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April 23, 2010

Biggest Bulldog Busts and Steals

Photo: Starting at fullback against Clemson in 1994, Terrell Davis runs for some of his just 26 yards on only six carries against the Tigers in Athens.  Davis played behind Garrison Hearst in '92, was part of an offense switching to a predominantly passing game in '93, and was in Ray Goff's doghouse and endured injuries in '94.  Still, "TD" managed 1,657 career rushing yards and 529 yards receiving in three seasons at Georgia.  What was perceived by NFL scouts as a lack of production along with a slow 40-yard dash time, caused the eventual, borderline Hall of Famer to not be drafted until the sixth round of the 1995 Draft.

In anticipation of the NFL Draft, the NFL Network recently aired the Draft's top 10 steals and busts of all time.  It got me thinking and I came up with Georgia's version. 

I considered both the AFL and NFL drafts since the very first one in 1936.  To be a bust, a Bulldog had to be chosen in the first or second round.  To be a steal, one had to be the 100th player or later taken or not selected at all.  This criterion barely excluded Hines Ward, Phillip Daniels, and John Kasay, all who might have made my steal list if not for the limitation. 

The countdown of the top Bulldog steals of the Draft:

Ferguson started at nose tackle for Georgia during both the 1995 and 1996 seasons, earning second team All-SEC in his final year. The 229th pick of 240 total selections in the '97 Draft, not much was expected from the former Bulldog when he was chosen by the New York Jets. Nevertheless, 12 seasons later, Ferguson is still in the league having played 159 games (127 starts) for the Jets, Cowboys, and Dolphins.

In 1977, a court ruled that it was against the U.S. Constitution to restrict an individual player to a single team.  This judgment placed the '77 NFL Draft on hold for months and a number of players, like Wilson, couldn't wait to be a pro football player.  Moonpie, a first team All-American at offensive tackle in 1976, signed with Toronto of the CFL in February.  Regardless, more than two months later, he was also drafted by Cincinnati in the fourth round (105th selection), just in case he ever decided to play in the NFL.  After one year with the Argonauts, Wilson was a backup left tackle with the Bengals in 1978 and 1979.  In 1980, he moved to right tackle and for the next 10 seasons started all but one of his teams' (Cincinnati and Seattle) 149 regular-season games.

Hauss played during the lowly Johnny Griffith era (1961-63), starting at center as a junior and senior at Georgia.  Also a dependable defensive player, Hauss wasn't selected until the ninth round (115th overall) and primarily only because the Washington Redskins thought he could play linebacker for them.  Hauss played immediately at center in 1964 and became a starter the following season.  A Redskin for 14 seasons through 1977, Hauss made the Pro Bowl five years and earned All-Pro recognition in seven. 

While he was in his third season with the USFL's New Jersey Generals, the Dallas Cowboys gambled and selected Herschel in the fifth round of the '85 draft with the 114th pick.  In order for Walker to play in the NFL, Dallas would either have to buy out his extravagant contract with the Generals or hope the USFL folded.  The latter occurred just prior to the league's fourth season and Herschel was in the Cowboys' backfield for the 1986 campaign, sharing the load with Tony Dorsett.  As I've mentioned before, just as much as it can be argued he is one of the greatest college football players of all time, it can be suggested Walker was one of the most undervalued players ever in the NFL.  

Despite catching only 42 passes in his career as a Bulldog from 1955 to 1957 (Georgia completed only 150 in the three seasons combined), Orr led the SEC in receptions as a sophomore and senior from his halfback position.  He was taken in the 25th round and 291st overall by the Los Angeles Rams but played for Pittsburgh in his first professional season.  Orr was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1958 when he was third in the league with 910 yards receiving.  He became a Baltimore Colt in 1961, where he finished out his career in 1970.  Regarded as one of pro football's best receivers of the 1960s, Orr still ranks fourth all time in NFL history in career yards per touch with a 19.4 average.

"The Snake" left Georgia following his junior year of 1968 after only two seasons as a Bulldog and as one of the school's greatest defenders and punt returners in history.  After one season in the CFL, Scott was chosen in the seventh round (159th overall pick) by the Miami Dolphins, where he would be regarded as one of the league's best defensive backs of the 1970s.  A five-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl MVP in just his first six seasons, Scott played his final three seasons in Washington (1976-78).  For his career, he intercepted 49 passes and had a 10.4 punt return average.

An expected fourth round pick, Davis slipped all the way to Denver in the sixth round with the 196th selection.  He made an immediate impact, rushing for 1,117 yards as a rookie in 1995.  From 1996 to 1998, Davis had arguably the best three-season stint by any NFL running back in history.  He rushed for more than 1,500 yards each year (2,008 in '98), scored a total of 53 touchdowns, was a three-time Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro, and was on two Super Bowl winning teams.  Injuries slowed Davis from 1999 to 2001, when he played in only 16 combined games, rushing for less than 1,200 yards.  He retired following the '01 season.  Davis ranks third all time in NFL history in rushing yards per game (97.5), behind greats Jim Brown and Barry Sanders.  

Honorable Mention: Bobby Walston, Dick Yelvington, Clarence Kay, Tommy Lyons

It's difficult for me to brand any Bulldog a bust, so here's my opinion of the top Draft, let's say, underachievers from Georgia:

Worley, who left Georgia as the school's sixth all-time leading rusher in only 26 career games, was the seventh pick of the 1989 draft.  He got off to a good start with Pittsburgh, rushing for 770 yards and starting 14 games as a rookie on a Steelers team that made the playoffs.  However, five years later he had retired from the league with less than 1,800 career rushing yards.

Sullivan, the sixth overall selection of the 2003 Draft, was New Orleans' starting left defensive tackle as a rookie.  In three seasons with the Saints, Sullivan started only 16 games, recording only 1.5 sacks.  Prior to the 2006 season, he was traded to New England but was released from the team only four months later. 

Arguably the greatest Bulldog quarterback off all time, Rauch's professional playing career wasn't nearly as successful.  The second pick of the 1949 Draft by Detroit, Rauch didn't start under center until his third year with the New York Yanks.  He struggled mightily in his first start, was ejected for throwing a punch, and would only start for two more games until he quit following the 1951 season.  In 1952, Rauch tried his hand at coaching as the quarterbacks coach at Florida.  He would soon make it back to Georgia as an assistant (1955-58) and later became a head coach in the NFL, guiding the Oakland Raiders to Super Bowl II.  

The speedy Scott is mostly known for running past and away from the Gators in '80 and ending his career the following season as the Bulldogs' all-time leading receiver - a record that stood for 14 years.  The 13th overall selection of the 1982 Draft, Scott was never better than third on the team in receiving during his four years with the New Orleans Saints.  After being let go in 1985 having caught just 69 career passes, the Atlanta Falcons picked up Scott, only to release him prior to the 1986 season.   

As a freshman at Georgia, the 6-9 and more than 300-pound Williams was a reserve defensive tackle and a kick-blocking extraordinaire.  His six career blocked kicks (4 PATs, 2 field goals), all in his first two seasons, remain a school record.  Williams was moved to offensive left tackle as a sophomore and started there his next three seasons, earning first team All-American in 1993.  The 14th pick of the 1994 Draft by Philadelphia, Williams started all 16 games for the Eagles at left tackle and played well before his professional football career went to pot, literally.  After numerous failed drug tests, Williams was suspended and then banned by the NFL after just one season in the league.

Interestingly but sadly, four of the five Bulldog busts above all have something unfortunately in common along with a couple other Georgia players, who were considered for the list, namely, Odell Thurman and Quincy Carter - drug use was a major factor in the downfall or ending of their time in pro football.

If only they had heeded the words of Nancy Reagan to "Just Say No"...  Who knows what could have been of their NFL careers.

April 20, 2010

Mettenberger Can Learn a Lesson from Another Ex-Georgia QB

On Sunday, I was watching the 1977 Sugar Bowl between Georgia and Pittsburgh on VHS (sounds exciting, huh?) and then, a few hours later, heard about the Bulldogs kicking Zach Mettenberger off the team — two unfortunate events in the annals of UGA football that are separated by more than three decades and seemingly have nothing in common. 

The '77 Sugar Bowl and recent player dismissal feature ex-Bulldog quarterbacks from two completely different worlds. One was an African American, who grew up playing football on a coal strewn field in one of Atlanta’s roughest areas, and had already established himself as a star athlete at the University of Georgia. 

The other, Mettenberger, is white, grew up in Watkinsville, Georgia, far from any mean streets, and had yet to take a snap from center as a college football player.

Nevertheless, these two quarterbacks have more in common than is evident.

Midway through the final quarter of the aforementioned Sugar Bowl, Georgia was getting embarrassed by a score of 27-3 in a game that had long been decided. However, Pittsburgh head coach Johnny Majors did not want to leave any doubt with the voters that his undefeated Panthers of 1976 were the No. 1 team in the country.

Majors kept Tony Dorsett in the game so the Heisman Trophy winner could reach the 200-yard rushing mark while teammate Matt Cavanaugh, Pitt’s standout quarterback, continued to attempt long passes against the Bulldogs’ reserves on defense.

Instead of defending the padding of stats by Majors, Georgia coach Vince Dooley decided to prepare for what he thought was the future. The more than 75,000 in attendance and millions watching on television witnessed a rarity that afternoon when Georgia’s Anthony “Tony” Flanagan trotted onto the field of the Superdome—a black quarterback playing major college football.

As Georgia’s third-string quarterback, the 6'3", 195-pound Flanagan (Photo: Flanagan during a spring practice in April 1977 - The Red and Black) had played sparingly in 1976, seeing action in primarily just two games—a 41-0 win over Clemson and 45-0 victory versus Vanderbilt. For the season, he rushed for 73 yards on eight carries, including a one-yard touchdown run against Vanderbilt, and completed the only pass he attempted for 16 yards.

Flanagan was the first black quarterback at the school. The second wouldn’t come for another eight years when James Jackson, an eventual three-year starter, saw his first action in October of 1984.

Flanagan was under center for Georgia’s final four offensive snaps of that forgettable Sugar Bowl. He was sacked, gained only one yard on an option run, and threw two incomplete passes. As it turned out, it would be the final four plays Flanagan ever ran as a Bulldog.

At Southwest Atlanta High School, Flanagan was an absolute superstar on both the football field and basketball court. One of the most “celebrated high school athletes in Atlanta history,” according to Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Flanagan came to Georgia in 1974 on both a football and basketball scholarship.

He soon quit the Bulldogs’ football squad to concentrate on basketball, but would try out again two years later for the ’76 team that would win the SEC and earn the Sugar Bowl bid.

A cocky and confident guard on Georgia’s 1974-75 basketball team, Flanagan averaged 12.8 points per game and led the team in assists as only a true freshman. As a sophomore and junior, he again started for the Bulldogs and averaged nearly 11 points per game for each season.

In the spring of 1977, shortly after receiving an award for being the basketball team’s best leader, Flanagan began spring practice as the football team’s No. 1 quarterback. As the practices ended, Flanagan, like Mettenberger 33 years later, was involved in a three-way battle for the starting position, along with Jeff Pyburn and Danny Rogers. However, the quarterback race was soon minus its top contender.

Flanagan was ruled academically ineligible that summer and would not play football or basketball again at Georgia. He was the last Bulldog quarterback vying for the starting position to leave or be dropped from the team until two days ago when Mettenberger got the boot. However, Flanagan is a prime example of one who turned a personal tragedy into triumph.

Soon after leaving school, Flanagan joined the Hawaii Volcanos of the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). A few years later, he was playing football for the Georgia Pride, a semi-pro team of the American Football Association. While with the Pride, Flanagan worked for a moving company in Athens during the day and played football more than an hour away in Atlanta at night.

In 1982, Flanagan was a starting quarterback for the first time since high school, leading the Pride to the playoffs. It was during the team’s playoff run Flanagan displayed the same confidence he had while playing for the Bulldogs, predicting, “I’ll be playing quarterback in the USFL next year.”

In 1983, Flanagan earned a roster spot with the Boston Breakers of the upstart United States Football League (USFL) and later with the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL.

After Flanagan’s career in professional sports, he returned to Atlanta to coach at John F. Kennedy Middle School, where he soon became a mentor and favorite of many children.

On January 12, 2001, Flanagan passed away untimely at the age of only 45.

How tragic it must be for Zach Mettenberger. He grows up a Georgia fan only minutes from Sanford Stadium, earns a scholarship to play football at UGA, is a candidate to start at quarterback for the Bulldogs as a mere redshirt freshman, and has the best performance at G-Day of Georgia’s three quarterbacks. Regardless, Mettenberger’s underage drinking prior to the spring game apparently led to his eventual dismissal.

This young man’s life is far from over, however, whether playing football or otherwise.

Mettenberger’s bad decision ultimately led to him following the same path as another former Georgia quarterback by getting removed from the team. Let’s hope he can continue to follow in the footsteps of the late Tony Flanagan by taking the right path next time and getting his life back on track.

April 13, 2010

Should a "Runner" Run Georgia's Offense?

James Jackson (No. 14) directs Georgia's offense against Arizona in the 1985 Sun Bowl.  Jackson's 1,359 career rushing yards (1984-87) rank 26th all time at Georgia and third among Bulldog quarterbacks.

In vying for Georgia’s starting quarterback position for the upcoming season, how much of an advantage does one have who is mobile over one who is not? Obviously, there is some sort of advantage, but how much of one is there for the Bulldogs’ two dual-threat quarterbacks? A lot? Only a little?

Although he has reportedly improved his mobility, Mettenberger’s legs are a weakness in his game. Gray is a runner, who was put on the field a year ago specifically for designed runs (although mostly ineffective).

Murray has great quickness in his feet and, unlike Mettenberger and most of the quarterbacks under Coach Richt, will make plays by tucking the ball and running. Granted it was in high school, but in the last full season of football he played, Murray rushed for over 900 yards and averaged more than 10 yards per carry.

A quarterback at any level who rushes for nearly 1,000 yards would certainly be a threat to run at the next one, even if the next level is against major college defenses. Richt has even indicated quarterback runs will be inserted into the gameplan if Murray or Gray was to win the starting job.

In considering the three Bulldog quarterbacks’ mobility, or the lack thereof in one case, I thought of the “runners” Georgia had at quarterback in the past. Although, it has been quite a while since the Dawgs had a true, running threat at the position.

Since Ray Goff rushed for 124 yards against Florida in 1976 to the present – a span of 402 games and 24 players who have started at quarterback for Georgia – only two Bulldog signal callers on just two occasions have rushed for 100+ yards in a single game (1990- Joe Dupree vs. Auburn, 1998- Quincy Carter vs. Kentucky).

I’m not forecasting Murray (or even Gray) will eventually have a 100-yard rushing outing, but if Stafford nearly accomplished it (83 yards vs. Auburn in ’06), Murray absolutely can.

I’m expecting (and hoping) the Bulldogs will fully utilize what should be a strong rushing attack in 2010. The offense should resemble the one of the final five games of last season - 243.2 rushing yards per game, 5.9 yards per carry, 66 percent running plays – more so than the offense in Georgia’s first eight games – 109.6 yards, 3.6 per carry, 50 percent running.

In my opinion, it undoubtedly would be a tremendous advantage to have a running quarterback, or at least one who is very mobile, to run Georgia’s offense in 2010. In the past, nearly every great Bulldog running team had a quarterback who could run, or one who was at least an effective scrambler.

Since 1947, seventeen Georgia offenses have averaged at least 200 yards rushing per game. These teams had a combined winning percentage of more than 79 percent - a favorable percentage to the other Bulldog teams during the same time period. Sixteen of the 17 teams had starting quarterbacks who were considered running quarterbacks (Eric Zeier in 1992 the lone exception) while fourteen of these 17 starting quarterbacks netted at least 100 yards rushing for the season.

Regarding the upcoming season, I realize this analysis is somewhat distorted to say the least, like comparing today’s apples or Richt’s pro style offense to yesterday’s oranges or Coach Dooley’s run-oriented, I-formation. The last Georgia offense to average 200 yards rushing with a running quarterback was more than two decades ago – 1988 – the final season of the Dooley era and his three yards and a cloud of dust offense.

However, consider this: There were 17 FBS teams last season that averaged 200 yards rushing per game – an average Georgia could very likely obtain this season. These teams had a combined winning percentage of 67 percent - a favorable percentage to the other FBS teams of 2009. Fourteen of these 17 teams had starting quarterbacks considered runners, who netted at least 170 yards rushing for the season.  The average net rushing yards for all 17 starting quarterbacks was a whopping 525 yards per player.

Merely a thought… Whether during the coaching days of Dooley or just a season ago, it is evident that if a team can run the ball effectively, it will generally win games. That’s no secret. Nevertheless, it is also apparent the successful, run-oriented offenses are predominantly directed by quarterbacks who can run the football as well.

April 9, 2010

All-time Greatest G-Day Quote

The colorful Bobby Poss, a reserve center and snapper for the Bulldogs from 1969-1971, has always been good with a quip. 

When Georgia played Nebraska in the 1969 Sun Bowl - a blowout 39-point win for the Cornhuskers - the Bulldogs scored their only points on a 6-yard touchdown run by quarterback Paul Gilbert late in the game. 

When Poss came out on the field to snap the point-after, Nebraska's Rich Glover, an eventual Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner, said to Poss, "No. 52, I'm gonna ram your head down to your shoe tops."

"Look a heah, Hot," Poss said.  "Ain't no way we can score forty points with time running out.  How 'bout takin' it easy on me."

In April of 1984, Georgia's G-Day game matched the Bulldogs' varsity versus a group of alumni players.  The match up only transpired because Coach Dooley wanted to keep his team's injuries to a minimum. (And allow the old alumni to be injured instead?)

When Poss, the snapper for the alumni, was asked just prior to the game what the point spread should be, he jokingly answered, "two - two kegs."

The alumni team shockingly held a 10-10 tie at halftime before the varsity scored 28 unanswered points for a 38-10 victory.  It was the first time Georgia's varsity and alumni met for the annual spring game, and the last.

April 6, 2010

There Need Be Only One Dawg in the Fight

From the sound of it, there's a quarterback battle abrewing in Athens.  (That is, according to Coach Richt.) 

I wrote an article at the Bleacher Report on Georgia's three-Dawg race for the starting quarterback position.  (Photo: OnlineAthens)  In my opinion, if there is a question of who should start (although there probably shouldn't be), that's fine with me, for now.  But come late August, Richt will hopefully have decided on the one with the most talent and will stand by his man.

April 2, 2010

Historically Speaking

The 1920 Georgia football squad started the season as the "Wildcats" but were "Bulldogs" by the end of October.  The team finished the season undefeated, won the S.I.A.A. championship, and featured player "No Face" Brown (second row, first player from right) - a historic photo indeed from UGA's Hargrett Library. 

Today I signed a contract to author Turner Publishing's Historic Photos of University of Georgia Football.  The publisher has printed a similar book for Alabama, Florida, LSU, and Michigan football while books on Ohio State and USC will be released by this fall.  

I own the one on Alabama and it's a good looking, photo-heavy (around 200), coffee table book.  The book on Georgia will be much the same.

How does this relate to my blog?  Although I don't post enough as it is, over the next four to five weeks (when I'll write most of the manuscript), I'll probably post even less.

A lot of authors are guilty of constantly posting on their blogs boring updates about their book(s): I'm now working on chapter xyz, my book's sales have never been higher, my next deadline is the end of the month, blah, blah, blah.    

Don't worry.  I'm not one of those authors/bloggers.  At times, my blog can be a bit boring to some of you.  There's no point boring you even further.

With that being said, check for the book in stores or online by the end of August and just in time for the upcoming season.