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September 19, 2014

Blue, A True Bull-dawg

James Brown and Bluetwo fixtures of UGA 
football during the mid-to-late '70sat the 
team's walk through for the '76 Cotton Bowl.
Ever had a very likable friend that, simply put, just made it happen?  He or she always seemed around, everyone enjoyed their presence, and if something needed to be obtained or achievedlike finding a ticket to a certain game or concert, or gaining access to some VIP areahe/she somehow always found a way to get it done.

Many members of Georgia's football teams of the mid-to-late 1970s had such a frienda guy I first became familiar with at last year's Letterman's BBQas former players spoke of him with the admiration similarly to that of an All-American teammate.

His real name was Gene, but he went by his nickname, "Blue."  And, at the BBQ it seemed like every Bulldog who played from about 1974 through 1978 wondered what ole Blue was currently up todid anyone know his whereabouts?

Interestingly, Blue was not a Bulldog player, nor was he a trainer, manager, cheerleader, etc.  He was just ole Bluethe greatest "team follower" in the history of UGA football. 

Blue was not even a native of the area, growing up about 700 miles away from Athens. He was in the Navy fresh out of high school and stationed in South Carolina when his fondness of the Georgia football program began.  It all started when he wanted to see a friend from homea Bulldog player during the mid-70sso he ventured to Athens for merely a visit, but returned intrigued with Georgia football, and it intrigued with him. 

Every chance Blue got to visit his hometown friend, and all of his Georgia teammates, he did so, leaving his Navy base in South Carolina and venturing west for the weekend.  And, he never missed a home game.

I was told, it was the day following a particular home affair when Blue was where he always was the day after a Bulldogs' game: at the Coliseum saying "good bye" to the players before their Sunday meetings, and before he was to return to base. As Blue walked away towards his carthe familiar white Pinto station wagon with wood panelingCoach Dooley walked up to a group of waving players. Some will tell you that Coach Dooley wasn't even familiar with every member of his own team, but he was certainly familiar with Blue.

"Who is that guy?"  Dooley asked the group of players.  "I see him everywhere!"

"The guy was like dog sh-- after the snow meltseverywherethe bus, the locker room, you name it," a former player said of Blue.  "I think even Coach Dooley quietly accepted Blue’s presence.  He was so much part of the team, I wouldn't be surprised if our trainers wrapped Blue’s ankle before games."

It has been said Blue first became "part" of the team by carrying a star player's shoulder pads on the bus for him.  For the next few years, those same shoulder pads would be brought onto the team bus by Blue, and there he'd sit with the team as the only individual on the entire bus not actually associated with the team.

Notably, it was on one of the team buses following a big victory when some alumni approached from outside, calling through the open windows, ready to hand out some "$50 handshakes."  Blue thought, what the heck?, and stuck his arm out a bus window.  Just like the standout players were handed, he too received $50 for a job well done.

Blue was one of those people who quickly made friends with seemingly everyoneplayers, cheerleaders, and even coaches.  He was innovative, as well, creating the "Shag Rag"the name "SHAG" and jersey No. "80" on a towelfor wide receiver Steve "Shag" Davis, marking what I believe to be the first personalized equipment accessory in UGA football history.  At the 1976 Cotton Bowl, while the Georgia players, coaches, and their wives attended the pregame galas during the weekget thisBlue babysat the kids of an assistant coach.  On the return flight home, Blue got to fly on the chartered plane carrying UGA President Fred Davison and the Georgia cheerleaders, assuredly saying "Go Dogs!" all the way home.

From the "Shag Rag" to "DAWGS," Blue
was innovative among having many 
other quality traits.
And, who could forget the way Blue would say, "Go Dogs!"  With his Mid-Atlantic accent, he would prolong "Dogs," mimicking a southern drawl, sounding more like "D-awwwww-gs."

A year later, after the team landed in New Orleans for the 1977 Sugar Bowl, and boarded a bus headed for the Hyatt Regency, they heard a car horn blowing while en route to the hotel. Pulling up next to the bus was, you guessed it, the familiar white Pinto station wagon with wood paneling, bearing a sign cheering on the team. Blue had driven all the way from his Navy base to New Orleans, arriving at the exact same time the team bus had gotten onto the highway headed to the hotel.  

Appropriately, Blue would not only follow the bus to the Hyatt Regency, but he would sleep there, as well, staying with two players.  Later on, those two players brought a couple of girls back to the room, after which Blue soon spotted the girlfriend of one of the player's in the lobby.  It was Blue to the rescue, dashing from the lobby to the elevator and up many floors to warn his friendhis "teammate"his girlfriend had unexpectedly arrived.

Although he might have been in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, it was apparent not even Blue was going to be attending the Sugar Bowlhe had no ticket, and the game was a complete sellout.  One of the rooming players gave Blue his key to the room so he could watch it on TV.  Nevertheless, remember who we're talking about heresomeone who, when faced with no ticket, it simply meant no problem.

Prior to the start of the game, a couple players warming up on the field noticed a trainer's cart being not only pulled by a team trainer, but curiously there was also a "trainer" dressed in all-white trainer's garb and sporting a Georgia cap pushing the cart.  Of course, it was Blue, who had somehow, some way found some trainer's clothing and snuck down onto the field, hiding his midsection from authorities behind the cart not to reveal the fact he had no sideline pass. As soon as Blue reached the Georgia sideline, the players observed him walk up to and briefly chat with a Bulldog assistantthe same one he had babysat for a year before. The assistant coach soon handed his sideline pass over to Blue.

Most of Blue's closest teammates graduated after the 1976 season, so sightings of the guy who always seemed to be around began to decrease.  There was the case of a graduated player who wanted to return to Athens for the 1977 Kentucky game to witness Prince Charles' visit.  He first called the athletic office for a ticket; they were no help.  His second call was to the guy who seemed to always find a ticket, ole Blue, and of course Blue delivered with a ticket to the game.

In 1978, Blue was still around.  Here, during the Georgia Tech game that season, and with the Bulldogs trailing the Yellow Jackets, 20 to 0, Georgia's freshman phenom quarterback begins warming up to relieve starter Jeff Pyburn. That's Blue in the blue sweater, having recently grown a beard.  That's Buck Be-lue, No. 8, who would lead the Bulldogs to a come-from-behind 29 to 28 victory (but due in large part to Blue's presence, I'd like to think):


It was soon after this game and his enlistment in the Navy ended, it is believed Blue stopped venturing to Athens.  During the 1979 NFL season, he was spotted again in a locker room, but this time it was following a game at the Baltimore Colts, where former-Bulldog Bucky Dilts (1974-1976) was the Colts' punter and seemingly Blue's "ticket" to associate with a new team.

Thirty-five years later, this leads to tomorrow and another Letterman's BBQ prior to Georgia's noon game with Troy.  And, rumor has it the ever-mysterious, yet faithful and lovable Blue might be returning to Athens to unite with his former Georgia Bulldog "teammates" for the first time since the late 1970s. Because of work responsibilities, I unfortunately will not be able to attend the BBQ; therefore, I thought I'd use this space to salute the greatest "team follower" in the history of UGA football.

Let me add, even if you don't have that friend, like Blue, who somehow always finds a way to get it done, you actually were already connected with Blue to a small degree even before you read this piece.

As indicated, Blue was rather innovative...  Remember the sign I mentioned on the outside of his familiar white Pinto station wagon with wood panelingthe one cheering on the team prior to the 1977 Sugar Bowl?  Like Blue's pronunciation of the team's shortened nickname, the sign read, "GO DAWGS!" According to players on the bus, it was the first time they had ever seen "Dogs" spelled in that manner, and the first time I'm aware of that the nickname "Dawgs" was visibly associated with Georgia football.   

Finally, here's to you, Bluea true Bulldog through and through!  Through your association with UGA football long ago, when you repeatedly got it done, we Georgia fans have been able to say, "Go Dawgs!" for decades instead of using just plain "Dogs." 

September 12, 2014

The Columbia Curse Abounds

Not since Zeier lit up the 'Cocks 20 years ago
has a UGA offense been potent in Columbia. Of
course, the Dogs are not alone regarding
offensive struggles in the Soda City.  
It has been said South Carolina football, along with the rest of the school's athletic teams, have been stricken with the Chicken Curse, afflicting mediocrity on all Gamecock teams and their athletes. However, the curse has been alleviated to some degree following baseball national championships in 2010 and 2011, and Spurrier's 'Cocks capturing the SEC East in 2010 followed by three consecutive 11-win seasons.

Still, there is a curse which prevails in the city of Columbia, although this particular misfortune has impaired our very own Georgia Bulldogs--the Columbia Curse.

The Columbia Curse has been widely accepted, especially leading up to this week's game at Williams-Brice Stadium. Even Coach Richt is fully aware of the burden: "To think that the last nine times, the most amount of points was 20," said Richt at his recent Tuesday press conference. "I knew what it had been for us when I’ve been at Georgia, but I didn’t realize it went back that far."

In short, the Bulldogs have endured the Columbia Curse by exhibiting a rather stagnant offense, hardly able to put points on the scoreboard, following the teams' meeting in Columbia in 1994.  Beginning in 1996, when then-first-year head coach Jim Donnan lost at South Carolina, 23 to 14, Georgia has failed to score more than 20 points against the 'Cocks on the road in nine consecutive trips.  What makes the Bulldogs' ineptness on offense even more puzzling is that they scored more than 20 points in 7 of the 11 games in Columbia prior to 1996.

To put Georgia's inefficiency on offense at South Carolina in perspective, the following are the per-game averages of points, total yards, offensive plays, offensive touchdowns, turnovers committed, and field goals made by the Bulldogs in Columbia, in which Georgia has won 5 of 9 meetings since 1994, and in Athens, resulting in 7 wins in 10 games during the same time period:

Georgia vs. SC (1995-2013)   at Columbia   at Athens 
Points                                             13.2          29.0
Yards                                            299.9        396.3
Plays                                              62.0          69.6
Off. TDs                                           1.1            3.1
TOs lost                                           2.4            1.5
FGs made                                         1.4            1.7

In a word--extraordinary.  Ever since Eric Zeier put on a passing clinic at South Carolina in 1994, throwing for 485 yards and three touchdowns, in a 24-21 Georgia victory, the curse has been alive and well, comparatively speaking. Playing the Gamecocks in Athens compared to at Columbia over the last two decades, Georgia has averaged more than twice the number of points, nearly 100 more yards, two more offensive touchdowns per game, and has committed about one less turnover.

For tomorrow, here's to a return to 20 years ago, when Georgia's offense was potent in Columbia, beginning as early as the game's second play:   



So, what's the problem--why has the Bulldogs' offense struggled so when facing the Gamecocks at their place?  No one seems to know--not even the head Bulldog of them all: "I don't know," Richt repeated three times when asked what made the South Carolina game in Columbia so difficult in the past. "Just a great atmosphere, great defense and Georgia not getting it done," he speculated.

Yet, as I watched the '94 Georgia-South Carolina, longing for a return to when we seemingly moved the ball at will against the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice, I soon recalled some of the home team's recent offensive performances as the Bulldogs were struggling.

The following is the same as above, but South Carolina's per-game averages in Columbia and in Athens against Georgia after 1994:

SC vs. Georgia vs. (1995-2013)   at Columbia   at Athens 
Points                                                 14.3          21.1
Yards                                                305.4        345.2
Plays                                                  63.0          69.0
Off. TDs                                               1.7            2.1
TOs lost                                               1.7            1.7
FGs made                                             0.2            1.4

Although not quite the difference as in Georgia's offensive production, the Gamecock offense has performed notably better against the Bulldogs in Athens than in their own stadium: a touchdown better per game, gaining 40 more yards, while committing the same number of turnovers per contest at home than away. 

So, what would be the reason for South Carolina's curious drop off on offense at home against Georgia?  Personally, and like Coach Richt said, I don't know. Maybe its the great atmosphere, a great [Georgia] defense, and South Carolina not getting it done, as well.

One thing is evident: although Georgia has been afflicted by the Columbia Curse for a long time now, it appears the same curse has been plaguing the team impaired by the Chicken Curse before--the other team in the rivalry... cursed in its very own backyard.

September 5, 2014

When It Paid to Lose

(click image to enlarge) Like a wedding at the half in '78, a dog on the field during a 
1st half in '97, and kicking off to open both halves in '86, UGA's defensive performance in the 2nd half last Saturday could be a spectacle never witnessed again at Sanford Stadium.  

The day after Georgia's 45-21 win over Clemson, I got a call from a friend, "Bulldawg Carl," who wanted to discuss the impressive victory.  

Referring to the Bulldogs yielding just 15 yards, one first down, and no points in the second half after allowing 276, 14, and 21, respectively, in the first, my friend declared, and I quote, "There might be many outstanding defensive performances for the Bulldogs to come; but, dude, you'll probably never, ever witness it again in Sanford Stadium what happened there Saturday night after halftime."

"Probably never, ever"that's a strong expression.  Still, my friend's statement got me thinking back to previous on-field events or occurrences "Between the Hedges" in my lifetime that haven't happened since, and probably won't in the future, and three immediately came to mind. 

In 1978 during halftime of the Vanderbilt game, a UGA student couple was literally married in a three-minute ceremony while the Redcoat Band performed its "Wedding Show."  As a student in 1997, I'll never forget the labrador that sprinted onto the field during the first half of the Dogs hosting the 'Cats of Kentucky on Homecoming.  And finally, in between in 1986, I recalled the unusual circumstances which ensued during halftime of the Ole Miss game, the details of which were recently cleared up for me in an interview with All-American John Little.

From what I remember as transpiring on a beautiful early-October afternoon in Athens, Georgia surprisingly trailed the Rebels at halftime, 10 to 7.  In 1986, Ole Miss was a pretty good team, especially on defense, entering the game ranked 11th in the nation in total defense, but they weren't supposed to be that good.

The team captains, including safety Little for Georgia, met with the referee just after halftime, followed by the Rebels promptly lining up to kickoff to the Bulldogs to begin the second halfrather routine, except for the fact Ole Miss had kicked off to begin the first half, as well.

The same team kicking off to begin both halves?  

An 11 year old at the time, I distinctly remember overhearing a man in the crowd indicating the Rebels purposely kicked off to start both halves because of their stout defenseforce Georgia to punt deep inside its own territory, and the Ole Miss offense should get the ball in good field position.

On the contrary, what was believed by some to be team strategy was actually a gaffe, essentially resulting in a Rebel tragedy. 

Ole Miss had won the coin toss, deferring its decision to the second half. Assuming the Rebels would then obviously want the ball, Georgia elected to receive the kickoff to open the game.   

After halftime, Little and the referee were curiously joined by two Ole Miss captainspunter Bill Smith and placekicker Bryan Owenneither of whom had been the Rebels' captain to begin the ballgame.

A Georgia victory was reached over Ole Miss in
'86 primarily because of No. 14 Jackson's passing,
and No. 19 Little simply not saying a word.
"The referee asked [the kickers] what they wanted to do, and one of them said, 'we want to kick that way,'" Little informed me during our interview.  "The referee looked at me confused, but I didn't say a word."

Little ran to the Georgia sideline, announcing Ole Miss was going to kickoff again.  "Everybody was asking me what had happened, and I just replied that their kickers said they wanted to kick."

Realizing his team's error, Ole Miss head coach Billy Brewer tried to get the referee to change the call, but it was too late.  The kickers had elected to kickoff to begin the second half, Little hadn't opposed, and the Bulldogs were more than happy to receive an opening-half kickoff for the second time.

Similarly to last Saturday when Todd Gurley's kickoff return for a touchdown seemingly electrified Georgia's efforts against Clemson, Ole Miss' blunder nearly 30 years before evidently jump-started the Bulldogs' defensive play versus the Rebels.  Reportedly, "while Ole Miss controlled the ball in the first half, Georgia's defense stopped the Rebels in the second half."

Defensively in the second half, Georgia allowed Ole Miss no points, and about half the number of first downs and total yards than yielded during the first half.  On offense, running-quarterback James Jackson looked more like Dan Marino (for a UGA quarterback of the time), finishing with 11 completions for 161 yards, or about two and a half times what he totaled per game the season before.

Perhaps most decisively, because the Rebels kicked off to begin the second half, they faced a steady wind during the fourth quarter"a significant advantage" for the Bulldogs, it was reported.  After not turning the ball over in the first three quarters, Ole Miss threw two interceptions in the fourth, including the game-winning pick deep in Georgia territory with less than a minute remaining, corralled by Doug Samuelan unknown redshirt freshman cornerback, who would hardly set foot again on a football field as a Bulldog.   
   
Following Georgia's 14-10 victory, Vince Dooley was asked to comment on how his team lost the opening coin toss, yet received the kickoff to start both halves.  The Bulldog head coach just laughed and then uttered, "Sometimes it pays to lose."

After the game, captain Little expanded a little further on the unusual incident: "I haven't been [game] captain too many times, but that's never happened [to me] before.  I've never even seen it happen before."

As a player, Little also wouldn't see it repeated.  And, like Bulldawg Carl insisted about the defense's recent performance against the Tigers, "dude, you'll probably never, ever witness it again in Sanford Stadium."   



August 30, 2014

It's TIME!

Hopefully, my coverage of the team this 
season will be better than my photo-
taking skills from Tuesday's press conf. 
Specifically for me, it's DAWGTIME this fall...  

The UGA Fan's Media Guide football annual is expanding its online presence and yours truly is fortunate enough to be covering the Bulldogs this season for DawgTime.com

On the site, I'll be posting write-ups and videos of press conference/player interviews, game previews, and game recaps.

All season long:
...for the latest write-up on Tuesday's press conference/player interviews;
...for the latest videos of the weekly player & coach interviewsand, beginning with today's Clemson game, here's the latest preview, and within a couple hours of the game's end, a game recap will be posted as well.

Go Dawgs!

August 28, 2014

In Celebration of Coach Magill, I Concur...

There's a "celebration of life" scheduled for noon today at the Athens Country Club, and if ever a life should be celebrated, it's that of the legendary Dan Magill.  

Over the last several days, a lot has been posted on Coach Magill regarding his accomplishments, what he stood for, how he is the greatest Bulldog of all time, and how he touched so many people's lives.  Therefore, for what it's worth, I felt compelled to post how he personally touched mine.

During the summer of 2007, when I was putting the finishing touches on About Them Dawgs!my encyclopedia-like book consisting of Bulldog facts, stats, and informationthere was a specific individual I had in mind to write its foreword, who stood head and shoulders above the rest.

At that point, I had never met Coach Magill, but when I visited him at his office inside the tennis hall of fame, he instantly made me feel like we were long-time friends.  After he gave me a tour of the facility, introduced me to the hall's "night watchman" (many of you know exactly "who" I speak of), and I briefed him on the foreword he graciously agreed to write, I then decided to leave him beI'm sure the great Dan Magill has a lot more other things to do, I thought to myself.

As I headed for the door, he interrupted with something on the order of, "What do you think of that freshman sensation we have in the backfield?"

Of course, he was talking about redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno; however, with Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin returning at the position, while Moreno had yet to set foot on a college gridiron, I questioned as I returned to sit at his desk, "Do you think he'll even see the field in the opener [against Oklahoma State]?" 

Coach Magill responded with something like, "Oh, not only will he play, you'll be hearing a lot about him!"

Chuckling, I then asked the king of nicknames if he had already bestowed a moniker to Moreno.  And, he hadn'tnot yet, anyway. But, Coach Magill stated that if he eventually did so, the name might have to do with how Moreno seemed to "hit the hole" so quickly. Magill, who had observed Moreno in practice, added something like, "he hits the hole quicker than any Bulldog I've seen since Frankie Sinkwich."

On that summer day, I wound up talking to Coach Magill at least an hour more than when I had originally gotten up to leave.  And, we all know what ever came of "that freshman sensation"by the following summer, the third-stringer-turned-superstar was being touted for the Heisman Trophy.

Along with possessing a number of attributes and accomplishmentstoo many to listCoach Magill, as simple as it sounds, knew what he was talking about. And, when he spoke, it would be to your benefit to listen up.

Through snail mail just days later, I promptly received the foreword, which appeared as if it was actually typed using an old typewriter.  Nevertheless, it was certainly Magill-esque, mentioning the two Georgia players he believed stood "head and shoulders above the rest: Herschel Walker, the Goal Line Stalker," and "Charley Trippi, the Italian Stallion." Coach Magill ended his foreword with, "Immortal Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd called Charley Trippi the greatest all-round player he had ever seen. Of the hundreds of memorable and outstanding football players I have observed since the 1920s, I concur with Coach Dodd."

For the next several years, I'd speak with Coach Magill two or three times a year, whether in person or by phone, about just whatever.  Between one and two years ago, I was curious about his renowned reputation of nicknaming UGA football players, particularly the identity of the very first player he nicknamed, and wanted to compile a thorough listing beyond what Georgia reveals in its records. However, upon attempting to reach out to him is when I was informed he had been placed in assisted living.  My research in discovering the history of Magill's nicknames would likely have to be conducted without the assistance of the "king of nicknames" himself.

Coach Magill in 1950
A discovery: In 1950, or a year after returning to UGA to begin his long tenure as sports publicity director, among his many, many other duties, Coach Magill served as an "encyclopedia and almanac," providing assistance to The Red and Black. In August of that year, he also wrote a piece for the newspaperthe only article he'd write for The Red and Black over a long period of timefeaturing a particular Bulldog quarterback, and with it, bestowing one of his firstif not the firstUGA football nicknames.

Third-year quarterback Billy Grant of Valdosta had starred on Georgia's freshman Bullpups' team in 1948, but then broke a finger prior to the '49 season and was held out of competition.  Entering 1950, Grant appeared to be the varsity's No. 3 quarterback behind Mal Cook and Ray Prosperi, who combined to pass for over 1,000 yards the year before.  

Only a couple of weeks prior to Magill's article, a writer for The Red and Black declared Cook and Prosperi "a notch" ahead of Grant at quarterback when highly-touted Maryland would be arriving to Athens in late September.  Yet, Magill would claim, "Grant is one of those 'game' players...when the chips are down you can depend on him."  The chips would likely be down facing the favored Terrapins, but similarly to how I questioned Moreno playing in the 2007 season opener, one might have questioned Magill on whether Grant could conceivably see the field in the opening game of 1950.

Coach Magill must have believed Billy Grant would do much more than just see the field as he dubbed the quarterback, "the Valdosta Volcano."  And, similarly to his prognosis of Moreno 57 years later, Magill ended his article with, "You'll be hearing a lot about the Valdosta Volcano this fall."

Long story short, not only did the reserve Grant inexplicably start against Marylandforecasted as a two-to-three touchdown favoritebut, in the end, the Bulldogs reportedly "whipped the turtle shells from off their backs" in a shocking 27 to 7 victory. Grant's statistics weren't flashy, passing for a single touchdown, but he indeed was a dependable "game" player, who demonstrated "generalship and command" of the team like few had ever seen from a quarterback, according to one of Grant's teammates recently. When Grant was lost for the season with a knee injury the following game, and his Georgia career essentially over, "it took the wind out of our sails," the same teammate informed me, "and we could never really recover."

Like the immortal Dodd calling Trippi the greatest all-round player ever, the Bulldog Nation regards Coach Magill as the greatest all-round Bulldog ever. And, I concur.  If I could add, when the greatest Bulldog ever spoke, whether out loud or via his typewriter, it was beneficial for all to listen up.  I was fortunate enough to learn this lesson first hand; I was fortunate enough to get to know Coach Magill. 

Rest in Peace, Coach.  To the audience that awaits you in that Better Place, you've probably heard a lot about Dan Magill already; however, if I could stress, when he speaks, I'd listen up if I were you.  Simply put, the man knows what he's talking about.   

August 22, 2014

Don't Get Left Outside...

You only have one week remaining!
 
This a reminder that Athens Football Rentals has the solution to what many of us are still facing and there's only one week until the Georgia-Clemson weekend: no place to stay come August 29th.
 
Please visit their site!  Athens Football Rentals still has great rates for quality rentals within walking distance of Sanford Stadium.  Booking will soon close for the Clemson game.  Also, checkout their partner site, University Football Rentals, for when the Dawgs play on the road.
 
For when the Dawgs play at home, don't be like Uga III in the photo from the late 1970s and get left outside, or worse, in some hole in the ground.  Checkout Athens Football Rentals...

August 18, 2014

Much More Than a "Little" Recovery

Raise a hand for each season you
were a first-team All-American...
Two weeks prior to the season opener against Clemson, I reached out to a former UGA football playera Bulldog hero of mine as a kidwho had two notable games against the Tigers; one of which was rather memorable to me, the other apparently forgettable for him. 

The 1986 Georgia-Clemson game was supposed to be a little different than the close, nail-biting defensive affairs which had preceded it in the rivalry.  The Bulldogs, which had routed Duke in their opener, were nearly a double-digit favorite over the Tigers, which had been upset by Virginia Tech at home the week before.  Instead, Clemson inexplicably rolled through the Bulldogs seemingly at will, gaining nearly 300 rushing yards while averaging almost five yards per carry.  The poor-passing Tigers even found success through the air, and at the end, found themselves ahead on the scoreboard after their placekicker, David Treadwell, won the game with a 46-yard field goal with no time remaining.

The Georgia defense would get called out following the loss, especially its senior leader and team captainone who entered the Clemson game considered perhaps the best and most important player on the field.

"I must have had a bad game because I don't remember much from it," John Little informed me with a slight chuckle regarding the '86 Clemson game.  Little had been a first-team All-American defensive back the season before as a junior.  "Honestly, I don't remember if I had a bad game, an okay game, or whatI really don't.  What was even the score?"

Clemson 31, Georgia 28, marking the first time in nearly 40 years since a 41-28 loss to Texas in the 1949 Orange Bowl that a Bulldog team scored more than 24 points and did not win.

I had asked Little about the '86 Clemson game because of the aftermath that followed, when a team's head coach uncharacteristically named names and pointed the finger.  This was especially uncharacteristic of this particular coach, who exemplified the "the team is much greater than the individual" principle.

"You just don't inherit a job," Vince Dooley said following the setback.  "You earn it based on your performance and [Little] has not performed."  The head coach would add Little did have "a lot of company" (teammates) as far as those who had also played poorly on defense.


How the mighty had fallen, especially considering the memorable performance Little had against Clemson in 1985, then highlighting a brilliant Bulldog career which had been successful as soon as he finally set foot on the field.

Little, an All-State high school quarterback from Lynn Haven, FL, had decided to attend college six hours north of home because of a closeness he developed with assistant Ray Goff after being largely ignored by the major nearby programs during the recruiting process.  Soon after arriving in Athens, the signal caller was making another transformationthis time, to the other side of the ball.

"I remember looking at a depth chart [in the summer of 1982] and I was about the ninth quarterback out of 10," Little recalled.  "I was moved to defense pretty soon after thatmaybe the third practice."  To assist him in making a smooth transition, Little was redshirted as a true freshmanaccording to him, "a great move for me."  Turns out, yes, it was indeed.
 
Little was placed at the roverback spot—a position which is essentially a combination of a safety and linebacker, and occupied by a player capable to sniff out running plays, help out in pass coverage, while simply making big plays.  Georgia had started utilizing the "rover" approximately a decade before in the early 1970s upon moving from a six to a five-man defensive front.  "It might have been the best position on the defense, in that if you put yourself in the right position, you made a lot of plays," Little added.
 
Against Clemson in '85, Little (bottom on ground)
stopped the run as well as the pass, tripping up
Clemson's Kenny Flowers (No. 48) on this play.
 
Entering the 1983 season, the Bulldogs had their smartest, hardest-working, and biggest play-making defender starting at roverback in senior Terry Hoage.  The year before, Hoage had tallied an NCAA-leading and UGA-record 12 interceptions while earning consensus All-American recognition.  For 1983, it appeared Little would likely have to wait an entire season as Hoage's understudy until seeing significant playing time.
 
An injury to safety Charlie Dean in the third game of the season shifted Hoage to Dean's position while moving Little into the starting rover slot.  Making his first collegiate start the next week against Mississippi State, the freshman had what would be his finest performance of the season, recording 15 tackles, including one for loss, and breaking up a pass.  Little finished the campaign starting six games, or actually one more than Hoage, becoming just the second freshman defensive back in the Coach Dooley era to be considered a season starter.
 
As a sophomore in 1984, Little closed the regular season by making 25 tackles against Georgia Tech; no Bulldog defender has tallied as many in a single game since then.  And, it was during this time the young roverback started to be compared to his legendary predecessor.  From both being unheralded, out-of-state former high school quarterbacks to having tremendous success academically to developing into standout roverbacks, Hoage and Little's experience at UGA was becoming eerily similar.  Entering the 1985 campaign, Little was even "in the same class with Terry Hoage," according to defensive coordinator Bill Lewis.
 
"Before the game, we were on the field stretching and the Clemson players first rubbed that rock, and then ran down the hill," Little recalled of the Clemson game that year.  "Plus, it was really hot if I remember correctly.  So, playing at Clemson was pretty intimidating.  We played at LSU the next season, and that was tough, but Clemson was probably the toughest place to play in my opinion."
 
For the first nationally-televised football game at Clemson, Georgia faced the Tigers in Death Valley for the third game of its 1985 season.  With the Bulldogs leading the Tigers 17 to 13 midway through the fourth quarter and Clemson approaching midfield, Little intercepted a Randy Anderson pass, prompting CBS-TV's Brent Musburger to erupt, "It's Little—the roverback has done it for Georgia!  It is the most glamorous position on that Georgia team!...The number-one man in Georgia that the fans want to know about is, who's going to play rover..."
 
With just over a minute remaining and Georgia having added a field goal to lead Clemson by a touchdown, Anderson heaved a pass into the end zone from the Bulldogs' 36-yard line.  Little dove in the air literally over the intended Tiger receiver, making a spectacular interception and clinching a 20-13 victory for the Bulldogs—Georgia's first win at Clemson in nine years.  Little's memorable two-interception performance earned him SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors; it would be more than two years later before another Bulldogs' defensive back received the same recognition.
 
Whether having a performance which earns conference defensive player of the week honors in one season, or the head coach declaring the All-American roverback in jeopardy of being demoted to a second-teamer the next, Little doesn't remember much in regards to individual play from either of his distinguished performances against the Tigers.  Instead, what stands out the most regarding the Georgia-Clemson rivalry came when he was merely standing on the sidelines.
 
"Honestly, the time we played Clemson on Labor Day night the year I was redshirted sticks out the most for me," Little said referring to the 1982 meeting and that season's opener.  "We were down [7 to 0] but then [Dale Carver] blocked a punt for a touchdown to tie it, and Sanford Stadium went nuts.  I didn't play, but that was my first game experience at the University of Georgia, and [the 13-7 victory] was phenomenal!" 
 
Although he likely wouldn't acknowledge it, what was also phenomenal, but not all that surprising, was Little's recovery from his game against Clemson four years later as a senior.  Just a week following the loss, he made a critical second-quarter interception at South Carolina, leading to a touchdown in an eventual five-point victory.  Against Kentucky, Little scored his only touchdown while at Georgia, intercepting a Wildcat pass and returning it 46 yards for a score—what would be the only interception return for a touchdown by a UGA player over a span of 64 consecutive regular-season games (September 1983 to November 1988).  Moving positions for similar reasons why Hoage was moved from roverback three seasons before, Little played most of the 1986 season at safety, ending the campaign with an interception against Boston College in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
 
Little (extreme right) is mobbed by teammates (L to R)
Tony Mangram, Calvin Ruff, and Gary Moss following
his diving, game-winning interception vs. the Tigers.
In 1985, Little had been recognized as a first-team All-American by the Football News.  By season's end a year later, he had received the same honor from the same magazine, in addition to being selected by the Walter Camp Foundation.  To date, Little remains one of just approximately a dozen Bulldogs to be recognized at the end of two seasons as a first-team All-American. 
 
Just a couple of months before the end of the 1986 season, Dooley had claimed Little had to "earn" his starting job.  I'm guessing the head coach would be the first to declare it was a job absolutely well earned by one of the greatest defenders in UGA football history.
 
At the end of his tenure at Georgia, Little's 381 career tackles, 18 passes broken up, 5 forced fumbles, and 10 interceptions ranked 5th, 3rd, 3rd, and 10th, respectively, all time at UGA.  Invited to play in the 1987 Senior Bowl, Little helped the South to a victory over the North by intercepting a pass thrown by then-Michigan quarterback, now-49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.
 
After not being chosen in the NFL Draft, Little was invited for a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.  Eventually earning a free agent contract, he was a member of the team for nearly four months until leaving the squad only a few weeks prior to the Dolphins' regular-season opener.  
 
For 25 years, Little has worked for Georgia Crown Distributing.  He lives in the Columbus, GA, area and in his spare time, he's very involved with his two teenage boys' travel baseball teams.  Therefore, Little might see the Bulldogs in person once or twice each fall.  "I don't miss them on TV though; I still love my Dawgs!" he added. 
 
And, there's no way he'll miss his beloved Dawgs come August 30th against Clemson.
 
"You know, when I was at Georgia, to a lot of us, the rivalry with Clemson was as big as Georgia-Florida, if not bigger," Little said towards the end of our conversation.  "They had a lot of players from the state of Georgia, but we had about four or five standouts from South Carolina: Clarence Kay, Tron Jackson, Kenny Sims, Norris Brown... (who all together happened to be members of only the 1982 Georgia team)."  He continued, "There was so much atmosphere and electricity for that game in 1982—the previous two national champions playing against one another, on ABC-TV on Labor Day night, under newly-installed lights...  it was like it was the 'Game of the Decade.'"
 
By way of the Georgia-Clemson rivalry, John Little was not only proof that after apparently a poor outing, one can recover and perform as well as before, if not better, but evidence that Georgia's big "TEAM"-little "me" philosophy instilled into him more than 30 years ago is still obvious today.

August 8, 2014

Say Cheese!

Picture Day was a little easier back when Quincy
commanded a crowd in '98, and especially when
the likes of DAWG! and Rusty Gillespie roamed
the practice fields in '84.
Yesterday, I was given details regarding Georgia's annual picture day or "Fan Day," or "Fans' Picture Day," if you prefer, happening a week from tomorrow. 
 
I surprise some people when I inform them I've been to only one picture day in my life, and that was 30 years ago.  Therefore, I'm rather unaccustomed to some of the current event's specifics.  For example, for access to Coach Richt and Uga IX, special ticket coupons are requiredand just 150 of those are even available.  From the time the ticket coupons are handed out until Richt is actually accessible to those select few is a span of, oh, only six hours.  Also, as far as getting memorabilia signed by players, coaches, etc., fans are limited to two items per person.  And, UGA actually provides those two items in the form of 2014 Football Schedule posters; no other memorabilia can be brought inside picture day.
 
This all is likely not news to a lot of you, but it certainly was to me.  Apparently, besides being a big UGA football devotee, a requirement for attending a picture day of late is having a lot of patience. 
 
The event's modern-day guidelines got me thinking back to a time when picture day was, well, simpler.  A lasting image I have in my head is one of Quincy Carter in 1998, being mobbed by fans while signing much more than football schedule posters.  I also think back to my lone picture day when there were hardly any lines, and absolutely no wait at all if you found the right player, or Dawg.

When my sister and I were let free to roam the Woodruff practice fields in August 1984, my plan for the two-hour event was to first seek out those standing by their lonesome (I guess I didn't have much patience back then either.).  I first came across "Fluffie" or "Fluffie Dawg."  For you older Dog fans, do you remember UGA football's first costumed mascot, preceding the renowned Hairy Dawg by several years?  Although the first, Fluffie had become a distant second to Hairy in popularity by 1984, and would soon disappear altogether.  Nevertheless, on picture day 30 years ago, he signed the cover of a media guide I had brought into the event with simply, "DAWG!"

I next turned to a player standing alone that I didn't recognize.  I'll never forget, the player took my media guide, mumbled something on the order of, "I think I'm in here somewhere," and found and then signed his bio photo.  Senior Rusty Gillespie, a walk-on second-stringer at both placekicker and punter, was indeed featured in the media guide, but was actually the only one listed without a jersey number.  Regardless, Gillespie was a standout JV kicker for UGA, and would defeat Georgia Tech just over three months later with a game-winning field goal to capture the 50th annual Bullpups-Baby Jackets game.  Last I heard, Gillespie was an assistant coach at Kell High in Marietta, appropriately coaching kickers and punters.

I don't remember much from picture day of 1984, except for my memorable autographs from DAWG! and Gillespie, I only had to waita short waitin a line, maybe two, and above all, everything seemed rather laidback and easy.

Georgia's annual "Picture Day" was even more so effortless, yet perhaps more eventful, when it began to become popular during the 1970s, or when the media first started covering the event. 

At Picture Day in 1975, the greatest defensive coordinator
and mascot in football were both easily accessible.  And,
apparently, Uga III was even available for doggie rides.
In 1975, the Bulldogs were coming off a disappointing 6-6 season the year before, and were actually supposed to be even worse in the upcoming campaign.  The preseason predictions for '75 were said to be the "worst ever in Dooley's regime."  Yet, at picture day that year held literally on the field at Sanford Stadium, Georgia's head coach seemed to know something few others were aware of.  The always-pessimistic Dooley was unusually upbeat and optimistic, prompting a photographer to say, "Usually Dooley is down.  I never heard him say such good things [about his team]."  Picked to finish towards the bottom of the SEC, Dooley and his "Junkyard Dogs" would soon embark on a nine-win regular season resulting with a major bowl appearance.

Five years later on August 16, 1980, Georgia held what was believed to be the then-most attended Picture Day ever with approximately 2,000 fans.  Dooley unveiled the new pants his squad would be sporting that season—silver britches—while Leroy Dukes, a member of the last Georgia team to wear silver britches in 1963, was present passing out hats and bumper stickers declaring, "Go You Silver Britches."  Still, the day's biggest attraction was a true freshman tailback and wearer of those britches—Herschel Walker.

"I sure wasn’t expecting this," Walker said of the '80 Picture Day. "But I’m having a good time even though I’ve never held so many babies in my life."

After a young boy got Walker’s autograph, he asserted, "He’s the greatest football player in the country," and like Dooley had in 1975, the boy seemingly knew of something few others were aware of: "[Herschel's] going to make Georgia the best football team in the country."  And, we all know how the 1980 season transpired.
 
In 1986, the annual summer event essentially resulted in a noteworthy moment in the history of UGA athletics.  Henry King Stanford, who had been appointed the school's Interim President just a few months before, was seemingly unaware of the team's racial makeup until attending picture day.  There, he noticed "about half" the team was black, yet there were no African Americans serving on the Georgia Athletic Association Board of Directors at the time.  What soon followed was, according to Stanford, "I appointed two black colleagues to that board."
 
By the late 1990s, the spectacle Herschel "wasn't expecting" had grown even bigger.  In 1999, picture day attracted 5,000 fans and included representatives from every UGA team for the first time.  In 2000, it moved from the practice fields to inside for the first time at Stegeman Coliseum.  The next year—Coach Richt's first at UGA—the event moved again to the Classic Center.  For the first time, fans were asked to limit photographs, but the event still had a taste of the old by lasting just two hours.
 
By the mid-2000s, Picture Day had become a grand
event for many in the Bulldog Nation... if one was
willing to wait and try to find room to breath. 
It was a few years into the Richt era when UGA's picture day, or "Fan Day" as it was being called by then, began being distinguished not necessarily by foretelling coaches and fans, quotable players, or notable moments like in the past, but more so its sheer numbers of attending fans and how long they all waited in lines.
 
By 2003, picture day had increased to a four-hour event.  The next year, an estimated record 7,500 fans attended, including those that were in line by 7 a.m., or six hours before the doors opened.  
 
Over the last 10 years, Picture Day's location has changed again, but its number of attendees remain high, the lines long, while the guidelines and restrictions persist.  The event is now held at the Reed Plaza area of Sanford Stadium, while from the time the special coupon tickets are distributed until the affair officially ends is a span of a whopping eight hours.
 
In 2000, new offensive line coach Doug Marrone was astonished with the event, exclaiming, "I've never seen anything like this at a Picture Day.  This is really incredible."  You may question his judgement since the current head coach of the Buffalo Bills had just spent four seasons at Georgia Tech. Still, Marrone was witnessing around the time when UGA's Picture Day began its quick but drastic transformation to what it has become today: an event where patience is a virtue for many, and where there would even be a wait for a distant second-string kicker, and a forgotten second-string mascot.

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