ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — When Larry Farmer walked into UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion for the first time, his gaze quickly turned toward the rafters.
It was impossible to miss all those championship banners.
“I immediately knew that was the standard,” Farmer recalled Friday. “It was right there in plain sight. Second or third wasn’t really the goal.”
As Georgia begins its quest for an unprecedented three-peat in college football, those who have been there before can provide some helpful perspective on what it takes to keep winning titles year after year after year.
Farmer is one of those, claiming championships during all three of his varsity seasons at UCLA. So is Denis Potvin, who played for the last NHL team to capture more than two rings in a row.
Potvin, a Hockey Hall of Famer, can still remember the fear that those mighty New York Islanders teams of the early 1980s brought out in their opponents.
“When you play so close — face to face, nose to nose — against the opponent, I’m not going to say it’s a smell, but there’s a sense,” Potvin said from his South Florida home. “I’ve lined up against guys who I knew were shaking, whether they were so nervous or just in awe.”
That’s just the sort of trepidation Georgia hopes to bring out in its opponents — coach Kirby Smart calls it being the hunter instead of the hunted — and TCU certainly gave the impression of being helpless prey when the Horned Frogs were blown out 65-7 in last season’s national title game.
Now, the Bulldogs have a chance to do something that’s never been done in The Associated Press poll era, which goes back to 1936.
This is the 12th time a school has held the crown in back-to-back years, but none of those previous 11 could complete the three-peat.
Smart brushes off any attempt to use the chance at making history to inspire his players, figuring that’s the surest way to ensure it doesn’t happen. His goals are firmly rooted in the day-to-day grind. He’s not thinking about next week, much less four months down the road. He’s certainly not harping on what happened the last two seasons.
“I just don’t believe philosophically in doing that because what the previous two teams did has no bearing on this team,” Smart said this week, looking ahead to the season opener Saturday against Tennessee-Martin. “You don’t inherit practice habits. You don’t inherit standards. You set them.”
“Our practices were very consistent. Our preparation each week was very consistent,” Farmer recalled. “There were games where we were really good, and even games where we weren’t as good, you definitely had to be at your best to beat us. Anything less was not going to get it done.”
Potvin, who was captain of the Islanders during their streak of four straight Stanley Cup titles from 1980-83, said any team that wants to hang on to its championship must have strong leadership from the players.
Smart talks about this often. He will praise players who set a tone for everyone else with their work ethic. He will gush about an athlete who has become more vocal around his teammates, letting them know what is and isn’t acceptable between the hedges.
“As the captain, it was very important when I got on the ice that every one of my teammates see I was into it,” Potvin remembered. “I was hitting somebody. I was creating offense. I was doing some good defensive plays. The first 45 seconds of the game was motivation for me. I’ve knew I had to get through it in a big way visually, for my teammates, because that’s what they wanted to see.”
Smart has often opined that the Bulldogs do their most important work during the week, with strenuous practices that pit the best players from both sides of the line against each other.
Wooden established a similar tone in Westwood, according to Farmer. “Some of the best games we played every week were during practice,” he said.
That’s important, because no dynasty has a shortage of would-be challengers looking to bring it down.
“Every team that’s going to play Georgia has already highlighted the Georgia game,” Farmer said. “That’s what we faced every week at UCLA.”
The Bruins’ run of seven straight titles ended in 1974, though they would claim one more championship the following year in Wooden’s farewell.
Potvin’s Islanders established a record for North American sports that may never be equaled, winning 19 straight playoff series over five seasons until their dominance finally ended with a loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the 1984 Stanley Cup Final.
New York had swept the up-and-coming Oilers, the team of Gretzky and Messier and Coffey and Fuhr, in the ’83 final. The Islanders desperately wanted to make it five in a row, which would’ve matched the Montreal Canadiens (1956-60) for the longest streak in NHL history.
But Potvin sensed the end was at hand as he took the ice to start Game 3, the series tied at one game apiece. The Oilers had a different look in their eyes. There was no sign of fear, only determination.
“They were not in awe of us anymore,” he said. “You could see they were totally focused on winning that series.”