Eleven years ago, it came down to one play.
Like they often do, it left one a legend, and another a goat.
“Every game I go to, everywhere I’ve ever been recognized in my life, I would say that out of that, 70 percent of the time, it’s about that play,” ESPN announcer and former Georgia defensive end David Pollack recently said. “ ‘Dude, I saw that play against South Carolina, holy cow, that was insane!’ ”
“That’s the play,” former USC quarterback Corey Jenkins said. “I just feel like every time he’s broadcasting a game, ‘You know what, they’re going to show it again.’ My phone blows off the hook with messages. I don’t even care about it anymore.”
Everyone remembers. In his own end zone in 2002, trailing Georgia 3-0 in the fourth quarter, Jenkins dropped back to pass. Pollack pressured Jenkins, leaping to swat the ball as Jenkins brought it up.
Pollack tipped the ball and it went down Jenkins’ back as Pollack’s momentum carried him around the standing quarterback. The ball landed in the crook of his left arm as he fell to the turf, for an oh-my-God 0-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“I could never do it again,” Pollack remembered. “It was a freak play that happens once, and you admit you can’t duplicate it.”
The play was destined to be broadcast as one of the greatest in history, cementing Pollack’s legacy as a motor-never-stops player. Yet if USC had come up with its own play, Pollack’s score would have been terrific, but not the biggest one of the game.
Trailing 13-7, Jenkins scrambled to set up at the Georgia 2-yard-line. Out of timeouts, needing one yard on fourth down to move the chains, there were 20 seconds to go. Jenkins knew that this was going to be a third consecutive win against Georgia, which would be a USC first.
Pollack lined up on the right, to Jenkins’ left. On the snap, he charged. Jenkins stared at him as he stutter-stepped, then flipped the ball to fullback Andrew Pinnock, who was sweeping left.
The ball never got to Pinnock’s hands. It glanced off them, then glanced off his foot, then ended up in the arms of Georgia linebacker Thomas Davis.
“I tell everybody, that fumble was on me,” Jenkins said. “It could have been a better pitch. I take the blame for it.”
Jenkins accounted for 281 of USC’s 371 total yards. Who knows what would have happened if Pinnock had caught the pitch — he could have gotten the first down, which might have led to another play for a TD, he could have scored. Who knows? USC could have scored, missed the PAT and played in overtime.
As it was, Georgia got the fumble, and Pollack’s play went down as one of the greatest ever.
Jenkins was left with the rep as the guy it happened against.
“Any time a ball is batted, it’s usually batted away,” said Jenkins, now training to be a manager at Gold’s Gym in Irmo. “It just so happened the ball bounced its way. We actually out-played them; we should have won that game.”
The two haven’t spoken since, although Jenkins would like to. Pollack said he would like to maybe re-enact it on the 20th anniversary.
“There will not be a re-enactment of that play,” Jenkins good-naturedly said. “I have to live it enough. Not on GameDay, nothing. He can get another quarterback to re-enact it.”
“It ended up being one of the big plays in the game,” he said. “But the cool thing is, South Carolina fans have always been, ‘I hate you, but I respect you.’ That’s cool. That’s all you want in the end. As long as you’re respected, don’t worry about being loved.”