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November 27, 2013

** Double the Dispute **

Seventy years ago, Bill Rutland (center) and Johnny
Cook (No. 10) tackle a Yellow Jacket ballcarrier...
Looks likes a real Georgia-Georgia Tech game to me.
During every Thanksgiving week for the last five years, it's a tradition, so to speak, here at the About Them Dawgs! Blawg, where the post is annually updated, but its message always remains the same.  It's an opinion that I'm not proud of, nor does most of the Bulldog Nation support, but one I've argued for quite some time.  It's a stance giving our hated rival to the southwest some creditan intrastate adversary, despite my opinion, that I hate with a passion:
I do not like The Georgia Institute of Technology, and especially hate its football  program.  I cherish the fact that after winning 20 combined games in 2008 and 2009, Coach Paul Johnson and his high school offense will soon lose five games or more for the fourth consecutive year.  However, when I started rooting for the Bulldogs in the early 1980s, I felt more sorry for Tech than actually disliking the Wramblin' Wreck.  "Hate" is a strong word, and it was more reserved for the likes of Clemson, Auburn, and maybe Florida.
In 1984, my feelings of pity were instantly altered when I witnessed an underdog Georgia Tech team come into Athens, soundly defeat my Bulldogs, and tear up Sanford Stadium's beautiful hedges afterwards.  The next day, on the cover of the sports section of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tech coach Bill Curry was pictured loving on John Dewberry, a transfer from Georgia two years earlier.  Worse, Dewberry, the winning quarterback of the Yellow Jackets, had torn off a piece of our beloved hedges.

This exhibition of disrespect will not be accepted, I decided then, nearly 30 years ago.  No longer did I feel sorry for our in-state rival; I felt absolute hatred.

However, there is one, and only one, single issue I do side with our bitter rival.  Most Tech and Georgia football fans are familiar with this controversy and the pair of asterisks that have made it renowned.  If you're NOT familiar with the dispute, I'm sure you'll hear about it this Saturday when watching the 108th, or 106th meeting between Georgia and Georgia Tech; the game's television broadcast mentions it annually without fail.

The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets cannot agree on how many times they've faced one another in football.  Georgia defends a 63-37-5 advantage; Georgia Tech claims a 39-63-5 disadvantage.

The disagreement lies with the games played between the teams in 1943 and 1944both blowout wins for the Yellow Jackets by a combined 92-0 score. Georgia Tech counts the two games, while Georgia does not recognize them in the series results.

By the start of the 1943 football season, World War II was raging. Because of the war, graduation, and injuries, every one of the Bulldogs' lettermen from the 1942 national championship squad was lost.  Of the 38 "men" on Georgia's 1943 roster, 30 were only 16 or 17 years old and too young for the war's draft.  The few remaining players of 18 years and older were only members of the team because they had not met the military's physical standards.

Many of the teams around the country were in the same predicament as Georgia and a good number of schools cancelled their '43 football campaigns.  Only a day before the Bulldogs' season opener, Coach Wally Butts asked his boys if they too wanted to cancel their season.  They refused, joining only three other SEC schools of the conference's 12 members, who decided to field a football team in 1943.

"So we'll play football as long as 11 men are available to put a team on the field," said Butts.

Like Georgia, rival Georgia Tech was one of the four participating schools in the SEC.  However, unlike the Bulldogs, the Yellow Jackets were prospering from the war.

Clean Old-Fashioned Jackasses
As did a few other schools, Georgia Tech benefited from its on-campus Navy V-12 Program, whereas any student who signed up for the program could remain in school and continue playing athletics.  In addition, Tech had a Navy flight school which drew students, including football players, from other universities.

In 1943, not only did the Yellow Jackets return most of their team from the year before but, according to Dan Magilla long-time member of UGA's athletics departmentTech's squad was also joined by the captains of Alabama and Vanderbilt and other players from various schools.  This gave the Jackets an overwhelming advantage over Georgia and it was evident on the gridiron with a 48-0 victory in 1943 and a 44-0 win in 1944.

Soon after his hiring as publicity director of UGA athletics in 1948, Magill told Coach Butts he would no longer count the 1943 and 1944 games in the series record between Tech and Georgia.  In the school's football records, Magill placed asterisks next to the two Bulldog losses because "those were not true Georgia Tech teams," Magill has personally told me before and countless others for decades.
"There's no question about it, there's no way they are true Georgia-Georgia Tech games," Magill said.  "There's no question about that.  [Georgia] had a freshman team."
Unfortunately, this is where I am in disagreement with one of the greatest Bulldogs of all time, and admittedly side with the enemy.
First off, that freshman team for Georgia in 1943 reached as high as No. 20 nationally in the AP Poll during the season.  Entering the Georgia Tech game the following year, the Bulldogs were actually recognized as only a slight underdog; some local bookies even placed even odds on the game.  More significantly, I have a feeling if Georgia would have been victorious in one or both of the '43 and '44 contests, the games would be recognized today in the series results and there would be no asterisks.
Both the NCAA and SEC acknowledges the two games as losses for the Bulldogs.  And, actually Georgia also recognizes the losses in its yearly results and all-time record (just not in the series results).
Soon after the beginning of the controversy, few stood by Magill on his stance or took his asterisks seriously.  Three years following Magill's debatable decision, the Athens Banner-Herald recognized the '43 and '44 games, announcing the 1951 Georgia-Georgia Tech contest as the "46th Annual Battle," not the 44th.  Magill's statement during the late-50s of "Henceforth our records will refer to those 1943 and 1944 games as Georgia versus the Georgia Tech Navy" was countered by sportswriter Furman Bisher with the following:
That being the case, Louisiana State, Wake Forest and Daniel Field, three other teams that defeated Georgia those two years, are expected to be notified in due time that their victories have been revoked.

Let me add, although Georgia basically had an all-freshman team during those two seasons, while Georgia Tech was supported by a Navy program and a few players from other schools, remember, Coach Butts had asked his young team if they wanted to participate, and they agreed to play the '43 season, which included a game against Georgia Tech.  They consented to do so with knowledge of the circumstances and what the consequences might be.
"I asked [the 1943 team] frankly if they wanted to pay the price in defeats they'll have to take," said Butts.
Considering there were actually very few "bona fide" college football squads from the 1943 and 1944 campaigns, should all of the remaining "non-true" programs revoke their results from the two seasons?  If the Bulldogs were not a "true" team in '43 and '44, should they discount the 13 combined victories they achieved those years?
In its early years, Georgia played several athletic clubs featuring former college players and even a preparatory school or two; all of these games are recognized in UGA football's yearly and series results, although they do not seem to be "true" opposition.
In 1907, Georgia played against Georgia Tech with at least four "ringers," or former collegiate or professional players from the North, who were paid for their services.  Because of this illegal action, Georgia's head coach would eventually be banned from coaching in the South forever.  The result of the game, a 10-6 Georgia loss, is acknowledged in UGA's yearly and series results.
In the first Georgia-Georgia Tech football game of 1893, the Red and Black played a professionally paid trainer at halfback, while three of Tech's five touchdowns were scored by a 28-year-old doctor in the U.S. Army.  In addition, the umpire of the game, who made several controversial calls in favor of Georgia Tech, was the brother of Tech's trainer.  This 28-6 Georgia Tech victory is also recognized by Georgia.
In more support of identifying the 1943 and 1944 as true games, I believe author Bill Cromartie might have put it best in his book on the Georgia-Georgia Tech football rivalry, Clean Old-Fashioned Hate:
If the games are not official, then the University [of Georgia] boys who got their teeth kicked in (so to speak), played the games for nothing. They would, most likely, want them to count.
I personally know Dan Magill well.  Among other things, he is the greatest NCAA tennis coach of all time, the foremost knowledgeable historian of UGA sports, probably has done more for UGA athletics than anyone ever, and is a wonderful and kind individual.  However, and I say this with the utmost respect, I totally disagree with his decision from more than six decades ago regarding the 1943-1944 Georgia-Georgia Tech gamesa decision he still vehemently stands behind today.
During the time of Magill's 1948 ruling, unlike when I was growing up, no Georgia football fan felt sympathy for Georgia Tech, just hate.  I suspect part of the decision by "Dangerous Dan," as Bisher tagged him in 1957, was because of this hatred for Georgia's chief rival of the time.
Nevertheless, Magill's judgement and asterisks will remain in the UGA football record books forever, whether I, the Yellow Jacket faithful, or anyone else likes it or not.  Personally, I have and can certainly continue to live with the Bulldogs having two less losses to the Jackets, especially if (and God forbid), as was the case when Magill made his determination, Georgia football was to ever falter, while the Eternal Enemy prospered...  
Of course, I don't see that happening anytime soon.

November 21, 2013

The Mystery (in Kentucky) Bulldog

It might be more appropriate if told a year from now on the event's 40th anniversary and when the Bulldogs fly to Lexington instead of during the week the Wildcats venture to Athens, but considering I recently heard an extended version, I wanted to share it again.  It is something I touched upon three years agothe Georgia-Kentucky "bomb threat" of 1974And, although there aren't many great tales in the history of the teams' football series, this has to be one of the greatest Georgia-Kentucky stories ever told, especially considering the story's culprit hasn't been fully revealed for nearly four entire decades.

As the story goes, upon the charter flight of the UGA football team landing at Lexington's Blue Grass Field the night before the 1974 Georgia-Kentucky game, the Bulldogs were unceremoniously greeted by their hosts.

"When we got to Lexington, the plane was immediately surrounded by all these police cars," Keith Harris informed me during our interview for my latest book.  "Here, I was thinking what a great escort we were getting at the airport," the senior standout linebacker from '74 added while laughing.

"When we landed, we were told to sit down in our seats and stay there," said Horace King, the Bulldogs' leading scorer and second-leading rusher in '74.  "At that point, we had no idea that we would wind up being at that airport for hours!"

During the flight, defensive coordinator Erk Russell had noticed a bomb threat written in soap on the mirror in one of the plane's bathrooms.  He immediately alerted the flight staff, who relayed the coach's message to airport security.   The pilot came over the intercom, informing the team about the threat, and then asking for the culprit to come forward.  No one did.  Upon arrival,  the plane was boarded by the FBI, airport bomb squad, and local police.  After milling about the plane for a while, gravitating toward where the threat had been scrawled, the authorities began seeking a confession.

"We were then taken out of the plane and marched into a room inside the airport," Harris added.  "We later noticed [head golf coach and dorm disciplinarian] Dick Copas; he looked like something was wrong."  A player pointed out to Copas the plane had not been cleaned following its previous flight; maybe someone on the earlier flight had written the bomb threat.  "Hell no!" Copas apparently blurted.  "I know it was one of you players for sure because [the authorities] said that whoever wrote it misspelled 'airplane.'"

"During the ordeal, I was told by an assistant coach that he had narrowed it down in his mind to about 10 players who could have written the threat, and I was one of them!" says Steve Davis, who admits to having some disciplinary problems while a quarterback-wide receiver at Georgia during the mid-1970s, including getting kicked off the team for the entire 1973 season.  "It was a intimidating and kind of scary situation, especially when we were all sitting in chairs inside the room at the airport and surrounded by at least a couple dozen FBI guys."

Inside the room, it was eventually revealed by an individual, who seemingly was the head of the FBI members, that the player who wrote the threat was a "real dumbass."  As Copas had indicated, "airplane" was misspelled on the mirror; the threat supposedly declared, "There is a bomb on this airplain."

After hours of questioning by authorities and pleading from tired teammates, including an upperclassman who suddenly became unhinged, threatening for the offender to come forward or else, the guilty Bulldog still remained unidentified.  The FBI eventually gave up, and the team departed for their hotel not getting to bed until well after midnight.

The weary Bulldogs finally awoke the following night when King scored a 6-yard fourth-quarter touchdown, which proved to be the winning score.  Georgia clinched a 24-20 victory when Harris forced a Wildcat fumble.  As for Davis, he broke his collarbone during the game.  "First, I get blamed as someone who might have done the bomb threat, and then I get hurt," he says laughing.
No Wildcat defense, lack of sleep, or even the threat
of a bomb could stop Horace King from scoring this
4th-quarter touchdown to defeat Kentucky in '74. 
When the Bulldogs arrived home to Athens, they found that the misconduct by one of their very own had made not only local, but national news.  A writer for a local paper, who had traveled to Lexington with the team, wrote: "...the immature act of a single individual who by insinuating that a bomb was on the Georgia charter not only forced an unnecessary hardship on his own team, but also the airline to which the plane belonged."

Although the "single individual" responsible for "the immature act" was not discovered by authorities in Lexington, the UPI reported that the FBI would question all UGA players and coaches the following week in an effort to find the culprit.

"It had been rumored that the FBI would be coming to campus to give the players polygraph tests, and performing handwriting analysis," said Davis, "but the FBI never came."

"Whoever did it, they did nothing real damaging.  However, the bomb threat was just another distractionone of the number of hiccupswe encountered that kept that '74 team from reaching its full potential," said King, referring to Georgia's disappointing 6-6 campaign that year.

"Whoever did it, I think they misspelled 'airplane' on purpose," added Harris.

It has been nearly 40 years and the culprit has yet to be found, but his identity often remains the talk amongst his old teammates.  Personally, I experienced this first hand when attending the Lettermen's Club annual BBQ this past September.  I spoke with three different players from the '74 team (apart from the three quoted in this post) who all thought they knew the wrongdoer's identity, and each gave me a different name.

The mystery continues...

November 18, 2013

Need Help With A "Classic" Project

A section of the Classic City at night during the 1970s
After Saturday's heartbreaking loss by the Bulldogs' yet-another-near-miss program, I'm having a hard time even thinking about UGA football.  Switching gears, I wanted to inform you of my recent book project and ask for your assistance. 
Do you have any older photos of Athens?
I recently signed a deal to author a photo-heavy book on the city of Athens' modern history (1960s to the present) to be published by Arcadia Publishing.  I'm particularly excited about the project because I'm a native Athenian and this is my first book not related to UGA football.
Speaking of books on the Bulldogs, a couple of years ago I asked readers of this blog if they could help me with my Georgia-Florida book, requesting stories, anecdotes, and jokes regarding the series.  Your response was overwhelming!  So, I'm asking for your assistance once again.
A major responsibility of mine for the Athens project is finding nearly 200 appropriate photographs for use.  I have the 1990s and 2000s pretty much covered; however, it’s been difficult to find images from the decades of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.

Notably, the photographer of each image will obviously be credited in the book.  Also, for what it’s worth, and I'm trying to be careful when bringing up this aspect--one photo source seemed highly insulted when I mentioned he would be paid for his photos, while it was the first thing requested by another--you'd be compensated for your photos used in the book.  My publisher and I are proposing a royalty-sharing plan for the book’s photo sources, where based on the number of photos credited, the sources share in what royalties I earn off the book.  I can explain further if you think you would be able to assist with this project.
So, if you possess any images of just about anything related to the Classic City--the moments/events, people, structures, businesses, etc. of Athens--especially from the 1960s through the 1980s, and in COLOR would be an added bonus, OR if you can suggest someone who does that I could contact, please EMAIL ME
I am really looking forward to what assuredly will be a classic project, and perhaps with your help (plus, I'm anxious to see if I can write on anything other than Georgia football).  Thank you all! 

November 15, 2013

A True Under-Dawg Story

The Bulldogs are slight underdogs
tomorrow, and for Richt's bunch of late,
that spells near-guaranteed misfortune.
Entering tomorrow's game on the Plains, Georgia finds itself in a rather unfamiliar position: the Bulldogs are underdogs. 
Prior to Auburn being recognized as a three-point favorite, as it currently stands, Georgia had entered just two of its previous 31 regular-season contests as the underdog, including being favored in each of its first nine games this season.
Simply put, the Bulldogs haven't been used lately to being underdogs.  Still, I was curious of the program's "underdog tendency" over the course of a long period--like the last half-century, beginning with the Coach Dooley era in 1964. 
I really had to dig to find point spreads from the 1960s and early-1970s (and obviously really had some time on my hands).  Nevertheless, I discovered the closing line for each of Georgia's 595 games beginning in 1964 through last week's Appalachian State game, finding out that the Dogs have been underdogs less than one-fourth the time (23.8 percent) over the last 50 years.
Ranked lowest to highest, Georgia's last four head coaches according to his frequency of being an underdog (games as underdog out of total number of games):  
20%- Richt (33 of 167)
23%- Dooley (65 of 288)
29%- Donnan (17 of 59)
33%- Goff (27 of 81)
If you think there's little difference between, say, Richt and Goff's frequency, imagine being the underdog once every three games (like in Goff's case) compared to once every five games (like Richt)--there's a big difference.
More telling, what about how successful each coach was in an underdog role?  Their winning percentages in games they entered as the underdog: 

.485- Dooley (30-32-3)
.412- Donnan (7-10)
.394- Richt (13-20)
.278- Goff (7-19-1)

After discovering the coaches' winning percentages as an underdog, what first jumped out at me was Richt's respectable percentage of nearly 40 percent, and Goff's lowly mark.  However, upon a second look, Richt was indeed 10-8 as an underdog through 2007, but has gone only 3-12 the last six seasons. 
For Goff, there's a reason why he couldn't win as an underdog, often playing the role as a big underdog.  When Georgia's head coach from 1989 through 1995 was the underdog, it was by a spread of 8.5 points or more nearly 60 percent of the time (10 of 17).  In comparison, Richt's teams have been an underdog of at least 8.5 points less than 20 percent of the time (6 of 33).
What if a UGA coach was the underdog, but only a slight one--like in the Bulldogs' case at Auburn tomorrow--of four points or less?  In other words, how have their teams performed in games they evidently were supposed to lose, but could reasonably win?
The four head coaches' winning percentage as an underdog of four points or less:

.556- Donnan (5-4 record)
.500- Goff (2-2)
.484- Dooley (14-15-2)
.400- Richt (8-12)

Because of the small data set, Goff's record, and maybe even Donnan's, under such circumstances could be disregarded, leaving Dooley and Richt.  Speaking of our current head coach, his 8-12 mark is somewhat deceiving.  Richt was 7-6 as an underdog of four points or less through 2007, but just 1-6 ever since, including losing his last five in a row.
Over the last 50 years, Georgia's "true story" as an underdog is primarily one of infrequency, but satisfactory results in such a role--that is, until the last several years.  The Bulldogs' 3-12 record as an underdog the last six seasons is the program's second-worst record over a similar stretch under the same circumstances (Georgia was 2-11-1 as an underdog from 1993-1995), and never over the last half-century have their results been as poor as they have been since 2007 when the Bulldogs were recognized as slight underdogs.
Personally, I like how Georgia matches up with Auburn tomorrow, the Bulldogs playing in Jordan-Hare might as well be a home game, and I realize a number Vegas spits out doesn't determine the result of a football game.  However, a reason for concern is simply that the Dawgs are underdogs, and when recent editions of Richt's squads play an underdog role, especially a slight one, his underdogs consistently underwhelm.

November 12, 2013

The Terrible, but Notable, Turkey Sandwich

For Stinchcomb, the memory of the Miracle on the
Plains includes a turkey sandwich, cartwheels, and
perhaps most astonishing, gracious Auburn fans.
One of the reasons why GAME OF MY LIFE Georgia Bulldogs is likely my most favorite of all my book projects is that I got to hear intriguing anecdotes firsthand from 25 former players beyond each individual's story, including aside from what they considered the game of their life.  Perhaps most notably, All-American offensive lineman Matt Stinchcomb, who was my final interview for the book, told a true gem of a side story to his most memorable game.
Just when I thought I'd heard about everything, I was informed of a bad turkey sandwich from Newnan which brought a 6-foot-7, 280-pound giant to his knees.  But, in the end, the experience added to the unbelievable irony of what was the Bulldogs' "Miracle on the Plains."
Stinchcomb recalls the 1996 Georgia-Auburn game:     
The Auburn game my sophomore year was not only the most important game I played in while I was at Georgia, but also likely my most memorable because of many different things.

Seemingly, half of my college experience was in Auburn, Alabama.  For whatever reason, not only did a lot of my buddies from high school go to Auburn University, but so did my girlfriend at the time, who eventually became my wife.  While I was at Georgia, there often seemed to be a persisting rumor that because of my friends and girlfriend, I was thinking about transferring to Auburn.  I remember on more than one occasion having to sit down with one of our staff members and dispel such rumors.  It was never going to happen — I’d never leave UGA — unless the school somehow mysteriously disappeared and the football program was discontinued, maybe then, but not until.

On road trips to Auburn we’d stop in Newnan [Georgia] on the way to visit with the city’s Bulldog Club and would then stay in a hotel near the state line.  [Senior offensive tackle] Adam Meadows and I roomed together on the road that year and that Friday night, we ate some food in our room we had gotten from the hotel.  Whether it was food poisoning or some sort of bug, I was up most of the night and into the next day getting sick from a turkey sandwich I had eaten.  Before the game, our trainers pumped me full of IV fluids, allowing me to play. And, thank goodness, because who knew we were about to embark on a four-overtime game, lasting about an hour and a half longer than anticipated.

A side story going into that game was the benching of quarterback Mike Bobo and tailback Robert Edwards.  Mike had struggled for several consecutive games while Robert had been susceptible to fumbling the ball.  Another “story” occurring early in the game was something most Bulldog fans are familiar with: mascot Uga V, who honestly was rather ornery, lunged at Robert Baker after the Auburn wide receiver scored the game’s first touchdown and then touched [mascot handler] Charles Seiler.  As most of us are aware, Uga tried to “dismember” Baker.

Suddenly, we were down 28-7 late in the second quarter, but Torin Kirtsey gave us a little bit of hope by scoring a touchdown with less than a minute remaining until halftime, pulling us within two touchdowns.

In the second half, we somehow found our way back into the ballgame.  By this time, Mike and Robert had come off the bench and I can’t stress enough how much it meant to have a new, live arm at quarterback and fresh legs at tailback at that point, especially considering how long the game would wind up lasting.  However, our offensive line suddenly had to play “musical chairs,” of sorts, in the second half.  Meadows, our starting left tackle and probably the most athletic lineman Georgia has ever had regardless of the era, suffered a concussion late in regulation.  I was forced to move to left tackle, right guard [Antonio] “Jake” Fleming moved to my regular position, right tackle, and backup Kenley Ingram took over at Jake’s right guard spot.

Our defense made some tremendous stops of a really good Auburn offense in the second half.  They gave the offense the ball back with just over a minute remaining.  We had to go 80-something yards with no timeouts remaining and trailing by a touchdown, 28-21.  Nevertheless, in about five or six plays we moved the football down to around Auburn’s 20-yard line.  Here’s where things got a little weird.

At this point with 15 to 20 seconds remaining and no timeouts, you can’t give up a sack or the game is over.  Well, I gave up a sack.  I was blocking a defensive end to my left when Mike just happened to be flushed to the left directly into my man for the sack.  As an offensive lineman, we have ways of justifying that the quarterback getting forced into the defender you’re blocking might result in a sack, but it’s one that cannot be helped (chuckling); regardless, I yielded the sack and it was evident time was going to run out with us stranded at around Auburn’s 36- or 37-yard line.  However, there is often an element of luck in winning a football game and we certainly had it when a Tiger defensive tackle (Charles Dorsey) picked up the football following the sack, thinking the game was over.  So, the officials had to retrieve the ball and, in the process, stop the clock with about five or six seconds remaining.  Then, the ball wasn’t marked where Mike had literally gone down on the sack but about five or six yards closer to the 30-yard line, where apparently his progress had stopped in being sacked.

Mike then spiked the football, the ball was spotted, and one second and one last chance to tie the game remained.  On the final play of regulation, Mike flung the ball towards the front, right corner of the end zone, just beyond the goal line, where Corey Allen caught an unbelievable touchdown.   Hap Hines’s PAT tied the score 28-28 and we had miraculously forced the first overtime game in SEC football history.
Taken from the CBS telecast, circled Smith begins his
cartwheeling on the plains as Orantes Grant (right)
celebrates following the four-overtime marathon. 
In overtime — all four of them — it was, simply put, the “Robert Edwards Show.”  We repeatedly ran our counter trey running play, where the backside guard and tackle pull.  Interestingly, most of the “pulling” was by Jake from his new right tackle spot, allowing Robert to run wild.  I think he gained nearly all of the 100 yards we totaled in the four overtimes.  In the first three extra periods, touchdown runs by Robert were matched by Auburn touchdowns.  In the fourth overtime with the score tied 49-49, our defense forced a fourth down and three and then defensive tackle Jason Ferguson stopped their quarterback [Dameyune Craig] short of the first down.  I don’t know how, but we had defeated Auburn and, man, did we celebrate.  Perhaps, nobody celebrated more than noseguard Jermaine Smith – all 280 pounds of him – who immediately and unforgettably began doing cartwheels in the middle of the field after the stop of Craig.

Ironically, I got to celebrate that night with, of all people, Auburn fans.  The coaches determined that because of the food poisoning, or the bug I had gotten, I probably couldn’t tolerate the bus ride home and shouldn’t be amongst my teammates.  So, I got to stay with my Auburn friends and my wife-to-be that night.  Everything worked out nicely from my standpoint.  There were really no hard feelings on their part, but instead they were gracious in defeat — a four-overtime defeat, might I add, in a game where we trailed by three touchdowns at one point!

November 8, 2013

The Unrecognized Record

Sixty years ago, the Brat (No. 12) broke a distin-
guished record (but you'd hardly be aware of it). 
On the eve of Georgia's game with a lower-tier opponent in Appalachian State and while Aaron Murray continues to set new passing and total offense records, I was reminded of one of the one-time greatest NCAA individual records in Bulldog history, while curious if the player who established it 60 years ago actually knew of his record's details.
The last time a Bulldog was the NCAA's all-time career leader in a major statistical category was nearly a half-century ago.  No, not even the great Herschel Walker accomplished as much, finishing his Georgia career in 1982 third in NCAA history in both career rushing yards and career rushing yards per game.
Although you'd hardly be aware of it, Georgia's Zeke Bratkowski became the NCAA's all-time leader in career passing yardage as a senior six decades ago in 1953, topping the 4,736 yards totaled by Hardin-Simmons' John Ford from 1947 to 1950.  While conducting research for my first book,  I noticed Bratkowski's feat as a mere mention in the NCAA record book's "record progression" for career passing yards.  However, when exactly "the Brat" broke Ford's record was never publicized--not by the media, UGA, no one--therefore, I decided to continue researching to find out.
Facing what was then known as "Mississippi Southern College" (now, the University of Southern Mississippi), a member of the "College Division," or what could now be considered an FCS or I-AA program, Georgia's 14-0 loss in its next-to-last game of the 1953 campaign featured Bratkowski's memorable moment.  Late in the contest, and as the Bulldogs were attempting to simply "get" on the scoreboard, the quarterback completed three consecutive passes to end the game.  I discovered that the second of these--a 15-yard completion to Harold Pilgrim--resulted in Bratkowski breaking Ford's NCAA career record. 
Bratkowski would finish the Mississippi Southern game with 4,754 career passing yards.  He would add 109 more in the season finale against Georgia Tech, ending his career with 4,863, which would stand as the NCAA record for 11 years until Tulsa's Jerry Rhome surpassed the Brat's total in 1964.
I decided to reach out to Bratkowski at his home in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, asking if he was aware of the exact moment and circumstances when he broke Ford's record.
"Patrick, not only did I not know that I broke the record against Mississippi Southern," Bratkowski informed me in a phone conversation, "I didn't even know that I actually held the NCAA record until you just now told me!"
Bratkowski, who hails from Danville, Illinois, and nearly attended Marquette until realizing the school's football program was rather unstable (the Golden Avalanche football program would eventually disband in 1960), recognizes that the keeping and maintaining of football records was conducted in a much different manner in his day than now.  "No one ever mentioned to me that I had broken the NCAA record probably because no one actually knew I had broken it," he said.  "Like all games, I was just out there playing football against Mississippi Southern.  And, might I add, Mississippi Southern had a really fine team!"
Bratkowski easily recalled the game played in front of an overflow crowd of 25,000 at Jackson's old Memorial Stadium.  There were so many spectators that a number of them were forced to sit on the ground behind the end zones.  "It was really loud," Bratkowski also remembers, "and they had these two outstanding backs--Laurin Pepper and Buck McElroy--that were really hard to stop."  Mississippi Southern's two touchdowns were scored by Pepper and McElroy, resulting via interception return and a 1-yard plunge, respectively.
Photo from the Hattiesburg American of Carson's TD 
 catch from Bratkowski that was ruled incomplete. Notice 
the overflow of spectators sitting in the background.
Bratkowski acknowledges it was a disappointing afternoon for he and his teammates against "the Southerners"--a team which had also upset 5th-ranked Alabama in the season opener.  In Georgia's 14-0 loss, the All-American signal caller completed just 8 of 21 passes for 83 yards and was intercepted three times.  At one point, Bratkowski did appear to complete a touchdown to John Carson in the back of the end zone, but a referee ruled the Georgia receiver was juggling the ball when he went out of bounds.  But, what about the record-breaking completion to Pilgrim that did count?
"Oblivious--didn't know I had set any kind of record," Bratkowski says.  "In fact, I hardly even remember Pilgrim, the receiver."
In the Brat's defense, Harold Pilgrim was a mere freshman that season, and making one of his first appearances on Georgia's varsity.  He would letter for the Bulldogs from 1954 through 1956, but by then, Bratkowski had moved onto an NFL career which, whether playing or coaching in the league, lasted for more than 40 years (1954-1995).  Ironically, Pilgrim not only became associated with an NCAA record in a season in which he didn't earn a letter, but his record-breaking reception was the only catch he would make his entire Bulldog career.
As our conversation was coming to a close, I informed Bratkowski of an effort of his that was recognized by the media that afternoon on November 21, 1953--the quarterback's graciousness.  As their 14-0 defeat was nearing an end, some Bulldog players displayed little sportsmanship, including a particular end who "grounded" an opposing player with a forearm to the face.  A sportswriter noticed that few Georgia players shook hands with their opponent following the setback; however, Bratkowski not only offered his hand, but was the "only [Bulldog player] aggressive about it."
"I didn't know about that either," Bratkowski added.  "Well, I can thank my high school coach for that.  Paul Shebby of Schlarman [Academy in Danville] embedded into me to be a gracious winner, and a gracious loser."
Finally, as we said our goodbyes, Bratkowski demonstrated he was just as gracious as he was 60 years ago.  He thank me (and he certainly didn't have to) for revealing a record that was once even unrecognized by the one-time record holder.
"That's really good to know; I can now add it to my resume," the 82-year-old laughed.

November 1, 2013

Walker, Worley, and tomorrow Gurley?

With 100+ rushing yards tomorrow,
Gurley would join an elite class in
Georgia-Florida lore.
The other day, I was reminded by a sports-talk radio show of Todd Gurley's 118-yard rushing performance in Jacksonville a year ago, prompting me to identify Georgia's all-time individual 100-yard rushing games in the series.  Resulting against what would rank as the fourth-best rushing defense in the entire nation,  notably, Gurley's feat versus the Gators in 2012 was the 25th 100-yard rushing performance by a Bulldog against Florida.  
Gurley's 118 yards as a freshman also setups the possibility in 2013 for him to be added to a very short list of Bulldogs, currently consisting of only Herschel Walker and Tim Worley, who faced Florida at least twice in their UGA careers, and rushed for 100+ yards in every one of their games against the Gators.
Ranked by yardage (followed by rushes and rushing TDs), the following are Georgia's 25 individual 100-yard rushing performances in the series.  Below the rankings is somewhat of a "history" of the Bulldogs' great rushing feats against the Gators, and the slight controversy regarding who should actually sit atop the rankings: 
239-25-3: Charley Trippi, 1945
238-37-1: Herschel Walker, 1980
219-35-3: Herschel Walker, 1982
198-30-0: Kevin McLee, 1976
192-47-2: Herschel Walker, 1981
188-33-3: Knowshon Moreno, 2007
162-10-2: Willie McClendon, 1977
145- 9- 2: Keith Henderson, 1985
142-31-1: Frank Sinkwich, 1941
135-22-2: Tim Worley, 1988
135-26-1: Ricky Lake, 1970
131- ?- 1: Jack Roberts, 1931
127- ?- 1: Billy Rutland, 1944
124-17-3: Ray Goff, 1976
124-26-4: Robert Edwards, 1997
123-12-3: Cy Grant, 1932
121-29-2: Rodney Hampton, 1989
118-27-1: Todd Gurley, 2012
113- 8- 1: Frank Harvey, 1992 
106- ?- 0: Bill Hartman, 1937
105-11-0: Bill David, 1932
104- 7- 1: Tim Worley, 1985 
103-18-0: Rodney Hampton, 1987
103-18-0: Danny Ware, 2004
100-22-0: Musa Smith, 2002
In the 11th game of the Georgia-Florida rivalry, Jack "the Ripper" Roberts became the first identifiable Bulldog to rush for 100 yards against Florida, gaining 131 in a 33-6 rout over the Gators in 1931.  A year later, Cy Grant and Bill David became the first of three Bulldog tandems where each player in the duo gained 100 yards. 
In 1937, Bill Hartman became the first of five Bulldogs to reach 100 in a loss to Florida; however, this was followed four years later with Frank Sinkwich's spectacular performance where he not only rushed for 142 yards, but also successfully kicked Georgia's only made field goal in what would be a span of about 30 years.
In a 34-0 blowout over Florida in 1945, according to the Atlanta Constitution, Charley Trippi "carried the ball 25 times for a total of 239 yards, an average of 9.1 yards (although, according to my calculator, that's actually an average of 9.6 yards).  Regardless, Trippi's 239 yards officially remains the most by a Georgia player against Florida and would be a school record against any team for 35 years--well, for the most part--until Herschel rushed for 283 versus Vanderbilt in 1980.
Here's where things get weird...  In 1976, Kevin McLee and Ray Goff rushed for 198 and 124 yards, respectively, in a memorable 41-27 comeback victory in Jacksonville.  Only a couple of days later, and although Trippi's 239 rushing yards against Florida in 1945 was listed as the school record, UGA announced that, in fact, Glynn Harrison (172 yards vs. Vanderbilt in 1974) had been the actual record holder, and now McLee's 198 was the new school record.  Reportedly, "research revealed that [Trippi's 239] total included [73 in] pass receiving yardage."  Evidently, Trippi 's rushing yards totaled 166 against the Gators.
Just a week later at Auburn, McLee rushed for 203 yards and seemingly broke his own school record only recently established.  However, UGA again stepped forward, curiously declaring another mistake had been made--upon further research, Trippi did indeed rush for 239 yards against Florida in 1945 and the school record was his and had been for more than 30 years.
(Personally, I'd like to know what research was revealed.  The NCAA has no official stat sheet from the 1945 Georgia-Florida game and it seems Trippi's 239-yard mark is based on the statement from the Atlanta newspaper.  I believe the discrepancy may come from the fact that it appears Trippi gained a number of yards during that game on shovel passes, including 22 resulting in a touchdown.  The shovel-pass yardage might be included in his 239 rushing.  Interestingly, I've seen where Trippi's 22-yard score from a shovel pass is recognized as a rushing touchdown by some, but a receiving touchdown by others.  Who knows... I am certain the UGA record keepers actually did not.)
Speaking of curious, Willie McClendon rushed for 153 yards on 9 carries in 1977 against the Gators in the first half alone; the Bulldogs took a 17-10 lead into halftime.  However, McClendon was handed the ball just once in the second half, and Florida would rally for a 22-17 victory.
Worley vs. Florida in '85--his first of two 100-yard
performances, resulting in two games vs. the Gators,
separated by three years (Wingate Downs).

From 1980 through 1982, Herschel rushed for a whooping 649 yards against the Gators--the most collectively gained against the eight common opponents he faced in his three seasons at UGA.  During the 1980s, Tim Worley and Rodney Hampton also had multiple 100-yard rushing games in Jacksonville.  Hampton's two 100-yard performances (1987, 1989) surrounded a subordinate role to Worley in the 1988 game.  Worley's two are intriguing in that the first (1985) came as a true freshman over the top-ranked Gators, while the second (1988) followed not playing in the '86 game due to an injury and attending junior college in 1987, resulting in two 100-yard performances in two games versus Florida, separated by three years. 
Rushing for an 80-yard touchdown on Georgia's first offensive play of the 1992 game, Frank Harvey is the last Bulldog fullback to gain 100+ against the Gators.  Whereas the last 15 years have produced remarkable performances by Georgia tailbacks versus Florida, particularly, Robert Edwards in 1997, Knowshon a decade later, and of course Gurley a season ago.
As far as Gurley joining Walker and Worley with multiple 100-yard rushing performances in the same number of games against Florida, I like his chances if he's healthy: the banged-up Gator defense is allowing 3.7 yards per rush--the same average Georgia is yielding--while their last two opponents have featured a 100-yard rusher (Jeremy Hill of LSU and Henry Josey of Missouri). 
Last year, the Bulldogs wouldn't have won without Gurley's 100-yard rushing game against the Gators.  Tomorrow, they'll likely need a similar performance from the sophomore tailback to avoid defeat in Jacksonville for the first time in three years.