I was sitting around with a group of my friends last night, discussing Coach Richt's recent move to bring in guest speakers prior to games for motivational purposes - an action that seems to be having a positive effect on the team.
"It has to be a good speaker for the Gators," said one of my friends. "Bring in Buck Belue! I don't think he ever lost to Florida."
"Buck would probably charge Richt a speaking fee," joked a pal.
"We need a guy like Eric Zeier," said another friend. "Someone who never beat Florida, who can deliver to the team the pain involved with never defeating maybe your biggest rival."
"I doubt Eric wants to recollect the 1994 beatdown he endured in Gainesville," I quickly responded.
Nevertheless, my friend's suggestion did remind me of perhaps the greatest Georgia football pep-talk story of all time, when a former Bulldog did recall the pain he experienced to an arch rival.
This speech took place almost exactly 30 years ago and would probably be best retold in four weeks when Georgia plays Tech. However, with the Bulldogs, for a variety of reasons, desperately needing a victory this Saturday over the Gators, I can't pass up recalling Harvey Hill's pre-game talk to the 1980 team, which, like today's squad, was in dire need of a decisive game.
Harvey Hill was by no means a star football player for Georgia, but he did have his moments. In his first varsity game, coming in a 33-6 loss to Alabama in 1926, Hill pounced on a blocked punt in the Tide's end zone late in the contest, preventing the Bulldogs from being shutout by 'Bama for a fourth consecutive season.
Playing a reserve role at fullback and halfback, Hill rushed for two touchdowns, passed for another, and converted a couple extra points during the 1927 and 1928 seasons. It was during Hill's junior season when he was part of Georgia's acclaimed "Dream of Wonder Team."
Regarded as one of the best pre-World War II teams of college football, the 1927 Bulldogs, who had gone 5-4 the year before, breezed through their first nine games of the season, winning them all by an average of nearly 25 points.
Entering the regular-season finale against Tech, it seemed Georgia was undoubtedly headed to the Rose Bowl. All they had to do was get by the underdog Yellow Jackets and the Bulldogs would be off to Pasadena to play for a national championship.
However, Georgia suffered what still remains arguably the most devastating loss in its football history, falling to the Jackets by a 12-0 score. There would be no Rose Bowl in 1927 and no national title.
Fifty-three years later, Coach Vince Dooley asked Hill to speak to his team prior to its game against Georgia Tech. In 1980, the Bulldogs were in a similar situation to the 1927 squad; although Georgia was heading to the Sugar Bowl to play Notre Dame, an upset loss to the Yellow Jackets would ruin any chances to play for a national championship.
The following is an excerpt from the book Glory! Glory! and an absolute classic:
Imagine the scene: Harvey Hill, his voice quivering with emotion, lecturing the youngsters who are hanging on his every word:
“We should have won that game against Georgia Tech,” he began. “We were upset, and we had to live with it the rest of our lives. It bothers me today. I’ll never forgive, nor will I forget.”
He is pounding his fist into his hands as he talks:
“I don’t want what happened to us, to happen to you. You’ve got be ready for those &&%%$#! You’ve GOT to be ready. I want you to give it back to them! You are No. 1, and you MUST STAY NO. 1! Make ’em pay!”
He was on the verge of tears as he repeatedly reminded the 1980 Georgia team, “You are going to have to live with this the rest of your lives. Don’t let them ruin your season.”
The rest, as they say, is history... Georgia jumped out to a 17-0 lead over Tech before finally defeating the Jackets, 38-20. A month later, Notre Dame also fell by the wayside and the Bulldogs, as Hill commanded them, stayed No. 1. Although Hill had suffered a heart-breaking loss to the Bulldogs' biggest rival as a player, he inspired an all-important victory over the same school more than five decades later.
In 2001, a 93-year-old Hill passed away after a stroke. At that time, his son Frank recalled his father's speech and its message to the 1980 team: "Stay focused."
This Saturday, as Georgia faces a Gator team that has dominated this series the last 20 years and a coach that has been nearly unbeatable following an open date, the Bulldogs will hopefully receive and follow a similar message to Harvey Hill's from 30 years ago, whomever their guest speaker might be.