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Georgia eager to carve out new legacy vs. Alabama

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Georgia eager to carve out new legacy vs. Alabama

ATLANTA (AP) The national championship could be decided with a dream matchup between two of college football's most storied programs: Notre Dame vs. Alabama.

Of course, Georgia might have something to say about that.

The third-ranked Bulldogs are eager to wake up some echoes of their own.

Coach Mark Richt's team will take on No. 2 Alabama in a Southeastern Conference title game that essentially serves as a national semifinal. The winner of Saturday's contest at the Georgia Dome will surely land a spot against top-ranked Notre Dame in the BCS title game at Miami on Jan. 7.

While Alabama (11-1) is a seven-point favorite to remain on course for its third crown in four years, Georgia (11-1) wants to carve out its own legacy, something beyond the great teams of the early 1980s led by Herschel Walker.

``We respect and honor those guys that played ahead of us, but we really need to give the fans something else to talk about,'' linebacker Christian Robinson said. ``If that's all we have to talk about, we must not be doing anything special.''

Georgia won its only Associated Press national title in 1980, Walker's freshman year. The Bulldogs were in position to win another two years later, the running back's final season between the hedges, but Penn State knocked them off in the Sugar Bowl.

In an interesting twist, Walker announced this week that he'll soon be opening a restaurant in Athens after the first of the year.

By then, the Bulldogs hope they've cooked up another national title.

All those who've come along since Walker will be cheering on this team, including Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. He played at Georgia in the late `90s and planned to give the Bulldogs a pep talk by phone.

``We can't let this one slide,'' Bailey said. ``This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities because I'm tired of people talking about Herschel Walker. That was 30-something years ago. There's been a lot of things happen between now and then, but no championships. That's why they still talk about him.''

Indeed, even though Georgia finished No. 2 in the AP rankings in 2007, this is the best shot at finishing No. 1 since the Walker era. If the Bulldogs win the next two games, they're the champions.

``We're hungry,'' Robinson said. ``We've got something to prove.''

So does Alabama.

A year ago, the Crimson Tide didn't even make it to Atlanta for the SEC championship game - LSU won the Western Division - but Alabama got a do-over against the Tigers for the BCS title. Even with a resounding 21-0 victory, there are still those who think the Tide didn't deserve a second chance after losing to LSU in the regular season.

If Alabama beats Georgia and Notre Dame, no one can say the Tide didn't earn it, despite an upset loss to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.

``There is a lot more pressure, but that is what we like,'' running back Eddie Lacy said. ``You come to Alabama to be in situations like this and play in games like this.''

The SEC finalists are remarkably similar on paper.

- Georgia's Aaron Murray is the nation's top-rated passer, just ahead of Alabama's AJ McCarron.

- The Crimson Tide has a dynamic running back duo with Lacy (1,001 yards, 14 touchdowns) and freshman T.J. Yeldon (847 yards, 10 TDs). So does Georgia with a pair of freshmen, Todd Gurley (1,138 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Keith Marshall (720 yards, eight TDs.)

- Each squad has lost a couple of key receivers to injuries.

- Alabama leads the nation in points allowed (9.2 per game) and total defense (233.7 yards). Georgia has been just as stout since senior safety Shawn Williams called out his defensive teammates before a big game against Florida, accusing them on playing ``soft.'' Over the last five weeks, the Bulldogs have surrendered just 43 points.

``This matchup is right on,'' Georgia receiver Tavarres King said. ``These are two great teams, two physical teams, that get after it every Saturday. It should be a fun game.''

Alabama has played in plenty of epic contests over the last five years, and coach Nick Saban is one of the best at preparing his players for these sort of pressure-packed settings.

In fact, from the way the Crimson Tide was talking all week, this is no big deal.

``Just another game,'' McCarron said. ``That's the biggest thing everyone just needs to remember. Don't make the game bigger than what it is. Just another Saturday.''

This is still rather new for the Bulldogs.

Over Murray's first two seasons as the starting quarterback, Georgia failed to beat a team in the Top 10. That steak continued in the only loss this season, a 35-7 blowout at South Carolina. But a 17-9 victory over then-No. 3 Florida propelled the Bulldogs to the top of the SEC East, and a favorable schedule helped keep them there.

``Before that Florida game, nobody thought we could win a big game,'' Robinson said. ``Well, we did that. So we can mark that off and go on to something else - winning a championship.''

This game will likely be decided in the trenches, especially by the performance of Georgia's young offensive line.

The Bulldogs have a sophomore at center (David Andrews) and a freshman at right tackle (John Theus), so they could have their hands full trying to control an Alabama front that is so dominating, not much blitzing is required to get pressure on the quarterback and clog up the running lanes.

But the Crimson Tide was exposed a bit in a last-minute win over LSU and the shocking loss to the Aggies, giving up more than 400 yards in each game. Georgia will be counting on Murray to finally come up big on the biggest stage, a goal that has eluded him during his record-breaking career in Athens. He was awful against South Carolina, completing just 11 of 31 for 109 yards. He threw three interceptions against Florida, but the defense bailed him out.

Showing how much this game meant, Murray - normally one of the most media-friendly players on the team - has done no interviews since a 42-10 win over Georgia Tech last weekend.

Alabama will have to keep an eye on Jarvis Jones, a terror in Georgia's 3-4 defense. Despite being nagged by injuries and missing two games, the junior linebacker has 10.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He is up for numerous national awards and perhaps has a chance to earn his way to New York for the Heisman ceremony if he comes up huge against the Crimson Tide.

``You certainly have to have a plan to try and help the players that have to block him, so hopefully he can't just get in one-on-one situations where it's a difficult circumstance for somebody,'' Saban said. ``There have been games this year where he has made a phenomenal amount of plays, like sacks and causing fumbles. The guy is probably one of the best defensive players in the country in terms of his play-making ability.''

Jones and his teammates want to show they match up well with a team such as Alabama.

And mess up that dream matchup in Miami, for good measure.

``All you hear is Bama this, Bama that,'' cornerback Damian Swann. ``We know we're just as good as them, if not better.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

What winning the Stanley Cup would actually mean, a fan's perspective

Just four more wins. It hardly seems possible.

For only the second time ever and for the first time in 20 years, the Capitals will be playing in the Stanley Cup Final. And they could actually win it.

They’re not there yet. The Vegas Golden Knights have cruised through the playoffs thus far and continue to shock the hockey community with their postseason run. Washington’s players need to think about how to beat Vegas, not what happens after.

But while the players cannot and should not look ahead, for fans, it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to dream about that moment when Gary Bettman hands the Stanley Cup over to Alex Ovechkin.

Winning the conference is always a huge achievement that should be celebrated, but this year is different than 1998’s run. Back in 1998, the Caps played against a Detroit Red Wings team that is one of the greatest teams in NHL history. They were the defending champions after sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers the year before. Washington suffered the same fate as the Flyers, losing in just four games.

This year is a battle between two more evenly matched teams. Picking the Caps to win this series is not outlandish or crazy at all. This year, they could actually do it.

So before the puck drops for Game 1 and all dreams are pushed aside for the realities of what may happen, allow a fan a chance to think about what seeing the Washington Capitals actually hoist the Stanley Cup would actually mean.

Breaking news: Washington is not Canada and the Capitals are not an original six team. Hockey is not ingrained in the culture of D.C. the way it is in Canadian cities or in places like Boston and Detroit. Unlike in Vegas where the success of the team in its inaugural season has caught the city by storm, the Capitals won only eight games in their first year. Eight wins doesn’t exactly help a team grow roots in the community.

If you’ve been a fan of the Capitals long enough, chances are you’ve seen some pretty tough times. There have been plenty of playoff disappointments in this team’s history even before the current era. There was also the rebuild that began before the lockout that saw a very bad team play in front of a half empty stadium for several years. And they would not have even gotten to that point without the “Save the Caps” campaign in 1982.

But through it all, that small group of hardcore fans kept coming back. Some may have wavered from time to time, but they came back because being a hockey fan is different than other sports.

It’s hard to be a sports fan in any city with an NFL team and not follow football. Football may not even be your sport, but there is almost on obligation to following it because coverage and interest in football is so prevalent. It’s hard to avoid.

You have to seek out hockey

Hockey at times has been viewed as more of a niche sport than mainstream. Before the age of Alex Ovechkin, if you were from Washington and you were following the Caps, it was because you loved both.

So why did those Caps fans keep coming back after so much heartbreak? Because despite all of the disappointing seasons we always walked away telling ourselves, this will just make it that much sweeter when they do win.

One day, it will all be worth it.

That’s why we watch sports, isn’t it? We watch with the knowledge that sometimes, our hearts will be broken but it’s OK because the good will always outweigh the bad. And the worse the bad times are, the better the good times will feel afterward.

We kept telling ourselves that for a long time, but admittedly some years were tougher to get past than others. It’s hard to keep believing when you’ve seen your rival beat you nine times out of 10 in the playoffs heading into this year’s postseason. It’s hard when a team cannot seem to overcome its playoff history despite having one of the best players of all-time on its roster.

When Ovechkin was drafted, the question we all asked ourselves was not whether he would bring a Cup to Washington, but how many? He brought new fans with him, he brought excitement with him, he brought validation with him…at least initially.

But with every passing year, doubt began to creep into our minds. The upset loss to Montreal in 2010 stung, but Ovechkin was still 24. There was still hope that one day, he would still win the Cup.

Now at 32 years old, many did not know what to expect from the Great 8 this year. When would decline start to show in his game?

Ovechkin is part of why we want the Cup so badly. We want to see the best player in this franchise’s history honored. We want to see the player who transformed hockey in Washington from niche sport to mainstream take his proper place in the sport’s history. No one wants to hear him described as one of the best players to never win a Cup because he should be remembered as one of the best players, period.

But that’s not all of it.

This is about all those times we told ourselves this would all be worth it someday. This is about how we used to cope with the sting of another postseason heartbreak by thinking about what it would feel like when it was finally our year. This is about how we stuck with the team when the stadium was half empty. This is about the blue jersey in our closet with the eagle on the front and the black one hanging next to it with the capitol building on the front. This is about all the 5, 12, 32 and 37 jerseys. This is about replacing Esa Tikkanen as our lasting Stanley Cup memory.

When the Washington Redskins have a rough year, those fans who can remember them think about those three Super Bowl wins. When the Washington Wizards fall short, those fans who can remember it think about the championship in 1978. Even if you’re too young to remember the Super Bowls or NBA championship, those banners still give your team a sense of validation. They have their little piece of history to be proud of.

That’s what this would mean. A Stanley Cup would be not just for the players, it would be for the fans who stuck it out through thick and thin, those fans who despite everything still supported their team. This win would be about the Capitals forever earning their spot in the heart of Washington sports alongside the Redskins and Wizards.

This would be about never having to tell ourselves again that someday all the love we pour into this team will pay off.

A Stanley Cup would mean finally getting to experience a championship and realizing, yeah, it was all worth it.

Let’s go Caps!

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Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One Bank just made a Caps-themed update to its logo and we're here for it

Capital One is repping the district in a big way: by changing their logo to incorporate the Capitals' font and name. 

The new Capital One logo appears on the bank's websites and social media ahead of the Caps' Stanley Cup Final games, which begin on Memorial Day Monday in Vegas.

The McLean, Virginia, based bank recently purchased the naming rights to the Capitals' home arena, formerly known as "Verizon Center." And in the first year of its renaming, the Capitals have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. Coincidence? 

We've seen a small, Northern Virginia town change its name to "Capitalsville," and now Capital One Bank is all-in for the Caps.

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