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February 25, 2013

Northern Exposure

By the early 1970s, northerners, like David Schwak (No. 26), and the program's first
African-Americans, including Clarence Pope (No. 51) and Horace King (right),
had joined southern boys, like Butch Wood (No. 35) from Cordele.
When Wally Butts was the head football coach at Georgia, he recruited heavily from outside the South, including signing many players from the Midwest.  In fact, it was a rarity that a skilled player of Butts' was originally from the South.  Of arguably the head coach's top five backs or ends during his 22-season tenure Frank Sinkwich, George Poschner, Charley Trippi, John Rauch, and Zeke Bratkowski all five were from either Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Illinois.  On the Bulldogs' 1948 SEC championship squad, only one of the team's starting 11 was a Georgia boy and just three were from the South.
Fifteen years and two head coaches later, Georgia had completely closed its midwestern connection.  For the first seven years of the Vince Dooley era, you could count on one hand how many incoming freshmen hailed from outside the South, including just a single newcomer that I found that would go on to earn a letter.
It's unclear exactly why Georgia seemingly shied away from recruiting northern players during this period.  Perhaps it was for the same reasons why there were just three players from the North on the Bulldogs' 2012 roster: simply, why recruit outside the Southeast when there's plenty of talent nearby, while most players from the North want to stay, well, up North?  However, a Bulldog from the late-60s recently indicated to me that during his time, the average football player from the Midwest or North had developed the stigma of being "slow with little stamina, and by the start of the fourth quarter, he'd be worn out."
What is clear is that for its incoming class of 1971, Georgia made a conscious effort to instantly sign players from outside the South when FIVE such recruits became Bulldogs.  Interestingly, this was the same year Georgia signed its first African-American players.  Therefore, in 1970, similarly to preceding years, the Bulldogs signed an all-white, all-southern class of 32, but then followed it the next season with a class where nearly one-third of the players (10 of 35) were either black or from outside the South. 

Just imagine when these 10 players joined the 1971 Georgia team, where of the approximately 95 individuals on the varsity roster, ALL of them were of the white race and nearly ALL of them were from the southeastern states of Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia (one was from Oklahoma).
I've posted here a number of times in regards to the historical, but difficult, arrival of the Bulldogs' first five black players.  The following are the five other "outsiders" that arrived with them Georgia football's five non-southern signees of 1971: 
DAVE CHRISTIANSON, Flanker (Villa Park, Illinois)
DAVID SCHWAK, Split End (Reinerton, Pennsylvania)
DAVID WOLFE, Offensive Guard (Stamford, Connecticut)
RICHARD WRIGHT, Center (Northridge, California)
TOM ZIMMERLINK, Defensive End (Allison, Pennsylvania)
Schwak came to UGA considered one of the greatest high school athletes ever from the state of Pennsylvania.  He was eventually moved from receiver to defensive back, where he started for the Bulldogs in 1974 and 1975.  Leading Florida 17-16 in 1974, his breakup of a two-point conversion pass was the game-clinching play in defeating the Gators.  As a senior, he was the permanent captain of the defensive unit nicknamed the "Junkyard Dogs."

On Georgia's freshman Bullpups team of 1971, Christianson gained about four times as many receiving yards as the team's second-leading receiver.  Of Georgia's 24 varsity starters in 1972, he was one of only three sophomores, and was one of the Bulldogs' leading receivers.  Wolfe lettered for one season before he would go on to be one of the most feared and revered in his profession.  Zimmerlink also lettered one year as a Bulldog, while Californian Wright solely played for the freshman squad.

A white, southern player from the '71 team recently told me that he kind of "felt sorry" for these five non-southern freshmen upon their arrival.  "Don't get me wrong, they didn't have it as bad as the new black players," he said, "but they were definitely also treated as outsiders by the team."

Apparently, for the first few seasons Georgia's varsity included non-southern and African-American players, the team as a whole had a difficult time adjusting.  The southern player insinuated that he truly felt the team suddenly and unfortunately had "lost some continuity" and "played less as a team."  He pointed out that the Bulldogs from 1972 through 1974 had the worst three-season stretch by Georgia during the Vince Dooley era (winners of just 57% of their games).  However, the two seasons immediately following (1975 and 1976), when the team had drastically been transformed to where one out of approximately seven players were non-southern or black, was, at the time, the most successful two-year run by Georgia since the late-1940s.

Finally, an early-70s signee from the North told me a story of an incident outside of McWhorter Hall, where he was approached by an upperclassman donned in KKK attire during a freshman initiation ceremony.  The newcomer was asked if he knew where the Mason-Dixon Line was located.  After responding with a “no,” he was informed, “it’s where the northerners go to eat and the southerners go to sh--."

Even when it was more than 40 years ago, it's difficult to comprehend there was a time when players of our favorite football program were judged by not only the color of their skin, but simply where they originated from.  Their arrival to UGA in the early 1970s wasn't nearly as historical as that of the first five black Bulldogs – not even close.  But, for some of these non-southern "outsiders," their detachment from the rest of the team was almost as significant, and their contribution to a program in near-complete transformation should be acknowledged.      

February 15, 2013

When Stars Align (Both of them)

Thomas Davis entered UGA as a recruit with only 2
stars, but would depart from school just a few
years later after leaving opponents seeing many.
More than one week after the close of Signing Day, Georgia's new recruits and their number of "stars" appear to remain a topic of conversation for some.
Yesterday at a restaurant, I overheard a man complain to another that the Bulldogs didn't sign any 5-star players; Alabama signs three or four 5 stars every year since Saban got there.  The other man agreed, but responded, that's okay... we signed a bunch of guys and they were all 3 and 4-star players; no 2 stars this year.
Like every year around this time, all the talk of Rivals' "stars" has my head a spinning...  However, I do accept that there is some significance to the Rivals system; the more stars, the better.  A correlation has been shown with the average recruit's star rating, and his chances of eventually being drafted into the NFL.  Likewise, the higher the number of stars the average team signs, usually, the higher the team's ranking in the final polls.
Therefore, I guess not landing a 5-star player could be a concern; however, as the other man indicated, at least Georgia didn't have to "settle" on any 2-star players.
The fact that Georgia signed just 3- and 4-star players in this past class, and no 2s or 5s, should be of little surprise.  In fact, during the Coach Richt era, or since an annual listing of Rivals' star-rated recruits first became readily available, 89 percent of Bulldog signees have been 3- or 4-star players. 
The Bulldogs' star breakdown of their 310 signees from 2001 through 2013:
5 star: 15 (4.8%)
4 star: 148 (47.7%)
3 star: 127 (41.0%)
2 star: 17 (5.5%)
0 star: 3 (1.0%)
Interestingly, of the 20 Georgia recruits that were rated as '2' or 'No' stars during the last 13 years, EIGHT of them were signed in Richt's initial season of 2001. 
Just for stars and giggles, I figured the same breakdown for Alabama since Saban's arrival in 2007:
5 star: 18 (9.8%)
4 star: 99 (54.1%)
3 star: 60 (32.8%)
2 star: 6 (3.3%)
0 star: 0 (0.0%)
Notably, 65 percent of Saban's signees were 4- or 5-star players, compared to 52.6 percent for Richt, or a difference of about 12½ percent.  I won't argue against that this difference in star talent has certainly translated to on-field performances.
Nonetheless, a team is not made up of 5-stars alone.  And, as we all know, there are plenty of newcomers who enter with high expectations but don't quite pan out.  For example, at Georgia under Richt, for every 5-star D.J. Shockley or Matthew Stafford, there seems to have been TWO 5-star Marquis Elmores or Isaiah Crowells.  
Although, for every Shockley or Stafford, there also seems to be a hidden gem a two-star recruit who is able to unexpectedly shine at Georgia.  The following are my top four "two-star treasures" under Coach Richt:   
4) MIKEY HENDERSON: A 2-star recruit in '03, Henderson would hardly play for three seasons before shining as a junior and senior.  In '06, he  returned a punt for a touchdown in the season opener against W. Kentucky after fumbling a sure-touchdown away on his previous return, and returned another punt for a score just over a month later vs. Tennessee.  In 2007, Henderson's touchdown reception in overtime defeated Alabama.  Currently, his 13.2 career punt-return average ranks second-highest all time at UGA of those with at least 40 returns.
3) DREW BUTLER: Granted, you'll never see a 4- or 5-star kicker/punter.  However, the fact that Andy Bailey, Brian Mimbs, and Marshall Morgan were all three-star kickers makes the greatest punter in UGA history and his two stars seem like a steal.  Butler's 45.4 career punting average is more than two yards better than the Bulldog with the second-best mark.
2) TIM JENNINGS: The knock on the two-star cornerback from South Carolina was his 5-8, 165-pound frame.  However, size mattered little for Jennings, who would see significant playing time immediately as a true freshman in 2002 and was starting as a sophomore.  He ended his career with All-SEC honors, the second-most passes broken up in team history, and 10 interceptions.  In 2012, Jennings was a Pro Bowler with the Bears.
1) THOMAS DAVIS: For three seasons from 2002 to 2004, Davis was a prime example of how sometimes the Rivals star system can fall short.  In becoming one of Georgia's greatest defenders of all time, he recorded 280 tackles, 31 quarterback hurries, and forced six fumbles.  A first-team All-SEC selection in both 2003 and 2004, and a first-team All-American as a junior, Davis was good enough to depart early for the pros, becoming the 14th overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft.
Of the 17 two-star players signed by the Bulldogs, the aforementioned FOUR would all eventually earn All-SEC recognition.  That's rather remarkable, especially considering that of Georgia's 15 five-star recruits during the same period, the exact same number only FOUR received All-SEC honors.
There might be something to the Rivals star system; its hard to argue with its overall accuracy over the years.  However, when its comes to the highest-rated signee, or the lower-rated '2' star, each has evidently fared nearly as well as the other at Georgia. 

February 11, 2013

Oh, No! I Feel So Blue...

Although clever as well, Grizzard's lone headline
the day of the '67 South Carolina game made no
mention of playing the Cocks with Dicks out.
...'cause "the greatest headline in the history of sports journalism" is seemingly not true.

This past Wednesday, I was left scratching my head on the campus of my alma mater.  No, I wasn't amidst any Signing Day festivities in bewilderment over Georgia missing out on inking some key recruits.  Instead, I silently sat in the dark bowels of UGA's main library staring in a state of confusion at an ancient microfilm machine probably as old as the library itself.

Now, before you conclude that I have no life, let me first describe my actions prior to my discovery.

A week before, I had conducted two interviews the same day for my current book project, where, coincidentally, both former Bulldog players mentioned perhaps my favorite writer of all time, and the great headline he is supposedly responsible for.

Most of you, if not all, have read or heard the story before of the late, great Lewis Grizzard sneaking the headline DOGS TO PLAY COCKS WITH DICKS OUT onto a page of the Athens Daily News the eve of the 1967 Georgia-South Carolina football game, referring to linebacker-turned-neurosurgeon Happy Dicks, published the day of the contest. 

The first individual I interviewed was a standout player during the 1970s.  A memorable moment of his while at Georgia was when Grizzard coached the Black team to a 24-0 win over Phil Schaefer's Red team in the 1978 G-Day game.  After briefly describing Grizzard's liveliness on the sideline during the spring game, the player asked me, "have you ever heard that story about Grizzard and his 'Dicks Out' headline?" 

Oh, yes sir, I certainly had.  After a relative of mine sent me the story about four years ago, I first laughed my you-know-what off and then promptly printed and cut out the piece, putting it up on a corkboard in my office, where it remains today.  Over the last few years, I've told others the story of Grizzard's headline at least a few dozen times. 

My second interview was with an ex-Bulldog who had played during the late 1960s.  Shortly after I mentioned an impactful play he had made in the '68 South Carolina game, the player piped up about the headline from the Gamecocks game the year before.  The former player started laughing so hard about Grizzard's antics, it took him some time to finally ask if I had ever heard the story. 

Yes, I most certainly had, repeatedly for the second time in less than four hours, all while sitting about 10 feet from it posted on my wall.

As I looked at the posted story across the room, I thought to myself how great it would be to have a scanned printout of the actual headline, where it could be placed on my board just above the story.  Plus, I was rather curious of the identity of the noted newspaper editor who "took drunk."  So, within several days, after moving a photo or two on the board, leaving room for the famous phrase, I and was off to the library to find the greatest sports headline.

Sitting at a microfilm machine, I carefully searched through each of the three newspapers Grizzard worked at from the mid to late 1960s (Athens Daily News, Athens Banner Herald, and Atlanta Journal) over a week's period leading up to and on the day of each of the three Georgia-South Carolina games Happy Dicks would have played in (1966 to 1968).

Alas, I found no such acclaimed headline.

On the day of the game in 1966, Grizzard's main story in the Daily News was on the Athens High football team (Trojans Get Down to 'Meat, Potatoes').  A year later at the same newspaper, he did preview the South Carolina game but his lone headline that morning is scanned and posted above.  By the 1968 Georgia-USC game, Grizzard had moved onto the Journal, writing on the 28-28 tie by Georgia's freshman football team from the afternoon before Saturday's game (writers Furman Bisher and Jim Minter covered the UGA-SC varsity game).  As far as the Banner Herald, Grizzard didn't work there from 1966 to 1968, in fact, he hated the rival newspaper.

Hoping that perhaps there was an additional edition released by the Daily News on Saturday, October 7, 1967, which was not eventually transferred to microfilm, or maybe I had simply missed something, I continued my quest to find the elusive headline.

I researched the '67 game with the 'Cocks a 21-0 Georgia victory  to see if Dicks was indeed "out," as indicated.  Curiously, the junior linebacker was projected to start the game and not only played, but finished second on the team with nine tackles.  Regarding the other injured Bulldog mentioned in the story, Billy Payne, he too was projected to start (right offensive end), did so, and led the squad in receiving. 

I then discovered comments made by a guy out in California, who claimed the Dicks Out story "seems to have grown in the refrigerator" and the mentioning of Dicks is "apocryphal."  In near denial, I thought to myself, who is this John Futch, and what the heck does he know?!?  Well, come to find out, Futch wrote for the Athens Daily News from 1965 to 1978, knew Grizzard, and probably knew a whole lot more to the story.

Still not giving up, and recalling the story of the celebrated headline makes mention of Vince Dooley recognizing it as "his most memorable column ever," I got in touch with the former head coach and asked him for his feedback on the matter.  Coach Dooley summed up the alleged headline in three words: "a classic fabrication."

Disappointed, I finally realized the story of the greatest headline in the history of sports journalism is most likely just that a story.  However, I then thought of the quote "If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten."

Nearly 20 years after his death, Lewis Grizzard is still revered by me and countless others because of his writings and commentaries from decades ago, much of which were told in the form of humorous and engaging stories.  Whether about him or told by Grizzard himself, his stories often teach us, especially us Southerners and Bulldog followers, about our past, and they'll never be forgotten.  Neither will Lewis... 

With that being said, it often matters little if the stories that have captivated us are fact, fiction, or slightly exaggerated.

As for the greatest sports headline in journalism history, its classification is still not official as far as I'm concerned.  I remain open to the very slight possibility the headline is actually genuine and one day will be revealed in print.  Until then, the space on my corkboard will remain open to the headline, as well.

February 5, 2013

Is UGA Signing Enough of the In-State Elite?

The signing of Georgia native Montravius Adams would
make an already adequate in-state incoming class even
stronger (or as strong as it has been the last 30 years).
As I've mentioned here before, I don't follow football recruiting that closely; however, I am always intrigued with what the pundits have to say regarding UGA's annual prospective incoming class.  Curiously, some of these so-called experts regularly express the belief that the Bulldogs are not signing enough and/or need to sign more of the state of Georgia's elite high school talent. 
Two years ago, there were some in the media partly blaming the Bulldogs' inadequate on-field performance from 2008 through 2010 to not landing enough of the in-state's elite.  On the contrary, I discovered that Georgia had signed as many or more of the state's annual top 11 players during the latter half of the Coach Richt era than ever before.   
Leading up to tomorrow's Signing Day, I've been hearing the familiar outcry of Georgia needing to "keep the best players in the state here" and recently even heard that the Bulldogs needed to "get back" to signing the in-state elite, as if indicating that UGA once signed a lot of talent from Georgia, but no longer does so.
In an attempt to expand and improve upon my signing-of-in-state-elite study from two years ago, I found the TOP 25 players coming out of Georgia high schools according to Rivals.com, and the number of those signing with UGA beginning in 2002 through last year:
RIVALS- 2002 to 2012 (# out of the state's top 25 players)
2002: 10
2003: 12
2004: 10
2005: 5
2006: 9
2007: 10
2008: 12
2009: 9
2010: 6
2011: 11
2012: 5
For the 11-year period, the Bulldogs signed an average of 9.0 of the state's top 25 players on an annual basis.  During the same time, seven other schools averaged signing at least one elite player from Georgia:

1.64- Auburn
1.55- Florida State
1.45- Georgia Tech
1.27- Alabama
1.09- Florida
1.09- Tennessee
1.00- South Carolina
More telling than Georgia signing just as many as the seven other schools above combined, for any four-year stretch from 2002 to 2012, the Bulldogs never averaged lower than 7.8 in-state top-25 signees per year, while never exceeding a 10.0 yearly average. 
As far as the state's elite players prior to the Rivals' rankings, the best I could find before 2002 were rankings/groupings of the top in-state prospects released by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution starting in 1985.  These player listings were not consistent, ranking players similarly to Rivals in '86, '88, '90, '91, and '92, listing them by position without rankings as the "top prospects in Georgia" in a group of 30 in '89, groupings of 34 in '85 and '87, 50 in '93, '94, '96, '97, '98, and '01, and a group of 75 in 2000, whereas I had no luck finding any sort of in-state elite listings for 1995 and 1999:

AJC- 1985 to 2001 (UGA signed x of top y players from Georgia)*
1985: 9 of top 34
1986: 5 of top 25
1987: 16 of top 34
1988: 6 of top 25
1989: 10 of top 30
1990: 13 of top 25
1991: 9 of top 25
1992: 6 of top 25
1993: 9 of top 50
1994: 12 of top 50
1996: 14 of top 50
1997: 14 of top 50
1998: 20 of top 50
2000: 6 of top 75
2001: 14 of top 50
* Although I couldn't find any in-state prospect rankings/listings for 1995 and 1999, all indications were that the Bulldogs' signees for both years (regardless of what state they were from) were considered top-notch classes nationally.  UGA's '95 class was recognized as likely the school's best since 1990, while its '99 class consistently ranked among the nation's top 10.    
For what it's worth, I found with the Rivals' top-50 in-state rankings from 2002 to 2012 that of those top-50 prospects signing with the Bulldogs roughly 75 percent of them on average actually were ranked in the top 25.  With that in mind, the 12 to 14 of the state's top 50 prospects Georgia signed in '94, '96, '97, and '01 would equate to approximately 8 to 11 of the state's top 25 prospects.
According to the current Rivals' rankings for the state of Georgia, seven of the top 25 prospects appear to be heading to UGA (and 10 of the top 29).  If Dooly County's Montravius Adams (No. 3 prospect in state) and Alvin Kamara of Norcross (No. 6) can be added, the Bulldogs would land nine of the top 25 players from Georgia high schools.
UGA's incoming class for 2013 will continue a trend that has persisted over at least the last 30 years: the Bulldogs only occasionally sign a ton of the in-state's elite, like in '90, '98, '03, and '08, but rarely sign just a meager amount, like in 2000 (only 6 of state's top 75) when Coach Donnan declared after Signing Day, "we had a bad recruiting year from the standpoint that we didn't get the players in the state that we went after."  However, if you add up the in-state elite totals of signees for the Bulldogs every three to five years, they more or less come out the same.
In conducting my research, I found the following statement from the AJC the day after Signing Day in 1995, referring to a top prospect spurning Georgia for another school: "For the dozen or so hard-core Georgia fans that showed up at the Butts-Mehre football office complex shortly after 8 a.m. Wednesday, national signing day opened with a panic." 
Personally, I've never been to the Butts-Mehre on Signing Day, but isn't a "dozen or so" now more like a hundred or so Georgia fans?
The popularity of college football recruiting really took off during the 1990s and continues to grow steadily to this day.  With this growth comes more scrutiny of the recruiting process from those that think they know how the Bulldogs can improve upon their on-field performance, like by simply signing more elite high school talent from the state of Georgia.  
It would be absolutely wonderful if the Bulldogs could sign 12 or more of the state's top 25 prospects year in and year out, and 18 to 20 on occasion, but it'll never happen... not anytime soon, at least.  As far as "not signing enough" in-state talent, what do you expect from a program that has signed roughly the same amount in four-year stints over at least the last three decades?  And, there is no "getting back" to signing a surplus of the in-state's elite since UGA has been and likely will continue signing the same number of such players as the program did "back" then, whether that's five, 10, or 25 years ago.

February 3, 2013

Do-Over of a Dedication

With "America's Greatest Game" being played today, I thought I'd repost video of arguably Georgia football's greatest game ever played at Sanford Stadium. 

long after starting this blog approximately four years ago, I posted a 10-minute clip of footage from the 1929 Georgia-Yale meeting Sanford Stadium's dedication game that Coach Dooley had given me in 2007.  Upon my little run-in with XOS Digital, the video was unfortunately removed from YouTube, and thus taken off my blog. 

For some time, I've been bypassing YouTube and directly posting videos through Blogger; however, this method often forced me to shorten the clips because Blogger's quality of video output is nowhere near that of YouTube  (no offense to my blog's host site).

Now that I'm hopefully exhibiting that my videos are, and let me stress, reproduced in conjuncture with fair use laws, I've recently reopened an account with YouTube and am back posting UGA football videos in full length and adequate quality.
Over the last couple of years, I've received several requests to repost the entire video I received from Coach Dooley, and finally have that opportunity.  Enjoy today's Super Bowl between the 49ers and Ravens, and, occurring more than eight decades ago, one of the most memorable moments in UGA football history: