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April 14, 2011

"G" Day I

From seventy years ago, Walter Maguire - a sophomore blocking back from Athens - is attended to following the very first "G" Day.  It was noted that Maguire was getting "his legs in condition for the dance" that followed the spring game.

While the concept of spring football practice originated soon after the inception of the sport in the Northeast, it didn't begin at UGA (or at most southern schools) until nearly two decades after the Red and Black played its first game in 1892.

Alex Cunningham, Georgia's head football coach from 1910-1919, was the first to implement  practices in the spring.  Like at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and other traditional powers of the time, Cunningham wanted to take advantage of the preseason period, and not wait until the late summer/early fall, for those players who still needed "to learn the game."

Cunningham's spring practices were far from stringent as there was "no tackling, no charging nor scrimmaging."  Instead, it was reserved for merely "forward passing, falling on the ball, punting and the receiving of punts."

Compared to today's standards, Cunningham might have taken it easy on his team during the spring; nevertheless, the innovative coach was undoubtedly effective as he remains one of the most valuable figures (and perhaps the most underappreciated) in Georgia football history.  

Whereas the first 18 seasons of Georgia football witnessed 14 different head coaches and endured 11 non-winning seasons, Cunningham's stay at UGA lasted a full decade and suffered just one losing campaign.

Cunningham might have been the first to practice in the spring but a intrasquad game would not come for more than 20 years after the coach's departure.

Prior to Wally Butts' third season as the Bulldogs' head football coach, the university's "G" Club - a group of approximately three dozen athletes honored for outstanding achievement in football, basketball, baseball, and track - sponsored the first "G" Day.

The spring football game kicked off at 3 PM on March 8, 1941, in front of nearly 5,000 spectators in Sanford Stadium, or about one-third the attendance of Georgia's first home game seven months later against South Carolina.  The team was split into "Reds" and "Whites" while, according to The Red and Black, "every faction on the Bulldog football squad was divided except the waterboy and trainer."

Young assistants Quinton Lumpkin (Reds) and Bill Hartman (Whites) were the game's head coaches while tackle Tommy Greene and halfback Heyward Allen served as team captains. 

"G" Day of 1941 was much more than a game but also served the purpose of "renewing old friendships and feting Georgia's lettermen."  The day's main event came that night when the acclaimed Bobby Day, known as "king of the electric steel guitar," and his 14-piece band played at a dance held at Woodruff Hall.

As far as the actual football game, little was reported.  In attendance was the well-known Norman Sper, a sports prognosticator for Liberty Magazine, who was far from impressed with what he witnessed from both the Reds and Whites.  Sper had observed many practices that spring of the SEC's 12 teams and said that Georgia's talent was definitely inferior to Alabama, LSU, and Tulane's, and maybe a few more.

In 1941, the Bulldogs would be inferior to few teams in the entire nation, recording the best mark (9-1-1) in the conference while winning the Orange Bowl.  Just goes to show - as often is the case nowadays - the spring game from 70 years ago evidently wasn't very indicative of Georgia's regular season.   

The first "G" Day was such a hit that it was decided to have another the following year.  In 1942, there was less talk about a dance and more about football as the "Gigantic G-Day Game" was billed as a "clash" between All-American Frank Sinkwich, playing for the Reds, and the Whites' sophomore Charley Trippi, who had yet to play a down in a varsity game.

At halftime, another Georgia speedster was featured on the gridiron as a greased pig was released at midfield.  University freshmen attempted to catch the porker and the winning frosh was thrown a barbeque later that year.

In an annual game that often lacks allure, I say bring back some of the old G-Day traditions.  I don't believe a dance would be as widely accepted as before; however, watching freshmen and a greased pig run around at halftime might just do the trick.

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