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July 18, 2009

Junkyard Dogs

As a football season looms where Georgia's defense is expected to be hopefully tougher than a year ago, show more leadership, and be better overall, I'm reminded of a somewhat similar situation 34 years ago.

The Bulldog defense of 1974 had been dreadful, allowing more points per game (23.8) in school history since 1905 and more yards (356.5) than ever at Georgia. If not for a potent offensive attack, the '74 Bulldogs would have fared much worse than their 6-6 final record. Georgia's dissatisfying defense was especially surprising considering it was coordinated by the late, great Erk Russell (photo--UGA Sports Communications).

Entering the 1975 season, only two starters on defense returned and one of those, Erk's oldest son Rusty Russell, was switching from defensive end to linebacker. With less than a month before the season opener, it was reported seven of the 11 defensive starting positions were "unsettled." Could Georgia's defense of '75 actually be worse than the inept unit of the previous season?

Erk had an idea: First, he changed Georgia's defensive formation from the 5-2-4 to the Split-60 and, as importantly, gave the defense a moniker to inspire spirit and toughness--"Junkyard Dogs."

There isn't anything meaner than a junkyard dog," Erk said three weeks prior to the Bulldogs game against Pittsburgh on September 6. "They aren't good for nothing except for being mean and ornery. That's what we want our defense to be."

One of my favorite stories is when assistant coach John Kasay was being interviewed by the Athens Banner-Herald soon after the "Junkyard Dogs" were unveiled. Kasay, who had lived in Athens since starting school at UGA in 1962, discussed some well-known junkyard dogs that lived in the area. "[Kasay] told of two [junkyard dogs] that guarded Parrish Toyota, one at University Chevrolet, and the junkyard dog at Carter's Carburetor that was half blind, underfed, and ferocious at night." Soon afterwards, Junkyard Dogs t-shirts could be seen all over UGA's campus and the town of Athens.

Georgia's Junkyard Dogs were inexperienced and small (only two starters on defense weighed more than 210 pounds) but quick, tenacious, and known for their aggressive style of play. By late October, the Bulldogs, led by their defense, had unexpectedly won five of seven games while allowing just 288 yards and 14 points per game--a far cry from the defensive averages the year before.

Three days prior to Georgia's Homecoming game against Richmond on November 1, the song "Dooley's Junkyard Dogs" sung by James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, was released in Atlanta. The song was written by "Happy" Howard Williamson, part of Georgia football's radio network, who was inspired by the defense's surprising play in a victory in September. The song, cut on 100,000 records, was soon released. An oldie but certainly a goodie:



Note: Whether on this video's YouTube page or on other Bulldog blogs in the past, there is some debate of what game the video of James Brown and the Redcoat Band is taken from. Although Brown performed the song in Sanford Stadium on at least a couple of occasions, this recording is definitely from a Georgia-Florida game in the Gator Bowl. Around the time of the song's popularity, the Bulldogs wore red (see the red-jersied Georgia players enter the field towards the end of the video) in 1975 and 1977 against Florida. Since the tune was released only a little more than a week prior to the '75 game and I know for a fact Brown performed the song two weeks before the '77 game in Sanford Stadium versus Kentucky (Prince Charles' visit to Athens), I'm almost certain the video is from the 1977 Georgia-Florida game--an unfortunate 22-17 Gators win.

Georgia and its Junkyard Dogs would win its final four games to finish the regular season 9-2, #12 in the AP and #11 in the UPI polls, and earn a trip to the Cotton Bowl. Only a mid-October loss to Ole Miss kept the Bulldogs from winning an SEC championship (That's okay. We'd win it in '76.) and having an outside shot at playing for a national title--not bad for a team "unsettled" on seven of its 11 defensive starters only three weeks before its season-opening game.

I'm not advocating for a "Junkyard Dogs II" for the upcoming season--that has already been attempted. After three consecutive seasons of above-average defenses from 1984 to 1986, Georgia revealed its Junkyard Dogs II defense for the 1987 campaign. The new Junkyard Dogs finished seventh in the SEC in total defense (of 10 teams) and dead last in pass defense. Like many other Bulldog backers, I'm only hoping for more leadership, aggressiveness, and some improvement in this year's defense compared to last year's edition. Personally, I have a good feeling this will be the case...

1 comment:

Brad Taylor said...

I remember those Georgia teams of the 70s. The Junkyard Dogs were fun to watch. But, they were slightly over matched against Pittsburgh in the Sugar Bowl.