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November 28, 2014

"Strong Legs" for "Weak Legs"

The '63 Bullpups-Baby Jackets affair was played
in front of 40,000 despite a driving rain, but what
mattered most was the day prior to the game.
Celebrating Thanksgiving with family, I was asked about the one-time UGA football tradition occurring annually on the holidaythe Scottish Rite Charity Game.

Held on most Thanksgivings beginning in 1933 and for the next 60 years, the game at Grant Field pitted UGA's Bullpups against Tech's Baby Jackets. The event, whose motto was "strong legs will run so that weak legs may walk," raised funds for handicap children at Atlanta's Scottish Rite Hospital.

In 1972, the NCAA allowed freshmen to be eligible for varsity play, changing the landscape of college football. Quality newcomers were suddenly playing, for example, for the "Bulldogs" and "Yellow Jackets" instead of for the "Bullpups" and "Baby Jackets," while the schools then featured "junior varsity" instead of "freshmen" teams.

I've been fortunate to interview many Georgia football players over the years. And, I've noticed that Bulldogs who were freshmen prior to 1972 often mention the Scottish Rite gamecertainly, more so than the "junior varsity" players from 1972 until the secondary program disbanded in the early-90s.

My favorite account of the Scottish Rite charity event is from Kirby Moorea Bullpup in 1963, redshirted the following season, and would become a legendary quarterback on the Georgia varsity from 1965-1967. Moore was a Bullpup during a 15-year lowly era of Bulldogs' varsity football when the freshmen gave hope for the futureoptimistic for a quality varsity programwhile the Bullpups-Baby Jackets was recognized as "one of the oldest" and "the most publicized" freshman rivalry.  

"Before they got rid of freshman and junior varsity teams about 20 years ago, the Georgia-Georgia Tech freshman football game...was a really good thing,” Moore informed me in an interview.  

From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, there were a couple of occasions when the Bullpups-Baby Jackets game actually attracted more spectators than the varsity game a couple of days later. "All I remember about the one I played in was that it was in front of more than 40,000 spectators and it rained the entire time," Moore said, then curiously added, "That’s it. I don’t even recall who won the game; however, I distinctly remember the day before the game."

It was an annual tradition the day before the game for both the Georgia and Georgia Tech teams to tour the hospital, visiting with its sick and handicapped children. Some of the children welcomed the players, for example, by wearing their jersey numbers, displaying a player’s initials on a cap, or already knowing the players’ names. Seemingly, all of the children simply wanted to meet and talk with real live Georgia and Georgia Tech football players.

"I walked out of that hospital with tears in my eyes while some big linemen were actually bawling," Moore said. "I decided then and there that if those sick kids can endure what they had to suffer through, then it would never get too tough for me."

Moore said visiting the hospital was the best thing ever to happen to him while at UGA"the moment of my life."

"That visit taught me that some of us think that life is so toughbelieve me, I’ve gotten to some points in my life when I was really, really lowhowever, all you have to do is to put things in perspective by just looking around at those who really have it tough."

During a time when I'm especially thankful for many, many things, I responded to my family's inquiry regarding the one-time Thanksgiving event, when strong legs ran so weak legs could walk, with the account of Kirby Moore: look around at those who really have it tough, and realize it should never get too tough for most of us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful article. I too recall the days when the Baby Dawgs and Baby Jackets played. And learned at an early age just what they were playing for. It was my Grandfather, Mason Tom Slate that convinced Bill Alexander to provide Grant Field free of charge. At the time, my Grandfather worked for Spalding, and Tech was his largest account. At first request, Coach Alexander turned Tom Slate down. As he was leaving, my Grandfather turned to Coach Alexander and told him 'any man that won't stoop to help a crippled child is no man at all". The next day my Grandfather got a call from Coach Alexander, and totally expected to be told he had lost the account. Instead Coach Alexander said "I couldn't sleep a wink last night. YES, you can have the field". And the rest is history. We lost something special when the rules changed in 1972. I think the young players who didn't get the opportunity to visit Scottish Rite hospital missed out too.