The line to get into the Georgia locker room as the confetti stopped falling inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium was almost as bad as the lines to get through the general admission gates an hour before kickoff, without the understandable excuse of the Secret Service clearing the way for the president. It got worse when Bulldogs senior tight end Jeb Blazevich attracted the attention of the first cameras into the locker room, choking off half of the entryway as he began to answer questions about what it was like to fall on the losing end of one of the best finishes to a college football national championship game since the turn of the century.

The reporters and questions were going to keep streaming in, though, because this was Atlanta and this was a crushing loss in a title game. Beat writers who had written about this Georgia team every day since August and local news reporters dropped into their first college football game of the year alike had no choice but to commit all their resources to the Bulldogs’ failed pursuit of a national title, unpacking how close a charmed season came to ending the way so few do for the Peach State’s most beloved teams. Alabama’s elation could wait.

That congestion may have given the Georgia players seated deeper in the locker room a few more moments to process Alabama’s smash-and-grab 26–23 overtime win, but not enough to make peace with it.

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Questions and answers were interrupted by intermittent loud slams of nearby metal lockers, a fitting accompaniment to the Bulldogs’ futile attempts to explain what had just happened.

Take the live audio of Jake Fromm, the freshman quarterback who staked his defense to a 13-point halftime lead and then couldn’t keep the offense rolling once Alabama surged to life down 20–7 midway through the third quarter: “The roller coaster of this game was, you know, crazy. The atmosphere was unbelievable. [Slam!] Guys played their hearts out tonight, and it just wasn’t in the cards for us tonight.”

Or the live audio of senior edge rusher Davin Bellamy, describing the final play of the season, a soaring 41-yard touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa to DeVonta Smith: “I was rushing, and they slid the protection, so it cut my angle off. [Tagovailoa] was a mobile quarterback, so I tried to [Slam!] move to the side, try to keep him from scrambling. [Slam!] He threw a bomb … and, you know, touchdown.”

Last-second heartbreak on the level of last year’s Falcons seemed nearly impossible for the first two hours of the 2018 title game as Georgia’s defense stifled Alabama’s Jalen Hurts-led offense, then nearly inevitable as the Crimson Tide got their sea legs, the Bulldogs stopped chewing clock and Nick Saban turned to Tagovailoa at the perfect time.

Andy Pappanastos’s missed field goal from 36 yards out as time expired proved to be a cruel tease, giving the 50,000-plus in red and black hope that the Bulldogs could find the same overtime magic they conjured up in an epic Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma one week prior. When Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship connected from 51 yards out to salvage the Bulldogs’ overtime possession, that hope intensified into belief. When Tagovailoa took an unforgivable sack for a 16-yard loss on the first play of Alabama’s possession, it boiled over into bare-faced optimism as fans tried to calculate how much ground Alabama had to make up to make a game-tying field goal attempt anything less than a prayer.

“After that first sack, you kind of felt like, ‘Two more plays, two more plays,’” Georgia defensive back Aaron Davis said. “But the next one was a heartbreaker.”

Then Smith blew by cornerback Malkom Parrish, safety Dominick Sanders didn’t slide over the top to help, and Tagovailoa made everyone in silver britches pay one last time.

Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

“It was completely on the defense,” Davis said. “Zero points at halftime, and then we gave up 20 in one half. If we’d won that second half, we would’ve won the game. If we’d won the fourth quarter, we would’ve won the game. And then we had another shot in overtime, and we weren’t able to do that. Still proud of the guys, proud of the effort that we showed throughout the entire game. We just didn’t execute when we needed it the most.”

“This was an incredible opportunity for the University of Georgia,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “But in overtime we didn’t finish when we had to, and Alabama did.”

As familiar as those closing lines may be for Davis and Smart’s audiences, they had to be recorded. Georgia heads into the future knowing exactly how painfully close it came to changing the script forever.

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