though Georgia has managed to win all but one game in the rivalry in recent years.
However, I still felt confident – or mostly hopeful – that Georgia would win.
But you never know in college football, particularly in rivalry games. The day had already been magical, as I had watched Duke beat North Carolina, Ohio State hang on against Michigan, and Vanderbilt beat Wake Forest – all in games that came down to the final seconds.
When the Georgia game started, Georgia Tech was surprisingly completing passes with ease – even though the Yellow Jackets are known as a run-oriented team. They quickly went out to a 17-0 lead, and I could not believe it. Unfortunately, I slowly had to start accepting the fate that Georgia would probably lose.
With a tiny, basically unrecruited back named Robert Godhigh and the others inspiring even this Dawg fan, it looked like Georgia Tech might soon go ahead 24-0 in the second quarter. The game would definitely be over by then.
However, somehow Georgia was able to force a field goal, and the lead was only 20-0. I felt a tiny bit of relief that the lead was still no more than three touchdowns.
Trying to find some positive or hope in the situation, I started thinking back to my freshman year as a student at Georgia in 1978. That year I had stood in the student section of Sanford Stadium in Athens, and watched Georgia Tech go out to a three-touchdown lead, only to see fellow Georgia freshman Buck Belue enter the game in the second quarter.
He helped Georgia score a touchdown before the half, and he led the Bulldogs to a miraculous second half rally in a 29-28 victory that longtime fans of the red and black will never forget.
And yes, another new Georgia quarterback -- Hutson Mason, who was replacing the injured senior Aaron Murray – began settling down after a somewhat shaky start and helped Georgia score a touchdown with 34 seconds in the half to cut the score to 20-7.
Maybe the game could end just like in 1978, I thought to myself, obviously filling a little better as I walked our dog and checked in via phone with my father, Wayne Shearer, who also had gone to Georgia.
Georgia still had a chance, and that is all I wanted at that time.
Meanwhile, while taking occasional visits into the den to check on the other game, I learned that what I thought was a 7-7 game between Alabama and Auburn had turned into a 21-7 Alabama lead.
That game was moving more slowly than the one between Georgia and Georgia Tech.
In the second half, Georgia slowly continued its comeback at Tech’s 100-year-old Grant Field, and the sinking feeling I had experienced for most of the first half slowly disappeared.
The Georgia Tech lead had shrunk to 10 points, but the Yellow Jackets still tried a field goal to go ahead by 13.
Miraculously for Dawg fans, though, it was no good.
Later in the game,Georgia received the ball back and was able to score and tie the game, 27-27, with just over four minutes left.
I still feared seeing Georgia Tech score a late touchdown or field goal, and Georgia would not have enough time to come back.
However, somehow the Georgia defense held them, forced a punt, and time ran out.
Unbelievably, Georgia had come back to tie the game and force overtime.
Another quick walk into the den revealed that Alabama had gone ahead 28-21 on a long pass play to Amari Cooper from A.J. McCarron after the Tigers had mounted their own two-touchdown comeback in the second half.
I tried to be hopeful about Georgia as I settled in for the overtime, but I knew that you can never predict how overtime games will turn out.
Georgia Tech scored a touchdown to take a 34-27 lead in the first overtime, and my heart sank a little more.
However, Georgia, with running back Todd Gurley starting to look good, came back to tie the game. My spirits once again were lifted.
Meanwhile, a check of the Auburn game showed that the Tigers were trying to score and tie the game up late.
In the second overtime, Georgia received the ball first, and Gurley quickly pounded in a touchdown. I was ecstatic.
However, I realized that Georgia Tech would probably score a touchdown again, and we would be playing all night, much to my already tattered nerves.
But somehow Georgia forced a fourth down situation just outside the 5-yard line. I agonizingly watched as Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee threw a ball into the end zone.
It was deflected and batted into the air as fractions of seconds seemed like minutes. Would it be caught by Georgia Tech for a tying touchdown, and my heart would sink just like in the “immaculate deflection’’ loss against Auburn two weeks earlier?
No! Somehow, the ball fell to the ground, and Georgia won, 41-34, in two overtimes.
I could not believe the miraculous comeback as I let out a yell of sheer excitement.
After calling my father so we could say – or shout -- “Go Dogs” to each other, I quickly went into the den to watch the end of the Auburn-Alabama game.
In a bit of trickery typical of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall – who, like LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, started his career at Georgia – threw a touchdown pass to Sammie Coates with 32 seconds left to tie the game at 28-28.
But by the time I settled down after the euphoria of the Georgia victory, the officials were talking about whether Alabama still had one second on the clock to try a long, low percentage field goal.
The Auburn fans at our house – and probably everywhere -- were certainly hoping a second did not remain, as they did not want Alabama freshman kicker Adam Griffith from Calhoun, Ga., to have a chance, even though making a 57-yard field goal was unlikely.
But much to the chagrin of Tiger fans, Alabama was given a second on the clock.
Still, however, the odds were against it. And anything else happening on the kick was certainly not even on anyone’s mind.
As he kicked it, the ball came pretty close to reaching the goal. No one was completely sure until Auburn defensive back Chris Davis caught the slightly short kick one yard from the back of the end zone.
They were going to overtime, or so everyone thought. I thought he was going to quickly get tackled, as always seems to happen on those plays, and I would get to watch another overtime game – but in a much more relaxed manner, as I did not have a dog in this fight.
But then he continued running a little longer, and I became a little more interested. And then he kept running, barely avoided the out of bounds line, and then ran some more.
He was going to score a touchdown! I could not believe it. Auburn had won 34-28 over its bitter rival in its second miracle finish of the storybook season.
Robert and Michelle and their three children went wild with cheering, just as Laura and I had a few moments earlier. And I was cheering after that run, too, simply as a fan of college football.
It was a deliriously happy household as we all went out to eat afterward. Laura and I put on our Georgia sweatshirts, and the others had on their Auburn clothes.
Although the big smiles told the story anyway, the man at the counter of the restaurant – who was an admitted Tennessee fan -- asked sheepishly how our teams had done.
He, too, understood the magic of such games as those.
Sometimes I wonder why I, like a lot of people, care so much about college football and sometimes make it more important than it should be.
On this Saturday, however, I was glad I do.