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June 29, 2012

UGA Football's First "RED" Alert

Ralph "Red" Leathers – Georgia's
better-late-than-never All-American
Similarly to my UGA football helmet and nickname/mascot projects, I am currently working on a history of Georgia's football uniform (jersey and pants).  While researching, I discovered some photos of the red numbered, red striped jersey the Bulldogs donned in the early 1930s (photo) and was instantly reminded of perhaps the greatest discovery in UGA football fact-finding lore, involving a particular "Red" jerseyed Bulldog.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of UGA athletics historian, icon, and then-publicist Dan Magill's uncovering of probably one of the worst injustices a college football player could endure – deprivation of a rightfully-earned All-American honor.

Over the years, I personally have discovered that UGA football's record keeping of yesteryear, prior to Magill's heading of the sports information department, was a tad shoddy and at times haphazard.  My biggest find has been that the Bulldogs actually won three more games in their history than they are given credit for (and lost one game – to NC State during the 1900 season – but we won't discuss that particular discovery).  However, in the days of the slide rule and when the guy who kept up with the stats was also the team doctor, janitor, and backup punter, what else would be expected?  Errors were bound to occur, even the most critical of mistakes. 

According to UGA's current archives, in 1962, Magill "uncovered information" that junior guard Ralph "Red" Maddox had been named first-team All-American by the International News Service (INS) 32 years beforehand in 1930 but, at the time, did not receive credit for the recognition.  What a find by Magill!

To have earned All-American status more than 80 years ago is even more prestigious than it would be to do so nowadays.  For one, only 11 players were recognized by the INS, nearly all of them were seniors, and Maddox was one of only two honorees from the South (Fred Sington of Alabama the other).

Hailing from Douglas, GA, Maddox was nicknamed "Red" because of his flaming red-colored hair.  And, together with another red head – Milton "Red" Leathers the pair was regarded as one of the best guard tandems in football as mere sophomores in 1929.  After just one season of playing varsity ball, the duo was acknowledged as the "million-dollar guard combination," although Maddox was somewhat undistinguished as an individual.

Maddox was described as steady and assuring, but "unspectacular," and behind standouts Leathers, end Vernon "Catfish" Smith, end Herb Maffett, fullback Jack Roberts, and halfback Marion Dickens, he was considered likely only the sixth or seventh best player on the entire Georgia team.

No wonder Maddox may have been originally omitted from being noted as the Bulldogs' seventh first-team All-American. Regardless, one may wonder how the unspectacular "Red" was actually recognized by the INS in the first place.

In those days, Georgia, or any other school from outside the Northeast, could make a name for itself, so to speak, by upsetting an intersectional traditional power.  In 1930, the Bulldogs upset Yale in the Yale Bowl 18-14 and four weeks later, escaped New York's Polo Grounds with a 7-6 upset over NYU.  And, playing on the grand national stage, there was no Bulldog that shinned brighter in the two victories than Maddox.
Hardly decipherable, the photo from the Atlanta
Constitution depicts Maddox's memorable blocked PAT
vs. NYU in 1930. The blocked ball is circled in red.

In the momentous win over the Violets in front of a whopping 63,000 in attendance, Red was said to be in on most tackles that occurred at the line of scrimmage.  In addition, according to the New York press, he "was through like a bullet to block [Jim] Tanguay's try for point after touchdown," which would turn out to be the difference in Georgia's one-point win.  What's more, Maddox didn't even start the contest.  Still, Red was praised by the Gotham media, even though one member of the press called him "Little Red Maddox."  The husky Maddox was far from little, weighing nearly 200 pounds, which was considered rather large in those days.

Primarily because of his play against Yale and particularly versus NYU, Maddox finally earned some respect from the media when he was named All-American in late November of that year, although it took his own school more than three decades to pay him the same tribute.

In the meantime, Maddox headed north following his senior season at UGA to Calhoun High School.  In his lone season as head coach of the football team, he guided the school to a 7-1-1 record in 1932.  Red would later serve in the U.S. Army during World War II.  As part of General Patton's Third Army, he was killed in action during the Normandy Invasion.  Survived by his widow Mildred and daughter Patricia, Maddox was returned for burial in 1948 to Tampa, FL. 

It would take another 14 years after being buried, and only because of the alertness of Dan Magill, Maddox would finally be recognized for the football honor he had earned 32 years before.

After the Georgia game errors from the early 1900s I discovered, and the record keeping of Maddox in 1930, apparently, the school would continue to exhibit that it was indeed human.  In 1960, a player wasn't slighted an All-American honor, but was given credit for more than he actually deserved.

One giveth, the other taketh away...

You see, for more than 50 years now, Fran Tarkenton has been listed as an Associated Press first-team All-American from his senior season.  In reality, the great Georgia quarterback was recognized as a second-team All-American by the AP that year and no known selector actually chose him as a first teamer (and, according to the College Football Hall of Fame, into which Tarkenton was elected in 1987, its first criterion to be eligible is "First and foremost, a player must have received major first team All-America recognition."  But like the loss in 1900 to NC State, we won't discuss that particular discovery either.).

June 26, 2012

TO Believe or NOT TO Believe the Hype...

THAT is the question.

In 2012, will Coach Richt and quarterback
Murray lead the Bulldogs to a rare season
where high expectations are realized?
When a whopping six of Georgia’s eight positional units – QBs, RBs, WRs, DL, LBs, and DBs – appear to be amongst the very best in the nation, and a schedule is seemingly rather manageable, plus the recent announcement that the team is an early favorite in every game this year a collective hype entering the 2012 season matched by few Bulldog teams in recent preseason memory.

All indicators point to Georgia ranking between 5th and 7th in the nation when the preseason AP Poll is released less than two months from now. In their history, the Bulldogs have ranked higher than 7th in the preseason AP Poll just three times: 1967 (6th), 2004 (3rd), and 2008 (1st).

Speaking of 2008, I've attempted to block the disappointing first (in the nation)-to-second (in the division) campaign out of my memory, but it still persists. Upon the preseason poll's release, I recall announcing to my wife that Georgia was the country's top-ranked team for the first time in more than a quarter-century; what a season it was going to be! I recall receiving a blank, how-on-earth-would-that-get-you-excited stare a look I have grown accustomed to in our 8+ years of marriage. Still, I believed the hype.  My wife, on the other hand, I assume, was not to be fooled.

Three losses later, the Dogs were far from the best in the nation by the end of the '08 season; not even the best in their division. Georgia did finish with a respectable No. 13 ranking, but its final positioning was far from the hype heard just four months beforehand. Worse, the season was part of a disappointing era where the Bulldogs have produced mostly underachieving campaigns, at least, according to the preseason opinions of the AP pollsters.

In the last eight seasons from 2004 to 2011, only twice (2005 and 2007) have the Bulldogs finished in the AP Poll higher than where they were ranked at the beginning of the season. Even last year, when Georgia appeared to quiet its critics by capturing a divisional title while saving its head coach from termination, the Bulldogs actually finished the 2011 season exactly where they started (19th).

In comparing Georgia's preseason ranking to its final position in the AP Poll, I discovered that the Dawgs have, on the whole, disappointed during the eight-season stretch.

In my dissection of this disappointment, I considered positioning in "others receiving votes" besides the poll's top 25.  For example, Georgia did not finish in the AP Poll's top 25 in 2009; however, it was 8th in other teams receiving votes, or a final national ranking of 33rd. Also, if the Bulldogs did not receive a single vote in any of the preseason or final polls, which occurred just once, I assigned them the value of the median number of FBS teams for that season. So, Georgia's 6-7 losing effort in 2010, when it didn't receive any votes in the poll, accorded the team a national ranking of 60th.

Using the aforementioned guidelines, the Bulldogs' average preseason ranking from 2004 to 2011 was 12.5, while their average finish was 20.9, or an average difference of finishing 8.4 spots lower than originally forecasted.

I decided to compare Georgia's pattern of "poll letdown" over the last eight seasons to the rest of the FBS. To be considered, any particular team had to be at least receiving votes, and not necessarily ranked in the top 25, in half (eight) of the 16 combined preseason and final AP Polls a stipulation which retained a total of 40 teams. In discovering the bottom 10 teams in terms of AP Poll underachieving, I found that Georgia had the 10th-worst average difference:

Miami (Fla): -19.0
Tennessee: -17.6
Florida State: -16.1
Notre Dame: -13.1
California: -12.8
South Carolina: -10.4
Texas A&M: -10.4
Florida: -10.1
Clemson: -9.4
GEORGIA: -8.4 

The top 10 overachieving teams: 

Rutgers: +6.8
TCU: +6.3
Tulsa: +6.3
Boise State: +5.9
BYU: +5.6
Wisconsin: +4.9
Virginia Tech: +2.0
Oklahoma State: +1.9
Boston College: +1.8
Virginia: +1.0

Admittedly, for various reasons, one could certainly argue that my average comparison analysis is flawed. Take Florida, for example. How could the Gators be regarded as one of the bottom teams in meeting AP Poll expectations, when they finished ranked No. 3 or higher in three of the eight seasons measured? 

Also, it could be argued that the results of the analysis are hardly surprising at all. Of course, one might declare, there is going to be a log jam of traditional powers at the bottom, while second-tier conference teams, who achieve the occasional overachieving season, place towards the top. Reputable programs, like Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia from the SEC, are going to often be highly regarded in the preseason and usually ranked; however, these renowned programs play one another and, simply put, someone has to lose when they face off. Thus, a 7-6 Florida squad in 2011 might not have received a single AP vote, yet the well-respected Gators may have been deserving of its No. 22 preseason ranking. 

First off, remember, revealed is an average difference, and Florida's disappointing finishes of 26th in 2004 (when preseason ranked 11th), 31st in 2010 (when originally No. 4), and 60th in 2011 (when originally No. 22) count just as much as the accomplished seasons. 

Also in defense, take a look at the teams in the bottom 10 and ones in the top group. For the most part, both groups are prime examples of team sets acknowledged by college football followers in recent years as either one that normally finishes better (the overachievers), or one that usually isn't quite as good (the underachievers), than originally forecasted.
From 1975 to 1983, with a little help from his
friends, Coach Dooley exceeded expectations
seven times in nine preseason AP Polls.

And for those who assert that traditional powers would have little chance of being an AP Poll overachiever over an extended period, on the contrary…  In Georgia’s case, there was a time, or two, the Bulldogs actually far exceeded poll expectations. 

In a similar comparison analysis, in nine seasons from 1975 through 1983, Coach Dooley’s Dogs finished an average of 3.8 spots higher than originally forecasted.  Also, in the seven seasons leading up to my original comparison – 1997 to 2003 – Georgia’s average preseason ranking was 18.0, while its average finish was 13.1, or an average difference of finishing 4.9 spots higher than initially predicted.  

For the upcoming season, my hope is that the Bulldogs can return to their overachieving ways of yesteryear, breaking their recent trend of faltering under high expectations.  Like before, I want to start believing in the preseason hype again; it makes for a far more enjoyable off-season.  Maybe then, and only then, the blank stares I’ve been receiving concerning the Bulldogs will be transformed to ones of exciting acceptance.

June 17, 2012

Especially to Old Dawg...

Old Dawg, me Dawg, and my little
Dawg at a book signing in 2008.
Happy Father's Day to all of you Bulldog daddies, and especially to my favorite father of them all – Old Dawg.

You see, Old Dawg is my dad.  He came up with the moniker a while back when he first felt compelled to comment on one of my posts.  My father has commented only a few times in the three-plus years I've been writing the About Them Dawgs! Blawg, but he is undoubtedly this blog's biggest fan.  Although he knows I'll probably post only once per week, maybe twice, dad still checks religiously for updates every day and without fail.

I've mentioned dad before.  He was a long-time sociology professor at UGA before recently retiring.  Like a lot of fathers, he taught his son a lot about life.  In addition, he took an extra step by instilling a desire to always be extremely passionate, and nothing less, for the things I enjoy in life.  Dad and I have always found enjoyment in following and pulling for our favorite sports teams, so we naturally share a common bond a strong passion for the Georgia Bulldogs.

I've also mentioned here before my first Bulldog game, which was made possible because of my dad, and Sanford Stadium's addition of nearly 20,000 new seats a 44-0 rout of Tennessee in the 1981 season opener.  Only a few days before that game, dad was going through his common routine of the time, walking from his office in Baldwin Hall to teach a class in summer school.  But that particular day would be far from routine.

As dad walked through the vending area on the first floor, he suddenly spotted a God-like figure in appearance and presence standing in front of one of the vending machines.  It was none other than Herschel Walker!  Without hesitation, dad did a quick about-face and raced back towards his office.  There, he grabbed a pen and a small pad of paper and returned to the vending area, hoping Herschel had not left.  He was in luck!  Herschel was still there, beginning to exit the building before being stopped by my father for an autograph.

As the story goes, Herschel simply gleamed, displaying rows of pearly whites upon the autograph request.  And, with dad's pen in one hand and a Snickers bar and the pad of paper in the other, he scribbled "To Patrick, Best Wishes, Herschel Walker."

For those of you who don't know or remember, Herschel certainly had some kind of impact on people; he could make faculty members scurry back to their offices, and late to instructing their classes.  As far as Old Dawg, he realized how special an autograph from Herschel Walker would be just prior to me actually witnessing the greatest player in college football. My dad would do just about anything for his children, and his class would just have to wait that particular day for their tardy professor.

Featuring Herschel Walker on the Bulldogs' first possession against the Volunteers, here's a short, personal flashback when I first observed what would eventually become a passion of mine:

In the years to follow, I learned some valuable life lessons from Old Dawg through, oddly enough, Georgia football.  Learning patience is a virtue and we often must make sacrifices in life, I was allowed to attend the Bulldogs' Labor Day night opener in 1982 – a 9:11 PM kickoff on a school night –  after first begging and then agreeing to take a nap earlier that afternoon.  Later that season, listening to Larry Munson on the airwaves, I was taught the meaning of a figure of speech, when sugar fell from the sky at Auburn in a nonliteral sense.

After Georgia broke my heart by losing to the Tigers in 1983, snapping a three-season streak of winning the SEC title, I admittedly cried uncontrollably.  However, I was quickly consoled by my father, who sternly instructed that we rarely have control over the actions of others.  And a year later, when the Butler did it, I learned that even the most stoic are young at heart. 

As Old Dawg got older, our outings together to watch our Bulldogs became fewer.  He last attended a UGA football game in 2008 against Central Michigan.  It seems Old Dawg believes the Bulldogs are better seen, and the bathroom lines a lot shorter, at home in front of the TV.  Regardless, we have a lifetime full of memories, and some lessons learned, from the games we did attend together.  Now, it's time for me to accompany another Dawg to see our Bulldogs.

This fall, my five-year-old son will venture into Sanford Stadium for the very first time.  We were recently checking out the home schedule and I asked him against which Bulldog opponent would he like to attend Buffalo, Florida Atlantic, or Georgia Southern?  He politely declined, indicating he didn't prefer any of his choices, but suggested a more formidable home foe ironically, the Tennessee Volunteers.  Like father, like son, I guess.

June 13, 2012

Is Man of Steele For Real?

Phil Steele: A Bulldog Soothsayer?
Anxiously waiting for each football season to start, there's little I enjoy reading more during the month of June than the annual copy of Phil Steele's College Football Preview.  I've been a big fan of Phil since the release of his very first preview in 1995.  I remember the momentous occasion like it was yesterday, thumbing through the inaugural edition at Barnett's News Stand in downtown Athens.  Then and there I first witnessed a college football preview like no other; then and there I stopped wasting my money buying any other preseason college football magazine.

As a friend of mine and fellow follower of Phil once stated, Steele's magazine is the only one which will give you a sentence or two about your favorite team's third-string center.  Detailed and thorough, Phil goes way above and beyond in his coverage of each school, writing every word himself, unlike other magazines which may have nearly a dozen contributing writers.

Steele's preview is evidence that the man undoubtedly works hard at following and handicapping football 365 days per year a fact he is proud of.  He is also most certainly proud of his handicapping prowess, and he ain't too shy to tell his readers about it.

For years, I've noticed the same two-page section towards the back of the magazine, where Phil's preseason predictions are compared to the prognostications of more than 10 other magazines.  This year's edition declares, "THE MOST ACCURATE PRESEASON MAGAZINE THE LAST 14 YEARS!"  And, sure enough, according to the STASSEN College Football Information site, no one has been better at predicting FBS conference finishes over the last 14 seasons (1998-2011) than Phil.

Specifically, as far as our Bulldogs go, apparently Steele has their number as well, and again, he doesn't mind telling you so.  According to Phil, his preseason publication of 2005 "was the only one to call for UGA to win the SEC East (most had them 3rd)."  Steele touts, in 2007 "the SEC media picked [UGA] #3 in the East.  I was the only magazine to pick them to win the SEC East..."  A year later in 2008, "Georgia was the AP preseason #1, I had them #9 predicting Florida to win the title which they did."

Therefore, you can imagine my concern when I first laid eyes on Steele's preseason predictions for Georgia this upcoming year: No. 8 in the nation, or a little lower than every other preseason ranking I've seen, 2nd in the SEC East behind the detested Gators, when everyone else is picking us to capture a second consecutive divisional title, and a Capital One Bowl appearance against Michigan.

There go my plans to be at the Georgia Dome in early December, while I better start saving up for a side trip to Disney World after Christmas.

Never in doubt, I still decided to measure the accuracy of Phil regarding the Bulldogs' annual finishes in the SEC East standings and Associated Press national rankings.  Similar to the method used at the STASSEN site, I compared the preseason predictions of Steele, Athlon, Lindy's, and the Associated Press for Georgia to the team's actual and final SEC East standings and national rankings over the same 14-year period.

For the Associated Press Poll, I simply based Georgia's preseason SEC East "ranking" on its positioning in the poll compared to the other teams in the division.  For example, the Bulldogs' 19th preseason ranking in the 2011 AP Poll compared to South Carolina's 12th and Florida's 22nd, while the remaining three teams were not ranked in the top 25, projected Georgia as No. 2 in the East according to the Associated Press.

If Georgia was not preseason ranked in any of the four forecasters' top-25 rankings OR the AP Poll's final top 25 circumstances which occurred in just 8 of the possible 70 national rankings the Bulldogs, like applicable teams at the STASSEN site, were assigned a ranking of 26th.

Tie-breakers within final conference standings were determined by which team reached the SEC title game (for ties for 1st place), followed by head-to-head result, then the best overall record, and lastly, if need be, the teams' final AP national ranking.

Calculated was the difference between each predictor's preseason ranking and the final standing/ranking for Georgia.  For example, if one predicted the Bulldogs to finish 23rd in the nation, like Steele forecasted in 2002, but they wound up ranked 3rd, the predictor was penalized 20 points, or 20 position slots.  The total number of penalized points was divided by 14 for an annual projected vs. final ranking difference over the period of 1998 through 2011.  The lower the difference, the better:

SEC EAST Standings
0.82- Phil Steele
0.86- Associated Press
0.93- Athlon
0.93- Lindy's

NATIONAL (AP) Rankings
6.00- Associated Press
7.07- Lindy's
7.21- Athlon
8.50- Phil Steele

As determined, Steele is indeed the best of the four when predicting Georgia's finish in the SEC East, but barely.  In fact, there's little difference between the top prognosticator and the bottom.  Such close proximity is to be expected when the forecasted and actual standings for most of the 14 seasons were normally comprised of Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in the top three and Vanderbilt at the very bottom.

However, when it comes to ranking the Bulldogs on the national scene, comparatively speaking, Phil has had his troubles.  His preseason national ranking for Georgia has averaged 8½ spots removed from where the Bulldogs have actually finished.

In closing, if it wasn't already obvious from the beginning of this post, I respect and appreciate Phil Steele's work, especially his college football preview.  I am a long time follower of his, once was even quoted in his preview, and even blogged for PhilSteele.com a couple of years ago.  Nevertheless, when it comes to Phil and his prognostications for the Bulldogs, it appears the Man of Steele is actually very human.

And good thing...  I don't think I could get accustomed to again finishing second fiddle to Florida in the East, while facing another Big-10 foe in a non-BCS bowl.

June 7, 2012

Top Bulldog 'Backer Corps

Including (from L to R) Alec Ogletree, Jarvis Jones, and
Cornelius Washington, Georgia's linebacker unit of 2010
was one of the best in Bulldog history.
During the fall of 1951, a UGA English professor proposed a "three-point plan" to de-emphasis Georgia's football program.  While most Bulldog backers wondered what apparent Communist would dare try to ruin their football team, the UGA faculty actually voted 84-to-72 to bring the issue "into the limelight," seeking the attention of the school's President, the Board of Regents, the SEC, and NCAA.

The faculty's three-point football plan requested: 1) to abolish spring practice; 2) to shorten the season by eliminating postseason play in bowl games; 3) and, curiously, to reduce scholarships by eliminating head coach Wally Butts' two-platoon system.

Although it was not fully implemented at Georgia until the mid-1960s, the two-platoon system, where the players on one side of the football don't all necessarily play on the other side as well, was first experimented with by the Bulldogs in the late-1940s.  A two-platoon system in place obviously involved the use of more players, which meant more athletic scholarships were granted, implying that the school was to receive less money. 

When more teams began utilizing the passing game by the 1940s, the two-platoon system began to take shape.  Whereas before, two defenders too small to be defensive lineman -- usually the offense's starting fullback and the smallest starting offensive lineman -- would crowd along the defensive line between any gaps.  By dropping back a few yards behind the line, these two players were eventually transformed into "specialized" defenders who often did not play on offense.  The "linebacker" position was introduced, which at Georgia, just so happened to transpire around the time of the school's three-point plan. 

When the 1951 Bulldogs were alerted to the de-emphasis proposal, an unidentified linebacker declared, "I wouldn't have a chance to play if it weren't for [the two-platoon] system."  "Just think," said another linebacker, "some players who excel on defense and aren't very good on offense wouldn't have a chance to play.  That would be wasted talent."

Historically, when it comes to the linebacker position, Georgia doesn't have the reputation of a Penn State, USC, or Miami (Fla) -- schools which have been known by the moniker of "Linebacker U." However, since the establishment of the position, the Bulldogs have certainly had their share of reputable linebacking corps, with evidently, the very best soon to come in 2012.

After I noticed where Phil Steele ranked Georgia's linebackers as the best in the nation in his preview magazine, I began considering the top Bulldog linebacker units of all time.  Last season's group was tremendous, but in my opinion, there have been a handful of others a little better; however, they may all pale in comparison to what we'll first witness three months from now.

Whether the Bulldogs featured a two-, three-, or four-linebacker set, I present Georgia's top linebacking units in history based on the players' performances as a collective group, even considering the top reserves of each unit.

By the way, unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past 60-plus years, you are fully aware that UGA's three-point plan of 1951, and its faculty's quest to become Duke University-like, apparently never materialized.  And with that, the defensive position that evidently just avoided becoming "wasted talent"  instead has gone on to feature some of the best Bulldog players in history.

#10 - 1999
Starters: Boss Bailey, Orantes Grant, Kendrell Bell
Top Reserves: Will Witherspoon, Tony Gilbert, Jessie Miller
Featuring the likes of Bailey, Grant, Bell, Witherspoon, and Gilbert, the '99 linebacker unit was seemingly an impressive group more so on name recognition than performance.  However, although Georgia's overall defense that year was somewhat dreadful (coordinated by one-hit waste Kevin Ramsey), the linebacking corps spearheaded a run defense that allowed just 103.9 yards per game and 3.2 yards per rush.

#9 - 1988
Starters: Mo Lewis, Richard Tardits, Terrie Webster, Demetrius Douglas
Top Reserves: Aaron Chubb, Brent Collins, Norman Cowins, Mike Guthrie
With Georgia's move from its long-standing "Split 60" defense to the "Multiple 7" in 1988, the Bulldogs went from a two- to a four-linebacker set.  Standout John Brantley, or "Rambo," had departed but Webster, or "Rambro," returned.  Also, Tardits, "the Biarritz Blitz," was moved from defensive end to outside linebacker while inexperienced Lewis would eventually become a star.  Similarly to 1999, the '88 defense might have been poor defending the pass but it was staunch against the run.  For the year, the Bulldogs yielded a scoring average of less than 17 points, allowed only seven rushing touchdowns, and held six of 11 opponents to less than 100 yards rushing.    

#8 - 1958
Starters: Dave Lloyd, Theron Sapp
Top Reserves: Phil Ashe, Cicero Lucas
Although the Bulldogs of '58 finished with a 4-6 losing record, their defense, particularly the linebacking unit, was outstanding.  Lloyd was talented enough to be the 47th overall pick of the 1959 NFL Draft with one year remaining of eligibility.  For all the attention Sapp's "drought-breaking" touchdown against Georgia Tech in 1957 has earned, often forgotten is how good the famed fullback was on defense.  Ashe would eventually become one of the "most fierce" linebackers in Bulldog history, while the talented Lucas was moved to the position after being an All-SEC guard the season before.

#7 - 1971
Starters: Chip Wisdom, Steve Kitchens
Top Reserves: Steve Sleek, George Pilcher, Tommy Couch
Wisdom was the first Bulldog to be recognized as an All-SEC linebacker for three seasons; Kitchens earned honorable mention All-SEC in 1971.  Together, defensive coordinator Erk Russell said the combination was  "as good a pair of linebackers as Georgia has had..."  For eight consecutive games during the regular season, the unit was a primary reason Georgia yielded only 28 combined points.  Ranking 6th, 7th, and 9th in the nation in rushing defense, scoring defense, and total defense, respectively, Georgia's '71 defense is arguably the best in school history. 

#6 - 2011
Starters: Jarvis Jones, Michael Gilliard, Amarlo Herrera, Alec Ogletree
Top Reserves: Christian Robinson, Kosta Vavlas, Cornelius Washington, Chase Vasser
Remarkably, last year's unit had lost All-SEC performers Justin Houston and Akeem Dent from the year before and none of the four starters were regulars at linebacker in 2010; regardless, the 2011 linebacking corps would turn out to be one of the greatest in Bulldog history.  Transfer Jones became only the third Georgia linebacker to earn first-team All-American honors and was the first ever consensus All-American.  Only two previous Bulldog teams had finished better in the nation in total defense than the 2011 defense's No. 5 ranking.  Better yet, all of the linebackers listed above return in 2012, plus the unit adds freshman Josh Harvey-Clemons, who is considered by many as the top incoming linebacker in all of college football. 

#5 - 1980
Starters: Nate Taylor, Frank Ros
Top Reserves: Will Forts, Tommy Thurson
Georgia's 1980 national championship defense featured four AP or UPI first-team All-SEC members: two lineman, two defensive backs, and NO linebackers.  Nevertheless, what team captain Ros and sophomore Taylor, the "Ty Ty Termite," lacked in notoriety, the duo more than made up for it in leadership and tenacious play.  Tallying more than 100 each, Taylor and Ros were the top two tacklers on the team while sophomore Forts and freshman Thurson proved to be young, valuable reserves, combining to record 84 tackles.
Featuring Butler (back), No. 42 Godfrey, and No. 48
Clemons, the '92 linebacking corps plays in its final
game together in a postseason victory over Ohio State.

#4 - 1992
Starters: Mitch Davis, Randall Godfrey, Charlie Clemons, Carlo Butler
Top Reserves: Damon Ward, Torrey Evans, Phillip Daniels, Travis Jones, Whit Marshall

With the losses of standouts Dwayne Simmons and John Allen, and Greg Jackson's move to defensive tackle, Georgia's linebacking corps entered the 1992 season as perhaps the "most depleted" unit on the squad and "where some immediate help is essential."  Featuring unanimous All-SEC performer Davis, freshman phenom Godfrey -- the SEC's defensive freshman of the year -- and a number of reserves that would have started for most any other team,  the Bulldogs had a myriad of "help" at the position.  The group was the main reason why Georgia was 6th in the nation in scoring defense -- the only Bulldog team in nearly a two-decade period (1984-2001) to finish in the category's top 10.  

#3 - 1976
Starters: Jeff Lewis, Ben Zambiasi, Jim Griffith 
Top Reserves: Ricky McBride, Ben Cescutti
After being a part of Georgia's acclaimed "Junkyard Dog" defense, the Bulldogs' linebackers of 1976 entered the season considered the team's strongest unit.  Ironically, Zambiasi had arrived at UGA as a fullback, Lewis was a converted nose guard, and Griffith was a former walk-on.  Regardless,  the starting ragtag group would combine for 334 tackles, finishing 1-2-3 on the team in total stops.  Zambiasi became the first Georgia linebacker ever to earn first-team All-American recognition, while reserve McBride would be an All-SEC performer two years later.  The small, but quick and feisty unit headed a defense that ranked 1st in the SEC and 7th in the nation in scoring defense.

#2 - 2002
Starters: Boss Bailey, Tony Gilbert, Chris Clemons
Top Reserves: Thomas Davis, Tony Taylor, Derrick Holloway, Arnold Harrison
Of the approximately 30 Georgia linebackers ever to play in the NFL, SIX were part of the 2002 Bulldog linebacking unit (all players listed above except Holloway).  Bailey became the first linebacker at the school to be a first-team All-American in 26 years (since Ben Zambiasi in 1976).  All-SEC performer Gilbert became the first Bulldog since Zambiasi to lead the team in total tackles for three straight seasons.  Likely Georgia's most talented linebacking corps of all time spurred a defense which ranked 4th in the nation in scoring, while helping a team capture its first SEC title in 20 years. 

#1 - 1983
Starters: Tommy Thurson, Knox Culpepper
Top Reserves: Bill Mitchell, Steve Boswell
Thurson and Culpepper would not play in the NFL, nor did any other linebacker from the '83 Cotton Bowl championship team, for that matter.  Nevertheless, the two not only started on arguably the all-time best linebacker unit at Georgia, but are perhaps the top two players at the position in the school's history.  Combining to record a staggering 301 tackles, the duo hardly needed to be relieved.  Although Mitchell and Boswell would eventually become standouts in their own right, the reserves combined to play in only 13 games and make 31 tackles.  Thurson and Culpepper, both of whom earned 1st- or 2nd-team All-SEC honors in '83, finished their Bulldog careers as the 2nd and 4th, respectively, all-time tacklers in school history.  Georgia's celebrated defense of 1983, which would often bend, but rarely break, is still considered one of the best ever at UGA.  And besides perhaps roverback Terry Hoage, there was likely no one more important to the Bulldogs on that defense than linebacker Thurson, or Culpepper, take your pick.

June 1, 2012

More than Met the Eye with "Sky"

Like many of you, I was saddened with the news from the other night that the Bulldog Nation had lost one of its own -- UGA football All-American and Athens icon Craig Hertwig, better known as "Sky."

Personally, I first knew of the 6-foot-8 Sky in the early-90s as simply the "really tall guy" I saw jogging on Milledge Avenue during the day, and the same friendly bar owner I observed walking around Sky's Place at night.  Nevertheless, I soon discovered there was much more to Sky than met the eye.  For one, Hertwig had been a fine football player at Georgia during the 1970s... even though he almost wasn't a Bulldog to begin with.

On a Friday in mid-September of 1969, Vince Dooley traveled to Macon to witness a cross-town matchup between Lanier and Mark Smith high schools.  Like every other major-college coach in the country, Dooley was in hot pursuit of Lanier's highly-recruited running back Isaac Jackson.  Jackson and the Poets routed the opposing Bulldogs that night by 30 points, while Dooley would eventually lose the recruiting battle for Jackson, who would attend Kansas State.  However, even in defeat, so to speak, the head football coach would still land a big recruit from Macon. 

Mark Smith High's Hertwig appeared to be a "big, awkward looking guy," according to Dooley.  However, he "moved well for his size," so Georgia decided to do something no other Division-I school was willing to do -- take a chance on the nimble giant.  Soon afterwards, a Bulldog assistant visited Hertwig and offered him one of the final scholarships for UGA's 1970 incoming class.

After playing on the JV squad as a true freshman, and later the scout team in 1971, Sky began his sophomore year as Georgia's starting tight end.  When the Bulldogs had a difficult time running the football the first couple games of the 1972 season, Hertwig was promptly moved to the right tackle position, where he remained through his first-team All-American campaign of 1974. 

After being selected in the fourth round of the 1975 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, Sky had somewhat of a difficult time adjusting to life after college; not necessarily adapting to professional football, but adjusting to the actual geographical location of his team.

In September 1975, Hertwig indicated to a newspaper that he was homesick for Athens.  "You know, the food up here [in Detroit] ain't so good," he said.  "I got desperate one night, so I stopped by what was supposed to be a southern fried chicken place.  I've never eaten worst-tasting chicken in my whole life.  What I wouldn't give for some good ole corn bread and black-eyed peas."

Sky would play three seasons in the NFL, all with Detroit, and the final two as one of the Lions' starting offensive tackles.  After his pro football career, he would eventually return to where there was plenty of southern food to be found and a remedy for his homesickness -- Athens.  In 1980, Sky bought the Fifth Quarter on the Atlanta Highway, beginning a business career as the owner of a number of bars in the Classic City for more than 30 years until his recent passing.

Sky leaves a legacy as a big guy -- the biggest, in fact, to ever play football at UGA, at the time of his arrival -- who utilized his size to become a successful football player both in college and in the NFL after hardly receiving a Division-I scholarship.  But more so, Sky was big-hearted, easy going, and friendly, while being one of the most devoted, passionate Bulldog enthusiasts, who despised the opposition to the fullest.   

Speaking of his hatred for Georgia's rivals, not too long after his return to Athens, Sky was asked in 1982 about his thoughts on the approaching, highly-anticipated Labor Day night game between Georgia and Clemson -- the No. 1-ranked teams of the two previous seasons.  How were the Bulldogs going to fare against the country's best team from the year before?

"Clemson ain’t nothing but an imitation," said Sky.  "In [Clemson's] Atlantic Coast Conference, they play imitation football.  I even hear they’re going to put up imitation grass in the stadium up there [at Clemson] so the homecoming queen won’t graze on it."

Blocking with Randy Johnson (No. 63) for Richard
Appleby (No. 84) against Miss. State in 1974, the 
6-foot-8 Sky (No. 74) always stood out in a crowd.
Clemson wouldn't replaced its natural grass surface at Memorial Stadium, but Sky's bold prediction and quick wit about its football team seemed rather appropriate following a 13-7 Georgia victory.

In reading comments online yesterday in remembrance, I was intrigued with the remarks about Sky's anticipated ascension into Heaven and how "Heaven is a better place today."  One individual posted how Sky likely first approached Erk Russell and Larry Munson, shaking their hands, upon his arrival. 

High above in Paradise, I'd like to think that Athens' "Big Man" also soon sought out fellow Macon native Isaac Jackson, who passed away in 1999, and thanked him for being such an extraordinary high school football player.  For if it wasn't for Jackson, there would have been no UGA scholarship for Sky, and with that, one of Athens' biggest Bulldogs might not have been a Bulldog at all.