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April 22, 2014

Big Man on Campus

While my young son was on spring break fairly recently, we decided to make a trip to one of his favorite places to visitthe Butts-Mehre, particularly its "museum" section, I guess it would be defined as.  As he was checking out one of the plexiglass murals arranged along the walls, he abruptly asked me, and rather loudly I might add, if Georgia had "a daddy and his son" play on one of its football teams long ago.  He then pointed to an image along the back wall of a rather large player and a sidekick that could indeed pass as, well, the giant's son (photo).

Whether there in the museum or somewhere printed in the past, I had observed the image before, but had no clue of its background.  To my knowledge, the big fellow wasn't mentioned in the bible of pre-WWI UGA football, The Ghosts of Herty Field by John Stegeman.  Come to find out, the same photo is featured on the cover of Loran Smith's Between the Hedges: 100 Years of Georgia Football, but there's no description of the image inside or outside the book.  And, wouldn't you know, of all the murals at the Butts-Mehre, it's the one without a caption.  Therefore, I was curious...  What's the story behind this unusual player pairing?  And, actually how big was "big daddy"?

When UGA started classes for the 1903-04 academic year on Wednesday, September 16th, little Harry Woodruff and big Girard Allen "G.A." Moore were two of 76 incoming freshmen to the school.  With the beginning of classes, it was reported there was "the revival in football interest" as the season opener against Clemson in Athens loomed less than three weeks later.  And, with the arrival of Woodruffa highly-touted quarterback from Columbus, Ga.and Moorealready considered the largest individual ever on a UGA football team, and perhaps ever enrolled at the schoolthere was a revival of even bigger interest.

There were plenty of differences between the two newcomers, most glaring of which was obviously their size.  Weighing 120 pounds, Woodruff was elusive and speedy, and seemed likely to become Georgia's starting quarterback without even having taken a collegiate snap.  In addition, he was already quite involved in his social fraternity on campus.  On the other hand, Moore was nearly two-and-a-half times the size of his fellow freshman, weighing a staggering 275 pounds (VERY large for the time).  As far as the social scene, the Greensboro, Ga. native had little time for it since he was an aspiring pharmacy student.  Regarding his place on the Red and Black squad, although Moore would "easily make the team" simply because of his massive size according to a preseason report, his role would be a rather small one because of evidently a limited skill set.

Entering the Clemson game, it was reported not only was the diminutive Woodruff one of the "best tacklers ever" on campus, but he supplanted Julian Hartridge, a law student, as the team's starting quarterback, as well.  As far as the giant Moore, there was hardly a mention of him leading up to the season opener.

275-pound Girard Moore
Speaking of Moore's giant size, what would a 275-pounder back then be equivalent to 110 years later?  Such assessment might be like apples and oranges; however, considering the average weight of the 1903 starters was 155 pounds, Moore's weight as it relates to his teammates would be something on the order of an estimated 400 to 425 pounds today.

Two games into the 1903 campaign, Georgia stood at 0-2, having been outscored by Clemson and South Carolina by a combined 46 to 0.  Something had to give, and for the Red and Black, it was giving the starting left guard position to the massive Moore for the all-important annual meeting with Georgia Tech.

In front of a crowd of 1,200 at Piedmont Park, Georgia ran through Tech to the tune of around 450 yards back when rushing was the only method to advance the ball offensively; it wound be another three years before passing was legalized.  With Moore assuredly opening large holes for the quarterback, Woodruff was the star of Georgia's 38-0 rout, gaining 180 yards on only nine carries, including a 75-yard touchdown for the contest's first score.  Because of his effort against the Blacksmiths, as Tech was nicknamed then, Moore would start again at left guard for the next three games.

Entering the season finale against Auburn on Thanksgiving, Georgia had a disappointing 2-4 mark and was a rather heavy underdog to its heated rival.  Three days prior to the battle at Atlanta's Brisbane Park, The Atlanta Constitution ran a story regarding the new bleachers that would be erected for the game, bringing the park's capacity to 5,000 spectators.  And it was there, published with the article, the curious image of Woodruff and Moore together, or "prominent members of the Georgia team" it stated.

The Red and Black upset Auburn 22-13 to end its year on a winning note.  At the end of the campaign, when it came to awarding letters, or "wearers of the football 'G'," just 11 of 17 team members lettered.  Keep in mind, this was back when you had to see playing timesignificant playing timeto be a letterman, unlike today where it's common to have walk-ons and even trainers and managers earn letters although never sniffing the field of play.  

For whatever reason, "big Moore," as he was called, was curiously not one of the lettering 11 in 1903, which included sidekick Woodruff.  Was it size prejudice, or was the decision maker of bestowing letters stricken with short man's syndrome?  How in the heck could a "prominent" player who had started most of his team's games that season not be awarded a letter?

The following football season of 1904 for UGA was much like the one before.  In what would be his final football campaign, the pint-sized Woodruff again starred at quarterback for a struggling team, which won just one of six games (but it was a big one).  In the aforementioned book by Stegeman, Woodruff would be named by the author as second-team quarterback on Georgia's all-pre-WWI team.  Along with his brother, George, he would be the namesake for UGA's Woodruff Hallthe school's basketball arena just prior to the present Georgia-turned-Stegeman Coliseum.

As far as big Moore in 1904, he again started for the Red and Black along the line.  However, unlike the season before when something he deserved was kept from him, Moore was finally awarded a letter.  That academic year, he was also a first-year pharmacy student.  Moore's whereabouts from then on is unknown, except for his passing in 1943 at 60 years old, and his burial at the Greensboro City Cemetery.

Also unknown is the individual, whoat some point, likely after Moore had already passedrightfully amended the status of the freshman football player from 1903.  Although not even identified in the UGA football book or UGA athletics museum which bear his large image, Moore's prominence was fully and finally recognized by somebody at UGA along the way.  You can see for yourself.  Checkout Georgia's all-time lettermen in its football records, where it's listed that the University's original "Big Man on Campus" not only earned a letter in 1904, but was also deservedly given one in retrospect for the season before.

April 16, 2014

Finally Making Things Right

Hugh in action vs. Clemson in 1975
Yesterday, I was informed that a 19-month pursuit of mine was finally realized last Thursday night after an interruption of only 22 years.  If you have followed this blog for some time, you might be aware of such pursuitmy attempt to have the Hugh Hendrix Memorial Award reestablishedwhich was accomplished at Thursday's annual spring football awards with the honors going to Hutson Mason on offense and Leonard Floyd on defense.

To recap, I first blogged about Hugh Hendrix about two years ago and how his life, and death, inspired the 1976 Georgia football team to win an SEC championship.  Coincidentally and unexpectedly, I met with Hugh's parents at their home in Carrollton five months later.  There, I was reminded of the old Hugh Hendrix Memorial Awardan honor I was primarily aware of because of the number of years it had not been bestowed according to my recollection of previous years' media guides.  While standing over Hugh's grave, I decided to try anything I could to rightfully restore the honor.  Less than three months later, surprisingly, a prominent member of the athletic department told me, "We are going to reestablish Hugh’s award. We are in the process of getting this done."  More than a year later, and after the process apparently took some time, the UGA football program indeed got it done.

My first reaction to the good news was to call Hugh's parents, Carolyn and Harvey.  I won't go all into it, but obviously our conversation was a joyous and emotionally-filled one.  The next thing I did was dig up old emails from readers of this blog in response to when I first mentioned reestablishing the award in September 2012.  I received all kinds of emails from readersones in support, those wanting to help, a couple saying I was wasting my time, and even a few willing to donate money to the cause (which I graciously declined).

A particular old email caught my eye; we'll just say it was from a "UGA employee."  Simply put, this guy went off on the football program, questioning how it could possibly and erroneously interrupt an award which "should mean so much to so many people" twice (the award was given out from 1976 through 1989, not so in 1990 and 1991, then again in 1992 for the final time).  For what it's worth, I was later told by someone in the know during the 1990s that the award was interrupted because of a simple mistake: the person in charge of the awards ceremony then simply forgot to ask the decision maker, "Who should be given the Hugh Hendrix Award this year?"  Once the award was left off the list, it was left off for good.  Of course, this doesn't fully explain why the honor was interrupted a second time, but who's counting?  Anyway, the UGA employee ended his email stating, "Regardless, hopefully [the football program] will eventually make things right."

At Picture Day in '74, Hugh poses with Connecticut
native David Wolfe a few decades prior to him
becoming the famed Atlanta defense attorney. 
The next thing that caught my attention yesterday was an article on Jeremy Pruitt and his opinion that Georgia's defenders weren't award worthy this spring.  Pruitt didn't want to give any awards, and didn't notice any player who deserved one, adding, "It's kind of like, nowadays everybody’s playing t-ball and everybody gets a trophy. ... It's not a big deal really."

Personally, from what I've heard of him thus far, I like our new defensive coordinator.  He's a desired change of pace for this program as seemingly not one to put up with what has plagued it for yearscomplacency and a sense of entitlement.  And, if he feels a need to pipe up and declare a standout might not play or no one deserved a spring award, and it can effectively motivate, I'm all for it.  However, and with all due respect, when it comes to the recent Hugh Hendrix spring award, I side with one of Hugh's former friends and teammates, commenting to me in an email yesterday on the award and Mason and Floyd receiving it: "Two great recipients to bring it back in style..."

It just so happens that I'll see Coach Pruitt next week at the Butts-Mehre for an interview I'm conducting for a magazine article.  Time permitting and if appropriate, I may ask him about his linebacker Floyd receiving the Hugh Hendrix Award as "the player who most strains his potential."  I can't speak of the other spring awards, but I can brief Pruitt about the namesake of the award I'm familiar with, mentioning what Hugh stood for on and off the field, while conveying that an award meaning "so much to so many people" is far from a t-ball trophy, is a big deal really, and therefore if no one really deserves it, it shouldn't be given out.

After speaking with Coach Pruitt, I may stop by the Sports Communications department in the building and offer up my assistance with the 2014 media guide with an updated and edited section from the past and a must for the upcoming edition:


Lastly, I should visit the prominent member of the athletic department who ultimately got the award reestablished, and thank him for assisting the football program after nearly a quarter-century in finally "making things right." 

April 6, 2014

34 years ago today...

Herschel 's signature: one sought-after autograph
from Wrightsville to Athens for both the young
and old, beginning 34 years ago and ever since.
Posted is an edited and updated version of a story I wrote several years ago, recognizing that 34 years ago today the most famous No. 34 in the history of sports became a Georgia Bulldog  (although he first requested to wear No. 43):

During the winter of 1980, like most college football programs in the country, Georgia desperately recruited a particular player from Wrightsville, Georgia—Herschel Walker.  At Johnson County High School, Walker had rushed for a remarkable 6,137 career yards, averaged 7.8 yards per carry, and scored 86 touchdowns.
 
Georgia was one of many schools that ventured to Wrightsville on a regular basis to pursue the heralded Walker.  Head coach Vince Dooley humorously appointed assistant Mike Cavan to be “Vice President in Charge of Herschel” because of his frequent trips to the small town. In fact, Cavan spent so much time in Wrightsville recruiting Walker, some residents joked he should have been forced to pay taxes.
 
February’s national letter of intent signing date for recruits came and went and Walker still had not signed with a school. Herschel seemed to be delaying his signing, for whatever reason, and the postponement was taking its toll on his family.  Herschel’s mother, Christine, was sick and tired of all the recruiters coming by the house, the numerous phone calls, and her son’s delay.
 
“Why don’t you make up your mind?” she asked Herschel. “Make a decision! Don’t you ever get tired of having to meet with all these people?”
 
By late March, Walker still had not made his decision. However, he indicated to his high school coach and acting spokesman, Gary Phillips, he had narrowed his choices to five schools, including GeorgiaThere are various accounts indicating how Herschel ultimately made up his mind.  This is my favorite—if Walker's own mama said this is how he made his decision, in my opinion, this is how it must have happened:
 
On Easter Sunday morning of 1980, Herschel told his mother he was about to make a decision on where he was going. He cut up scraps of paper and asked her to write "Alabama," "Clemson," "USC," or "Georgia" on each piece. Herschel then dropped the scraps into a paper bag and shook it. Mother and son agreed that the first school selected three times would be where Herschel would attend.
 
"[Herschel] picked Georgia more times than any of the other three," Christine said. She also suggested that a coin be flipped. "If the coin turned up heads," she said, "that would be the lucky school…So we did that—and every time it came out Georgia!"
 
Walker had finally decided to attend and play football at the University of Georgia. Christine telephoned Coach Phillips, who notified Cavan. Phillips later indicated that Herschel did not decide right away where he would go because he had a "really hard time saying 'no' to people."
 
At the time of Herschel’s decision, Cavan was with his family at an Easter egg hunt in Lawrenceville, Georgia. When Cavan was told of Herschel’s decision, he reportedly "let out a wild delirious scream. His family thought he’d been shot."
 
As Herschel prepared to make it official he would attend Georgia, people began arriving at the Walker home to witness his signing. Freddy Jones, a writer for the Macon Telegraph, was hurrying towards the house in his car when he was pulled over by a state patrolman. Jones explained to the officer he was only speeding to observe the signing of the acclaimed Herschel Walker.
 
"Where’s he goin’ to school?" the patrolman asked. "Georgia," answered Jones. "Alllll, right! You go on ahead!" the jubilant officer and apparent Bulldog fan said without writing Jones a ticket.
 
Doug Hall of the Dublin Courier-Herald later asked Herschel why it took so long for him to make a decision. "Herschel looked at me and said, ‘I knew what I was gonna do all along.'"
 
After signing, Herschel told the Atlanta Constitution: "I felt real nice at Georgia [during recruiting visits]. And I didn’t want to go too far from home. I wanted my family to be able to come and see me play. It’s only about ninety-four miles from my house to Athens."

While Walker was now ready to make the 94-mile trek to the University of Georgia, it seemed the school was merely happy the indecisive Walker had finally made up his mind.  Approximately a week prior to Herschel's signing, a writer for The Red and Black had declared, "I'm just about fed up with the whole situation. The whole thing is a joke...Come on Herschel, make up your mind."

Two days following the signing, another writer asserted: "Many of the alumni of this institution have a warped sense of priorities. They spend days worrying if an 18-year-old from Wrightsville is going to attend the University of Georgia...They would rather talk about how many yards Walker will run for while he is at Georgia than if the regents exam is doing any good."

I laugh. I guess the regents exam is important and all, but it appears some folks, including ones at the University of Georgia, simply had no idea what was soon to be in store for their football team.
 
As the story goes, the students and writers weren't the only ones with no clue.

Leading up to the start of the Bulldogs' 1980 season, Coach Dooley said he did not expect Herschel as a freshman to be the team's main tailback. For one, Walker had played in only Class A high school football, where, according to Dooley, "the schools are smaller and the players are smaller."

"I really don’t see him giving us a whole lot of help [this] year," Dooley added.
 
In a fairly recent interview for a magazine article, I asked Coach Dooley if what he said back in 1980 was entirely true—did he really not believe Herschel would be of much help?
 
"I tried to temper [the hype surrounding Herschel] some," Dooley responded.  And, similarly to when Herschel told the writer, "I knew what I was gonna do all along," the hall-of-fame head coach told this writer he knew Herschel would be really good all along.
 
"However, although I knew Herschel would be really good," Dooley informed me with a chuckle, "I was not sure how soon he’d be really good."

April 3, 2014

Some Comfort in a "Depleted" O-Line

Georgia's offensive line returns "only" 57 career
starts in 2014, but what does that total suggest,
if anything?
After posting on my Author-UGA football FB page a few days ago that the Bulldogs' 2014 offense might have the first "1-2-3 1,000-yard returning combination" in college football history, I received a text from a friend saying, "Now, if only we had a line to block for them..."
 
This season's offensive linethe unit is apparently going to be a weakness, or an area of concern, for an offense which otherwise is loaded in the backfield and at receiver, while engineered by a more than capable passer.

Why all the worry about the o-line?  According to one early preseason preview, the unit has been "depleted"; the Bulldog offense is lacking returning experience up front.  Returning experience along the offensive line is often measured by the unit's number of returning career starts, which I've blogged about before, and which Georgia has the "depleted" total of only 57 for 2014: David Andrews 27, John Theus 22, Kolton Houston 6, and Mark Beard 2.
 
Career OL Starts Returning (COLSR) has been recognized as a viable preseason evaluator for some time.  For example, the top two offensive lines in college football entering last season according to Phil Steele, "the Guru of Formulation and Prognostication," happened to be the top two offensive lines in career starts returning, as well.
 
In addition, I've also blogged before about the Offensive Hog Index, which was originally an NFL comparative measurement for offensive line performance.  I tweaked the index to where a college team's offensive line ranking is determined by its average of the following three rankings in comparison to other teams being measured: yards per rush (sacks omitted), percent of passing plays (pass attempts + times sacked) resulting in an interception or sack, and third- and fourth-down combined conversion rate.

Georgia's apparently lowly total of 57 entering this season compelled me to figure whether COLSR was any sort of indicator of how well an offensive line would perform as a group, and most importantly, its team's win-loss record in the end.  One might think so, at least to some degree.  However, I'm reminded of the 2010 season, when the Bulldogs had an FBS-high 155 COLSR.  I was hopeful the extremely high number of starts coupled with an above-average offensive line performance in 2009 would equate to success for Georgia's offensive line and the team overall.  Instead, the Bulldogs' Offensive Hog Index was actually lower in 2010, while the team's record dipped from 8-5 to 6-7.  Of course, that's just one example.

Beginning with the 1995 seasonthe first year Georgia's offensive sacked totals are available (to figure into the Offensive Hog Index)through 2013, I've listed the Bulldogs' COLSR entering each year, followed byàthe team's record at the end of the season, and its Offensive Hog Index in parenthesis.  To make things as balanced as possible, I added the bowl statistics (while perhaps adding to the confusion) into the seasons before 2002 when bowls weren't recognized in season totals.       
 
YR:  OL stsàRec. (Index)
1995:   58à6-6 (11.2)
1996:   47à5-6 (2.3)
1997:   37à10-2 (14.7)
1998:   38à9-3 (6.0)
1999:   39à8-4 (10.3)
2000:   50à8-4 (6.8)
2001:   58à8-4 (7.0)
2002:   98à13-1 (7.0)
2003:     4à11-3 (6.0)
2004:   74à10-2 (12.8)
2005: 134à10-3 (11.3)
2006:   68à9-4 (5.7)
2007:   25à11-2 (16.3)
2008:   24à10-3 (15.0)
2009:   99à8-5 (10.3)
2010: 155à6-7 (9.5)
2011:   86à10-4 (8.0)
2012:   31à12-2 (14.3)
2013: 101à8-5 (15.3)

For example, Georgia entered last season with 101 COLSR; they would finish with an 8-5 record.  The Bulldogs' 15.3 index is an average ranking (points) based on their 5.06 rushing average, which was the 2nd-highest for Georgia in the last 19 seasons (or 18 points earned); their 7.07% of negative passing plays was 7th-best of 19 (13 points); and their 43.85% conversion rate on third and fourth downs combined was 5th-best (15 points), for an average of 15.3 points. 

After a quick glance at the numbers, the first thing I noted was that it seemed 57 COLSR wasn't all that low when comparatively speaking.  Indeed, come to find out, Georgia has averaged just a bit higher at 64 COLSR entering the last 20 seasons.  However, as far as discovering if COLSR was any indication for the success of a team and its offensive line, I was going to have to go even further in depth, and get a little nerdy with the numbers.
 
Familiar with the correlation coefficient?  Personally, I had never even heard of it before finding it yesterday in a Google search.  Basically, it can measure the degree to which two data sets are related, resulting in a number between -1 (an absolute negative correlation) and 1 (a perfect positive correlation).  The closer a correlation coefficient is to 0, the more there is no relationship between the data.  
 
COLSRàHog Index: I first wanted to see if there was any relationship between Georgia's COLSR entering the last 19 seasons and the team's offensive line performance, or Hog Index, at the end of each respective year.  And, perhaps surprisingly to most, there was none whatsoever.  In fact, with a correlation coefficient of -.026, there was a very slight negative correlation. 
 
COLSRàFinal Record: One might think there would be some positive correlation, even the slightest, between COLSR and a team's final record.  On the contrary, the opposite actually holds true for Georgia.  To demonstrate, and why this relationship had a correlation coefficient of -.319, which is considered very close to a fairly negative correlation, check this out: Georgia's top four seasons of COLSR2005, 2009, 2010, 2013yielded an average record of just 8 wins and 5 losses, whereas the bottom four2003, 2007, 2008, 2012remarkably wound up with an average record of 11 wins and 2.5 losses.
 
Hog IndexàFinal Record: Finally, a positive relationship is found between Hog Index and final record, and a fairly substantial one at 0.339.  And, it certainly makes sense: the better the offensive line play, the better the team's record, and vice versa. 
 
What might not make sense is my use of all these figures, statistics, coefficients, and such.  Although, one thing is for sure in my opinion: when it comes to Georgia's offensive line the last two decades, the only indicator of its role in the team's overall performance is the unit's play on the field, and not whether its an experienced group, or one depleted.