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March 31, 2011

Old School Scoreboard

The final seconds tick off Sanford Stadium's old scoreboard of a 29-28 victory over Georgia Tech in 1978, while a Bulldog brandishing a board with a nail keeps watch.

I was checking out what Sanford Stadium's new H-D scoreboard is going to look like and I instantly recalled an article I read not too long ago.  The piece, written just prior to the Bulldogs' home opener of the 1980 season, was on stadium improvements made in anticipation of the venue's expansion for 1981.      

The most "obvious change in the appearance of the stadium," the article stated, was the relocation of the scoreboard from the east to the west end zone overlooking Sanford Bridge.  It seems the old scoreboard was going to get in the way of an additional 18,000 seats. 

In addition, no longer would "Georgia" and "Visitors" be painted on the scoreboard.  Instead, each team's name would be featured "in lights" - an innovative improvement at the time but seems somewhat humorous when compared to today's "high-def."

I'm too young to remember the old Sanford Stadium scoreboard that was perched in the east end zone but have certainly heard the legend of its board-toting Bulldog.  There have been several accounts on how the Bulldog-and-board emblem came about, including a good post by Bill King just prior to the 2009 LSU game.  Here is what I know:

A near-perfect LSU Tiger team came to Athens in mid-November of 1935 along with 2,000 of its supporters (a total of 20,000 would be in attendance for the game), 1,200 of which were ROTC cadets from the school.

The visiting throng would not be disappointed as LSU blanked the Bulldogs 13-0; the first touchdown scored on a 95-yard run by Jess Fatherree "on a variation of the old 'Statue of Liberty' play." Reportedly, the margin should have been much worse as the Tigers had a 358-61 advantage in total yardage and 15-2 in first downs.

As the legend goes, more than 1,000 LSU cadets stormed the field as soon as the game ended with intent to tear down one, maybe even both, of the goal posts. This action was certainly not welcomed nor anticipated by Sanford Stadium.  When the stadium had been built more than six years earlier, based on good behavior by spectators in the past, expensive metal goal posts were constructed instead of ones made of wood, assuming they would not soon be destroyed and needing to be replaced.

Nonetheless, the UGA students protected their uprights and chased the cadets all the way to the train station on College Avenue. Legend has it that the Bulldog backers grabbed boards from a nearby construction site in defense of the goal posts... thus, the logo of a Bulldog holding a board atop of the old scoreboard.

However, UGA icon and historian Dan Magill has written that the unruly Tigers were chased to the station with not boards, but miniature Hanna baseball bats given away at the game. Magill adds that he, at 14 years old, was even along for the chase, brandishing a bat himself.

Personally, I like the version featuring the boards better; it seems a little more "blue collar."

I found that soon after the skirmish, LSU's student newspaper - The Daily Ravielle - declared that not only had some of its cadets suffered "split open" heads, but it was also evident UGA students had "used knives" in the fight.

I certainly don't doubt Magill's version of the story, but I wonder if those "knives" were actually nails protruding from boards carried by some Bulldog students, who were only doing what most of us would in similar circumstances - protecting their "house"...and its goal posts.

March 17, 2011

It only takes One or Two...

On the eve of only the 11th NCAA Tournament appearance (and just the 9th that is actually acknowledged) in Georgia history, I thought I'd compose a rare historical-based basketball post, looking forward to what a portion of Bulldog basketball fans seemingly fear: the future.

After Georgia, yet again, lost another big lead and, in the process, lost another big game in its loss to Alabama in the SEC Tourney, the majority of our fan base was up in arms...and understandably so. 

However, some seemed to take their criticism a little too far, questioning the coaching of Mark Fox and stressing that if one cannot win with this year's edition (a team that only goes seven deep, I'd like to emphasize), you likely won't win in the future, especially if Trey Thompkins and/or Travis Leslie decide to go pro early.

As one disgruntled fan posted at another blog: Honestly, Mark Fox might-as-well be fired on the court...This will be the most talented UGA team he will ever have...and he may not make the tourney.

I really hope that "fan" was exaggerating for surely he understands one of college basketball's most prominent tendencies: unlike football, just one or two exceptional incoming players can vastly improve or even completely turnaround a basketball program.  One season, you might struggle to win 10 games; however, soon thereafter, you could find yourself in the Final Four.  Case in point: LSU a couple times the last decade or so and - a little closer to home - Georgia upon the arrival of Hugh Durham in the late 1970s. 

I grew up on Hugh Durham basketball at Georgia and have always held the coach in rather high regard.  Consider that in the 27 seasons of the three combined coaching regimes prior to Durham, the Bulldogs won more than 14 games just once (in 27 seasons!) and had an overall winning percentage of only .363.

Upon his arrival to Athens in 1978, Durham inherited the worst basketball program in the SEC and one of the more dreadful in the nation.  Nevertheless, Durham's Dogs earned the school's first postseason basketball appearance within three years and miraculously reached the Final Four in just season five.

One of the primary reasons why Coach Durham was able to completely turn around a dismal basketball program was because he immediately attracted a handful of the best-of-the-best recruits in the entire nation, namely McDonald's All-Americans

Since their inception in 1977, McDonald's All-Americans have been considered, for the most part, the annual top 20-to-24 high school basketball seniors. 

Want to know which college basketball programs had the most McDonald's All-Americans over a certain stretch of time?  Just take a look at the most successful programs over the same period.

Most of these top-notch recruits are can't-miss quality players; there are very few that turn out to be complete "busts" while approximately 70 percent of them go on to play in the NBA.

From 1979-1982, Durham signed five of these first-rate talents: Terry Fair and Dominique Wilkins in 1979, James Banks and Vern Fleming a year later, and Donald Hartry in 1982.  During that same four-year period - and this absolutely blows my mind - only four schools had as many or more McDonald's All-Americans than Georgia: powerhouses North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, and Notre Dame.  (Remember, this was a Bulldog basketball program that had won only about one-third of its games for more than a quarter-century.)

Wilkins is still considered likely the greatest basketball player ever at Georgia.  Fair, Banks, and Fleming were three of the five starters on the '83 Final Four team.  And Hartry, as a true freshman, was one of the 1982-83 team's top reserves and would finish his Bulldog career with the second-most assists in school history.

In the 10 years from 1983-1992, Durham signed five more McDonald's All-Americans, although just two succeeded as Bulldogs.  Melvin "Hollywood" Howard (1983) was regarded as a defensive specialist in a reserve role for two-and-a-half years before transferring and starting at Georgia State.  Elmore Spencer (1987) averaged about 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks as a redshirt freshman during the first half of the 1988-89 season before breaking his foot.  He transferred to UNLV and would eventually be a first-round pick in the '92 NBA Draft.

Litterial Green (1989) became one the greatest Bulldog basketball players of all time and one of the few to play in the NBA.  Shaun Golden followed Green a year later and never quite lived up to the hype, playing as a reserve his entire career.  Durham's final McDonald's All-American, Athens' own Carlos Strong (1992), was a four-year starter, departed Georgia as the school's 10th all-time leading scorer and 7th in career rebounds, and played on the Bulldogs' second (and last) Sweet Sixteen team as a senior.

With the firing of Durham came Georgia's apparent inability to recruit the best-of-the-best talent.  Until Coach Fox lured Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (photo) this year, the Bulldogs had not signed a McDonald's All-American in nearly two entire decades (although Damien Wilkins, a 1999 McDonald's All-American, transferred from NC State and ended his collegiate career at Georgia).

To go from landing 10 of the country's very best players in a 14-year span to none over the next 18 years is hard to comprehend.  Even more difficult to understand is that after signing 4 of the 5 McDonald's All-Americans from the state of Georgia from 1979-1983 (while Georgia Tech signed none of the 5), and 6 of the 14 from the state from 1979-1992 (Tech 2 of 14), the Bulldogs did not sign a single one of the state's 16 from 1993-2010 (Tech 4 of 16). 

Whether Georgia wins tomorrow against Washington in the opening round or loses, or keeps Thompkins and Leslie or loses them early to the NBA, to assume this year's team is the most talented Fox will have is near senseless (assuming the coach doesn't bolt for another school anytime soon).  

The Bulldog Basketball Nation should be thrilled we finally got a coach who, like Durham, can evidently recruit top talent.  I realize that the signing of merely one McDonald's All-American shouldn't completely sway the opinions of those that feel Fox is in for an up-hill battle beginning with next season. 

However, history has shown that the signing of one top-notch recruit often leads to enticing even more, while the foundation of a reputable basketball program is built. 

On March 30th, you might want to watch this year's McDonald's All-American Game and checkout soon-to-be Bulldog - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.  I have a feeling we're going to see a lot of him in 2011-12... 

March 5, 2011

Happy Belated...

...Birthday to the greatest college football player of all time.  Checking out the latest blog posts, I was reminded by Bernie that Herschel's birthday was a couple of days ago, and I thought I'd acknowledge the Goal Line Stalker's special day.

Although I was only seven years old when Herschel played his final game as a Bulldog, I'm rather confident that I've researched, written, and blogged enough on him to have a good idea of what he meant to UGA football; simply put, his impact was immeasurable.


Following an all-out recruiting war, like none ever before (or maybe since) in college football, and Georgia landing the big-time recruit, all Herschel did for UGA was be the Bulldogs' primary contributor to a national title, three straight SEC championship seasons, and give the school just its second Heisman Trophy. 

And, if it wasn't for the award's ballots having to be submitted prematurely in 1980 and a 2,300-yard season by Southern Cal's Marcus Allen the following year, Herschel would have most likely walked away from Athens with three Heismans.

However, what is as intriguing as his distinguished Bulldog football career and one of the more underappreciated stints in professional football was what Herschel could do off the field.  Even today, at nearly 50 years old, Walker continues to demonstrate his non-football related skills.

Add MMA fighting to a long list that includes a two-time All-American in track, an Olympic bobsledder, a successful businessman, a black belt in karate, his high school's valedictorian, a poet (From more than 30 years ago: I wish they could see, The real person in me), and - one of my favorites - quite a dancer. 

The night before the '81 Sugar Bowl - a game where Herschel nearly single-handedly defeated Notre Dame for the national championship - the freshman phenom won a disco contest staged by bowl officials.

"They tell me that he jumped up in the air and came down and did splits," said Coach Dooley about the contest following the Sugar Bowl win.  "Splits! With boots on!" 

The man could do seemingly everything. 

According to Auburn fans, Herschel also ate quiche.  I agree with Bill Hartman...I don't know if he indeed ate quiche, but I bet Herschel could make a pretty good one. 

He did win a blue ribbon for a chef's salad made in high school as a Future Homemaker of America...