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December 13, 2012

Bulldog Legend Dispelled (kind of)

Jake Scott flies to the defender during the '69
Sugar Bowl (the day after flying out a window?)
By the end of their regular season, the 1968 Bulldogs were considered perhaps the greatest football team in the program's history; even better than the 1920 undefeated S.I.A.A. championship team, the 1942 consensus national title squad, the perfect 11-0 Bulldogs of 1946, you name it.

Georgia was expected to easily handle Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl on January 1st.  The Hogs weren't even the best team in their conference that year, and they'd be facing maybe the greatest Bulldog team of all time?

The matchup seemed hardly fair.

Nevertheless, Georgia committed eight turnovers on a chilly day in New Orleans and were upset by the Razorbacks, 16-2.
I recently sat down with a prominent member of that '68 Bulldog team, and I just had to ask him: What happened in that Sugar Bowl game, and are the rumors true about the Bulldogs excessively partying the night before the game?
The stories of Georgia in New Orleans on New Year's Eve of 1968 have become near legendary, while helping explain why the team played so poorly the following day.  Among many others, Bill King of the Junkyard Blawg recently recognized the partying in a piece he did on Jake Scott a couple of years ago. 
One of the original books on UGA football Jesse Outlar's Between the Hedges from 1974 even acknowledged the carousing with a joke: New Orleans taxi driver attempted to cheer up a group of saddened Bulldog followers following the loss to Arkansas.  He said with a straight face, "I don’t understand what happened to that Georgia team.   When I brought several of them to the hotel at 2 a.m. this morning, they told me there was no way they could lose to Arkansas."
When the Bulldogs were preparing to face Pittsburgh in the 1977 Sugar Bowl, Coach Vince Dooley issued a strict curfew on his team for the entire week leading up to the game.  Seemingly, he had learned his lesson from eight years before: "It's been my experience any team that has ever gone to New Orleans and lost spent too much time on Bourbon Street," said Dooley the week of the game.
In Tony Barnhart's What It Means to Be a Bulldog from 2004, the '68 Georgia starting quarterback, Mike Cavan, brings up the rumor of he, Scott, and fullback Brad Johnson being on Bourbon Street the night before the game until 4:00 AM: "Let's get the record straight...I can't speak for Brad or Jake, but I was in my room..." says Cavan.
Concerning the rumors of excessive partying prior to the Sugar Bowl, the '68 player, who was very forthright during our interview, summed it up as "all nonsense."
The player said that Coach Dooley would say prior to every game that there would be only a few game-winning or game-changing plays that would transpire and be the difference between which team was about to win and which would soon lose, whether the final result was close or a rout.
"Dooley would say that we had to expect every play to be one of these possible 'game-winning' plays; therefore, we needed to give it our all on every play," said the player.
Apparently in the '69 Sugar Bowl, the Razorbacks had a number of game-changing plays, whereas the Bulldogs had just one.  Trailing 10-2, Georgia recovered an Arkansas fumble on the kickoff to start the second half.  Looking to tie the game, the Bulldogs moved 18 yards in five plays.  Facing 3rd and goal from the Hogs' 2-yard line, Georgia's game-changing play ensued:

According to the player, Dooley always said that if a team physically dominates a football game, odds are it'll likely win.  If it successfully executes more game-winning plays than its opponent, it'll definitely win.  In the '69 Sugar Bowl, Georgia physically dominated Arkansas but didn't execute its lone game-changing play.  Evidently, that's why the Bulldogs lost, not because of staying out late in the Big Easy.
"After the game, I overheard an Arkansas player say that he couldn't believe they got their ass kicked by us, but they still won the game," said the player.
But what about the rumored partying from the night before?  Were there players out and enjoying New Orleans into the early morning?
"From what I know, the entire team was shut up in the hotel and couldn't get out," said the player.  
In fact, this particular Bulldog tried to get ice on his floor; the machine was broken.  He tried to get ice on a different floor of the hotel, but couldn't because security wouldn't allow players to leave their respective floors.  "There were police at every exit," he added.
"If players got out on Bourbon Street that night, they must have flown out the window to get there," said the player.  He continued with a laugh, "Now, I will say that Jake Scott was smart enough that he might have brought a police uniform on the trip to escape."
That, or knowing what is rumored regarding the legendary Scott, he literally flew out the window...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Legends like that generally have something behind them. There were Georgia fans who returned to Athens swearing they saw members of the team out on Bourbon Street the night before the game. And I once talked with one of the team managers who told me the legend was true and that Scott in particular was hung over at game time. -- Bill King