After four years, Georgia hugs Murray

semerson@macon.comNovember 19, 2013 

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Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is slated to start his 53rd straight game Saturday when the Bulldogs host Kentucky in what will be Murray’s final game at Sanford Stadium.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH — gblankenship@macon.com

Georgia’s fan base gives Murray a hug as his collegiate career winds down

ATHENS -- A Georgia fan wrote a letter of appreciation earlier this week to Aaron Murray. (Click here to read it.) It thanked him for what he did on and off the field the past four years, called him “one of the most beloved players in recent UGA football history” and said how sad it is that Murray didn’t get the championship ring he deserved.

In short, it was a beautiful sentiment.

And it ticked Mike Bobo off.

“This is what I told him Monday: ‘You’re not dead. We’re not making you a martyr yet,’ ” said Bobo, Georgia’s offensive coordinator. “Because I was reading all this, my wife was showing me all this stuff on Facebook, all this stuff. I told him, ‘You’re not dead, I’m not hugging you until after the season.’ ”

But that’s a coach speaking. Georgia fans, after four long years, are finally hugging their star quarterback in unison.

Murray will not leave Georgia with an SEC or national championship. He will not win a Heisman. No one is predicting him to be a first-round NFL draft choice.

But as he prepares to play his final home game, it feels like the most respected player in recent Georgia history is about to finish his career.

“A great leader. Great leader, great person, great teammate,” said junior linebacker Amarlo Herrera, who tends to be stingy with praise. “He meant a lot to the program, too. I don’t think we would have been on track the last two years without his leadership.”

“I know he didn’t win a ­championship here. But he’ll go down in history here, and in the SEC and in college. He did some great things,” senior receiver Rantavious Wooten said. “I’m really proud that I came here and caught some balls and touchdowns from him and share the experience with him.”

Murray, a native of Tampa, is kind of the Dan Marino of Georgia football: A great quarterback who never won a championship, but it wasn’t his fault.

“Sometimes the best don’t get championships,” tailback Todd Gurley said. “Stuff happens, and he’s just been great even with all the injuries and all of that to happen. I don’t think he’s missed a game since he’s been starting.”

He hasn’t. He started the 2010 season opener against Louisiana-Monroe, and Saturday against Kentucky will be his 53rd straight start.

“One of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around,” senior guard Chris Burnette said. “Just seeing the stuff he’s been able to maneuver through, and deal with through the years. And seeing him through adversity continue to press on. It’s been amazing. He’s definitely the epitome of what a Bulldog should be, just as a person and just the way that he handles himself on and off the field. It’s a beautiful thing to say that he was my quarterback for the past few years.”

Head coach Mark Richt said, “I’ll remember him because he is probably one of the better team guys that we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of good ones, but I don’t know if I’ve ever even heard him come close to tooting his own horn. It’s always been about the team and about deferring credit to other people. It’s always been about trying to win rather than get a record. Even coming back was a relatively unselfish act in my mind -- to come back and try to help Georgia win, and he’s done that.”

Bobo might not be making Murray a martyr this week, but he has long championed his quarterback. Earlier this year, Bobo said Murray was taken for granted among Georgia fans. That seems to have changed now.

“Probably. People have seen his toughness,” Bobo said Tuesday. “A lot of times people want to point to the big games. I think against four top-10 teams he’s completed like 67 percent and 306 yards a game. I think he’s playing pretty well.”

Murray does admit, for the first time, a small amount of satisfaction in putting to rest the criticism about his play in big games.

“It’s a little bit,” Murray said. “I definitely knew heading into this season I had to play better in these type of games, and I think I’ve definitely improved my performance in the bigger games.”

Murray came back for his senior year not just to win a championship, although he essentially made that decision after falling in last year’s SEC championship game. But for Murray, much of it was just about enjoying life as a college quarterback. Teammates have marveled at how many autographs he signs, and people in the athletics department have crowed at how many times he has volunteered.

Just last Sunday, after the heartbreaking loss at Auburn, Richt heard a commotion outside his office. It was Murray, playing around with some special needs children.

“You have to enjoy it,” Murray said. “If you go out there and complain and moan and feel sorry for yourself that we’re not gonna be able to play in Atlanta or play in Pasadena, not accomplish the goals that we set for ourselves in the beginning of the year, it’s pointless to go out there and play football. Then you’re just going out there and throwing the ball around. …

“I don’t think I was trying to prove anything to myself. I came back to continue getting better as a quarterback, to continue getting better with this team, to compete and play for Georgia. And right now, it’s definitely been a rocky season, up and down, but I’ve enjoyed every single moment of it. I’m out there with some of my best friends and playing football.”

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