Sometimes an underdog story comes right out of the chalk. Sometimes Cinderella and her unfathomable magic glows not for a team that wasn’t supposed to triumph, but for an individual who impossibly became part of the team that was.
Sometimes, there’s a guy like Stetson Bennett IV, except that there isn’t really, not exactly like him anyway, not when this young man of unassuming excellence had to be a footballing miracle-worker just to become Georgia’s quarterback, never mind everything he’s done since.
What he’s done is to spin two straight national championships for a Bulldogs program that hadn’t claimed one in four decades, the second arriving on Monday night courtesy of an absolute whupping of TCU, 65-7.
It’s the sort of success that normally leads to wide-scale copycatting, but that won’t happen in Bennett’s case. He’s too unusual, the path too homespun and hinged on old school values for that. He is the outlier of outliers, the throwback of all throwbacks in these rapidly changing times of NIL, and the portal, and expansion.
It was TCU, the Big 12 upstart, that was supposed to be the season’s Cinderella, coming in as a sizable underdog after 12 wins, a single blip, then a semifinal victory over Michigan.
Sorry Sonny Dykes, value bettors, SEC-haters, Max Duggan and neutral romantics, that wasn’t going to be. Bennett wasn’t going to allow it.
And while the night took on the feel of a resolute round of bullying, the teensiest bit tough to watch at times, the architect of the shellacking was a player whose route to college football‘s biggest game was from way, way beyond the boondocks. Too out there for a plausible script. Like Rudy if Rudy had played every game, been a Heisman finalist and yeah, won a pair of championships.
You probably know the Bennett story by now, but it’s the kind of tale that doesn’t get old, even as Bennett gets older, positively ancient for an elite college QB at 25. He wasn’t a preferred option for major programs, the only offer coming from Middle Tennessee, so, because he is from Blackshear, Ga., and loved Georgia and only ever wanted to play for Georgia, he walked on in Athens.
Kirby Smart liked what he saw from his attitude and spirit and loved how well he imitated Baker Mayfield for the scout team, but that wasn’t going to stop the head coach from bringing in a star, Justin Fields for the 2018 season, so Bennett headed to Jones County Junior College – in Ellisville, Miss. – to get some playing time.
He did well there, and that’s when things started to get strange. He transferred back to Georgia (who does that?) waited his turn, beat out a slew of five-star recruits and got the job in 2021.
He knew how much he loved Bulldog life but also discovered that he liked winning enough to keep doing it for as long as he possibly could. Including this campaign, as a sixth-year senior born in the same year as Lamar Jackson, and just a couple of months older than Kyler Murray, who now have nine years combined NFL experience between them.
Those guys might soon earn close to $100 million a year between them and there is no perceived likelihood Bennett will join them at that lofty level. What he does have, stashed in his memory forever, is possession of a college career straight from his dreams, an outrageous fantasy that somehow came true.
It ended with a timeout called for one purpose only, to give him a curtain call with 13:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, after a breathless night of four thrown touchdowns and two more with his feet.
Everything he did worked. His throws were laser-guided, his vision completely in tune, his legs swift and spritely.
The reason Bennett did what he did, not just at SoFi Stadium, but across his career, is because his greatest attribute is an ability to win, and there’s no need to dissect it much further than that. There are bigger, stronger, faster and more heavily biceped guys, plus some whose throwing range will lend itself far better to Sunday football.
Georgia, now unquestionably the sport’s present behemoth, didn’t want anyone else.
They wanted Bennett’s effort level, his relentlessness, his workflow, his heart, his “glue-guy” leadership, his passion for the program and his contagious enthusiasm, so keen to be involved in everything that he was also the team’s holder.
Back to the copycatting; just forget about it. Loyalty and love don’t run this deep anymore. When guys don’t play, they leave. When they leave, they don’t come back. When they win, mostly, they depart for a payday.
Bennett wasn’t like that. Don’t go looking for a clone for your team. They don’t exist.
The joke going around, and no one is quite sure if it is a joke or not, is that Bennett, sooner or later, is going to own one or several Georgia car dealerships. Before then, he may project as an NFL backup. He might, it’s possible, have played his last game of football.
His time is now. His story is his, and his only. It is one to be enjoyed, not because it is the start of a trend, but precisely because it is not.
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