What Georgian football learned from Blockbuster Video that brought it back to the title game

LOS ANGELES – It was the top company in its field. Blockbuster dominated the home video market earlier this century, and there was no reason to believe it would go away. When the people running a fledgling competitor walked into Blockbuster’s offices sometime in 2000 and offered themselves for $50 million, the answer was no, we don’t want Netflix. It has gone down in history as one of the most disastrous business decisions of all time, an example of extreme hubris and an offseason lesson for the Georgia football team.

“Blockbuster became complacent. And Netflix has continued to grow,” Georgia defense attorney Javon Bullard said. “It’s the same with us. You cannot go back to where we are now with complacency.”

The lesson came through a presentation by Drew Brannon, a sports psychologist at Amplos Consulting assigned to work on the Georgia program. During a speech in the team briefing room, Brannon used the Blockbuster example when one of several organizations at the top assumed they were going to stay there, and so didn’t.

“How the mighty fall: We’ve studied that a lot,” said Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith. “That was one of the things we took in, to look inside ourselves and try to worry about ourselves before we worry about anyone else. Complacency and egos, self worries, me, me, me.”

And here is Georgia, back in the national championship, a win over TCU from being the first repeat college football champion in a decade.

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There are many reasons why Georgia is back in the title game: a very good offensive, a very good defense, the combination of great talent and coaching. But a big one is the behind-the-scenes thought process: Rather than resting on the laurels of the program’s first national title in 41 years, the offseason mantra was about staying. Be Netflix, not Blockbuster.

“It was a constant theme,” said defensive tackle Zion Logue. “We wanted to write our own destiny. Not to be seen as the same, not to be compared to last year’s team. We want to make our own narrative and I think we’ve done that all year, not just on defense but on offense as well. Just prove who we are every week.”

For many people, the story could have ended last year. Think of the many Georgia fans who were willing to sell their souls for a national title, who would trade 10 bad seasons just to celebrate this one big moment. The years of watching SEC rivals win titles — Florida three times, Auburn once and almost twice, Alabama so many times, even Tennessee — coupled with Georgia’s near misses had created a level of despair that comes with a huge exhale in Indianapolis on the night of 10/14/2022.

As a Georgia kid, Kirby Smart understood how to end the drought. But he also understood, after working all those years in Alabama, that it’s about consistency.

“I think Kirby is pushing that,” said offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “And when a head coach drives that, and he drives it for us, and he drives it to them, and then you hear them say those things later, then you know you’ve met them. But ultimately it’s the talent that does it. Because if you’re not talented enough, you can say all those things, but someone’s still going to hit you.”

Nobody has done that this year and Monken is right that talent is the main factor. But conversations with players this week revealed thoughts on how this Georgia team avoided the pitfalls of resting on laurels.

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Stetson Bennett finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. (Robert Hanashiro / USA today)

Stetson Bennett’s return for this season was a big deal for several players. The quarterback could have ridden into the sunset but instead came back and risked his legacy. That was a similar message to the return of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy that set the tone for the 2017 season.

“We wouldn’t be here without Stetson,” said Smith. “We’re playing great defence. But you have to have the drive and leadership that comes from the quarterback seat to play as a good football team. … Just the fact that people trust him and people who trust start buying into it. Just the fact that we have a great quarterback who’s buying himself into the program.

Smith has other strong thoughts. Smith, a senior who would have been drafted last year, returned and suffered a season-ending injury. He has remained with the team as the de-factor student assistant, leader, and unofficial conscience of the team. And on Saturday, national championship media day, he addressed another reason Georgia is here and others aren’t: Over-reliance on NIL deals, as Smith sees it.

“You see why programs are falling apart, they’re trying to put ZERO deals on things that just — it doesn’t make sense to me,” Smith said. “Realistically, if you’re an offensive player, guys make a lot of money on zero deals. But it’s a team sport, it’s a team game, you need 22 players to get to where we are right now. We can’t have 11 people worrying about making 15 bands ($15,000) a month and they’re going to be your starters.

Smith didn’t provide details on other teams, but his point was clear: Georgia was selfless. That’s perhaps easy to say now after the Bulldogs went 14-0. Victories usually keep teams together. But other players pointed to motivations behind all of these wins.

Kelee Ringo had the game-changing moment of last year’s championship and could feed off it for the rest of his life in Georgia. But he also knew that this wasn’t supposed to be the pinnacle of his career. He drew motivation from the idea that the team would have a drop-off. And then silencing any questions that arose over the course of the season.

“The doubters, how much they’ve told us that our chances are much less this year of being able to be in the same situation that we’re in right now,” Ringo said. “And constant doubting throughout the year: like the Tennessee game, the Ohio State game. And more than that, staying true to ourselves and knowing that we are better than some say.”

AD Mitchell hit the game-winning touchdown in last year’s national championship. He missed most of the season with a high ankle sprain but returned to play a full allotment in the Peach Bowl – where he also caught the game-winning touchdown.

As another national championship game approaches, Mitchell reflected on those offseason discussions.

“We’ve talked about how the powerful stay powerful and how the powerful fall,” Mitchell said. “The powerful stay powerful when they are humble, they keep working, they just keep their noses to the ground and keep working. They don’t look at the achievements they had. As is the mighty case, they become complacent. And that’s one thing about this team and the coaching staff, we always want to work, we always want to get better at everything we do.

Why did it resonate?

“Because we want to make history. We don’t want to be a one-shot miracle or anything,” Mitchell said. “We want to keep building and keep being great.”

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You may remember the mantra that kicked in at last year’s championship game: Burn the boats. That was also from a speech by Drew Brannon to the team before the rematch with Alabama. You are here and you don’t look back, Brannon told the Bulldogs, just as a 16th-century conquistador told his troops when they were fighting the Aztecs: The boats are burned, you cannot go, you must stay and fight together. When Georgia won, Smart and the players talked about it.

A few months later, Brannon was back in front of the team talking about blockbusters.

“It’s one thing to tell a story. It’s another to tell a story that matters and that our players will understand,” said Georgia defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. “Last year, burn the boats before going into the national championship game. Great and talented. That’s it, that’s it, that’s all we’ve got. But then changing the narrative here and there keeps our players interested. And it fits well with our team. And it’s a message that coach Smart wants to convey and I think it’s been great for us.”

Broderick Jones, Georgia’s left tackle, didn’t resonate well at the time, but as the season progressed he began to think more about it. There were a lot of other things mentioned, a few other examples, but Blockbuster Netflix was a way of telling it in a way that players could understand. The thrust of the message: Don’t live on a year.

“It’s starting to hit me a little bit more just because of the innovation, the opportunity to evolve,” Jones said. “I think that’s what I took away the most from just being able to keep evolving. I think it was a great thing to discuss. They talk about a lot of things, but that’s probably what impressed the most.”

It took a while for the idea of ​​playing it back to catch on in the Georgia fan base as well. When a gas station a few blocks from the squad’s facility posted “Dawgs Run It Back” in late November, it may have been the first in the Athens area to post the slogan. Everyone seemed to be still in the Indianapolis afterglow.

There was good reason to feel this way. Even some on the team, like kicker Jack Podlesny, remembered the feeling after the game: oh no, we’re losing all these not only great players, but great leaders too. It wasn’t until spring training that he realized they could be great again. And finally, Podlesny met the next stage of the process.

“It really built up the year before. First it was: How can we build the program the way we want it to be, and now it was: OK, how can we keep this up?” Podlesny said. “How do the mighty fall? We don’t want to be the powerful ones this fall.”

(Photo above: Brett Davis / USA Today)

https://theathletic.com/4069029/2023/01/08/georgia-football-national-championship-2/ What Georgian football learned from Blockbuster Video that brought it back to the title game

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