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November 29, 2010

Woerner and the WONDERDOGS

Let's add Saturday's Georgia-Georgia Tech game to the long list of thrillers between the two schools.  Yesterday, I was asked in my opinion, where did the 2010 game rank as far as the most exciting in the series.  Of those I have personally witnessed, it maybe places in the top ten. 

Of all 105 football games among the in-state rivals, there's perhaps none topping the 1978 game.  Although I'm a little too young to remember the '78 contest and one of my most favorite teams of all time - the 1978 Wonderdogs - thanks to a friend sending me the game on DVD, I can concur with many older Dawgs: The meeting between the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets from 32 years ago is likely the most exciting ever in the series.

Here's a Bulldog team that, according to one media outlet during the preseason, was going to battle Vanderbilt that year for 9th place in the 10-member SEC.  Supposedly, the only probable victory on the schedule was a meeting with the Virginia Military Institute - a Division I-AA opponent - in early November.

Nevertheless, Georgia found itself with an unfathomable 8-1-1 record entering its season finale, ranking 8th in the UPI Poll.  And the Wonderdogs still had another unexpected thrill to experience...

You don't wait for big plays but go out and make them. - SCOTT WOERNER in 1978

The Bulldogs of 1978 were soon referred to as Wonderdogs after opening the season with upset victories over Baylor and Clemson.  (Following the 2-0 start, one could buy the Underdogs to Wonderdogs t-shirt at Balfour of Athens for just $3.95.)

Georgia's defense, which had returned just two starters from the year before - linemen Paul Petrisko and Gordon Terry - had been the real underdog entering the season, while cornerback Scott Woerner was perhaps its biggest wonder.

Woerner was the Bulldogs' top recruit of the incoming freshman class of 1977.  Although the Jonesboro native played very little on defense, Woerner was Georgia's top punt and kickoff returner as a mere true freshman.

In the second game of the 1978 campaign, Woerner was recognized as the UPI's Southeastern Back of the Week, recording 15 solo tackles while intercepting a pass in the 12-0 upset over Clemson. 

By the end of the year, the Bulldogs' starting left cornerback was considered, according to TV color man Lee Grosscup, maybe Georgia's best defensive back since the great Jake Scott.  However, Woerner had yet to demonstrate the extraordinary skills Scott possessed as a punt returner, averaging only just a little over eight yards per return for his two-season Bulldog career.  

Last summer, I posted a few video clips/stories from the 1978 Georgia-Georgia Tech clash - game-winning, clinching, and deciding plays:
Notwithstanding, perhaps the game's biggest play was Woerner's touchdown return - undoubtedly one of the most memorable punt returns in Bulldog history.  

Prior to his scoring return, Woerner almost returned a Tech punt for a score in the second quarter until he was just barely tripped up by the Yellow Jacket kicker after a 43-yard gain.  On his next return, Woerner was hammered by an opposing special teamer while signaling for a fair catch.  The hit would take Woerner out of the game until into the next quarter.

Upon returning in the third quarter after nearly being knocked out, Woerner first intercepted a pass thrown by Tech's Mike Kelley in Georgia territory.  Following the Jackets' next possession, "The Returner," as he was later nicknamed, made his acclaimed 72-yard return en route to being named a Chevrolet Player of the Game. 

For Scott Woerner and the rest of the Wonderdogs of 1978, tight, barely-escaping victories over rival opponents was their forte.  More than three decades later, it was a relief that the current edition of Bulldogs was finally able to achieve one of those during a season of close and heart-breaking losses.


Anonymous said...

Thanks! I was a senior at GA and attended that game (AFTER taking the LSAT in the morning). I should have seen the game as an omen for law school at UGA - lots of heartache but finally a good result.

Tech got up on us 20-0, I believe, but we scored a touchdown before the half to be down only 13 points. Eddie Lee Ivory was great, but we had Willie McClendon, and Woerner, AND Buck AND Amp.......

Anonymous said...

Great shot and comments from the TV guys about Erk towards the beginning. You still hear so much about the man 30 years after leaving UGA and about 5 after his death, it's great to see him in live footage. Thanks Patrick for posting these old games. Would like to see more of the '76 Ga-Fla game you posted a while back.

Anonymous said...

I agree: the '78 game against Tech was one of the most unforgettable. So was Woerner during the years he was on the team. As usual, your blogs make for informative readings.
Old Dawg