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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...


Anonymous said...

coach dooley did it! just kidding. great article as always and one of the reasons which separates your blog from all the other UGA ones. keep up good work. --Big Sid

George King said...

Just one correction...Georgia did not actually come from behind at the end of this one. Horace King's TD put Georgia out front 24-14 and, after a Harrison fumble, Kentucky scored on a 47 yard pass to pull to 24-20 (their attempt at a two-point conversion failed).