rent like champion

March 21, 2014

Two Cents on $71 and 50 Cents

I know I'm a little late to the party, so to speak, posting on Georgia's stipend "scandal."  Nevertheless, I wanted to take somewhat of a different approach to the story, and had to make a few phone calls prior to putting together a piece.
 
When hearing of the players' double dipping their $71.50 stipend checks, my first thoughts weren't of their stupidity or possible suspension, but the $71.50what exactly is this amount for and how often do players receive it?  I guess it's the UGA graduate in finance in me finally coming out...
 
I called a friend of mine, who played under Richt during the 2000s, and asked if he could expand on the $71.50 amount.  At that point, the only detail regarding the checks' amounts/frequency was the little provided by AD McGarity: "We're not going to get into times, amounts of checks, frequency of checks...They receive checks periodically throughout the year."
 
Player of 2000s: "I'm pretty sure, since that amount is close to what we got, their stipend is for meals missed, primarily for Sundays when the dining hall is closed.  They get that stipend twice a semester.  The funny thing is we actually got a little more than thatmore than $71.50 per stipend."
 
$71.50 twice a semester equals roughly a whopping $35 per month, or just over $1 a day.  Now, don't go spending it all in one place...
 
I was then compelled to reach out to Bulldog players from preceding decades, and see what they received in amounts from the school/athletic department beyond tuition, board, books, etc.  "Not much," a player from the 1960s informed me.  He then literally went and retrieved his 50-year-old scholarship and read from it over the phone.
 
Player of 1960s: "You will be provided $15 a month$10 for laundry and $5 for missed meals (laughing).  $15 wasn't much, even way back then."
 
The player from the 1970s first wanted to say he was grateful for the scholarship he received and the free college education and room and boardopportunities he and nearly all of his teammates likely wouldn't have benefitted from if not for being standout football players in high school.  "However, I’d guess more than half of the players during my time came from just below a middle-class background and lower," he added.  "Therefore, your average player received very little money, if any at all, sent from home." 
 
Player of 1970s: "We got just $10 per month for what they called 'extra cleaning allowance,' but we always called it our 'laundry check' and we always cashed it at what is now the Kangaroo Express near the Butts-Mehre.  I always wondered why it was called a 'laundry check' when we had a facility that did our laundry for free.  Still, laundry was about the only thing we didn’t have to spend any money on."
 
The other two players I contactedone each from the 1980s and 1990sdidn't recall set amounts or how often, but each remember the money was "for stuff essentially coming to you anyway (i.e., meals, laundry, etc.)," one stated.  "If we were coming back from a road trip, and the dining hall was going to be closed by the time we got back to campus, instead of $10 for our per diem, I might find $20 in an envelope for meals."
 
Oh, if these walls could talk...  McWhorter Hall,
the former players' dorm, where double dipping on
stipend checks would've been considered child's play.
As the interviews I've conducted of former UGA players have mounted up over the past several years, the more I've become aware that the idea of players consistently receiving excessive handouts from coaches, wealthy boosters and alumni, etc., is rather absurd.  The rumors of a house for momma, a tractor for daddy, and a suitcase of cash for the player are, for the most part, pure myths.  Although most players get a free education, room and board, and some even receive grants, they have very little, if any, spending money and it's not like they can go out and get a part-time job delivering pizza, or the like.
 
Speaking of delivering pizza, one of the five players I spoke to admitted to stealing pizzas from delivery cars while playing for Georgia.  When the delivery men wised up after a while and starting locking their cars, players started approaching them face to face, threatening them to hand over free pizzas.  Nothing ever came of the pizza-stealing incidents.
 
Another player actually admitted that he and a couple of other players once donned ski masks, entered a convenient store, and while the man behind the counter was still begging "please don't hurt me," each walked out with an arm full of not cash, but snacks.  "Obviously, I'm really embarrassed about it now," he admitted.  "It all seemed harmless at the time – a way we could get our hands on a free meal.  But, filling our bellies with free food did not fill our pockets.  For some of my teammates, having the money to buy new clothes, shoes, jewelry, or to take a girl out for some dinner and entertainment called for drastic measures..."  The player stopped there without elaborating. 
 
Pizza stealing, convenient store robberies, or even "drastic measures," it was all normally kept under wraps when found out.
 
I once interviewed a Georgia assistant coach from the 1970s, who made a statement so profound regarding player discipline then and now and media exposure, I promptly jotted down his quote: "If a player got in big trouble back then, we brought him in the office, and just handled it.  For most things, nobody had to find out what went on, especially the damn media." 
 
What Matthews, Taylor, DeLoach, and LeMay pulled was undoubtedly stupid, and perhaps Georgia doesn't need these type of characters on its team.  With that being said, and without making excuses for the four, there are probably people reading this blog right now who, whether in high school, college, or even as a professional, "cheated" a bit to receive a little extra money, while thinking you'd never be caught.  And, for some, even if you were eventually reprimanded, perhaps it was kept under wraps.  
 
The four players obviously needed money and thought of a wayalbeit, a rather flawed wayof making a little more because, simply put, $35 per month, whether spent on food, laundry, or whatever, doesn't cut itnot even close.
 
"When one of us got into trouble, we'd either work it out with the coaches or we had a 'guy' we called," added one of the players I contacted, who wouldn't identify the "guy."  "Then, unless it was really, really serious, the problem could usually go away."
 
For what my two cents are worth, there is no longer that "guy" at UGA for athletes to call, while the public exposure these athletes now encounter can be quite overwhelming.  Discipline issues, whether really serious or not, like attempting to "earn" the equivalent of $70 spending cash per month instead of merely $35, have gone on for decades.  But now, everybody finds out everything that went onnothing can be kept under wrapsthanks in large part to, whether it's social or mainstream, and as the former assistant coach described it, "the damn media."

March 19, 2014

A Damn Rabbit's Tears

Swinford set sails on a 59-yard punt return vs.
Clemson, while leading the charge for the
program's turning point of 1964.
Yesterday, I could tell a new college football season was right around the corner: the opening of spring practice, I was contacted by a newspaper writer to list my opinion of the top 20 "most significant" wins in UGA football history, and finally, a report of player arrests. 

I submitted my list by early afternoon and promptly received the response, "#14 Clemson in '64 ???" like I had made a mistake for listing that particular contest amongst championship wins, bowl victories, and triumphs over the highly-ranked.  For one who might think something similar regarding a 1-1-1 Bulldog team defeating a Clemson squad which would capture just three victories all that season, let me explain how this August 30th, facing the  detested Tigers from the same university as before, will mark the 50th anniversary of the ultimate turning point in UGA football history.

Consider the status of our football program when a 32-year-old Vince Dooley took over in 1964: three consecutive losing seasons, and only five winning campaigns the previous 15 years.  And, you thought the Ray Goff era was bad...  Opening with three consecutive road games, much of the same seemed apparent as the young head coach's team got drilled by Alabama, barely beat a bad Vanderbilt squad, and tied a really bad South Carolina team.

Following the 7-7 draw in Columbia, a dejected Wayne Swinford sat mournfully in the locker room.  The senior cornerback, who had waited patiently to finally become a starter, was losing patience with the Bulldogs' non-winning ways, and was literally brought to tears.  Defensive back coach Hootie "Don't Call Me '& The Blowfish'" Ingram approached the player, who had been called "tough" by Dooley just days prior for fielding kickoffs and punts "perfectly" with injured wrists, to see what all the fuss was about.
Here, the CU ballcarrier wound up knocking
down both photographers, marking perhaps
the only folks the Tigers took out all afternoon.

"Coach, I've never been on a winning team at Georgia," Swinford cried, "and we've finally got a chance to do it and can't even beat South Carolina!"

A week later, a confident Clemson squad came into the Classic City coming of a fine performance where they nearly defeated Georgia Tech.  Whereas Dooley was in his inaugural season, Frank Howard, the Tigers' showman of a coach, always quick with a quip while chewing tobacco, was celebrating his silver anniversary at Clemson.  Howard and his Tigers were actually a slight favorite to prevail on the road.

Alas in the end, it would be the Bulldogs who'd prevail playing in front of 31,000 at Sanford Stadium in perfect, 65-degree October weather.  It was the first sign of what was to come during the Dooley era: the use of two quarterbacks, Lynn Hughes and Preston Ridlehuber, a strong running game which gained 221 yards, and a passing attack completing just a single pass for 18 yards.  Another sign to come was the showing of a stingy defense coordinated by Erk Russell.  Erk's troops held the Tigers to 149 total yards, while forcing nine punts and three turnovers.

Leading 17-0 late in the game, Georgia nearly pitched a shutout before Clemson finally scored a touchdown.  The Tigers would get the ball back, but in true Russell form, the Bulldog defenders rose up to record a safety on the game's final offensive play.

Over the next 25 years, great special teams play would also be indicative of a Dooley-coached team, and it was evident on this afternoon in 1964.  Leading the way was the speedy Swinford, who returned a kickoff for 23 yards, and toted back five punts for 108 yards, including a 59-yarder early in the fourth quarter setting up a field goal.  From his cornerback position, Swinford also tallied four tackles and picked off a Tiger pass just prior to halftime, returning it for 29 yards.

Another view of the speedy Swinford's
spectacular 59-yard return...
Following Georgia's 19-7 victory, legendary Dan Magill noted in his postgame remarks that "[Clemson's] Howard was probably in the most disgusted mood seen in a long time after the loss."  Howard said his Tigers "couldn't have broken an egg" and added "if we could have caught that damn rabbit," he said of Swinford and his blazing speed, "we could have won."

The following week, Georgia nearly upset 10th-ranked Florida Statea loss both Kirby Moore, sitting in the stands during a redshirt year, and Steve Greer, doing the same as a high school senior, indicated in my latest book as their opinion of the point of turnaround for the UGA football program.  Consider that after winning just two of 31 games against AP-ranked foes during the previous 15 campaigns, Dooley's Dogs would go undefeated at 8-0-2 under the same circumstances from that point over the next four-plus seasons.    

But, personally, I was asked for Georgia's most significant games ending in a victory.  And, in my opinion, there are only a handful more worthy than when in just a week's time, a damn rabbit went from tears to cheers, and the star of the program's turning point.

March 8, 2014

For When the Bell Tolled

As these "University boys" demonstrate long
ago, the Chapel bell has been ringing after
Georgia football games for 120 years.
I was recently asked to write a "traditions" story for a Georgia football magazine on the University's distinguished Chapel bell.  Fully aware that there are conflicting reports of when the bell was first rung following a UGA football game, I set out to finally discover the initial documented time the bell tolled in triumph.

The athletic department states, "In the 1890's, the playing field was located only yards from the Chapel and first year students were compelled to ring the bell until midnight in celebration of a Bulldog victory," suggesting the initial celebratory ringing resulted after a game in Athens (while also suggesting Georgia was known as the "Bulldogs" more than 20 years before officially given the nickname).

The popular opinionone shared by yours truly for years up until, well, a few days agoof when the bell first rung ironically did not result after a victory, but a 0-0 tie with Auburn in 1901.  Playing in Atlanta, Georgia was considered such an underdog that a tie was regarded as a moral victory of sorts.  Word of the "winning" draw reached Athens and the tradition of ringing the bell in celebration was supposedly born.

Both standpoints are accuratesomewhat accurate.   

From what I discovered, and for what it’s worth, the first documented ringing of the Chapel bell following a UGA football game did occur during the 1890s, but not because the field was located near the Chapel since the initial ringing did not follow a game played in Athens.  In accordance to popular opinion, the first time was indeed after facing Auburn in Atlanta, but followed a Georgia victory occurring seven years prior to the 0-0 tie in 1901.

On November 24, 1894, at Athletic Park in Atlanta, Georgia and Auburn met for just the second time in the teams’ short football histories.  Late in an 8 to 8 tied contest, Georgia star Rufus “Cow” Nalley tackled Auburn’s punter behind the goal line for a game-winning safety.
 
Rufus Nalley: the Georgia player whose safety
prompted the first documented ringing of the 
victory bell (and one of the few Georgia players
nicknamed for a type of livestock).
Georgia’s 10-8 win was celebrated by students back home first by lighting a bonfire followed by their participation in a tradition that would soon become customary.  “[Students] were celebrating their foot ball victory over Auburn in fine style,” reported The Athens Banner.  “The chapel bell was ringing and the campus was ablaze.”

Regarding the two faulty viewpoints, one (maybe two, but no more than three) may wonder how they originated.  As far as the bell first being rung during the 1890's in Athens, UGA began playing football that decade, the Chapel is in Athens, and simply that was good enough for the blanket statement.  As far as 1901 against Auburn, I assume this became popular opinion because of what Stegeman said.

In the book The Ghosts of Herty Field (1966) by the late and esteemed John Stegemana three-sport letterman at UGA and a leading Georgia football historian, whose father was the namesake of the University's Coliseumthe author declares "the bell has tolled the tidings of Georgia football victories ever since" after he details the 0-0 tie with Auburn in 1901.  I guess this led some to conclude this particular contest was the initial time the bell was first rung after a football game, although in his defense, Stegeman never literally claimed as much.

When exactly UGA's victory bell first tolled following a game, no one will ever really know.  I have a hunch it occurred after Georgia's very first gamethe 50-0 romp over Mercer at Herty Field in 1892.  Nonetheless, as mentioned, the first documented ringing I could find followed the seventh victory in the program’s history, and resulted after a "Cow" dropped a Plainsman for a safety in Atlanta.  

Alas, in regard to when my findings will replace the two flawed standpoints in the annals of UGA football history, it'll likely never happen, just like my pursuit to rightfully credit Georgia with three additional victories.  I'm guessing for such cases, as they say, history cannot be rewritten, even if "history" is somewhat inaccurate.