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March 27, 2013

One Sick Dawg

Rambo was indeed "NASTY" during an MVP
performance in the '87 Liberty Bowl.
With having two young children, I've come to realize that if one of them gets sick, there's a chance I'll become sick as well.  If both are sick, forget about it -- I'm definitely catching something.  So, when my 5-year-old got strep throat and then my 3-year-old came down with a severe cold soon after, I braced myself.  However, little did I know that the bug I was to catch would be more like a bugaboo.
Roughly a week after sensing the initial symptoms, I'm just now getting over the flu.  During my illness, since all I really felt like doing was sleeping, there was little time to devote to this blog.  Therefore, for anyone that sent me any blog-related emails or posted a comment hoping for a response, I'll get around to responding soon.
During my time of confinement, admittedly, there was a period, or three, of me feeling sorry for myself.  However, besides reminding myself that I still didn't have it nearly as tough as many people in this world, I also realized that there were several Georgia players from the past who were as sick, or even sicker, and actually went out and played in a major-college football game.
During a period where I had plenty of time to think -- in fact, too much -- and when it seems like everyone is catching some sort of bug, I came up with the top five "sick" moments in the history of Georgia football.  Notre Dame's Joe Montana might have his "Chicken Soup Game," but as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't quite compare to the ill moments of these hard-nosed Bulldogs:
#1- JOHN BRANTLEY (1987 Liberty Bowl vs. Arkansas)
A bad case of food poison, which would lead to vomiting and diarrhea during the game, was not going to keep John Brantley from his final appearance in a Bulldog uniform.  There's a good reason he was nicknamed "Rambo"...  During the week of the bowl game in Memphis, Brantley didn't practice and didn't go to any team functions, but laid in bed with IVs while taking medicines. 
As Brantley recently told me: "I couldn't hold my head up.  I just briefly warmed up right before kickoff after getting shot up with IVs.  At halftime, I got IVs again and they popped my left shoulder that had fallen out back in place, and then I just went back on the field and played again."  Simple as that.  And, by the way, Brantley was named Defensive MVP of Georgia's 20-17 comeback victory over Arkansas.   
#2- HERSCHEL WALKER (1982 Florida)
Against the Gators in '82, Herschel had such a bad case of the flu, he wore a girdle under his uniform to keep from shivering in 62-degree Jacksonville weather.  Regardless, no illness, Florida defense, or women's undergarments could stop Herschel that day as he rushed for 219 yards and 3 touchdowns on 35 carries in just over 2½ quarters of play in a 44-0 Georgia victory.
When Coach Vince Dooley was asked what would have happened if he had played Herschel a little longer, he said, "he may have gotten 300 yards."  When Herschel was asked about his girdle, he said, "it keeps you warm." 
#3- FRAN TARKENTON (1960 Florida)
Damaged, dizzy, and sleep deprived, Tarkenton
(No. 10) completes a pass against Florida in 1960.
The night before the '60 Florida game, Tarkenton had not slept at all while suffering from asthma attacks.  The medication he took, according to the senior quarterback, "made me flighty during the game."  And it showed as Georgia trailed 22-0 in the fourth quarter, but there was no quit in the courageous Tarkenton.
First, scrambling as far back as Florida’s 30-yard line before reaching the end zone, Tarkenton scored on a 4-yard touchdown run facing fourth-and-goal.  On the play, he received a vicious hit to his hip by a Gator defender, causing the Bulldog quarterback to limp the rest of the game.  Next, Tarkenton drove Georgia 53 yards to a touchdown in just four plays and the Bulldogs had reduced Florida’s lead to only eight points.  However, with only a few minutes to play and Tarkenton barely able to move, Georgia ran out of steam and was eventually defeated, 22-14.  With no sleep, dizzy from medication, and often limping, Tarkenton completed 14 of 28 passes against the Gators for 145 yards. 
With a much-heralded sophomore signal caller, who in less than a month's time had suddenly taken the Southland by storm, venturing to Athens, it was the worst possible time for both the injury and flu bug to hit a few vital members of the Georgia football team.  Regardless, Bill Stanfill, who was both injured and sick, played and in typical Stanfill style, harassed Archie Manning all afternoon.  The sophomore sensation completed just 10 of 26 passes for 150 yards and was intercepted three times.  It would be the only occasion of three Georgia would defeat Manning and the Rebels.  On offense, the Bulldogs needed little more than end Dennis Hughes.  Recovering from the flu, Hughes caught six passes for 134 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown with just minutes remaining to clinch a 21-7 win.
#5- "FATTY" and a FEW OTHERS (1928 Georgia Tech)
Georgia Tech was on its way to a perfect 10-0 record and a Rose Bowl win while Georgia was en route to a losing season.  To make matters worse, a flu epidemic had hit the University of Georgia campus, including wiping out nearly the entire football team.  By game time, the Bulldogs were without four of 11 starters, including one of the nation's best tackles, Gene Lautzenhiser.  Others like standouts Harvey Hill, Joe Boland, Frank Dudley, and Vern "Fatty" Bryant started but reportedly were still quite sick and probably shouldn't have played.  However, never count out a team when they feature a player named "Fatty"... 
Georgia shockingly held a 6-0 second-quarter lead following a touchdown pass from Bobby Hooks to Herb Maffett -- two backups.  Alas, in the end, the Jackets strength overcame the sick Bulldog bunch by a 20-to-6 score.  Nevertheless, the moral victory was called a "valiant" performance and "the fighting spirit of Georgia was the highlight of the game," while proving that even in defeat to the Techies, the Bulldogs have always stolen the show...

March 13, 2013

Damn Good "Junkyard Dog"

Tough-as-nails and clean-shaven Jeff Sanders
takes a break during a game in 1976 as a
young admirer sits close by.
Although their inception was nearly 40 years ago, for some of those older Bulldog fans who remember them, the memories of the group are as vivid today as decades ago.  They were Georgia's "Junkyard Dogs" of the mid-1970s, and the Bulldog Nation recently lost an original member that absolutely epitomized the entire celebrated group.

Jeff Sanders, or "Jethro" to some of his teammates  a Georgia defender from 1974 to 1976 passed away early yesterday morning at 58 years old after a long bout with cancer.  Originally from Adel, Ga., Sanders was living in Orlando.  He leaves behind three children Rose Marie, Sara, and Jackson; the three had previously lost their mother, Jeff's wife, Kelly, to cancer also.
After playing as a second-string linebacker in 1974 as a sophomore, Sanders was moved to defensive tackle in 1975.  If there was one knock on the junior lineman, it was that he was small.  Although 6-foot-3, Sanders was listed at only 215 pounds, which was small, even for back then.  "He's small for an interior lineman," a preseason forecast declared, "and whether or not he'll be able to make the transition [from linebacker] remains the question." 

What the forecast failed to realize was Sanders was tough tough as they come – and there should have been no question whatsoever if he could make any type of transition.
When Erk Russell formed the Junkyard Dogs defense just prior to start of the '75 season, surely he had Sanders in mind.  The defensive unit might have been inexperienced and small, but it was quick, feisty, and tough.  As a top reserve for the Junkyard Dogs, Sanders was said to "compensate for his lack of size with dedication, effort, and technique.  Defensive coordinator Erk Russell calls him a very coachable player."
Entering his senior season of 1976, Sanders earned a starting position at defensive guard on "sheer hustle and determination."  According to UGA's football records, Sanders stands as the lightest starting interior defensive lineman for the Bulldogs the last 42 years since 1971.  Yet, playing for a team that would capture an SEC championship and appear in the Sugar Bowl, the small, but tough, Sanders led all Georgia linemen with 74 tackles for the season. 

I recently spoke to a former "Junkyard Dog" teammate of Sanders, who recalled one of the last times he had seen his friend.  The two of them, along with a few other players from the 1975-1976 teams, were sitting together in Sanford Stadium for G-Day in 1999, or a practice leading up to the spring game.

A Delta flight attendant poses with Jeff on the team's flight
to New Orleans for the 1977 Sugar Bowl.
Jeff pointed out two huge, standout linemen on the team at the time, both of whom would eventually be chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft.  "Jeff then said he sure was glad that he didn't play nowadays (1999); he said he wouldn't have stood a chance if he had to go up against linemen that big," the player said to me.  "Then, everyone in the group besides Jeff glanced at each other smiling for it was understood that our friend surely had forgotten how he played as a 'Junkyard Dog.'  Those two linemen might have been bigger than him when he was at Georgia, but pound for pound nobody we could remember that had come through the program was tougher than Jeff Sanders.  Jeff could have played during any era and gone up against any lineman, no matter their size."
Personally, I didn't know Jeff Sanders.  But through my work, and primarily this blog, I have fortunately gotten to know and correspond with those that did.  Through them, I've learned the true meaning of Georgia's acclaimed "Junkyard Dogs," and the fact that we recently lost a damn good one and the group's best example.  RIP, JYD.

March 5, 2013

"I Need Some Excedrin"

While conducting a recent interview for my latest book, a former Bulldog player spoke of the 1985 Florida game.  And, although he had already left the field when the ruckus occurred, he detailed the infamous clash that resulted between jubilant Bulldog fans and Jacksonville's finest following Georgia's 24-3 upset win over the Gators.
Just a few days later, I happened upon video (below) of the game's aftermath (the first time I had ever seen as much), exhibiting the final moments of a great victory and a celebratory crowd donned in red and black which left the Gators, and apparently even one of their broadcasters, grasping for some Excedrin. 
As a kid, left to only listen to the radio since Florida had gotten itself placed on probation, I clearly recall two things from the game: Kerwin Bell threw all over the Bulldogs the entire afternoon; however, once he got inside Georgia's 20 to 25-yard line, the Bulldogs left him with little to no room to operate.  I've always said it assuredly is the only time in the history of college football a quarterback passed for 400+ yards in a game, yet his team failed to score a single touchdown.
In addition, I remember the legendary voice of Larry Munson following the game.  Except, instead of postgame comments or analysis, I recall the stentorian voice, backing the Bulldog fans when some of them were literally being beaten by the police: “[The cops] are kicking those fans!" Munson hollered over the airwaves during the melee.  "I can’t believe it!  Those people are just lying on the ground and they’re kicking them!”

Along with video of the skirmish, the following is a piece from my Georgia-Florida book, describing the partiality of the Jacksonville police and the city's mayor in the mid-80s, and the event that resulted in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party becoming less of a, well, cocktail party:

In 1984, Florida defeated Georgia soundly by a score of 27-0 for what seemed like the Gators’ first victory in the series in an eternity.  Florida fans stormed the field, unearthed a newly-sodded playing surface, tore down and dismantled both goal posts, carried them around, and eventually left the Gator Bowl with the goal posts in tow.  Like previous years, police had been posted around the field to prevent fans from entering.  However, during the melee, officers merely watched as the destruction took place and did not make a single arrest.  Police restraint was exercised, according to a spokesman for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office, “because the surge of fans was too great.”

Jacksonville’s mayor at the time and an apparent Florida fan, Jake Godbold, inexplicably stated that the city “would be tickled to death to pay for [any damages to the field].  If [the Gators] beat ‘em like that next year, they can tear it down then too.”

Much to the mayor’s presumed dismay, there would be no victory for the Gators in 1985, but instead a 24-3 Georgia upset win over a top-ranked Florida team.  As the Gators had done the year before, Bulldog fans attempted to rush the field following the victory by climbing over a fence; however, this time, the jubilant crowd was held back by police.  Nonetheless, spectators would eventually open a gate and soon there was a red and black throng covering the field.

Jacksonville police did not exercise restraint that particular year as law enforcement took to the Georgia crowd wielding nightsticks.  Numerous arrests were made while 15 fans were treated on the field alone for injuries suffered during the police-engaged chaos.

Entering the 1986 matchup, a “war on alcohol” was more or less declared in and around the stadium as security was greatly increased.  This included the addition of police dogs, mounted police on horses, undercover law enforcement, reinforced fences, and if necessary, even helicopters and marine patrol boats could be used.  Apparently, lessons had been learned from previous years and drastic steps were taken by both teams and the city of Jacksonville to keep the Cocktail Party out of the confines of the Gator Bowl.