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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...


Anonymous said...

Gotta give Barry Wilson credit for the block that got Bobby across the goal line. Barry was up and running step-by-step with Etter

Patrick Garbin said...

Agreed. Without Wilson's block, Etter doesn't score. Thanks for reading and your comment.