The 2010 Georgia football season kicks off in just four days. Whenever I think of season-opening games in Athens, I cannot help but to recall one of my first attended, most memorable, and favorite season openers at home for Bulldogs football.
I recently posted on Amp Arnold - a Hometown Hero of Georgia football - but perhaps the best example of hometown Bulldog heroics, particularly in a season opener, is Athens' own, Charlie Dean.
Dean started in the defensive backfield as a sophomore in high school on Clarke Central's state championship team of 1977. Two years later, Coach Billy Henderson had moved him to quarterback, where he guided the Gladiators to their second state championship in three years with Dean picking up All-State honors along the way.
Upon arriving to UGA, Dean was moved back to his old position and would play sparingly over his first three years as a Bulldog, recording just 10 combined tackles in 1981-1982 after playing exclusively on the JV squad during Georgia's national championship season of 1980.
Dean would finally get his big break, but it would come at the expense of Bulldog standout Jeff Sanchez in the form of a broken arm.
During spring practice of 1983, Sanchez - an All-SEC safety in 1982 - closed in on tailback Melvin Simmons, who was running a toss sweep during a scrimmage. Sanchez's arm got caught between Simmons' shoulder pads and the helmet of, of all people, Charlie Dean, who was trailing teammate Sanchez for a gang tackle. Sanchez's arm would break in a collision and he would be forced to miss the entire '83 season.
The player that inadvertently broke Sanchez's arm would ironically be his replacement at Georgia's lone safety position. Dean would have to take the place of an All-American candidate, who had only one less interception in 1982 (9 - second-most in the nation) than Dean had career tackles.
In being named the "Biggest Defensive Surprise of the Spring," Dean apparently made the most of the unforeseen opportunity, at first. However, during summer practices, Dean's performance slipped and Coach Dooley momentarily thought of dropping him from the first team to make room in the defensive backfield for an even more inexperienced Gary Moss, who had to yet to a play a down on the Bulldogs' varsity.
Georgia had already lost the great Herschel Walker to the pros and now its unsettled defense - a unit that returned just four starters following Sanchez's injury and a suspension handed down to Stan Dooley - was forced to face a pass-happy, defending Rose Bowl champion UCLA team in the opener at Sanford Stadium.
In an ugly game, which featured a sporadic, driving rain, a 12-0 second-quarter lead for the Bulldogs was only 12-6 with just over two minutes remaining and with the Bruins knocking on the door inside Georgia's 10-yard line. The Dogs forced UCLA to turn the ball over on downs and it appeared Georgia had escaped with a victory. But the Bruins weren't finished yet.
Unable to move the ball from deep in their own territory, the Bulldogs were forced to punt after just three plays and took an intentional safety so not to give UCLA good field position. Nevertheless, behind the direction of quarterback Rick Neuheisel, the Bruins soon were in great position at Georgia's 31-yard line with 33 seconds left.
Then Charlie Dean came to the rescue.
Neuheisel first looked to throw deep but couldn't find anyone open, which seems almost inconceivable since Georgia's game-clinching play came with only 10 Bulldogs on the field. So, the future NCAA Basketball Tournament pool participant decided to pass short instead for his tight end, Paul Bergman.
Dean may have been somewhat inexperienced to big-time football but he knew enough to bait Neuheisel by laying off Bergman, and just as the quarterback threw, Dean closed in and made a big-time play.
By the way, why does Dean get credit for only a 69-yard return? It's always been recognized as a 69-yarder and listed that way in Georgia's records. While the play was from the 31-yard line, Dean intercepts the pass at his 26 (maybe the 27), returning it for a 74-yard return. I always thought an interception return starts from the actual return, not the original line of scrimmage. Am I missing something here? But I regress...
You gotta love what Keith Jackson says (almost as much as Coach Dooley's red Gilligan hat) soon after Dean's 69- or 74-yard return: "The hometown boy does it... Charlie Dean...a senior from Athens, Georgia."
The hometown boy did finally do it as a Bulldog, and how.