It’s always hard to see a player’s career end on an injury, an unfortunate reality for Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray. For a guy whose legacy is characterized by success amidst adversity, this ill-fated, bittersweet ending to his college career almost seems fitting. After all, nothing came easy during his four years under center.
By now, you probably know Murray will have surgery this week to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, suffered during Saturday’s 59-17 win over Kentucky. It was the last we’ll see of an endearing tragic hero in SEC football history.
Murray ends his career as the conference’s all-time leading passer with 13,166 yards and 121 touchdowns. He started 52 consecutive games, and nearly led the Bulldogs to the SEC title and a shot at the BCS title last season.
But his legacy extends far beyond success on the gridiron. Murray leaves a blueprint for the way student-athletes should conduct themselves and represent their universities. His strong character, forged behind the scenes with hard work, dedication and an ever-positive outlook, shined brighter than ever in the spotlight of big time football.
Murray returned for his senior season, turning down an opportunity to enter the NFL draft. He still had one more campaign reserved for Georgia, but things didn’t work out as expected. Murray performed admirably, often at his own peril, completing 64.8 percent of his passes with 26 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
Georgia (7-4) was plagued by injuries and nearly fell completely out of the SEC race with consecutive losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt in mid-October. With new faces in and out of the lineup, Murray was the lone constant force for this team. He never complained, never pointed fingers when things went wrong, and never showed any signs of giving in. Instead, Murray kept fighting, playing hard, and kept believing. He nearly willed the Bulldogs to an amazing comeback win at Auburn to give his team an outside chance to sneak into the SEC title game.
He further displayed that toughness after the run on which the season-ending injury occurred. Though Murray was visibly struggling after the run, he remained in the game and completed an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Arthur Lynch three plays later – his fourth scoring pass in the first five possessions.
Georgia’s coaches planned to remove him from the game immediately after the injury, but the notoriously tough quarterback waved off the backup when he tried to enter the game. You have to be tough to start 52-straight games in the SEC.
Still, it was never enough for some Georgia fans. Murray bore the brunt, fairly or not, for many of the Bulldogs’ shortcomings during the last four years. You can’t help but ask these folks, what else could he have done?
He is one of only four players in college football history to throw for 3,000 yards four times. He was 3-1 against Florida and never lost to Tennessee or Georgia Tech. Georgia won 10 games twice during Murray’s career. The Bulldogs were SEC East champs in each of those seasons. He led the Bulldogs to three-straight bowls, including a 45-31 win over Nebraska in last year’s Capital One Bowl. Though Murray won’t be on the field, it’s safe to say he deserves the Lion’s share of credit for Georgia’s bowl berth this season.
Though he never won an SEC or national title, Murray never hung his head; he never compromised his or his school’s integrity. Ultimately, everything he did in the last four years leaves the legacy and tradition of Georgia football richer and more distinguished than when he arrived. For most Georgia fans ,Murray will truly be a Dawg for life, and the pleas for his future return to the sidelines of Sanford Stadium as a coach one day have already begun.
I suspect Murray might have a few NFL games to win before we see him back in Athens again someday. Say what you want about this injury hurting his draft status, it likely matters little to Murray.
Wherever he gets an opportunity, he’ll display the same toughness that made him great at Georgia. Regardless of whether Murray meets success or failure at the next level, he’ll handle it with the grace and humility that is so often missing among his peers.