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October 18, 2013

The "Shoestring" that Sunk the 'Dores

Gene Washington races into the end zone, com-
pleting what "was so easy it was ridiculous." 
Notably, the Bulldogs faced the same opponent they'll play tomorrow 38 years ago on this very day on the same field.  Back in 1975, there were few televised games, especially one being played at Vanderbilt, so you nearly had to be there to believe what occurred on that wet and chilly day in Nashville.  "What" was so imaginative, totally tricky, it was reported by a writer fortunate to be present that the incident would "be the talk for quite some time."
In 1969, UGA offensive line coach Jimmy Vickers had been an assistant at North Carolina under head coach Bill Dooley, brother of UGA's Vince.  That season, UNC had been fooled by Duke, executing the sandlot "shoestring play" to score the go-ahead touchdown to defeat the Tar Heels.  In preparation for the Commodores six years later, Vickers noticed that Vanderbilt's defense often held hands while turning their backs in the huddle, so he suggested "the shoestring" to Vince Dooley.  A couple of days prior to the game, the Bulldog offense began running the play in practice.
With just over five minutes remaining until halftime, Georgia possessed the ball on Vanderbilt's 36-yard line, leading by a score of only 7 to 3.  Offensive coordinator Bill Pace suddenly called for the Bulldogs to pull the shoestring play; his head coach consented.  At one time, the trickery had fooled those close to Dooley; however, now it was his turn to deceive a coach once under his regime -- Vanderbilt head coach Fred Pancoast, who had been Georgia's offensive coordinator in 1970 and 1971. 
Before trying the shoestring, the Bulldogs first needed to run a play to set the play up, "68-Sweep," which called for quarterback Ray Goff to simply sweep to his right.  Interestingly, the run required no blocking from the offensive linemen, so the runner would be brought down quickly and kept from going out of bounds.  Going out of bounds would mean spotting the ball in the middle of the field for the ensuing snap -- a hindrance for the perfect shoestring play. 

On first down, Goff kept it to his right and was nearly "killed," the quarterback would later say, in being stopped for no gain; however, as planned, the ball was spotted on the right hash mark, leaving the entire left side of the field wide open and ready for perhaps the most unusual play in the history of Georgia football to unfold.                
"Although the ball was set on the right hash, we stood in the middle of the field," center Ken Helms (No. 53) recalled for me earlier this week.  "The plan was for Ray to take a knee at the ball and act like he was tying his shoe."

"My job was to streak downfield after Ray flipped the ball and just block whoever seemed like he had an angle on the ball carrier," split end Steve Davis (No. 80) informed me recently.  "We hardly passed the ball back then, so the receivers were used to blocking.  In fact, we sometimes jokingly called ourselves 'downfield blocking specialists' instead of receivers."

On the play, Goff knelt in front of the ball, pretending to tie his shoe as his other 10 offensive teammates nonchalantly gathered at the left hash mark.  Instantly, the quarterback flipped the football to flanker Gene Washington, who began racing  down the left sideline with a convoy of blockers. 

"[The blockers] just zoned across to the play side," Helms says.  "Geno (Gene Washington) was gone.  It happened so quick."

"After the snap of the ball, I'll never forget their left cornerback, the guy I would cut block down the field, when he came out of their huddle," Davis laughs speaking of Vanderbilt's Reggie Calvin (No. 20).  "In disbelief of what was going on, his eyes popped open as big as silver dollars."

The Goff-to-Washington "shoestring play" not only was one of the most inventive plays in the annals of the sport of football, but it also jump-started a struggling squad to victory.  The play would "break our backs," according to Vanderbilt's Pancoast as his team "lost our composure afterwards."  What was once a close game soon became a rout as Georgia would eventually hammer Vanderbilt, 47-3.

The shoestring play evidently caused the Commodores' head coach to lose his composure afterwards, as well.

"I certainly remember the play, but what also stands out is what happened after the game," says another Georgia player involved in the shoestring.  "Pissed off because Coach Dooley ran the play, I remember Coach Pancoast refusing to shake his hand, and here Pancoast had been Dooley's offensive coordinator just a few years before." 

Dooley would admit afterwards, "If I'd known the game was going to end like it did [in a blowout], we probably wouldn't have used [the shoestring play]."

Perhaps the best postgame assessment concerning a play that apparently wouldn't have even been used came from the speedster who was on its "receiving end."  Washington, who said he'd knew the shoestring would work the second Goff grabbed the ball, declared "it was so easy it was ridiculous."

As easy as tying your shoestring...


Anonymous said...

Thats awesome. I didnt even know that was legal, I thought you had to hike it between your legs.

Amanda said...

Them tricky Dawgs! Amanda Vanderpool