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December 22, 2009

Dogs Danced in Shreveport at Hogs’ Expense in ’91

I contend that the 1990 Georgia Bulldogs football team is probably the worst in school history since the modern era of the 1940s. The ’90 Dogs won just four games, winning two by a single point and all four by only 17 combined points.

Granted, that Bulldog squad of nearly 20 years ago was filled with youth and inexperience and hampered by injuries and players dismissed for various reasons. Notwithstanding, Georgia’s 4-7 mark could have just as easily been 1-10 instead.

The following season of 1991 was labeled “Operation Turnaround,” for obvious reasons, by some of the Georgia coaches. One of these assistants, Wayne McDuffie, the Bulldogs’ offensive line coach from 1977-1981, had been hired by head coach Ray Goff (Photo) as the Bulldogs’ new offensive coordinator.

McDuffie inherited a young but talented offense led by sophomores running back Garrison Hearst and receiver Andre Hastings. Most notably, Georgia had signed the top quarterback out of high school in February in Eric Zeier, who enrolled early at UGA and was practicing by March, and by the sixth game of the ’91 season, was the starting quarterback.

Entering the final two games of the regular season, Georgia’s record stood at 6-3—somewhat of a pleasant surprise—but, in two of their previous three games, the Bulldogs had been upset by Vanderbilt and suffered a 32-point pummeling at the hands of Florida.

These two embarrassing setbacks along with a collapse of a proposed alliance between the Gator, Peach, Aloha, and Independence bowls left Georgia with the possibility of not making a trip to the postseason, even with victories in its remaining games against Auburn and Georgia Tech.

However, following a 37-27 win over Auburn—the first time in nine years the Dogs had defeated both Clemson and Auburn the same season—Georgia was extended an invitation to the Independence Bowl. The Bulldogs graciously accepted, except one.

At the time, Louisiana’s election for governor was taking place and David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, was running for office. Georgia’s Chuck Carswell, a team leader and the special teams captain, whose last game would be the bowl, said he would have a “hard time” voting to go to Shreveport if Duke was elected. It was speculated many other Bulldog players might follow Carswell’s example.

Fortunately for Georgia and the Independence Bowl, Edwin Edwards, not Duke, won the election.

For the first time in three years, the Bulldogs defeated Georgia Tech 18-15, snapping the Yellow Jackets’ 17-game home winning streak.  As the game ended, a bitter, Georgia Tech scoreboard operator, displayed the message, “Anything like this in Shreveport?” Next to the taunt danced an electronic hula girl; the Yellow Jackets had already accepted an Aloha Bowl invitation to play Stanford.

“To Hell With Georgia,” promptly followed the scoreboard’s initial ridicule.

The next day, directed at the Bulldogs’ bitter rival, the late great Lewis Grizzard quipped, “Good luck in the [Aloha] Bowl, but I’ll take Shreveport. I won’t have to fly nine hours out and nine back.”

Carswell, apparently having a change of heart about the Independence Bowl, joked, “I might just put on a grass skirt and do the hula in Shreveport.”

[Georgia's One and Done Helmet of '91--Image from The Helmet Project--For the Independence Bowl, the Bulldogs added a black stripe and black facemask to their helmets, never to use that particular helmet design again.]

The Independence Bowl had been on the brink of financial extinction before signing a lucrative television contract with ABC. Georgia and its opponent, Arkansas, were given approximately $650,000 each to play in the 16th annual edition of the bowl. The Razorbacks had barely gone bowling, needing a win over Rice in their last game to improve to 6-5 and earn an invitation. The Independence Bowl would be able to easily sellout its nearly 47,000 seats as Shreveport was one of the largest alumni support areas for Arkansas.

The Hogs would be playing their final game as a 77-year member of the Southwest Conference (SWC). They were jumping ship to the SEC, ironically, Georgia’s conference, and were scheduled to play the Bulldogs again in early October of 1992.

While the Bulldogs had Zeier, Arkansas had sophomore Wade Hill, who, only four games before, was a scout team player and kept statistics on the sideline before injuries decimated the Hogs at the quarterback position.

Hill would run Arkansas’ expected option attack—an offense Georgia had a problem stopping in the past, especially in its loss to Vanderbilt. However, Arkansas head coach Jack Crowe kept the Bulldogs and everyone else in suspense by stating prior to the game, “I hope [the Bulldogs] try to stop the option on every play, but we are not going to run it on every play.”

Crowe should have stuck to the run-oriented option.

Instead, Arkansas and Hill came out throwing against Georgia but were horrid at doing so as the Hog quarterback finished the contest just 12 of 31 passing for 122 yards.

Hill, who two days prior to the game had said, “the team that makes the least mistakes will win,” threw five interceptions while Arkansas also lost a fumble. The five errant passes were intercepted by five different Bulldogs: Torrey Evans, named defensive MVP of the game, Ralph Thompson, Chris Wilson, George Wynn, and Carswell.

On offense, Zeier completed his first seven passes, including two, first-quarter touchdown tosses to Arthur Marshall and Hastings. For the game, Zeier was 18 of 28 passing for 228 yards. Hastings, named the offensive MVP, caught four passes for 94 yards and gained 53 more on a single run.

Early in the third quarter, Hasting’s 53-yard flanker reverse for a touchdown gave Georgia a 24-7 lead in an eventual 24-15 victory.

With less than a minute remaining in the game, Georgia fans began chanting, “SEC, SEC, SEC,” in celebration of a great bowl victory, concluding a season of one of the biggest turnarounds in school history. Others thought of it differently.

“Listen,” said an elderly Georgia fan sitting in the stands of the Independence Bowl, “sounds like we’re welcoming Arkansas into the SEC.”

“Yeah, right!” said another Bulldogs fan. “After this beating, they won’t want to play anyone else from the SEC.”

Jack Crowe would not get a second chance to defeat Georgia the following season, or coach against anyone else from the SEC, for that matter. After receiving a contract extension following Arkansas’ win over Rice and accepting the bowl invitation, Crowe was fired after the season opener of 1992—a 10-3 loss to Division I-AA The Citadel.

Whereas the 1991 Independence Bowl eventually led to the Razorbacks firing their head coach, it compelled the Bulldogs to boogie. Senior defensive backs Carswell and Wynn celebrated on the field following the win by doing a victory dance the duo named the “Shreveport Slide.”

The dance, according to Carswell, was “our answer to the hula.”

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