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April 26, 2012

A "Step Toward Integration"

When Georgia's JV team faced South Carolina's in 1975, Mike
Hart (No. 10)  became the first black UGA quarterback in
history.  But what ever happened to this "pioneer," of sorts?
I was recently reminded how this fall will mark the 40th anniversary of the first African-American varsity football players at Georgia.  My conversation soon turned to the topic of the Bulldogs' first black varsity quarterback -- Tony Flanagan (1976). However, while discussing Flanagan, I made sure to mention the curious case of the school's very first African-American signal-caller.

What ever happened to Georgia football's Mike Hart, who seemingly disappeared soon after taking part in a so-called "step toward integration," according to The Red and Black in September of 1975?

Along with Pat Collins and Steve White, Hart was one of three quarterbacks Georgia signed in its 23-player freshman class of 1975. (Interestingly, although Collins would eventually become a standout roverback, NONE of the three would ever take a varsity snap under center at Georgia.)  The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Hart from Troup County was not your run-of-the-mill signee in becoming the Bulldogs' initial African-American quarterback.

While at Troup, Hart had been an All-State selection in 1974, running the exact same offense as the Bulldogs featured -- the run-oriented Veer.  Instantly, Georgia had been interested in the quick and lanky quarterback, but so had the likes of Florida State, Auburn, and Pittsburgh, among others.  In the end, the state school won out because, according to Hart, UGA's reputable academic reputation compared to his other pursuers.

Notably, early in the fall of 1975, when asked if being Georgia's first black quarterback added any pressure, Hart replied, "No, the coaches and the guys on the team treat you like anyone else."

To open the season, Hart was the No. 1 starter on the freshman team and the third-stringer for the varsity behind juniors Matt Robinson and Ray Goff.  In a day when only the very best freshmen saw varsity action, Hart was one of only four newly-signed offensive players who dressed out for the Bulldogs' season opener against Pittsburgh.

In the Bullpups' opening game against South Carolina's JV, although UGA's frosh were victorious 10-3, Hart's debut was described as "one that should be forgotten."  The highly-touted quarterback completed his first pass at Georgia good for 14 yards but then missed on every one thereafter.  A gifted runner, he was also held to two yards rushing, while the Bullpups' lone touchdown came on a punt return.

Hart lasted for only one series in the frosh's second game against Clemson before being benched for White, who would lead the Bullpups to their second victory in as many games.  In a win over Auburn and loss to Florida, Hart continued to be far from spectacular while sharing the No. 1 quarterback duties with White.

Suddenly, in mid-November and with only one game remaining on the junior varsity schedule -- the 43rd annual Georgia-Georgia Tech JV charity game for the Scottish Rites Children's Hospital -- Hart abruptly left school and returned to his hometown of LaGrange for an entire week; he had reportedly quit the football team.  Although Hart's mother told the media her son left UGA because he was "not getting a fair shake," the quarterback promptly contradicted her and said he left because of "personal reasons" which had "nothing to do with 'not getting a fair shake'."

"I had a lot of things on my mind so I went home and tried to get things straightened out," said Hart.  "I'll be back for Winter Quarter [following the Tech game] and I plan to participate in Spring Drills."

Against the Baby Jackets, Hart was the Bullpups' quarterback for most of the contest in a 23-6 victory.  He scored the game and season's final points on a two-point conversion run as the team finished its campaign with a 4-1 record.

In April of 1976, as he said he would nearly five months earlier, Hart indeed participated in Georgia's spring drills.  The upcoming sophomore was one of SEVEN Bulldog quarterbacks competing for the varsity squad, along with Goff, Robinson, Flanagan, White, David McDonald, and Jeff Pyburn.  However, following spring practice, there was hardly any trace of the distinguished Georgia quarterback.

Whether transferring, failed academics, simply quitting the Bulldog football team and/or returning home again for LaGrange, Mike Hart never took another snap under center for the University of Georgia.  In becoming the Bulldogs' initial African-American signal caller, the honorable, one-of-a-kind Georgia quarterback also emerged as just another highly-touted recruit having a short, uncelebrated playing career at UGA.

4 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Patrick, reading your post brought back memories of Hart's signing. I don't think I had thought of him in 35+ years. I remember when he played but have no idea what ever came of him. Great write-up! Also, you need to attract more readers like poster sandria Evey! Huba, hubba. - Will

Deanna said...

Seriously. Don't encourage the spam.

Anonymous said...

Wow! 7 QBs of which 4 were very good