April 16, 2014

Finally Making Things Right

Hugh in action vs. Clemson in 1975
Yesterday, I was informed that a 19-month pursuit of mine was finally realized last Thursday night after an interruption of only 22 years.  If you have followed this blog for some time, you might be aware of such pursuitmy attempt to have the Hugh Hendrix Memorial Award reestablishedwhich was accomplished at Thursday's annual spring football awards with the honors going to Hutson Mason on offense and Leonard Floyd on defense.
To recap, I first blogged about Hugh Hendrix about two years ago and how his life, and death, inspired the 1976 Georgia football team to win an SEC championship.  Coincidentally and unexpectedly, I met with Hugh's parents at their home in Carrollton five months later.  There, I was reminded of the old Hugh Hendrix Memorial Awardan honor I was primarily aware of because of the number of years it had not been bestowed according to my recollection of previous years' media guides.  While standing over Hugh's grave, I decided to try anything I could to rightfully restore the honor.  Less than three months later, surprisingly, a prominent member of the athletic department told me, "We are going to reestablish Hugh’s award. We are in the process of getting this done."  More than a year later, and after the process apparently took some time, the UGA football program indeed got it done.
My first reaction to the good news was to call Hugh's parents, Carolyn and Harvey.  I won't go all into it, but obviously our conversation was a joyous and emotionally-filled one.  The next thing I did was dig up old emails from readers of this blog in response to when I first mentioned reestablishing the award in September 2012.  I received all kinds of emails from readersones in support, those wanting to help, a couple saying I was wasting my time, and even a few willing to donate money to the cause (which I graciously declined).

A particular old email caught my eye; we'll just say it was from a "UGA employee."  Simply put, this guy went off on the football program, questioning how it could possibly and erroneously interrupt an award which "should mean so much to so many people" twice (the award was given out from 1976 through 1989, not so in 1990 and 1991, then again in 1992 for the final time).  For what it's worth, I was later told by someone in the know during the 1990s that the award was interrupted because of a simple mistake: the person in charge of the awards ceremony then simply forgot to ask the decision maker, "Who should be given the Hugh Hendrix Award this year?"  Once the award was left off the list, it was left off for good.  Of course, this doesn't fully explain why the honor was interrupted a second time, but who's counting?  Anyway, the UGA employee ended his email stating, "Regardless, hopefully [the football program] will eventually make things right."
At Picture Day in '74, Hugh poses with Connecticut
native David Wolfe a few decades prior to him
becoming the famed Atlanta defense attorney. 
The next thing that caught my attention yesterday was an article on Jeremy Pruitt and his opinion that Georgia's defenders weren't award worthy this spring.  Pruitt didn't want to give any awards, and didn't notice any player who deserved one, adding, "It's kind of like, nowadays everybody’s playing t-ball and everybody gets a trophy. ... It's not a big deal really."
Personally, from what I've heard of him thus far, I like our new defensive coordinator.  He's a desired change of pace for this program as seemingly not one to put up with what has plagued it for yearscomplacency and a sense of entitlement.  And, if he feels a need to pipe up and declare a standout might not play or no one deserved a spring award, and it can effectively motivate, I'm all for it.  However, and with all due respect, when it comes to the recent Hugh Hendrix spring award, I side with one of Hugh's former friends and teammates, commenting to me in an email yesterday on the award and Mason and Floyd receiving it: "Two great recipients to bring it back in style..."
It just so happens that I'll see Coach Pruitt next week at the Butts-Mehre for an interview I'm conducting for a magazine article.  Time permitting and if appropriate, I may ask him about his linebacker Floyd receiving the Hugh Hendrix Award as "the player who most strains his potential."  I can't speak of the other spring awards, but I can brief Pruitt about the namesake of the award I'm familiar with, mentioning what Hugh stood for on and off the field, while conveying that an award meaning "so much to so many people" is far from a t-ball trophy, is a big deal really, and therefore if no one really deserves it, it shouldn't be given out.
After speaking with Coach Pruitt, I may stop by the Sports Communications department in the building and offer up my assistance with the 2014 media guide with an updated and edited section from the past and a must for the upcoming edition:
Lastly, I should visit the prominent member of the athletic department who ultimately got the award reestablished, and thank him for assisting the football program after nearly a quarter-century in finally "making things right." 

April 6, 2014

34 years ago today...

Herschel 's signature: one sought-after autograph
from Wrightsville to Athens for both the young
and old, beginning 34 years ago and ever since.
Posted is an edited and updated version of a story I wrote several years ago, recognizing that 34 years ago today the most famous No. 34 in the history of sports became a Georgia Bulldog  (although he first requested to wear No. 43):

During the winter of 1980, like most college football programs in the country, Georgia desperately recruited a particular player from Wrightsville, Georgia—Herschel Walker.  At Johnson County High School, Walker had rushed for a remarkable 6,137 career yards, averaged 7.8 yards per carry, and scored 86 touchdowns.
Georgia was one of many schools that ventured to Wrightsville on a regular basis to pursue the heralded Walker.  Head coach Vince Dooley humorously appointed assistant Mike Cavan to be “Vice President in Charge of Herschel” because of his frequent trips to the small town. In fact, Cavan spent so much time in Wrightsville recruiting Walker, some residents joked he should have been forced to pay taxes.
February’s national letter of intent signing date for recruits came and went and Walker still had not signed with a school. Herschel seemed to be delaying his signing, for whatever reason, and the postponement was taking its toll on his family.  Herschel’s mother, Christine, was sick and tired of all the recruiters coming by the house, the numerous phone calls, and her son’s delay.
“Why don’t you make up your mind?” she asked Herschel. “Make a decision! Don’t you ever get tired of having to meet with all these people?”
By late March, Walker still had not made his decision. However, he indicated to his high school coach and acting spokesman, Gary Phillips, he had narrowed his choices to five schools, including GeorgiaThere are various accounts indicating how Herschel ultimately made up his mind.  This is my favorite—if Walker's own mama said this is how he made his decision, in my opinion, this is how it must have happened:
On Easter Sunday morning of 1980, Herschel told his mother he was about to make a decision on where he was going. He cut up scraps of paper and asked her to write "Alabama," "Clemson," "USC," or "Georgia" on each piece. Herschel then dropped the scraps into a paper bag and shook it. Mother and son agreed that the first school selected three times would be where Herschel would attend.
"[Herschel] picked Georgia more times than any of the other three," Christine said. She also suggested that a coin be flipped. "If the coin turned up heads," she said, "that would be the lucky school…So we did that—and every time it came out Georgia!"
Walker had finally decided to attend and play football at the University of Georgia. Christine telephoned Coach Phillips, who notified Cavan. Phillips later indicated that Herschel did not decide right away where he would go because he had a "really hard time saying 'no' to people."
At the time of Herschel’s decision, Cavan was with his family at an Easter egg hunt in Lawrenceville, Georgia. When Cavan was told of Herschel’s decision, he reportedly "let out a wild delirious scream. His family thought he’d been shot."
As Herschel prepared to make it official he would attend Georgia, people began arriving at the Walker home to witness his signing. Freddy Jones, a writer for the Macon Telegraph, was hurrying towards the house in his car when he was pulled over by a state patrolman. Jones explained to the officer he was only speeding to observe the signing of the acclaimed Herschel Walker.
"Where’s he goin’ to school?" the patrolman asked. "Georgia," answered Jones. "Alllll, right! You go on ahead!" the jubilant officer and apparent Bulldog fan said without writing Jones a ticket.
Doug Hall of the Dublin Courier-Herald later asked Herschel why it took so long for him to make a decision. "Herschel looked at me and said, ‘I knew what I was gonna do all along.'"
After signing, Herschel told the Atlanta Constitution: "I felt real nice at Georgia [during recruiting visits]. And I didn’t want to go too far from home. I wanted my family to be able to come and see me play. It’s only about ninety-four miles from my house to Athens."

While Walker was now ready to make the 94-mile trek to the University of Georgia, it seemed the school was merely happy the indecisive Walker had finally made up his mind.  Approximately a week prior to Herschel's signing, a writer for The Red and Black had declared, "I'm just about fed up with the whole situation. The whole thing is a joke...Come on Herschel, make up your mind."

Two days following the signing, another writer asserted: "Many of the alumni of this institution have a warped sense of priorities. They spend days worrying if an 18-year-old from Wrightsville is going to attend the University of Georgia...They would rather talk about how many yards Walker will run for while he is at Georgia than if the regents exam is doing any good."

I laugh. I guess the regents exam is important and all, but it appears some folks, including ones at the University of Georgia, simply had no idea what was soon to be in store for their football team.
As the story goes, the students and writers weren't the only ones with no clue.

Leading up to the start of the Bulldogs' 1980 season, Coach Dooley said he did not expect Herschel as a freshman to be the team's main tailback. For one, Walker had played in only Class A high school football, where, according to Dooley, "the schools are smaller and the players are smaller."

"I really don’t see him giving us a whole lot of help [this] year," Dooley added.
In a fairly recent interview for a magazine article, I asked Coach Dooley if what he said back in 1980 was entirely true—did he really not believe Herschel would be of much help?
"I tried to temper [the hype surrounding Herschel] some," Dooley responded.  And, similarly to when Herschel told the writer, "I knew what I was gonna do all along," the hall-of-fame head coach told this writer he knew Herschel would be really good all along.
"However, although I knew Herschel would be really good," Dooley informed me with a chuckle, "I was not sure how soon he’d be really good."

April 3, 2014

Some Comfort in a "Depleted" O-Line

Georgia's offensive line returns "only" 57 career
starts in 2014, but what does that total suggest,
if anything?
After posting on my Author-UGA football FB page a few days ago that the Bulldogs' 2014 offense might have the first "1-2-3 1,000-yard returning combination" in college football history, I received a text from a friend saying, "Now, if only we had a line to block for them..."
This season's offensive linethe unit is apparently going to be a weakness, or an area of concern, for an offense which otherwise is loaded in the backfield and at receiver, while engineered by a more than capable passer.

Why all the worry about the o-line?  According to one early preseason preview, the unit has been "depleted"; the Bulldog offense is lacking returning experience up front.  Returning experience along the offensive line is often measured by the unit's number of returning career starts, which I've blogged about before, and which Georgia has the "depleted" total of only 57 for 2014: David Andrews 27, John Theus 22, Kolton Houston 6, and Mark Beard 2.
Career OL Starts Returning (COLSR) has been recognized as a viable preseason evaluator for some time.  For example, the top two offensive lines in college football entering last season according to Phil Steele, "the Guru of Formulation and Prognostication," happened to be the top two offensive lines in career starts returning, as well.
In addition, I've also blogged before about the Offensive Hog Index, which was originally an NFL comparative measurement for offensive line performance.  I tweaked the index to where a college team's offensive line ranking is determined by its average of the following three rankings in comparison to other teams being measured: yards per rush (sacks omitted), percent of passing plays (pass attempts + times sacked) resulting in an interception or sack, and third- and fourth-down combined conversion rate.

Georgia's apparently lowly total of 57 entering this season compelled me to figure whether COLSR was any sort of indicator of how well an offensive line would perform as a group, and most importantly, its team's win-loss record in the end.  One might think so, at least to some degree.  However, I'm reminded of the 2010 season, when the Bulldogs had an FBS-high 155 COLSR.  I was hopeful the extremely high number of starts coupled with an above-average offensive line performance in 2009 would equate to success for Georgia's offensive line and the team overall.  Instead, the Bulldogs' Offensive Hog Index was actually lower in 2010, while the team's record dipped from 8-5 to 6-7.  Of course, that's just one example.

Beginning with the 1995 seasonthe first year Georgia's offensive sacked totals are available (to figure into the Offensive Hog Index)through 2013, I've listed the Bulldogs' COLSR entering each year, followed byàthe team's record at the end of the season, and its Offensive Hog Index in parenthesis.  To make things as balanced as possible, I added the bowl statistics (while perhaps adding to the confusion) into the seasons before 2002 when bowls weren't recognized in season totals.       
YR:  OL stsàRec. (Index)
1995:   58à6-6 (11.2)
1996:   47à5-6 (2.3)
1997:   37à10-2 (14.7)
1998:   38à9-3 (6.0)
1999:   39à8-4 (10.3)
2000:   50à8-4 (6.8)
2001:   58à8-4 (7.0)
2002:   98à13-1 (7.0)
2003:     4à11-3 (6.0)
2004:   74à10-2 (12.8)
2005: 134à10-3 (11.3)
2006:   68à9-4 (5.7)
2007:   25à11-2 (16.3)
2008:   24à10-3 (15.0)
2009:   99à8-5 (10.3)
2010: 155à6-7 (9.5)
2011:   86à10-4 (8.0)
2012:   31à12-2 (14.3)
2013: 101à8-5 (15.3)

For example, Georgia entered last season with 101 COLSR; they would finish with an 8-5 record.  The Bulldogs' 15.3 index is an average ranking (points) based on their 5.06 rushing average, which was the 2nd-highest for Georgia in the last 19 seasons (or 18 points earned); their 7.07% of negative passing plays was 7th-best of 19 (13 points); and their 43.85% conversion rate on third and fourth downs combined was 5th-best (15 points), for an average of 15.3 points. 

After a quick glance at the numbers, the first thing I noted was that it seemed 57 COLSR wasn't all that low when comparatively speaking.  Indeed, come to find out, Georgia has averaged just a bit higher at 64 COLSR entering the last 20 seasons.  However, as far as discovering if COLSR was any indication for the success of a team and its offensive line, I was going to have to go even further in depth, and get a little nerdy with the numbers.
Familiar with the correlation coefficient?  Personally, I had never even heard of it before finding it yesterday in a Google search.  Basically, it can measure the degree to which two data sets are related, resulting in a number between -1 (an absolute negative correlation) and 1 (a perfect positive correlation).  The closer a correlation coefficient is to 0, the more there is no relationship between the data.  
COLSRàHog Index: I first wanted to see if there was any relationship between Georgia's COLSR entering the last 19 seasons and the team's offensive line performance, or Hog Index, at the end of each respective year.  And, perhaps surprisingly to most, there was none whatsoever.  In fact, with a correlation coefficient of -.026, there was a very slight negative correlation. 
COLSRàFinal Record: One might think there would be some positive correlation, even the slightest, between COLSR and a team's final record.  On the contrary, the opposite actually holds true for Georgia.  To demonstrate, and why this relationship had a correlation coefficient of -.319, which is considered very close to a fairly negative correlation, check this out: Georgia's top four seasons of COLSR2005, 2009, 2010, 2013yielded an average record of just 8 wins and 5 losses, whereas the bottom four2003, 2007, 2008, 2012remarkably wound up with an average record of 11 wins and 2.5 losses.
Hog IndexàFinal Record: Finally, a positive relationship is found between Hog Index and final record, and a fairly substantial one at 0.339.  And, it certainly makes sense: the better the offensive line play, the better the team's record, and vice versa. 
What might not make sense is my use of all these figures, statistics, coefficients, and such.  Although, one thing is for sure in my opinion: when it comes to Georgia's offensive line the last two decades, the only indicator of its role in the team's overall performance is the unit's play on the field, and not whether its an experienced group, or one depleted.

March 21, 2014

Two Cents on $71 and 50 Cents

I know I'm a little late to the party, so to speak, posting on Georgia's stipend "scandal."  Nevertheless, I wanted to take somewhat of a different approach to the story, and had to make a few phone calls prior to putting together a piece.
When hearing of the players' double dipping their $71.50 stipend checks, my first thoughts weren't of their stupidity or possible suspension, but the $71.50what exactly is this amount for and how often do players receive it?  I guess it's the UGA graduate in finance in me finally coming out...
I called a friend of mine, who played under Richt during the 2000s, and asked if he could expand on the $71.50 amount.  At that point, the only detail regarding the checks' amounts/frequency was the little provided by AD McGarity: "We're not going to get into times, amounts of checks, frequency of checks...They receive checks periodically throughout the year."
Player of 2000s: "I'm pretty sure, since that amount is close to what we got, their stipend is for meals missed, primarily for Sundays when the dining hall is closed.  They get that stipend twice a semester.  The funny thing is we actually got a little more than thatmore than $71.50 per stipend."
$71.50 twice a semester equals roughly a whopping $35 per month, or just over $1 a day.  Now, don't go spending it all in one place...
I was then compelled to reach out to Bulldog players from preceding decades, and see what they received in amounts from the school/athletic department beyond tuition, board, books, etc.  "Not much," a player from the 1960s informed me.  He then literally went and retrieved his 50-year-old scholarship and read from it over the phone.
Player of 1960s: "You will be provided $15 a month$10 for laundry and $5 for missed meals (laughing).  $15 wasn't much, even way back then."
The player from the 1970s first wanted to say he was grateful for the scholarship he received and the free college education and room and boardopportunities he and nearly all of his teammates likely wouldn't have benefitted from if not for being standout football players in high school.  "However, I’d guess more than half of the players during my time came from just below a middle-class background and lower," he added.  "Therefore, your average player received very little money, if any at all, sent from home." 
Player of 1970s: "We got just $10 per month for what they called 'extra cleaning allowance,' but we always called it our 'laundry check' and we always cashed it at what is now the Kangaroo Express near the Butts-Mehre.  I always wondered why it was called a 'laundry check' when we had a facility that did our laundry for free.  Still, laundry was about the only thing we didn’t have to spend any money on."
The other two players I contactedone each from the 1980s and 1990sdidn't recall set amounts or how often, but each remember the money was "for stuff essentially coming to you anyway (i.e., meals, laundry, etc.)," one stated.  "If we were coming back from a road trip, and the dining hall was going to be closed by the time we got back to campus, instead of $10 for our per diem, I might find $20 in an envelope for meals."
Oh, if these walls could talk...  McWhorter Hall,
the former players' dorm, where double dipping on
stipend checks would've been considered child's play.
As the interviews I've conducted of former UGA players have mounted up over the past several years, the more I've become aware that the idea of players consistently receiving excessive handouts from coaches, wealthy boosters and alumni, etc., is rather absurd.  The rumors of a house for momma, a tractor for daddy, and a suitcase of cash for the player are, for the most part, pure myths.  Although most players get a free education, room and board, and some even receive grants, they have very little, if any, spending money and it's not like they can go out and get a part-time job delivering pizza, or the like.
Speaking of delivering pizza, one of the five players I spoke to admitted to stealing pizzas from delivery cars while playing for Georgia.  When the delivery men wised up after a while and starting locking their cars, players started approaching them face to face, threatening them to hand over free pizzas.  Nothing ever came of the pizza-stealing incidents.
Another player actually admitted that he and a couple of other players once donned ski masks, entered a convenient store, and while the man behind the counter was still begging "please don't hurt me," each walked out with an arm full of not cash, but snacks.  "Obviously, I'm really embarrassed about it now," he admitted.  "It all seemed harmless at the time – a way we could get our hands on a free meal.  But, filling our bellies with free food did not fill our pockets.  For some of my teammates, having the money to buy new clothes, shoes, jewelry, or to take a girl out for some dinner and entertainment called for drastic measures..."  The player stopped there without elaborating. 
Pizza stealing, convenient store robberies, or even "drastic measures," it was all normally kept under wraps when found out.
I once interviewed a Georgia assistant coach from the 1970s, who made a statement so profound regarding player discipline then and now and media exposure, I promptly jotted down his quote: "If a player got in big trouble back then, we brought him in the office, and just handled it.  For most things, nobody had to find out what went on, especially the damn media." 
What Matthews, Taylor, DeLoach, and LeMay pulled was undoubtedly stupid, and perhaps Georgia doesn't need these type of characters on its team.  With that being said, and without making excuses for the four, there are probably people reading this blog right now who, whether in high school, college, or even as a professional, "cheated" a bit to receive a little extra money, while thinking you'd never be caught.  And, for some, even if you were eventually reprimanded, perhaps it was kept under wraps.  
The four players obviously needed money and thought of a wayalbeit, a rather flawed wayof making a little more because, simply put, $35 per month, whether spent on food, laundry, or whatever, doesn't cut itnot even close.
"When one of us got into trouble, we'd either work it out with the coaches or we had a 'guy' we called," added one of the players I contacted, who wouldn't identify the "guy."  "Then, unless it was really, really serious, the problem could usually go away."
For what my two cents are worth, there is no longer that "guy" at UGA for athletes to call, while the public exposure these athletes now encounter can be quite overwhelming.  Discipline issues, whether really serious or not, like attempting to "earn" the equivalent of $70 spending cash per month instead of merely $35, have gone on for decades.  But now, everybody finds out everything that went onnothing can be kept under wrapsthanks in large part to, whether it's social or mainstream, and as the former assistant coach described it, "the damn media."

March 19, 2014

A Damn Rabbit's Tears

Swinford set sails on a 59-yard punt return vs.
Clemson, while leading the charge for the
program's turning point of 1964.
Yesterday, I could tell a new college football season was right around the corner: the opening of spring practice, I was contacted by a newspaper writer to list my opinion of the top 20 "most significant" wins in UGA football history, and finally, a report of player arrests. 

I submitted my list by early afternoon and promptly received the response, "#14 Clemson in '64 ???" like I had made a mistake for listing that particular contest amongst championship wins, bowl victories, and triumphs over the highly-ranked.  For one who might think something similar regarding a 1-1-1 Bulldog team defeating a Clemson squad which would capture just three victories all that season, let me explain how this August 30th, facing the  detested Tigers from the same university as before, will mark the 50th anniversary of the ultimate turning point in UGA football history.

Consider the status of our football program when a 32-year-old Vince Dooley took over in 1964: three consecutive losing seasons, and only five winning campaigns the previous 15 years.  And, you thought the Ray Goff era was bad...  Opening with three consecutive road games, much of the same seemed apparent as the young head coach's team got drilled by Alabama, barely beat a bad Vanderbilt squad, and tied a really bad South Carolina team.

Following the 7-7 draw in Columbia, a dejected Wayne Swinford sat mournfully in the locker room.  The senior cornerback, who had waited patiently to finally become a starter, was losing patience with the Bulldogs' non-winning ways, and was literally brought to tears.  Defensive back coach Hootie "Don't Call Me '& The Blowfish'" Ingram approached the player, who had been called "tough" by Dooley just days prior for fielding kickoffs and punts "perfectly" with injured wrists, to see what all the fuss was about.
Here, the CU ballcarrier wound up knocking
down both photographers, marking perhaps
the only folks the Tigers took out all afternoon.

"Coach, I've never been on a winning team at Georgia," Swinford cried, "and we've finally got a chance to do it and can't even beat South Carolina!"

A week later, a confident Clemson squad came into the Classic City coming of a fine performance where they nearly defeated Georgia Tech.  Whereas Dooley was in his inaugural season, Frank Howard, the Tigers' showman of a coach, always quick with a quip while chewing tobacco, was celebrating his silver anniversary at Clemson.  Howard and his Tigers were actually a slight favorite to prevail on the road.

Alas in the end, it would be the Bulldogs who'd prevail playing in front of 31,000 at Sanford Stadium in perfect, 65-degree October weather.  It was the first sign of what was to come during the Dooley era: the use of two quarterbacks, Lynn Hughes and Preston Ridlehuber, a strong running game which gained 221 yards, and a passing attack completing just a single pass for 18 yards.  Another sign to come was the showing of a stingy defense coordinated by Erk Russell.  Erk's troops held the Tigers to 149 total yards, while forcing nine punts and three turnovers.

Leading 17-0 late in the game, Georgia nearly pitched a shutout before Clemson finally scored a touchdown.  The Tigers would get the ball back, but in true Russell form, the Bulldog defenders rose up to record a safety on the game's final offensive play.

Over the next 25 years, great special teams play would also be indicative of a Dooley-coached team, and it was evident on this afternoon in 1964.  Leading the way was the speedy Swinford, who returned a kickoff for 23 yards, and toted back five punts for 108 yards, including a 59-yarder early in the fourth quarter setting up a field goal.  From his cornerback position, Swinford also tallied four tackles and picked off a Tiger pass just prior to halftime, returning it for 29 yards.

Another view of the speedy Swinford's
spectacular 59-yard return...
Following Georgia's 19-7 victory, legendary Dan Magill noted in his postgame remarks that "[Clemson's] Howard was probably in the most disgusted mood seen in a long time after the loss."  Howard said his Tigers "couldn't have broken an egg" and added "if we could have caught that damn rabbit," he said of Swinford and his blazing speed, "we could have won."

The following week, Georgia nearly upset 10th-ranked Florida Statea loss both Kirby Moore, sitting in the stands during a redshirt year, and Steve Greer, doing the same as a high school senior, indicated in my latest book as their opinion of the point of turnaround for the UGA football program.  Consider that after winning just two of 31 games against AP-ranked foes during the previous 15 campaigns, Dooley's Dogs would go undefeated at 8-0-2 under the same circumstances from that point over the next four-plus seasons.    

But, personally, I was asked for Georgia's most significant games ending in a victory.  And, in my opinion, there are only a handful more worthy than when in just a week's time, a damn rabbit went from tears to cheers, and the star of the program's turning point.

March 8, 2014

For When the Bell Tolled

As these "University boys" demonstrate long
ago, the Chapel bell has been ringing after
Georgia football games for 120 years.
I was recently asked to write a "traditions" story for a Georgia football magazine on the University's distinguished Chapel bell.  Fully aware that there are conflicting reports of when the bell was first rung following a UGA football game, I set out to finally discover the initial documented time the bell tolled in triumph.

The athletic department states, "In the 1890's, the playing field was located only yards from the Chapel and first year students were compelled to ring the bell until midnight in celebration of a Bulldog victory," suggesting the initial celebratory ringing resulted after a game in Athens (while also suggesting Georgia was known as the "Bulldogs" more than 20 years before officially given the nickname).

The popular opinionone shared by yours truly for years up until, well, a few days agoof when the bell first rung ironically did not result after a victory, but a 0-0 tie with Auburn in 1901.  Playing in Atlanta, Georgia was considered such an underdog that a tie was regarded as a moral victory of sorts.  Word of the "winning" draw reached Athens and the tradition of ringing the bell in celebration was supposedly born.

Both standpoints are accuratesomewhat accurate.   

From what I discovered, and for what it’s worth, the first documented ringing of the Chapel bell following a UGA football game did occur during the 1890s, but not because the field was located near the Chapel since the initial ringing did not follow a game played in Athens.  In accordance to popular opinion, the first time was indeed after facing Auburn in Atlanta, but followed a Georgia victory occurring seven years prior to the 0-0 tie in 1901.

On November 24, 1894, at Athletic Park in Atlanta, Georgia and Auburn met for just the second time in the teams’ short football histories.  Late in an 8 to 8 tied contest, Georgia star Rufus “Cow” Nalley tackled Auburn’s punter behind the goal line for a game-winning safety.
Rufus Nalley: the Georgia player whose safety
prompted the first documented ringing of the 
victory bell (and one of the few Georgia players
nicknamed for a type of livestock).
Georgia’s 10-8 win was celebrated by students back home first by lighting a bonfire followed by their participation in a tradition that would soon become customary.  “[Students] were celebrating their foot ball victory over Auburn in fine style,” reported The Athens Banner.  “The chapel bell was ringing and the campus was ablaze.”

Regarding the two faulty viewpoints, one (maybe two, but no more than three) may wonder how they originated.  As far as the bell first being rung during the 1890's in Athens, UGA began playing football that decade, the Chapel is in Athens, and simply that was good enough for the blanket statement.  As far as 1901 against Auburn, I assume this became popular opinion because of what Stegeman said.

In the book The Ghosts of Herty Field (1966) by the late and esteemed John Stegemana three-sport letterman at UGA and a leading Georgia football historian, whose father was the namesake of the University's Coliseumthe author declares "the bell has tolled the tidings of Georgia football victories ever since" after he details the 0-0 tie with Auburn in 1901.  I guess this led some to conclude this particular contest was the initial time the bell was first rung after a football game, although in his defense, Stegeman never literally claimed as much.

When exactly UGA's victory bell first tolled following a game, no one will ever really know.  I have a hunch it occurred after Georgia's very first gamethe 50-0 romp over Mercer at Herty Field in 1892.  Nonetheless, as mentioned, the first documented ringing I could find followed the seventh victory in the program’s history, and resulted after a "Cow" dropped a Plainsman for a safety in Atlanta.  

Alas, in regard to when my findings will replace the two flawed standpoints in the annals of UGA football history, it'll likely never happen, just like my pursuit to rightfully credit Georgia with three additional victories.  I'm guessing for such cases, as they say, history cannot be rewritten, even if "history" is somewhat inaccurate.   

February 24, 2014

5-Star Alternative

This TD reception in Knoxville last season by
Rantavious Wooten placed the wide receiver
into "5-Season" UGA football lore.  
Upon Josh Harvey-Clemons' dismissal last week, I started working on a post profiling Georgia's all-time 5-star recruits, discovering just six of those 14 blue chippers through 2013 would become starters for two or more seasons at UGA, while only two would earn first-team All-SEC recognition during their careers.  Seemingly, most of the 5-star recruits more so fizzled, including Harvey-Clemons, than flourished for the Bulldogs. 
I decided to post otherwise when I first ran across an article from the Times Free Press, beating me to the punch by profiling Georgia's 5-star players.  I then promptly received an email from a reader, who asked why my posts were "always so negative about the Dogs?"
Always negative?  I thought my posts regarding the program in its current state were only "negative" when warranted, like more often than not. 
Finally, after updating my geeky, but handy, UGA football database I'll utilize for a series of magazine articles I'm writing over the next couple of months, I was reminded of an extraordinary feat which resulted during the 2013 season, and thus I decided to take a different historical viewone that, although normally involving an injury, is certainly more of a "positive" post.
Four years ago, I posted my opinion of Georgia's one-season wonders; for what it's worth, here's a group contrary to them, and the 5-star falloutsthe program's most notable 5-season contributors:
In 2011, Wooten took a medical redshirt after suffering a concussion in the third game of the season, but not before catching two passes, including a touchdown against South Carolina.  Two years later, in the season opener at Clemson, he became just the third Bulldog in history to catch a pass in five different seasons, joining Reggie Brown (2000-2004) and Tavarres King (2008-2012).  With a touchdown reception at Tennessee four games later, Wooten accomplished the remarkable feat of becoming the first Bulldog ever to tally a touchdown, or even score a single point, in each of five seasons.
RONNIE STEWART (1977-1981)
While there has never been a Bulldog to attempt at least one pass in five seasons, there has been just a single player to run the ball at least once in five separate campaignsStewart.  Primarily known as one of Herschel Walker's chief blockers, fullback Stewart did score seven touchdowns while rushing for 843 yards during his career, including gaining a mere eight yards in 1979 when he was lost for the year to an injury in the second game at Clemson.

DAMIEN GARY (1999-2003)
Gary, who still ranks first all time at Georgia and fifth in SEC history with 1,253 career punt return yards, is the only Bulldog to ever return any kickpunt or kickoffin five different seasons.  As a true freshman in 1999, Gary played in two games until a thumb injury sidelined him with a medical redshirt.  However, he toted a punt return prior to the injury, returning it 20 yards against Utah State in the season opener.  But, and get this, the return actually does not count, at least according to UGA, who erroneously omits Gary's first of 115 career returns in its records.  Instead, Gary's official yardage total should be 1,273, although the disregard of 20 yards doesn't quite affect his placement in school and conference records, at least not yet.

JIMMY PAYNE (1978-1982)
I think the five-season contribution by Paynea first-team All-American defensive tackle in 1982is a close second to Wooten's touchdown feat.  For five consecutive seasons, Payne remarkably recorded at least 29 tackles.  Five-season tacklers would follow for Georgia: David Hargett (1987-1991), Derrick Byrd (1993-1997), Adrian Hollingshed (1997-2001), Gerald Anderson (2001-2005), Andrew Williams (2004-2008), and Jeff Owens (2005-2009).  However, none of the tackle totals in their redshirt seasons were near Payne's 29 in 1979not even close. 

After a standout true freshman campaign in 1978 as a defensive lineman, Payne was moved to linebacker in 1979, where he recorded 29 tackles in just over two contests before suffering a season-ending knee injury against South Carolina in the third game.  After receiving his hardship redshirt, Payne was wisely moved back to the line, where he excelled for his final three seasons.  In addition, having made at least one tackle for loss from 1978 through 1982, Payne is also currently the only Bulldog in history to record a defensive "deed" beyond tackles (i.e., a tackle for loss, sack, interception, forced fumble, etc.) in each of five seasons.  

Notably, although one might think Payne would have also attained as much, no Georgia player through last season had ever started at least one game in five different seasons, but that could change relatively soon.  Although a torn ACL celebrating a teammate's touchdown is probably small consolation, if Malcolm Mitchell stays to his senior season, the wide receiver would likely make 5-season history in 2015.