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May 30, 2012

Little Bobby & Bulldog Immortality (video)

Bobby Etter -- Georgia football's Little Big Man
He was listed at a scant 150 pounds, but was said to actually weigh more like 135.  Regardless, perhaps the smallest Bulldog in recent memory -- placekicker "Little" Bobby Etter  -- is renowned for making one of the biggest plays in Georgia football history.  Furthermore,  not only was the celebrated play not made with Etter's kicking toe, as one would suspect, but it was a major factor in the transformation of a celebrated football program after exhibiting mediocrity for way too long.

Entering the Coach Vince Dooley regime, the Bulldogs had suffered through a 15-season period that would make the Coach Goff and Donnan years seem like an era of supremacy.  From 1949 to 1963, Georgia achieved just five winning seasons and played in only two bowl games.  To make matters worse, the Bulldogs had lost eight of their last nine meetings to rival Florida in a series once dominated by Georgia.

If there was a single contest during the early Dooley era that turned around a once-proud football tradition that had slowly been diminishing since the late 1940s, which game was it?  Many will point to the 1965 season opener, when Georgia's miraculous flea-flicker and two-point conversion upset national champion Alabama.  Others will say it came two weeks later in Ann Arbor, when the Bulldogs defeated mighty Michigan in the "Big House."  Etter, whose three field goals were the difference in a 15-7 win, was recognized by Dooley after the victory over the Wolverines as “the biggest little man in the stadium today."

However, the placekicker had already been a significant difference maker for the Bulldogs, resulting nearly an entire year beforehand against Florida in 1964.  With the little sophomore's initial heroics, Georgia escaped Jacksonville with a signature victory in what would mark the beginning of a team's return to a championship caliber of play.

The Gators had entered the meeting ranked 9th in the nation and were 10-point favorites to hand the Bulldogs their third defeat of the season.  Two weeks before, Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant had said Florida was the strongest team he had ever faced as a coach.  In addition, the Gators were even recognized by their own head coach, Ray Graves, as “the finest team in Florida’s history” (whatever that was worth at the time -- remember, this was pre-1990s Gators football).

As expected, Florida quickly jumped out to a 7-0 lead; the score would not change until early in the fourth quarter.  Following a Gators' turnover, the Bulldogs drove to Florida's 2-yard line, where they threatened to tie the ballgame:

Fred Barber’s 2-yard touchdown run and Etter’s extra point tied the game with 13:11 remaining.  Then, for whatever reason, Graves replaced quarterback Steve Spurrier following the ensuing kickoff with Tom Shannon.  On the backup's first snap, the Gators lost a fumble recovered by cornerback Doug McFalls.  In six plays, Georgia gained 16 yards and faced fourth down from Florida’s 5-yard line.  Dooley then called for something that had been successful just six times in the history of the Georgia-Florida series, and not since 1952 – a field goal.

On the field-goal try, the snap was low, which holder Barry Wilson then bobbled.  Nevertheless, the football rolled perfectly to Etter, who scooped it up without hesitation and raced around left end for a touchdown.  In what was his first offensive play -- albeit, incidental -- since before playing high school football, Little Bobby had scored one of the greatest touchdowns in the history of the rivalry.

Ironically, after not missing a single point-after try in 13 attempts during the season, the game’s hero missed the ensuing conversion.  However, the Gators, who evidently had started to unravel, were offsides on the attempt and Etter’s second try was good.

Trailing 14-7, Florida's final possession consisted of a can't-miss (2:36 into video) jarring hit on Spurrier by a Bulldog defender.  After a 43-yard completion by the super soph to Georgia's 45-yard line, Spurrier's final-second desperation heave was intercepted by McFalls with no time remaining.
After the Bulldogs' upset, Georgia's locker room in the Gator Bowl was in absolute bedlam.  Reportedly, defensive coordinator Erk Russell became so overwhelmed with emotion that he instantly jumped up on a table and led the room to a repeated cheer of “DAMN GOOD TEAM!”

Evidently, that "damn good team" had just defeated "the finest team in Florida’s history," and it was due in large part to a touchdown scored by the smallest, and unlikeliest of Bulldogs.

Speaking of great Georgia football moments, players, Erk Russell, Vince Dooley, and the Gators choking away another game to the Bulldogs, my book on the Georgia-Florida rivalry -- I Love Georgia/I Hate Florida -- is now available to pre-order.  The book will retail for $14.95, but I'll sign and ship the book within the Continental U.S. for only $14 as soon as copies are available to me by early August. 

If interested in the Bulldog Nation's "handy manual as to why we love the Georgia Bulldogs and why we hate the Florida Gators," please see product and ordering information at my website.  And, sorry for my shameless book plug, but a man's got to pay the bills...

May 22, 2012

All-Time Side Switchers

In 2012, Malcolm Mitchell will attempt to join a small
group of modern-day Bulldogs to have excelled on
both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Over the weekend, a friend and I were discussing Malcolm Mitchell's side switching to the defensive secondary after prevailing as one of the Bulldogs' top receivers a year ago.  We agreed there had been plenty of examples of one player excelling at multiple positions in UGA football history.  However, what Mitchell is looking to achieve -- one individual standing out on both sides of the ball during a collegiate career -- has seldom been attempted, much less been a successful venture, by a Bulldog player.

Like most schools, two-platoon football, where no individual plays regularly on both a team's offense and defense, was established at Georgia during the early to mid-1960s.  Mitchell would be the fourth Bulldog since the inception, and the first in nearly 40 years, to lead the team in regular-season receiving (his 614 receiving yards were a team high entering the Outback Bowl), yet was switched to a completely different position to start the next season.

In 1972, Bob Burns led Georgia in receiving as a tight end before becoming the team's starting fullback the following season.  A year prior to Burns having done so, split end Lynn Hunnicutt led the Bulldogs in receiving before being moved to tight end in 1972.  And in 1968, Billy Payne  was moved to a defensive end position after leading the 1966 SEC championship team in receiving two years before as tight end.

As was the case with just Payne of the aforementioned three, Mitchell will attempt to become an even bigger rarity as a successful "side switcher": a Bulldog distinguishing himself on one side of the ball one year, before switching sides, and continuing to excel on the opposite side of the ball.

Entering this season (and prior to Malcolm Mitchell most likely joining this list in the very near future), I've ranked my opinion of Georgia's top five most notable side switchers since the Bulldogs began utilizing the two-platoon system: 

#5  MIKE WEAVER: The younger brother of the more renowned Eddie "Meat Cleaver," Mike is the only Bulldog in history to start on one side of the ball one year (offensive guard in 1982), start on the other side the next season (defensive guard in 1983), and return to his original side as a starter a third year (offensive tackle in 1984).  Switching back to the offensive line after totaling 85 tackles as a junior, the collegiate career of "Jumbo" was capped when he was selected in the 1985 NFL Draft. 

#4  BILLY PAYNE: Before bringing the Olympics to Atlanta and becoming chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, Payne was "the best 60-minute player I ever coached," according to head coach Vince Dooley.  As just a sophomore tight end in 1966, he led the Bulldogs in annual receiving and was second on the team as a junior in '67.  Moving to the other side of the ball for his senior campaign, Payne intercepted three passes as a consensus first-team All-SEC defensive end.   

Before he was an All-American safety, Lynn Hughes
(RIGHT, No. 16) was Vince Dooley's first starting
quarterback at Georgia in 1964.
#3  LYNN HUGHES: For Dooley's initial season in 1964, Hughes paired with Preston Ridlehuber as part of Georgia's dual-quarterback system.  That year, the sophomore signal caller led the Bulldogs in passing and was fourth on the team in rushing.  With the emergence of quarterback Kirby Moore, Hughes was moved to the starting safety position in 1965, where he would be recognized as an All-SEC defender for both of his final two seasons.  Also in 1965 and 1966, Hughes saw time at his original position as Georgia's No. 3 quarterback, completing a combined 19 of 29 passes.  For his career, he passed for more than 700 yards, intercepted 10 passes on defense, and scored seven touchdowns (six rushing, one via interception return).

#2  ROBERT EDWARDS: As Georgia's starting right cornerback in 1994, Edwards recorded 64 tackles, four interceptions, and a team-high seven passes broken up.  In the spring of 1995, what began as only an experiment resulted in a team’s solution when Edwards, who was being touted as a preseason all-star cornerback, was moved to Georgia’s scat back position because of injuries to teammates.  In a season-opening win over South Carolina, the junior rushed for 169 yards on 30 carries, caught two passes for 42 yards, and scored a modern-school-record five touchdowns in arguably the greatest offensive debut in Bulldog history.  Despite being limited in several games with injuries from 1995 to 1997, Edwards still ranks fourth all time at UGA in rushing yards per game for a career.

#1  CHAMP BAILEY: Similarly to Hughes, Bailey didn't necessarily "switch" from one side to the other, but played both sides of the ball (actually, played all three, including special teams) at the same time.  Not wanting Champ's extraordinary multi-threat talent go to waste, head coach Jim Donnan had the sophomore in 1997, besides starting at left cornerback for the Bulldogs, returning kickoffs and seeing time at wide receiver.  By 1998, Bailey was considered perhaps the most versatile and exciting player in college football and a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.  In his junior and final season, he tallied 52 tackles, three interceptions, 744 receiving yards, and 310 yards in total kick returns, while averaging a whopping combined total of 87 defensive, offensive, and special-team plays per game. 

HONORABLE MENTION: DICKY CLARK is the last Bulldog to open a season (1974) as the team's starting quarterback before being moved to the defensive side of the ball the very next year. As a starting defensive end in 1976, he recorded 57 tackles and was recognized as first-team All-SEC ... Tight end-turned-defensive tackle-turned-tight end-turned-offensive tackle GUY MCINTYRE had one of the all-time best defensive performances by a true freshman in the Georgia-Florida series (1979) before later earning All-SEC honors as an offensive tackle in both 1982 and 1983 ... Before starting at offensive tackle for three straight seasons (1991-1993), including an All-American campaign as a senior, BERNARD WILLIAMS recorded 36 tackles and blocked four kicks as a freshman defensive lineman in 1990 ... Midway through his sophomore season of 1974, converted offensive tackle MIKE WILSON was moved to defensive tackle, where he ended the year as a starter. However, "Moonpie" returned to his original position as a junior and earned first-team All-American honors in 1976 as a senior.

May 17, 2012

Intelligent Fanaticism

As Dicky Clark (bottom, No. 87) suggested, few took the
Junkyard Dogs seriously, but there would be a quick
change in perception.
Florida thought we were some kind of joke when they lined up against us on that opening series.  But I’ll bet they are not laughing too hard right now.
-- Quarterback-turned-Junkyard Dog DICKY CLARK following Georgia's 10-7 upset over Florida in 1975

Recently reviewing the proof pages for my book on the Georgia-Florida rivalry, I was reminded of one of the most unbelievable, inspirational, and favorite features of UGA's storied football history.  As I detail in the upcoming book, I've discussed here in several posts the 1975 "Junkyard Dogs" defensive unit.  And, with each mention, I'm just as much amazed as before of how the undersized and inexperienced group of defenders somehow found a way to succeed.

To the complacent football program, lacking urgency and intensity while believing there is an "I" in "team," like our very own Bulldogs, as some have indicated, at times over the last several years, the legend of the Junkyard Dogs teaches a valuable lesson:  

It's not always how quick the feet and size of the body that count the most, but rather how quick the mind and size of the heart.

Entering the 1975 football season, Georgia's loss of personnel on the defensive side of the ball -- and there was plenty of it -- didn't seem to faze Erk Russell.  The Bulldogs' starting defensive unit of 1974 graduated seven seniors.  In addition, defensive guard Mike "Moonpie" Wilson was moved to offense in the offseason while All-SEC linebacker Sylvester Boler, "The "Black Blur," was suspended for an entire year following an orange-throwing incident in McWhorter Hall, which culminated with Boler pulling a gun on teammate Andy Reid.

That left Georgia with just two defensive starters returning from the previous season.  And, one of those returnees, Rusty Russell -- eldest son of Erk -- was moving to linebacker, a brand new position for the senior after starting at defensive end.

However, the '74 defense had ranked dead last in the SEC by yielding approximately 24 points and 357 total yards per game.  Worse, according to Russell, the Bulldogs allowed the opposition to convert on third and fourth down a staggering 60 percent of the time -- a conversion rate that would even make ex-UGA defensive coordinator Willie Martinez cringe.  Perhaps Russell sensed an addition by subtraction was in store following the dismal defensive campaign of 1974.  

Desperately desired was a new defensive unit with "players who are fundamentally sound," said Russell in April 1975, "who play with intelligent fanaticism."  During spring practice, the defensive coordinator added, "We will be shifting people around to get the best 11 in there."  And he wasn't kidding.  From spring to mid-August, Georgia repeatedly shifted and shuffled, but still with less than a month remaining until the season opener, the Bulldogs had determined just four of their 11 starting positions.

Finally, the Bulldogs opened their year with a starting defense consisting of "three walk-ons, four [former] quarterbacks, and three running backs," according to Russell.  The original front four of Lawrence Craft, Jim Baker, Jeff Sanders, and Dicky Clark averaged less than 210 pounds per man, which was considered minuscule even back then.  The linebacking corps was recognized as "a bunch of runts" by Russell, while eventual starting safety Bobby Thompson wasn't even listed on the three-deep depth chart in early August.

By my determination, Georgia opened its 1975 season with a defensive lineup similar to if the upcoming 2012 Bulldogs' starting defense resembled something on this order: Hutson Mason, Derrick Lott, Garrison Smith, and Dexter Morant on the line; Abry Jones, Kosta Vavlas, and Corey Campbell as the linebackers; Shawn Williams, Damian Swann, Corey Moore, and Marc Deas in the secondary.

What the '75 defense lacked in experience and raw ability, it more than made up for it with intensity and an aggressive style of play.  Simply put, the unit, which consisted of six starting sophomores in the end, played like a bunch of mean junkyard dogs.

Granted, these Junkyard Dogs would often bend, so to speak.  In a time when the average major-college team averaged less than 325 yards of total offense per game, the Georgia defense yielded more than 400 in a loss at Ole Miss, 382 to Florida in Jacksonville, and even 360 to lowly Richmond on Homecoming.  For the year, the Bulldogs ranked 7th in the SEC in total defense (in a time when there were only 10 teams in the conference).

Nonetheless, the acclaimed defensive unit would rarely break.  After Georgia allowed five foes to score 31 points or more in 1974, the young and small, but feisty and determined Junkyard Dogs (listed with weight and class) allowed no regular-season opponent to tally more than 28 points, as the Bulldogs achieved a surprising 9-2 record:
ERK RUSSELL -- a true
miracle worker of men

Starters: Lawrence Craft (210, Jr.), Brad Thompson (230, Jr.), Ronnie Swoopes (235, So.), and Dicky Clark (195, Jr.)
Top Reserves: Jim Baker (215, Sr.), Jeff Sanders (215, Jr.), Tom Saunders (207, Jr.)

Starters: Jim Griffith (205, So.), Ben Zambiasi (200, So.) and Rusty Russell (195, Sr.)
Top Reserves: Jeff Lewis (208, So.), Ricky McBride (205, Fr.), Brad Cescutti (204, Jr.)

Starters: David Schwak (175, Sr.), Bill Krug (205, So.), Bobby Thompson (185, So.), and Johnny Henderson (185, So.)
Top Reserves: Chip Miller (185, Sr.), Rodney Johnson (185, Jr.), Chuck Harris (170, Jr.), Mark Mitchell (168, Jr.)

More than 35 years later, the origination and achievement of the Junkyard Dogs could be regarded nearly as miraculous in UGA football lore as Belue-to-Scott, Kevin Butler's 60-yard field goal, or Greene-to-Michael Johnson at Auburn.

Moreover, the band of scrawny but scrappy Bulldogs, who were given little chance to succeed, demonstrates that almost anything can be accomplished when an extraordinary leader of men is paired with a hungry group, exhibiting what was proclaimed as intelligent fanaticism

May 9, 2012

UGA's Lone "Lowsman"

Donald Chumley, an eventual Mr. Irrelevant,
pressures the quarterback in the 1984 season
opener vs. So. Miss.
After hearing this story last week of what is apparently in store for the final pick of the recent NFL Draft, I recalled the so-called celebration that was held for the Bulldogs' lone "Mr. Irrelevant" more than a quarter-century ago.

After being recognized as a AAAA honorable mention All-State lineman at Groves High School in 1980, Donald Chumley became Georgia's 17th signee of its 19-player '81 freshman class.  Following a stint on the Bullpups' JV squad, Chumley began his sophomore campaign as an offensive lineman.  Moving over to defense just prior to the start of the '82 varsity season, Chumley served as a valuable backup after All-American Jimmy Payne went down with an early-year injury.

Recording 75 tackles and 4 sacks, Chumley was the starting defensive tackle on one of the most favorite UGA football teams of all time -- the fourth-ranked and Cotton Bowl championship Bulldogs of 1983.  As a senior the following year, he was considered one of the squad's defensive standouts, totaling 83 tackles, 5 sacks, and a team-high 2 forced fumbles.

While at home in Savannah during the spring of his final year at UGA, Chumley received an unexpected late-night phone call around 3 o'clock one morning from the San Francisco 49ers, just a few months removed from a Super Bowl victory, notifying him that they had selected the 6-foot-4, 260-pound lineman with the team's pick in the 12th round.  

Only a few minutes later, Chumley received a second phone call from the 49ers.  This time, the team added he was also the 336th pick of the draft, or the dead last and, evidently, the least  -- the NFL's Mr. Irrelevant.

"Irrelevant Week" began in 1976, when former USC and NFL receiver Paul Salata founded the ceremony in Newport Beach, CA.  Chumley, the 10th Mr. Irrelevant, arrived at the Balboa Bay Club in June 1985 greeted by signs declaring: "The Last Shall Be First," "Chumley For President," and "Mr. Irrelevant All Night Long." 

As he placed a lei of dead corn cobs and carrots around the former Georgia player's neck, a city official announced, "Newport Beach congratulates and consoles Donald Chumley."  Chumley was also awarded the Lowsman Trophy, which mimics the Heisman Trophy, but depicts a player fumbling a football.
After Savannah Christian did not win a state playoff
game for 16 straight seasons, Chumley has led the
Raiders to a playoff victory every year since 2006.
Jokes aside, while at the celebration, Chumley said he was "just happy to be [in the NFL].  I plan on having a good time."

Chumley's time in the league would only last up until the final days of San Francisco's training camp, when he was cut by the team.  Ironically, at the Irrelevant Week celebration roughly a month beforehand, the Newport Beach chief of police had handed Chumley a stack of employment applications "for after you're done with training camp."

Nevertheless, after his short stint in the NFL, Georgia's lone recipient of the Lowsman would eventually find suitable employment, to say the least.

Having returned to his native Savannah, Chumley has transformed Savannah Christian Prep into arguably the most successful single-A high school football program in Georgia.  As head coach of the Raiders since 2005, he has guided the team to five consecutive double-digit win seasons, including a perfect 15-0 state championship campaign in 2011.

A former Bulldog once deemed as "Mr. Irrelevant" is now far from it.

May 1, 2012

Was It Worth It?

Will getting picked halfway through the 4th round
be "worth" Orson Charles bypassing his final
season as a Bulldog?  
Funny thing, the NFL Draft.  After he endured arguably the worst season ever by a Bulldog placekicker, Blair Walsh became the first Georgia specialist in more than 20 years to be selected prior to the 7th round.  And Orson Charles, who was considered a late 1st-round selection in some mock drafts just a few months ago, apparently slipped a bit when he wasn't chosen until the middle of the 4th round.

It makes me wonder if Charles had somehow knew prior to January 15th, or the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft, he wouldn't be picked until the 116th selection, would the junior tight end still have jumped ship early for the pros?

Obviously, there's a rather significant difference in being selected in day two of the draft than the first -- a reality that Charles must now accept.

Selected 43rd overall in 2011, or the 11th pick of the second round, Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph was the first tight end chosen in last year's draft.  Rudolph signed a 4-year contract worth roughly $1 million per year.   In comparison, last year's 116th selection, or where Charles was picked on Friday, signed a 4-year contract worth approximately $620,000 per year. 

Besides the amount printed on the paycheck, how much playing time a rookie sees can be indicative of where one was drafted, as well.  The 32 first-round selections in 2011 averaged 13 games played (of 16) during last year's NFL regular season, where 20 of the 32 were considered starters for their respective pro teams.  In comparison, the 34 fourth-rounders averaged 10 games played, while merely FOUR were considered starters.  

Since 1989, when the first collegiate players were allowed by the league to forego their senior seasons (if not previously drafted -- more on that later), Georgia now has had 28 players declare early for the NFL Draft (not counting any supplemental picks).  With Charles bolting early, the Bulldogs have had at least one early entrant every year since 2001, except in 2008.

The following are Georgia's early draft entrants listed with the round they were chosen (their overall selection), and their annual salary (duration of initial contract)*

After being chosen 7th overall and
signing a whopping $3.05 million/
5-year contract in 1989, few second-
guessed Tim Worley's early departure.
1989: Tim Worley- 1st (7 overall), $610,000 (5y)
1989: Keith Henderson- 3rd (84 overall), No Salary Reported
1990: Rodney Hampton- 1st (24 overall), $587,500 (4y)
1993: Garrison Hearst- 1st (3 overall), $2.5 million (3y)
1993: Andre Hastings- 3rd (76 overall), $215,542 (3y)
1999: Champ Bailey- 1st (7 overall), $2.4 million (5y)
2001: Quincy Carter- 2nd (53 overall), $807,667 (3y)
2002: Charles Grant- 1st (25 overall), $1.55 million (5y)
2002: Randy McMichael- 4th (114 overall), $433,125 (4y)
2002: Terreal Bierria- 4th (120 overall), $397,000 (3y)
2003: Johnathan Sullivan- 1st (6 overall), $4.373 million (3y)
2003: Musa Smith- 3rd (77 overall), $626,320 (5y)
2003: Chris Clemons- NOT DRAFTED
2004: Sean Jones- 2nd (59 overall), $993,000 (5y)
2004: Robert Geathers- 4th (117 overall), $424,073 (3y)
2005: Thomas Davis- 1st (14 overall), $2.12 million (5y)
2005: Odell Thurman- 2nd (48 overall), $752,000 (5y)
2006: Leonard Pope- 3rd (72 overall), $561,667 (3y)
2007: Charles Johnson- 3rd (83 overall), $593,750 (4y)
2007: Danny Ware- NOT DRAFTED
2009: Matthew Stafford- 1st (1 overall), $15.033 million (6y)
2009: Knowshon Moreno- 1st (12 overall), $3.34 million (5y)
2009: Asher Allen- 3rd (86 overall), $619,000 (4y)
2010: Rennie Curran- 3rd (97 overall), $608,750 (4y)
2010: Reshad Jones- 5th (163 overall), $487,500 (4y)
2011: A.J. Green- 1st (4 overall), $4.922 million (4y)
2011: Justin Houston- 3rd (70 overall), $677,750 (4y)
2012: Orson Charles- 4th (116 overall)
* Annual Salary is determined as the average base salary plus any signing bonus per the length (years) of initial contract after being drafted.

Besides the fact the original annual salary of Rennie Curran, a 97th overall pick, was nearly as much as Tim Worley's, the 7th pick in 1989, I'm intrigued that all but only two of the bypassing Bulldogs were actually drafted.  For the rest of college football, of the nearly 1,100 early entrants from 1990 through 2012, more than one-third (37 percent) were NOT taken in the draft.

Also, as many of you are aware, under Coach Mark Richt, there has been the notion that the UGA football program is treated by most super-talented players as merely a stepping stone to the NFL.  In other words, if a Bulldog has the opportunity to leave UGA early for the NFL, he's more than likely a dog gone...  There may be some truth to this, considering that from 2002 to 2012 compared to 1990 to 2001, there was just a 28 percent increase in the average number of annual early entrants in all of college football from one period to the next (42.3 to 54.3).  However, at Georgia, 21 players have declared early under Richt compared to just five Bulldogs from 1990 to 2001, or an average annual increase of between FOUR and FIVE TIMES than before.       

Mainly, of Georgia's early entrants, more than one-third (10) seemingly made the wise decision (at least, at that point in time) to prematurely leave school, becoming 1st-round selections. However, seven others were chosen after the 3rd round or not selected at all, including Charles, evoking the question: was their choice to leave early a premature decision?