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January 21, 2013

UGA's Version of a Football Player–Girl Hoax

A hoax on UGA's Dick Richardson in 1942...
As I, like many of you, continued to scratch my head during the weekend over the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax, I pleasantly recalled a story a member of Georgia's 1942 Rose Bowl team told me when I interviewed him several years ago.  Although newsworthy at the time, the incident from exactly seven decades ago wasn't nearly as scandalous as today's Te'o tale, nor as entertaining, but an innocent account of a hoax involving a Bulldog player and an "untouchable" girl that had a happy ending.

Remembering what the former player mentioned to me, plus some old articles I recently discovered, here's the story of the "girl" hoax on the Georgia Bulldog that backfired:

Sophomore Dick Richardson was a 6-foot-3, 200-pound key reserve tackle on the '42 championship team and a member of the university's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.  Following the Bulldogs' regular season and before the team was to venture to the Rose Bowl, a telegram from Athens signed by Richardson and with the return address of the SAE house was sent to renowned Hollywood actress Betty Grable  "the darling of the forties." 
Richardson's telegram stated: "I am a tackle on the University of Georgia Rose Bowl team.  I was recently chosen the most handsome man on the campus.  Would like a luncheon date with you at your convenience some time between December 23 and January 3.  If it can be arranged please answer collect."

Instead of the telegram being ignored, which is what usually resulted with such requests, the PR department of 20th Century Fox contacted the Atlanta media, which in turn reached out to Richardson, who, in reality, had made no attempt to contact Grable.
...got the lineman a date with "the girl
with the million dollar legs."

"Nope, I didn't send [the telegram]," Richardson told a news reporter.   "Must have been some of the fellows around [the SAE house].  They're mighty playful at times."

The reporter asked Richardson what if by chance the actress agreed to a date based upon the bogus invitation.  "I will be glad to take her to dinner if she can go," Richardson responded. 
"Would you miss the game to take Miss Grable out?" the reporter followed up.  Curiously, there was no response from Richardson in regards to missing the Rose Bowl for a date with the number-one pin-up girl during World War II.

In what was described as a hoax gone good, Grable made national news by replying to the phony wire and accepting the date.  While the Bulldogs were in the Los Angeles area preparing to face UCLA on January 1st, Richardson and Grable ate lunch together four days prior to the game and then she personally gave the Bulldog lineman a tour of a Hollywood studio.  Concluding the date, she also gave Richardson "a great big kiss," which I'm guessing was actually a rather big deal back then compared to how it seems today.

After their kiss, Richardson said to Grable, "this will be something to tell my grandchildren."  In response, the buxom blonde quipped, "What!  Don't tell me you have grandchildren!"

Richardson's Hollywood fairy tale didn't end with the Rose Bowl and the story would have a happy ending.  Following the Bulldogs' trip out West, Grable actually invited him to return to California at a later date for a screen test.  There's no mention if any kind of relationship ever developed between the two.  Regardless, several years later, the former Georgia football player would marry Virginia Stewart a Chi Omega at UGA.
Ahhh, a feel-good story from what has been recognized as our country's "Greatest Generation," and a sharp contrast to Notre Dame's account 70 years later of a hoax involving a football player and his love interest.

Speaking of Te'o, if not possessing even worse character flaws, he's extremely naive and delusional at the very least.  Personally, I agree with what I heard Charles Barkley (of all people) say a few days ago: I kind of feel "sad" for Te'o, and unlike Georgia's, Notre Dame's version of a football player, a girl, and a hoax is probably "not going to end good."

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