Of the 90 wins Mark Richt has compiled in nine seasons as Georgia's football coach, none have been more meaningful than his third.
Georgia's 26-24 victory at Tennessee on Oct. 6, 2001, was instantly historical in that it marked the first triumph by the Bulldogs at Neyland Stadium since Herschel Walker's memorable two-touchdown debut in 1980. Looking back, it opened the door for a highly productive decade for the Bulldogs after a disappointing '90s in which they annually took a back seat to Florida and Tennessee.
"I think the win at Tennessee in '01 was a big win for not just Coach Richt but for the whole program," former Bulldogs quarterback David Greene said. "For a while, it was a situation where Georgia typically would go 8-4 and beat the teams we were supposed to beat, and we would lose to the teams we were supposed to lose to. Coach Richt had really been preaching about knocking the lid off the program and doing something special, and to be able to come into Knoxville in his first season and to be able to beat Tennessee -- nobody gave us any chance to win.
"That really changed the mindset of our program, and in our minds it kind of took us to that next level."
The Bulldogs went 8-4 for a third consecutive season in '01, but the win in Knoxville had a definite carry-over. Georgia won five games by less than a touchdown in 2002, sweeping Alabama and Auburn on the road with late rallies, and secured its first Southeastern Conference title in 20 years with a 30-3 whipping of Arkansas.
When asked to name his greatest victory entering his 10th season, Richt divided his answer into categories.
"I think the most significant victory, and I'll say significant, was winning the SEC championship in 2002," he said. "There were some really exciting games that we won to get us there. The Auburn game was huge to get us into the game, but to win it was very significant and probably the most significant victory.
"The most important victory was probably the first year against Tennessee as far as establishing our staff and giving ourselves credibility with each other and the players and the fans."
Asked to pick the toughest of his 27 defeats, Richt said, "I've got selective memory. I try to forget all the losses."
The three costliest games in Richt's regime from a national standpoint were the 20-13 loss to Florida in 2002, the only blemish in a 13-1 season, and setbacks against South Carolina (16-12) and at Tennessee (35-14) in 2007. There is no guarantee the Bulldogs would have played for the '02 national title in the Fiesta Bowl had they topped Florida because Miami and Ohio State had undefeated regular seasons, but the '07 season was a free-for-all that ended with a two-loss LSU as BCS champion.
"I would have to go with one of those two losses, South Carolina or Tennessee, in 2007," Richt said. "If we had won one of those two games, we would have won the East and could have played for the SEC championship. If we had won that, we would have played for the national championship."