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November 6, 2014

The Legendary Trick on a Trip to Lexington

Following one of Georgia's most embarrassing losses in history last week in Jacksonville, I thought it was appropriate to discuss perhaps the most embarrassing incident in Bulldog football history, resulting on a trip to Lexington, KYembarrassing, that is, for UGA officials way back then, but an entertaining, mysterious story still celebrated by some of those who remember its details.

I told the story a year ago, but considering it's the event's 40th anniversary and the current edition of Bulldogs will soon board a plane bound for Lexington, I find it fitting to post the legendary account again with a tad bit of updating.

As the story goes, upon the Bulldogs' charter flight landing at Lexington's Blue Grass Field the night before the 1974 Georgia-Kentucky game, the team was unceremoniously greeted by their hosts.

"When we got to Lexington, the plane was immediately surrounded by all these police cars," Keith Harris informed me during our interview for my latest UGA football book. Harris, a three-year starter at Will linebacker, was the team's overall captain in 1974. "Here, I was thinking what a great escort we were getting at the airport," he added with a laugh. 

"When we landed, we were told to sit down in our seats and stay there," said Horace King, the Bulldogs' leading scorer and second-leading rusher in '74. "At that point, we had no idea that we would wind up being at that airport for hours!"

During the flight, defensive coordinator Erk Russell had noticed a bomb threat written in soap on the mirror in one of the plane's bathrooms. He immediately alerted the flight staff, who relayed the coach's message to airport security. The pilot came over the intercom, informing the team about the threat, and then demanding for the culprit to come forward. No one did.  Upon arrival,  the plane was boarded by FBI agents, the airport bomb squad, and local police. After milling about the plane for a while, gravitating toward where the threat had been scrawled, the authorities began seeking a confession.

"We were then taken out of the plane and marched into a room inside the airport," Harris added. "We later noticed [head golf coach and dorm disciplinarian] Dick Copas; he looked like something was wrong." A player pointed out to Copas the plane had not been cleaned following its previous flight; maybe someone on an earlier flight had written the bomb threat. 

"Hell no!" Copas apparently blurted. "I know it was one of you players for sure because [the authorities] said that whoever wrote it misspelled 'airplane.'"

"During the ordeal, I was told by an assistant coach that he had narrowed it down in his mind to about 10 players who could have written the threat, and I was one of them!" said Steve Davis, who admits to having some disciplinary problems while a quarterback-turned-wide receiver at Georgia during the mid-1970s, including getting kicked off the team for the entire 1973 season. "It was an intimidating and kind of scary situation, especially when we were all sitting in chairs inside the room at the airport and surrounded by at least a couple dozen FBI guys."

Prior to their clash vs. Kentucky at Common-
wealth Stadium 40 years ago, the Bulldogs
confronted the FBI en route to Lexington.
Inside the room, it was eventually revealed by an individual, who seemingly was the head of the FBI agents, that the player who wrote the threat was a "real dumbass."  As Copas had indicated, "airplane" was apparently misspelled on the mirror; the threat supposedly declared, "There is a bomb on this airplain."

After hours of questioning by authorities and pleading from tired teammates, including an upperclassman who suddenly became unhinged, threatening for the offender to come forward "or else," the guilty Bulldog still remained unidentified. The FBI eventually gave up, and the team departed for their hotel not getting to bed until well after midnight.

The weary Bulldogs finally awoke the following night to defeat an upset-minded Kentucky team, 24-20. A fourth-quarter touchdown run by King provided the winning margin, while a late forced fumble by Harris clinched the four-point victory. As for Davis, he broke his collarbone during the game. "First, I get blamed as someone who might have done the bomb threat, and then I get hurt," Davis said with a chuckle.

When the Bulldogs arrived home to Athens, they found that the misconduct by one of their very own had made not only local, but national news.  A writer for a local paper, who had traveled to Lexington with the team, claimed, "the immature act of a single individual who by insinuating that a bomb was on the Georgia charter not only forced an unnecessary hardship on his own team, but also the airline to which the plane belonged."

Although the "single individual" responsible for "the immature act" was not discovered by authorities in Lexington, the UPI reported the FBI would question all UGA players and coaches the following week in an effort to find the culprit.

"It had been rumored that the FBI would be coming to campus to give the players polygraph tests, and perform handwriting analysis," Davis said, "but the FBI never came."

"Whoever did it, they did nothing real damaging," King said. "However, the bomb threat was just another distractionone of the number of hiccupswe encountered that kept that '74 team from reaching its full potential." Preseason ranked 11th in the nation by GamePlan magazine, the Bulldogs would finish with a lowly 6-6 record following a 5-2 start. 

"Whoever did it, I think they misspelled 'airplane' on purpose," Harris concluded.

It is said that a "higher up" at the time with the UGA football program, who will remain nameless, demanded in regards to whoever did it, "I want his ass!" Whereas another official in the athletic departmentan even higher higher upwould say the 1974 team consisted of some "thugs," and the bomb-threat incident was primary evidence for the derogatory label.  

As I indicated a year ago, the wrongdoer has yet to be discovered after 40 years, but his identity still is often the talk amongst his old teammateseach seemingly having a different opinion of "who done it." And, although the devilish deed of the so-called "thug" was embarrassing to some, it remains the greatest prank ever pulled off in UGA football history to others. 

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Never heard that one, but its one I'll definitely share from now on. Thanks patrick for being a UGA blog like no other and this type of article is proof of that!-ClarkD

Anonymous said...

someone had a large set of DAWG BALLS to pull this one off.At least the Georgia program rates number one in the category of BIGGEST AND BEST PRANK EVER in NCAA History!!!

anonymous

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