Georgia hopes to black out the Crimson Tide

Published 7:52 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2008

ATHENS, Ga. – There’s no great mystery this time. Georgia will definitely be wearing black jerseys for its showdown with Alabama.

Still, the choice of colors is telling.

The third-ranked Bulldogs know how big this game is, even though the calendar hasn’t even flipped to October yet. This is their chance to start shaking out the hierarchy in the brutal Southeastern Conference, which has four of the top eight teams in this week’s Associated Press rankings.

The No. 8 Crimson Tide routed Clemson to start the season and blew out Arkansas last week in the SEC opener, giving every indication that second-year coach Nick Saban has this storied program back on track after a few seasons lost in the hinterlands.

Hoping to turn back the Tide, Georgia decided this was as good a week as any for a “blackout.” For just the third time in modern school history, the Bulldogs will be wearing black jerseys instead of their traditional red, and they’re urging all their fans to don the color as well for Saturday night’s nationally televised game.

“I’m a style guy,” cornerback Asher Allen said. “I like the black (jerseys). I like how they offset the red helmets. The red jerseys are more traditional, but the black just gives us a little extra spice. I like it. I really do.”

Coach Mark Richt isn’t concerned with making any sort of fashion statement. He just remembers what happened a year ago when he finally gave in to his players’ persistent appeals to wear black jerseys.

Heading into a crucial game against Auburn, Richt vaguely passed along a supposed request from the players that Georgia fans come dressed in black. When asked if the Bulldogs planned to wear the color as well, the coach kept saying the team had not ordered any such attire that week.

While he wasn’t lying, the straight-laced coach definitely fudged the truth. Richt had ordered the jerseys over the summer, but he only told his staff and the seniors. During the warmups before the game, the Bulldogs came out in red. The ruse continued when the captains came out ahead of the rest of the team, still dressed in red.

But they actually had on black jerseys underneath, and when the remaining players popped out of the tunnel in black, ol’ Samford Stadium rocked like it’s never rocked before.

“It was wild,” safety Reshad Jones said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

The underclassmen had only learned of the ploy minutes before the game. After warmups, they returned to the locker room for their usual routine of praying or meditating in the dark. When someone flipped the lights back on, the black jerseys had been placed on the back of their chairs.

It might have been the greatest motivational tactic of Richt’s career. There was no way the Bulldogs were losing that game. Even after Auburn surged ahead 20-17 early in the third quarter, Georgia responded with four straight touchdowns for a 45-20 victory.

“We were riled up,” Jones recalled.

Even without the element of surprise, the Bulldogs are still counting on the alternate jerseys to give them a little extra bounce in their steps. They wore black again in last year’s Sugar Bowl, a 41-10 rout of Hawaii that pushed Georgia up to No. 2 in the final AP poll.

“It’s definitely something that gets us going,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “We’re able to get the crowd involved. It’s something they can participate in. If they’re getting loud out there, it’s definitely going to get us going.”

After the success of last year’s blackout, Richt vowed to make it an annual tradition. He had planned on doing it later in the season, not wanting to send his players out in heat-absorbing uniforms until autumn started to cool things down a bit.

But his mind-set changed when Georgia-Alabama was scheduled as a night game, and the forecast showed temperatures were likely to be in the 60s by kickoff. Richt gave the go-ahead to wear black against the Crimson Tide, even though Georgia still has huge games left against both No. 4 Florida and No. 5 LSU, not to mention Auburn and Tennessee.

“I’ve always been kind of big on black,” Richt said. “It’s usually my color of choice.”

So, why was he wearing red for his Tuesday news conference?

“This was the only shirt I had in my closet today when I got up,” Richt said with a smile, making it clear he’ll have on black come Saturday.

Over in Tuscaloosa, Saban and his players shrugged off Georgia’s choice of jerseys.

“Those kinds of things, they only mean something if you let them mean something,” the Alabama coach said. “They have good football players. That’s what we’re concerned about. We’re not really concerned about how they’re dressed or what their uniform might be.”

Indeed, once the game starts and the initial excitement wears off, the color of the jerseys won’t be nearly as important as the players wearing them. Both sides agree on that.

“The black jerseys get the fans involved and get everybody excited leading up to the game,” Georgia receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said. “But more importantly, we still have to go out there and prepare this week. The black jerseys are not going to win the game for us.

“Black or red, I just want to win. It doesn’t really matter what we’re wearing.”