ATHENS – – There have been some regrets, Aaron Murray admits now. He envisioned his game and his final play much differently. It wasn’t supposed to end with Georgia’s star quarterback being carried off with an injury, the final pass of his prolific career an interception.
But Murray is renowned for his sunny outlook, so he has managed to turn even that into a positive.
“I was thinking about it; it’s almost like I didn’t say goodbye, which I guess is a good thing. I guess it’s like, ‘To be continued,’ ” Murray said. “I’m not leaving here. I’ll always be a Bulldog, and I guess if I had been there to wave and cherish the end of it, it would have been, ‘Book closed, it’s over.’ It’s not over for me.”
Murray is now back in Athens, where he will spend most of the next six months preparing for his pro football career. His college career is over, thanks to the ACL injury in Georgia’s 11th game, Murray’s final one at Sanford Stadium, after 51 career starts and practically every Georgia passing record.
Speaking to the media Friday in Athens for the first time since the injury, Murray talked about a number of subjects, including his pro future, playing 13 plays on the torn ACL, and the most surprising person to reach out to him after the injury.
Murray said he felt and heard his knee pop on the 28-yard run against Kentucky. He suspected an ACL tear right there, but he didn’t say anything. He even ran on the sideline for coaches, convincing them to let him keep playing.
“I could walk and do certain movements on it, so I’m like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna try to stick it out as long as I can,’ ” Murray said, his voice cracking into a laugh.
Going through those 13 more plays did not prove to do any more damage, according to Murray. The ACL was the only injury, with no ligament damage. He finally crumpled to the ground after what proved to be his final play and had to be carried off.
“Running up and down the sidelines, I was fine. It was more twisting and turning and certain throws I couldn’t make, because you just can’t pivot off it,” Murray said. “That last play, he spun me around and I was really whipped and spun in the ground. The pain was unbearable at that point when he spun me around.”
Murray was joined in the locker room by his family, and Georgia athletics trainers were fairly certain already it was a torn ACL. Murray recalled feeling sorry for himself for only a half hour, then asking: ‘What’s next?’ So they went to the hospital right away for an MRI.
The Monday after his injury, a day before his surgery, Murray showed up in Georgia’s practice facility to watch film, for a game he would not be able to play in.
“I was just bored,” Murray said.
In the days after the injury, he fielded numerous calls and well-wishes, including one from SEC commissioner Mike Slive.
“I talked to him for awhile,” Murray said. “He was awesome. Just thanking me for how I represented the SEC these past four years. I was thanking him, saying it’s been an honor to be a part of the best conference in the country.”
Murray is giving up any chance of even throwing one more pass in the bowl — or even participating in team activities — because he will be signing autographs for money Saturday in Athens.
Murray estimated he has signed “tens of thousands” of free autographs during his career.
“I’m not eligible to play in the bowl game, just because I can’t play. So this is the next step,” Murray said. “It’s moving on to my next stage in life.”
Murray will still be in Athens this week and next and will be rehabbing, so he’ll attend practice and even watch film. Head coach Mark Richt suggested Thursday at a Gator Bowl news conference that Murray will have input on the gameplan.
“It depends on how much (offensive coordinator Mike) Bobo wants to listen to me now that I’m not playing,” Murray said.
Then there’s the matter of his pro future and how the injury affects his draft status. Murray has not been projected as a first or second-round pick, thanks mostly to his 6-foot-1 height. But he’s optimistic — as always — that he can mitigate the importance of the injury.
Murray’s goal is to be ready for UGA’s pro day, which could be as late as mid-April, thanks to the draft being moved to May 7-9. The hope is Murray can do drops, rollouts and even run a 40-yard dash if needed. He’s not sure about the NFL combine, and the Senior Bowl in January is out as far as playing. But he plans to go to both to at least meet with teams and their scouts.
Former teammate Marlon Brown’s recovery has fueled Murray’s optimism. Brown tore his ACL in October of 2012, and although he was undrafted, the receiver has become a key player for the Baltimore Ravens, hauling in six touchdown passes.
“RGIII had (knee) surgery in January and started the season off,” Murray pointed out, referring to Washington Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III. “That’s still two months ahead of me.”
In the meantime, Murray will hang around Athens, which he has called home the past five years. Rather than ruminate on the sudden and sad end to his career, he sounded as sunny as usual on Friday.
“Everybody always asks me, ‘Oh, do you regret not leaving early last year?’ And I have absolutely no regrets. I feel like I’ve personally improved a lot this year as a player,” Murray said.
“I really love Georgia. I really thoroughly love this place. I knew I loved Georgia when I was committing, I loved everything about the coaching staff, the campus and the tradition, and just being here for five years, it’s engraved itself deep in my heart right now. And I’ll be a Bulldog forever.”