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February 11, 2013

Oh, No! I Feel So Blue...

Although clever as well, Grizzard's lone headline
the day of the '67 South Carolina game made no
mention of playing the Cocks with Dicks out.
...'cause "the greatest headline in the history of sports journalism" is seemingly not true.

This past Wednesday, I was left scratching my head on the campus of my alma mater.  No, I wasn't amidst any Signing Day festivities in bewilderment over Georgia missing out on inking some key recruits.  Instead, I silently sat in the dark bowels of UGA's main library staring in a state of confusion at an ancient microfilm machine probably as old as the library itself.

Now, before you conclude that I have no life, let me first describe my actions prior to my discovery.

A week before, I had conducted two interviews the same day for my current book project, where, coincidentally, both former Bulldog players mentioned perhaps my favorite writer of all time, and the great headline he is supposedly responsible for.

Most of you, if not all, have read or heard the story before of the late, great Lewis Grizzard sneaking the headline DOGS TO PLAY COCKS WITH DICKS OUT onto a page of the Athens Daily News the eve of the 1967 Georgia-South Carolina football game, referring to linebacker-turned-neurosurgeon Happy Dicks, published the day of the contest. 

The first individual I interviewed was a standout player during the 1970s.  A memorable moment of his while at Georgia was when Grizzard coached the Black team to a 24-0 win over Phil Schaefer's Red team in the 1978 G-Day game.  After briefly describing Grizzard's liveliness on the sideline during the spring game, the player asked me, "have you ever heard that story about Grizzard and his 'Dicks Out' headline?" 

Oh, yes sir, I certainly had.  After a relative of mine sent me the story about four years ago, I first laughed my you-know-what off and then promptly printed and cut out the piece, putting it up on a corkboard in my office, where it remains today.  Over the last few years, I've told others the story of Grizzard's headline at least a few dozen times. 

My second interview was with an ex-Bulldog who had played during the late 1960s.  Shortly after I mentioned an impactful play he had made in the '68 South Carolina game, the player piped up about the headline from the Gamecocks game the year before.  The former player started laughing so hard about Grizzard's antics, it took him some time to finally ask if I had ever heard the story. 

Yes, I most certainly had, repeatedly for the second time in less than four hours, all while sitting about 10 feet from it posted on my wall.

As I looked at the posted story across the room, I thought to myself how great it would be to have a scanned printout of the actual headline, where it could be placed on my board just above the story.  Plus, I was rather curious of the identity of the noted newspaper editor who "took drunk."  So, within several days, after moving a photo or two on the board, leaving room for the famous phrase, I and was off to the library to find the greatest sports headline.

Sitting at a microfilm machine, I carefully searched through each of the three newspapers Grizzard worked at from the mid to late 1960s (Athens Daily News, Athens Banner Herald, and Atlanta Journal) over a week's period leading up to and on the day of each of the three Georgia-South Carolina games Happy Dicks would have played in (1966 to 1968).

Alas, I found no such acclaimed headline.

On the day of the game in 1966, Grizzard's main story in the Daily News was on the Athens High football team (Trojans Get Down to 'Meat, Potatoes').  A year later at the same newspaper, he did preview the South Carolina game but his lone headline that morning is scanned and posted above.  By the 1968 Georgia-USC game, Grizzard had moved onto the Journal, writing on the 28-28 tie by Georgia's freshman football team from the afternoon before Saturday's game (writers Furman Bisher and Jim Minter covered the UGA-SC varsity game).  As far as the Banner Herald, Grizzard didn't work there from 1966 to 1968, in fact, he hated the rival newspaper.

Hoping that perhaps there was an additional edition released by the Daily News on Saturday, October 7, 1967, which was not eventually transferred to microfilm, or maybe I had simply missed something, I continued my quest to find the elusive headline.

I researched the '67 game with the 'Cocks a 21-0 Georgia victory  to see if Dicks was indeed "out," as indicated.  Curiously, the junior linebacker was projected to start the game and not only played, but finished second on the team with nine tackles.  Regarding the other injured Bulldog mentioned in the story, Billy Payne, he too was projected to start (right offensive end), did so, and led the squad in receiving. 

I then discovered comments made by a guy out in California, who claimed the Dicks Out story "seems to have grown in the refrigerator" and the mentioning of Dicks is "apocryphal."  In near denial, I thought to myself, who is this John Futch, and what the heck does he know?!?  Well, come to find out, Futch wrote for the Athens Daily News from 1965 to 1978, knew Grizzard, and probably knew a whole lot more to the story.

Still not giving up, and recalling the story of the celebrated headline makes mention of Vince Dooley recognizing it as "his most memorable column ever," I got in touch with the former head coach and asked him for his feedback on the matter.  Coach Dooley summed up the alleged headline in three words: "a classic fabrication."

Disappointed, I finally realized the story of the greatest headline in the history of sports journalism is most likely just that a story.  However, I then thought of the quote "If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten."

Nearly 20 years after his death, Lewis Grizzard is still revered by me and countless others because of his writings and commentaries from decades ago, much of which were told in the form of humorous and engaging stories.  Whether about him or told by Grizzard himself, his stories often teach us, especially us Southerners and Bulldog followers, about our past, and they'll never be forgotten.  Neither will Lewis... 

With that being said, it often matters little if the stories that have captivated us are fact, fiction, or slightly exaggerated.

As for the greatest sports headline in journalism history, its classification is still not official as far as I'm concerned.  I remain open to the very slight possibility the headline is actually genuine and one day will be revealed in print.  Until then, the space on my corkboard will remain open to the headline, as well.

1 comment:

JCF said...

Afraid you're never going to find that great white whale, Captain Ahab, but nice yarn about your quest. Sorry, it's just not there.

John Futch
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
and Long Beach, California