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December 22, 2014

Relevant? Really?!

While at Georgia, more so than change any
kind of culture...
During a radio interview over the weekend, I was asked about Todd Grantham's newsworthy comments a week ago regarding his time as Georgia's defensive coordinator.

I didn't mind giving my two cents...

I've interviewed Grantham only a couple of times, but from what I gathered, at least, during his four-season stay in Athens, he often offered up typical coach speak: comments similar to what he said last week, like "I think we did a tremendous job [at Georgia]," "we had a really young team last year," "I think [the team] got better from it," and "that's par for [the coaching] business"all of which is understandable coming from a coach's mouth.

However, it appears Grantham continues to give exaggerated coach spin, as well, or a favorable spinning of the facts to make his efforts or circumstances seem much better than the actual results or his situation during his tenure at Georgia.

For example, entering the 2013 season, Georgia's defense was undoubtedly green, and I asked Grantham about his unit's inexperience. He responded with a quick "we actually have eight guys on this year’s team who have started on defense before." After I replied that those eight included Devin Bowman and Connor Norman, who had started merely one and two games, respectively, in their careers and Malcolm Mitchell—who had started three games at cornerback, but was slated to play exclusively at wide receiver—Grantham really didn't offer up much of a response. I should have added that even including Mitchell’s trio of starts, the Bulldogs' defense returned players with a total of only 59 career starts—the lowest for a Bulldog defense entering a season since 1978—however, I didn't want our interview to come to an abrupt end.

As we're all aware, the 2013 defense's inexperience was evident as the Bulldogs allowed 375.5 yards and 29.0 points per game, while forcing only 1.2 turnovers per contest—the fifth-, first- and second-worst per-game averages, respectively, for a Bulldog defense over the previous 72 seasons.

Grantham, whose four Georgia defenses from 2010-2013 allowed per-game averages of 22.7 points and 334.1 total yards, 5.1 yards per play, while forcing 1.87 turnovers—all inferior to what the Bulldogs' defense has yielded/forced thus far this season—said his tenure at Georgia is "something I'm very proud of."  He added, "when you look at Florida, Tennessee and Auburn the last three years, we were 8-1." He then mentioned the success against Tech during his time at UGA.

What Grantham failed to mention was that although Georgia was a combined 12-1 against Florida, Tennessee and Auburn from 2011-2013 and Tech from 2010-2013, the Bulldogs' defense allowed an average of 363.8 total yards and 21.6 points in those gamesstaggeringly high figures considering the team lost just one of the 13 contests.

Last week, Grantham also said, "We changed the culture. We developed a mental and physical toughness there."
...Grantham's defenses choked.

What changed from defensive coordinator Willie Martinez (2005-2009) to Grantham was no culture, but Georgia's inability to defend against what I defined as a "proficient offense," or teams which finished their seasons averaging at least 27 points and 400 total yards per game. You can see for yourself—the statistical difference between the two coordinators is absolutely in Martinez's favor—including the most important statistic of them all, wins and losses: Georgia's record was 10-9 when Grantham's defensive unit faced a proficient offense; the Bulldogs were 12-5 with Martinez under the same circumstances.

Grantham said, "if you go back and look at the changes we were able to establish and make at the University of Georgia during the time I was there, we were able to win some games..."

As far as winning games, the Bulldogs were a disappointing 36-18 while Grantham was their defensive coordinator, or Georgia's second-worst winning percentage of the 15 different four-season continuous totals beginning with the Coach Donnan era in 1996 (i.e., 1996-1999, 1997-2000, 1998-2001, etc.)

And, if I may add, Grantham had plenty of talent to work with. Five Bulldog defenders under Grantham were selected in the four subsequent NFL Drafts (2011-2014), who went on to be a starter for at least one season in the league. In comparison, in the 25 subsequent NFL Drafts of the entire Vince Dooley era (17 years under defensive coordinator Erk Russell; eight under Bill Lewis), only four Bulldog defenders were drafted and then started for at least a season.

Finally, Grantham declared "we really put Georgia back on the map as far as being relevant." Really?! 

What's evident to me is that any relevance the Bulldogs gained from 2010 to 2013 was primarily due to an Aaron Murray-quarterbacked offense, and had little to do with we.

December 15, 2014

When It Was More So Should've... Than Would've

Watching the Heisman Trophy ceremony the other night, realizing all three finalists were juniors heading to the NFL, I thought back to Georgia's Heisman winner from 32 years agoa then-junior who turned pro early, as well. However, more so than Herschel Walker's 1982 campaign, I recalled his first season as a Bulldog, and the debate involving the coveted trophy which still lingers after more than three decades.

I hear the argument every so often; in fact, it was declared just a few days ago on local sports-talk radio: Herschel should've won the Heisman Trophy in 1980, but didn't because he was a freshman.

Call it a slight pet peeve of minea claim I've argued against here on a couple of occasionswhere the Heisman voters from back then actually deserve some credit, but the voting structure of the time does not. Regardless of what the claim is called, the assertion that Herschel didn't win the Heisman in '80 because he was a freshman is more so a fallacy than an accuracy.

That season, Walker finished third in the Heisman balloting, not even coming close to winning (683 total points, 107 first-place votes), finishing behind winner George Rogers of South Carolina (1,128, 216) and Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green (861, 179). And, common belief is Walker did not win the award solely because he was a freshman, whereas Rogers was a senior. This assumption, although maybe slightly accurate, does not fully reveal why Herschel was not honored.

More so than Walker or Rogers' class status, by Friday, November 28ththe day Heisman ballots were dueRogers held the ultimate edge because the senior's regular season was all wrapped up. Herschel, on the other hand, and his Bulldog teammates still had one game remaining on their regular-season schedule against Georgia Tech the very next day.

Herschel Walker might have won  the Heisman in 1980 (but I seriously doubt it) if all voters felt freely to vote for a freshman, but he most likely would've captured the award if his entire regular season was considered by voters, whether he was a freshman or otherwise.

Against the Yellow Jackets, the freshman phenom rushed for 205 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns in a 38-20 Georgia victory. With 9:30 remaining in the game, Walker broke off a 65-yard touchdown run—his seventh run of 48 yards or more that season—and, in the process, became the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher for freshmen, breaking Tony Dorsett’s record of 1,586 yards set seven years before. The outstanding effort was Walker’s third 200-yard rushing performance in Georgia’s last four games—a Heisman-like performance that, fortunately for George Rogers, voters could not take into account because of the absurd deadline to submit ballots.

"If [the Georgia Tech] game had counted in the Heisman Trophy balloting [Walker] would have won it as a freshman," Coach Vince Dooley said at the time. "It’s a shame the Heisman voting is done so early. Here’s a back who has gained over 1,600 yards, set all kinds of records, and has played on an undefeated, No. 1-ranked team. If that’s not deserving of a Heisman Trophy, I don’t know what is."

This is what Heisman voters had to consider in 1980: South Carolina and Rogers’ regular season was completed on November 22nd. In 11 games, Rogers rushed for 1,781 yards and was instrumental in the Gamecocks achieving an 8-3 record. For Walker, his last impression for Heisman voters was an un-Herschel-like performance against Auburn on November 15th, gaining just 77 yards on 27 carries (2.9 average) against the Tigers while not even leading his own team in rushing.
Much more so than his class status, this
disallowed performance against Tech kept
freshman Herschel from the Heisman in '80.  

Personally, if I had a Heisman vote then and had to submit it prior to all of college football's regular season ending, I too probably would’ve voted for Rogers.

Following the Heisman’s presentation to Rogers, John Farrell, the chairman of the Downtown Athletic Club, said that if Walker’s performance against Tech had been considered, it probably would have made a difference in the voting, but added "we have to stick to our [ballot] deadlines." In addition, there were several newspaper articles within a few days of the trophy’s ceremony proclaiming Herschel should have won considering his final performance. A number of voters even indicated later if the voting was held after the regular season had ended for all teams, they would have voted differently.

Notably, on December 18, 1980, Walker was honored as the UPI’s NCAA Back of the Year. The freshman had 47 votes to the second-place Rogers’ 39 votes—voting that had been administered after Georgia's regular season had ended.

And, don't even get me started on the two backs' bowl performances...  Oh, well, in a 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, clinching the national championship for the Bulldogs, Herschel rushed for 150 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns against the Fighting Irish. And, here's the kicker: not only did the rest of the Georgia team have minus-23 yards of total offense, but Herschel played nearly the entire game with a separate shoulder! As for Rogers, he was held to 113 yards in a 37-9 blowout loss to Pittsburgh in the Gator Bowl.

The two bowl performances helped prove who really was deserving of the 1980 Heisman Trophy and, prior to "Johnny Football" two years ago, who should've been the very first freshman to take home the award.

History has repeatedly shown that one game can make or break an individual’s season. Evidently, one disallowed game kept Herschel from winning the most recognizable and prestigious individual award in sports on two occasions; he should've won the Heisman in 1980 before actually capturing the same award two years later.

But, as they say, should've, would've...

December 5, 2014

So It Hurts

Winning three out of four games is good
and all, except when you're supposed to
be winning more.
It has taken me several days to fully digest the disheartening loss from this past Saturday. Following the overtime setback to Tech, I heard two post-game comments which have remained in mind since the discouraging defeat. The first stated by senior cornerback Damian Swann during the post-game player interviews: 

"We aren't supposed to lose to [Tech], so it hurts."

No, Georgiaa 10.5-point favoritewasn't supposed to lose to Tech. Of course, the Bulldogs weren't supposed to lose to any of their opponents this season, entering all 12 contests thus far as the favorite. Nonetheless, Georgia has lost three gamesall three as a moderate to considerable favorite of more than 6 points.

Suspecting that it surely must be a rarity for a previous Bulldog team to have pulled the same dubious feat of losing 3+ games as a favorite of more than 6 points, I took a look back beginning when reliable point spreads first became readily available about a half-century ago. Starting in 1964, I discovered that only twice over 49 yearsmore than four decades ago in 1970, and Coach Donnan's first season of 1996did Georgia lose a trio of games in a single season as a moderate favorite or greater. However, since then, Coach Richt's last two teams have joined the underachieving couple:

-14.5 over Tulane, lost 17-14
-9.5 over Miss. State, lost 7-6
-7 over Georgia Tech, lost 17-7  

-10.5 over Southern Miss, lost 11-7
-16 over Kentucky, lost 24-17
-13.5 over Ole Miss, lost 31-27

-6.5 over Missouri, lost 41-26
-7 over Vanderbilt, lost 31-27
-9.5 over Nebraska, lost 24-19

-6.5 over South Carolina, lost 38-35
-12.5 over Florida, lost 38-20
-10.5 over Georgia Tech, lost 30-24  

The second post-game remark which resonated with me was from a Coach Richt apologist, who declared, "[Richt] wins three out of four games," and then asked, "What do people expect?"

Yes, the Richt era has achieved nearly three wins out of every four gamesa .738 career winning percentage, which ranks as the highest in UGA history of all head coaches at the helm for more than three seasons. And, that's good and all. However, when many of those losses, although resulting just once every four games, are near-inexplicable, that's not so good, nor acceptable.

What do people expect? I can tell you what I, along with I'm guessing many others in the Bulldog Nation, would not expect. And, for what it's worth, this is in no way an attempt to "pile on" the head coach as I've been accused of in the past, but, as they say, I'm just telling it like it is.

I would not expect Richt's Bulldogs to be one of the most underachieving teams in recent years compared to its success in recruiting, or a program which cannot reach the "next level" when an inferior rival has routinely done so.  Also, when compared to his three predecessors at Georgia, even the Ray Goff regime, I would not expect Richt's teams to have inferior results when it comes to 4th-quarter comebacks, coming off bye weeks, playing at their opponents' stadiums, kickoff and punt coverage, when indicators have pointed to positive results for others, or producing the worst five-season run at Georgia in yearsand all of the above is what has been identified just in the last year.

You can now add to the list dropping three games you were supposed to win somewhat comfortably in each of the last two seasons after the program had rarely done so during the half-century before.

So, as Swann suggested, it indeed hurts, when what is supposed to be happening is not, but rather what wouldn't be expected is unfortunately occurring.

November 28, 2014

"Strong Legs" for "Weak Legs"

The '63 Bullpups-Baby Jackets affair was played
in front of 40,000 despite a driving rain, but what
mattered most was the day prior to the game.
Celebrating Thanksgiving with family, I was asked about the one-time UGA football tradition occurring annually on the holidaythe Scottish Rite Charity Game.

Held on most Thanksgivings beginning in 1933 and for the next 60 years, the game at Grant Field pitted UGA's Bullpups against Tech's Baby Jackets. The event, whose motto was "strong legs will run so that weak legs may walk," raised funds for handicap children at Atlanta's Scottish Rite Hospital.

In 1972, the NCAA allowed freshmen to be eligible for varsity play, changing the landscape of college football. Quality newcomers were suddenly playing, for example, for the "Bulldogs" and "Yellow Jackets" instead of for the "Bullpups" and "Baby Jackets," while the schools then featured "junior varsity" instead of "freshmen" teams.

I've been fortunate to interview many Georgia football players over the years. And, I've noticed that Bulldogs who were freshmen prior to 1972 often mention the Scottish Rite gamecertainly, more so than the "junior varsity" players from 1972 until the secondary program disbanded in the early-90s.

My favorite account of the Scottish Rite charity event is from Kirby Moorea Bullpup in 1963, redshirted the following season, and would become a legendary quarterback on the Georgia varsity from 1965-1967. Moore was a Bullpup during a 15-year lowly era of Bulldogs' varsity football when the freshmen gave hope for the futureoptimistic for a quality varsity programwhile the Bullpups-Baby Jackets was recognized as "one of the oldest" and "the most publicized" freshman rivalry.  

"Before they got rid of freshman and junior varsity teams about 20 years ago, the Georgia-Georgia Tech freshman football game...was a really good thing,” Moore informed me in an interview.  

From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, there were a couple of occasions when the Bullpups-Baby Jackets game actually attracted more spectators than the varsity game a couple of days later. "All I remember about the one I played in was that it was in front of more than 40,000 spectators and it rained the entire time," Moore said, then curiously added, "That’s it. I don’t even recall who won the game; however, I distinctly remember the day before the game."

It was an annual tradition the day before the game for both the Georgia and Georgia Tech teams to tour the hospital, visiting with its sick and handicapped children. Some of the children welcomed the players, for example, by wearing their jersey numbers, displaying a player’s initials on a cap, or already knowing the players’ names. Seemingly, all of the children simply wanted to meet and talk with real live Georgia and Georgia Tech football players.

"I walked out of that hospital with tears in my eyes while some big linemen were actually bawling," Moore said. "I decided then and there that if those sick kids can endure what they had to suffer through, then it would never get too tough for me."

Moore said visiting the hospital was the best thing ever to happen to him while at UGA"the moment of my life."

"That visit taught me that some of us think that life is so toughbelieve me, I’ve gotten to some points in my life when I was really, really lowhowever, all you have to do is to put things in perspective by just looking around at those who really have it tough."

During a time when I'm especially thankful for many, many things, I responded to my family's inquiry regarding the one-time Thanksgiving event, when strong legs ran so weak legs could walk, with the account of Kirby Moore: look around at those who really have it tough, and realize it should never get too tough for most of us.

November 25, 2014

Most Efficient, Yet Maybe Missing Out

MASON--not Tarkenton, Zeier, Greene, 
Murray, etc.--has quarterbacked the most
efficient UGA scoring offense since the mid-40s.
Looking through the NCAA's updated team football statistics yesterday, I discovered Georgia currently leads the FBS in a telling, yet uncalculated statistic--to find, one we stat geeks actually have to figure out on our own.

I've been blogging about the YPP, or yards per point, statistic nearly since I started this blog.

Offensively, measuring the "efficiency" of a team's scoring, points scored are divided into total yards gained to figure its Offensive YPP. The lower the Offensive YPP, the better, and currently, the Bulldogs evidently have the most efficient scoring offense in the nation (record in parenthesis):

1) Georgia (9-2), 10.7
2) LA Tech (7-4), 11.1
3) Ohio State (10-1), 11.55
4) North Texas (4-7), 11.62
5) Baylor (9-1), 11.69
6) Michigan State (9-2), 11.718
7) Oregon (10-1), 11.724
8) TCU (9-1), 11.80
9) Temple (5-5), 11.83
10) Kansas State (8-2), 11.9

What's more, over the last 73 years since the 1941 season, Georgia's 10.7 Offensive YPP currently ranks as the second-highest in school history:

10.6- 1946 (10-0)
10.7- 2014 (9-2)
11.5- 2007 (11-2)
11.6- 1971 (10-1)
11.7- 1948 (9-1)
12.0- 2002 (13-1)

As far as Defensive YPP, this is a measurement the Bulldogs have, you could say, "struggled in" the last several years. Contrary to Offensive YPP, Defensive YPP measures the "efficiency" of a team's scoring defense and is figured by points allowed being divided into total yards yielded. The higher the better, while it's been shown, at least in the SEC, the teams with the better Defensive YPPs are usually contending for, if not capturing a conference championship.  Of the six FBS teams currently with a Defensive YPP of higher than 19.5, three--Alabama, Miss. State, and Ole Miss--are from the SEC.

Georgia's Defensive YPP of 15.8 currently ranks just 9th in the conference; however, it's slotted 43rd of the 125 FBS teams, or in the top 35 percent nationwide.  What's more, Georgia's current 15.8 mark is second highest of the last seven Bulldog teams beginning in 2008, and third-best of the last nine Georgia teams beginning in 2006: 

15.8- 2014 (9-2)
12.9- 2013 (8-5)
18.2- 2012 (12-2)
13.5- 2011 (10-4)
14.9- 2010 (6-7)
13.1- 2009 (8-5)
12.7- 2008 (10-3)
16.0- 2007 (11-2)
14.7- 2006 (9-4)

Here's where it could become real puzzling: although the Bulldogs have the most efficient scoring offense in the nation--the most efficient at Georgia in the last 68 years--and one of the program's most efficient scoring defenses since defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder left town a decade ago, the 2014 Bulldog squad is actually not very efficient, suffering a couple of "bad" losses amidst primarily easy victories.  And, unless Missouri finally loses this Friday, the "efficient" Bulldogs, as was the case in 2007, will miss out again on a trip to the Georgia Dome in one-and-a-half weeks.

Go figure.

November 22, 2014

The Dogs' Feast of the Harvest

On the day Georgia hosts its annual FCS sacrificial lamb, I take a look back at what has to be one of the most unusual, yet intriguing road trips for a Bulldogs' football squad in the last half-century: Georgia's Harvest Bowl appearance coming curiously at the "home" of an eventual Division I-AA/FCS program.

The Harvest Bowl, or Harvest Festival, held annually at Victory Stadium in Roanoke from 1958 to 1969, was a regular-season game and fundraiser for the city's Junior League. Notably, the game's acclaimed halftime show was filled with bugle corps and drill platoons.

"From what I recall, it was a really special weekend for that area in Virginia," Ronnie Jenkins informed me the other day from the trucking company he owns in Millen, GA. Lettering at UGA from 1965-1967, Jenkins remains the school record-holder for most career rushing yards by a fullback (1,641).

Six of the first eight Harvest Bowls pitted Virginia Tech versus Virginia; the others countered Virginia Tech against William & Mary in 1959, and the Hokies versus Wake Forest in 1965.  Therefore, when Georgia ventured to face the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) for a night game in late September of 1966, it was certainly a first-of-its-kind match-up for the "bowl," and technically considered a "neutral-sited" game although Victory Stadium was located only 55 miles from the VMI campus.   

Victory Stadium, which would stop hosting college games just three years later in 1969 and be completely demolished in 2006, was not the most ideal venue for the visitors. Of the stadium's 27,000 seats, only 15,000 were filled for the Georgia-VMI game, which remains to date the lowest attended UGA football game since the school began releasing complete attendance records 70 years ago beginning in 1954. "And, the field was painted green from one end to the other [to hide damaged grass]," Jenkins added. "After the game, our white pants had so much paint all over them, they wound up just getting the team new pants."

At the night-time Harvest Bowl of 1966, the VMI
cadets cheer on their Keydets as they enter the
field against Georgia at Victory Stadium.
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Bulldogs stalled in VMI territory. Forcing the Keydets to punt, sophomore Kent Lawrence then fumbled on the return and VMI recovered inside Georgia's 20-yard line.  Seven plays later, the FCS-like Keydets reached the end zone and led the heavily-favored Bulldogs, 7-0.

"At first, Coach Dooley had a fit; I guess we were not that motivated because of who we were playing," Jenkins claimed. "But, we soon got it going." 

Soon, like on the ensuing kickoff, when Lawrence redeemed himself with an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Soon after Lawrence had tied the game, the Bulldog offense began noticing a near-flaw in the VMI defense in the form of an overzealous nose tackle.

"The biggest thing I remember about the Harvest Bowl was their guy lined up across from our center, Jack Davis," Jenkins said. "He'd take a fist to Jack's helmet (head slap) upon the snap of the ball back when you could get away with doing that, especially when you played in the middle of line [somewhat hidden from officials]."

The overexerting--although minor--defender, plus his slight hesitation in reacting following his head slap, caused the Georgia offense to change its game plan to a small degree.  "So, we decided to run right at [the nose tackle]," Jenkins said.  "We were able to wear him down physically."

Due in large part to simple up-the-middle
dives & plunges by Jenkins (No. 44),
UGA feasted on VMI at the "Harvest."
The Bulldogs began pounding the ball with Jenkins, and the junior fullback ran right at the head-slapping Keydet, and usually by him for chunks of yardage. Jenkins, who would finish the season leading the SEC champion Bulldogs in rushing with 669 yards, ended the Harvest Bowl with 133 of his season total--the most rushing yards by any Bulldog in a single game during the 1966 regular season. Jenkins' 26 carries against the Keydets were nearly three times as many as the teammate with the second-most (QB Kirby Moore, nine), and would be the most by a Bulldog in a single game for the entire campaign.

Late in the fourth quarter, Georgia had built a 36-7 lead over the hapless host. The Bulldogs possessed the ball on the VMI 1-yard line with 53 seconds remaining. There was only one play appropriate to call, and it came--Jenkins again trucking up the middle, falling into the end zone for a touchdown, and capping a Most-Valuable-Player performance in the Harvest Bowl.

"They even gave me a little trophy," said MVP Jenkins of the Harvest Bowl committee following the Bulldogs' 43-7 win in Roanoke.

Forty-eight years later, knowing he had experienced some health issues back in March, I concluded my chat with Ronnie Jenkins by asking if he was currently doing well.

"Much better than before. Back on my feet, and back working hard at my trucking company," appropriately declared the one-time Bulldog battering ram known for trucking over the opposition.

November 13, 2014

GEORGIA-AUBURN: A Tremendous Transformation (for the most part)

Evidently a photo of the 1892 Georgia-Auburn
game, which pitted doctors against one another.
Initially posted a couple of years ago, an updated/edited piece of mine regarding the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry:

Saturday's game between Georgia and Auburn marks the 118th meeting in the 122 years of Georgia versus Auburn. In 1892, the schools faced off for the first time opposing a couple of doctors against one another as head coaches (Dr. Charles Herty of Georgia, Dr. George Petrie of Auburn). It was only Georgia's second game ever in its brief football history, and  Auburn's first. Other commonly known details from the initial meeting include the game was played at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, while the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama would unfortunately be victorious, 10-0.  

The game in 1892 also featured a football field 110 yards long, only three downs, no passing allowed, and the play resembled more of a rugby-like scrum than what we commonly know today as football. Divided into only two halves, games were much shorter back then, as well.  The meeting at Piedmont Park, for example, started at 3:30 PM and ended just past 5:00 PM.

Most notably for many UGA followers, the team was represented by a goat as a mascot. As for Auburn, legend has it an eagle broke loose from a faculty member during the game, circled the field, eventually fell to the ground dead, and thus the "War Eagle" battle cry.

Notwithstanding, there are several details of the 1892 Georgia-Auburn affair which are unfamiliar to mostsome remaining hardly spoken perhaps by design. Still, such details undoubtedly indicate the rivalry has come a long way in more than 120 years.
Sketch of first mascots: 
Sir William and Dabble 

It was said that "thousands of men, women, and children flocked to Piedmont Park" in "vast armies" for an estimated game attendance of 3,000 spectators. Plus, a grandstand was erected at the field to hold 10,000 people, and organizers expected nearly every seat to be filled. However, bad weather of dark clouds and a steady rain kept a few people awaylike merely 70 percent of what was expectedand the thousands of dollars of anticipated gate receipts resulted in only $800.  

What would be unheard of today, 150 Georgia Tech students were not only part of the attendance, but actually rooted for Georgia while wearing their neighbor's school colors of "black and crimson." Not surprising, however, during the game the Techies began loudly and curiously singing, "I love codfish, I love codfish, I love codfish balls." Although Tech students nowadays wouldn't be caught dead at a Georgia game (they hardly go to their own team's games), they evidently were as strange and as big of nerds back then as they are today: codfish balls? Really?

As mentioned, Georgia trotted out its acclaimed goat, Sir William owned by Bob Gantt, who was greeted with shouts of "Shoot the Billy goat!" from the Auburn faithful. Actually, prior to the contest, it had been strongly suggested (you can read at my UGA Nickname & Mascot History page) that 79-year-old "Old Tub," a blind black man, be the school's mascot for the game instead of a goat.

On the other hand, Auburn did indeed feature an African American as its mascot for the meeting in Atlanta. Before any tiger, eagle, or cry of "War Eagle," the school had Dabble, "the negro boy," who was greeted with cries of "And take the negro out!" from the Red and Black rooters. But Dabble, as it was reported, ignored the shouts and "walked on calmly...across the field to his place near the judges' stand." You go Dabble!

Over the span of 122 years, things have certainly been transformed in the Georgia-Auburn rivalry, the sport of football in general, and in our nation's Deep South, and thank goodness for those changes.

However, in my research of the series' first game, I discovered a few details which indicate other aspects of the Georgia-Auburn rivalry have actually changed very little since 1892.
How things have changed...  From shouts
of  And take the negro out! at the first 
Georgia-Auburn game to having a black 
man as President of the United States.

Over the years, we've all known the die-hard UGA football eternal optimists; some of us may be one of them. The very first of these assured individuals was quoted just prior to his team's 10-0 setback: "Why, our Athens men can beat anything on earth playing football," declared an old gray-haired man from Athens. "We can beat Yale, Harvard, Princeton or what not, and I'd bet my last nickel on it!"

Auburn halfback Rufus "Dutch" Dorsey, a Georgia native, scored the game's first touchdown (thus, tallying the Auburn program's first-ever points) on a rush from less than a yard out, and then followed it up with another touchdown covering 40 yards. After the game, a disgruntled Red and Black player proclaimed to the Auburn team, "Well, you Alabama folks can't crow over Georgia, for you owe your victory to a Georgia boy." Unfortunately for us UGA fans, a Georgia boy playing for Auburn and being an integral part of a victory over our team would become a recurring trend during the long-standing rivalry.

Finally, leading up to the game, there was some controversy brewing in regards to Auburn's practice sessions: "They say Auburn has had a professional training their men down there," declared a newspaper.  Therefore, long ago using a professional trainer, recently featuring a professional-like, 180,000-dollar pay-to-play quarterback, and several others utilized in between, Auburn just can't help itself from cheating throughout the long history of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.

November 6, 2014

The Legendary Trick on a Trip to Lexington

Following one of Georgia's most embarrassing losses in history last week in Jacksonville, I thought it was appropriate to discuss perhaps the most embarrassing incident in Bulldog football history, resulting on a trip to Lexington, KYembarrassing, that is, for UGA officials way back then, but an entertaining, mysterious story still celebrated by some of those who remember its details.

I told the story a year ago, but considering it's the event's 40th anniversary and the current edition of Bulldogs will soon board a plane bound for Lexington, I find it fitting to post the legendary account again with a tad bit of updating.

As the story goes, upon the Bulldogs' charter flight landing at Lexington's Blue Grass Field the night before the 1974 Georgia-Kentucky game, the team was 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 UGA football book. Harris, a three-year starter at Will linebacker, was the team's overall captain in 1974. "Here, I was thinking what a great escort we were getting at the airport," he added with a laugh. 

"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 demanding for the culprit to come forward. No one did.  Upon arrival,  the plane was boarded by FBI agents, the 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 an 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!" said Steve Davis, who admits to having some disciplinary problems while a quarterback-turned-wide receiver at Georgia during the mid-1970s, including getting kicked off the team for the entire 1973 season. "It was an 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."

Prior to their clash vs. Kentucky at Common-
wealth Stadium 40 years ago, the Bulldogs
confronted the FBI en route to Lexington.
Inside the room, it was eventually revealed by an individual, who seemingly was the head of the FBI agents, that the player who wrote the threat was a "real dumbass."  As Copas had indicated, "airplane" was apparently 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 to defeat an upset-minded Kentucky team, 24-20. A fourth-quarter touchdown run by King provided the winning margin, while a late forced fumble by Harris clinched the four-point victory. 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," Davis said with a chuckle.

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, claimed, "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 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 perform handwriting analysis," Davis said, "but the FBI never came."

"Whoever did it, they did nothing real damaging," King said. "However, the bomb threat was just another distractionone of the number of hiccupswe encountered that kept that '74 team from reaching its full potential." Preseason ranked 11th in the nation by GamePlan magazine, the Bulldogs would finish with a lowly 6-6 record following a 5-2 start. 

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

It is said that a "higher up" at the time with the UGA football program, who will remain nameless, demanded in regards to whoever did it, "I want his ass!" Whereas another official in the athletic departmentan even higher higher upwould say the 1974 team consisted of some "thugs," and the bomb-threat incident was primary evidence for the derogatory label.  

As I indicated a year ago, the wrongdoer has yet to be discovered after 40 years, but his identity still is often the talk amongst his old teammateseach seemingly having a different opinion of "who done it." And, although the devilish deed of the so-called "thug" was embarrassing to some, it remains the greatest prank ever pulled off in UGA football history to others. 

October 31, 2014

Dawgs Up to Same Old Tricks

Four weeks ago, Gurley became the latest in 
a long line of Dawgs to perform an old trick.
Earlier this week, seeing that Arkansas is now promoting Sebastian Tretola for the Heisman Trophy after the giant Razorback lineman passed for a touchdown against UAB, while hearing that the Bulldogs' one-time Heisman Trophy candidate (whose last game featured a trick pass of his own) will unfortunately miss the Florida game, I recalled a "Cocktail Party" story few Bulldog enthusiasts are aware of, involving an uncommon play which has prominently been showcased in UGA football lore for decades, especially down in Jacksonville against the despised Gators.

Nearly 40 years before tailback Todd Gurley completed a 50-yard pass to Jeb Blazevich against Vanderbilt this season, there occurred the most acclaimed trick pass play, or a pass thrown by someone besides the quarterback, in Georgia football history. 

You're likely familiar with the famous "Appleby to Washington" playthe 80-yard end-around touchdown pass from tight end Richard Appleby to Gene Washington, resulting late in the 1975 Florida game as the Bulldogs trailed the Gators, 7 to 3.  However, one of the greatest plays in the annals of Bulldog football perhaps wouldn't have even been called in the huddle if not for a rain-soaked Gator Bowl field that day.

Much earlier in the game before the famous trick touchdown resulted, Georgia trailed Florida 7-0 midway through the second quarter.  With the Bulldogs facing 3rd-and-6 at the Gators' 31-yard line, the "Appleby to Washington" trick play was called for the first time in the contest, except rather than Appleby passing, it was designed for another tight endjunior Steve Davis, who had been a highly-recruited quarterback out of high schoolto do the throwing.

"It was the exact play Richard would run, except instead of running left to right, I took the handoff from [quarterback] Matt [Robinson], running from my right to left," Davis informed me when I interviewed him for my latest book on UGA football. "It had rained really hard leading up to the game and seemingly stopped right before kickoff.  So, and this is also how the play differed from Richard's, when I planted to throw the ball to Geno (Gene Washington), I slipped down on the wet field, losing about four or five yards."

Davis admits his failed end-around pass was kind of embarrassing, but he quickly got over it, adding, "Think about it, if I'd completed the pass, or maybe even gotten a throw off before slipping, there's likely no 'Appleby-to-Washington' to win the game."

A year later in his final game as a Bulldog, Davis would finally get his chance to get off a trick pass.  Against Pittsburgh in the Sugar Bowl, running the same Appleby-to-Washington-type play, Davis threw a bomb that according to ABC-TV announcer Keith Jackson was "right on the money." However, instead of Washington catching it for a touchdown, he let the ball slip through his hands in an eventual 27-3 loss.

The trick pass play has been around at Georgia essentially since the departure of legendary Charley Trippi. With the exit of Trippi, who averaged 11 pass attempts per game as a senior in 1946 from his halfback position in Georgia's T-formation, the Bulldogs' offense instantly changed forever, where the only position primarily designed to throw the football was the quarterback.  Going forward, a pass from anyone else was considered rather uniquea trick pass.

If no rain-soaked Gator Bowl field in 1975, may-
be no Appleby-to-Washington to defeat Florida.
From what I gathered, following the transformation of Georgia's offensive strategy, halfback John Donaldson executed the program's first notable trick pass playa 40-yard completion early in the 1947 season.  While it's said you can't teach an old dog new tricks, Donaldson's pass thus began a trend of many a Dog pulling what is now an old trick.  

Against Florida in 1959, eventual-Pro Bowl punter Bobby Walden, who was also a standout halfback at Georgia, completed the Bulldogs' first trick pass for a touchdowna 14-yard halfback toss to Gordon Kelley executed as an icy rain fell in Jacksonville during a 21-10 win by the Bulldogs en route to an SEC championship.

With Coach Vince Dooley's arrival in 1964, Georgia fans for the next quarter-century got used to what was regarded as a conservative offense. However, as cautious as the Bulldog offense operated under Dooley, it routinely had a surprise for opposing defenses, especially in the form of a pass.

Playing for a newly-integrated program while ironically head-coached by the aforementioned Donaldson, running back Horace Kingone of the first five black players to sign with Georgiawas responsible for the first points in the first game of the Georgia freshman team's 1971 season by throwing a 38-yard touchdown on a halfback pass to Jerry Paul against Clemson.  In the 33-3 victory by the Bullpups over the Cubs, King also added 143 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Early the following season on the same afternoon he became the first African American to score a touchdown in UGA varsity football history, King completed a 25-yard pass in a victory over NC Statea "halfback pass [which] really hurt," according to Wolfpack head coach, Lou Holtz.  In the opening game of his senior campaign against Oregon State, King threw a 28-yard touchdown to Butch Box.

Of the more than 50 Bulldogs beginning in the 1940s to the present to pass for more than 100 yards for a career, King (119 passing yards) remains the only one not to play the quarterback position. Including his freshman season with the Bullpups, he remarkably threw for 157 yards on 15 pass attempts and two touchdowns while at Georgia from 1971 to 1974.

A few years after King and then Appleby-to-Washington, receiver Amp Arnold became the next Bulldog to pull off a successful trick pass play for a score, and against the Gators, no less. In Jacksonville in 1978, Arnold's 44-yard touchdown pass to Lindsay Scott was the difference in a 24-22 Georgia win. 

Notably, the trick pass play isn't for everyone, not even the greatest Bulldog player of them all.  Tailback Herschel Walker was 0 for 2 passing while at Georgia, first attempting what looked like a wounded duck against Notre Dame in the 1981 Sugar Bowl followed by throwing an interception against Kentucky the next season.

During the Jim Donnan regime, running back Patrick Pass was indeed a threat to pass, going to the air in three of his four seasons (1996-1999), totaling 86 yards on 3 of 5 passing.  Besides Pass and other offensive players, the head coach added a wrinkle to the trick pass by also implementing it on special teams as early as his first season at Georgia.
Attempting a halfback pass against the
Auburn freshman team in '71 is Horace

Kingking of the trick pass play at UGA.

During the 1996 season at Mississippi State, punter Dax Langley lofted a 38-yard completion which was described as "wobbly," and one which seemed to hang in the air "forever"so much that his teammate on the receiving end, Hines Ward, was quickly tackled from behind inside the opposing 10-yard line after having to literally stand and wait on the toss to arrive to him.

"My pass might not have been pretty, but it was better looking than the sight of Hines getting caught from behind," Langley joked when I interviewed him for the same book. To date, Langley's trickery remains the only time in the last half-century a Georgia punter has completed a pass attempt.

During the same game in Starkville and a year removed from playing quarterback, Ward threw a 19-yard touchdown to Larry Brown on a receiver-reverse.  A season later in 1997 against Florida, it was Ward-to-Brown again for nearly 30 yards on the opening drive of the monumental 37-17 upset over the Gators.

In 2005 against Florida, quarterback Joe Tereshinski, who was filling in for an injured D.J. Shockley, made an unforgettable leaping touchdown catch of a 9-yard halfback pass from tailback Thomas Brown (during a forgettable passing performance by Tereshinski, ending in a heart-breaking 14-10 loss).  

Finally, the history of Georgia's trick pass play wouldn't be complete without mentioning the only Bulldog to complete more than one trick pass for a touchdown in varsity actiontailback Tim Worley. During his run for the Heisman Trophy in 1988, Worley attempted three halfback passes, the last of which fell incomplete against Florida. Nevertheless, the Worley-led Bulldogs walloped the Gators that afternoon, 26 to 3, while the star tailback's misfire followed a 9-yard scoring pass from him to Troy Sadowski against TCU earlier that season and a 27-yard touchdown toss to John Thomas versus Ole Miss. 

Upon completion of the Florida game and until the tail end of the season, Worley remained a legitimate contender for the Heismana campaign which had been established when his trick-passing prowess, like Arkansas' Tretola 26 years later, caught the nation's attention in October.

Like Worley, Gurley, the other aforementioned, and the additional notable tricksters below, the next player to join the distinguished list of trick-pass-play Dawgs is anyone's guesssurprise!
  • 1967 vs. Georgia Tech: the great Jake Scott, positioned at holder, throws incomplete off a fake field goal.
  • 1978 vs. Kentucky: tailback Willie McClendon 33-yard completion to Amp Arnold during a furious rally to defeat the Wildcats 17-16 after trailing, 16-0.  
  • 1989 vs. South Carolina: fullback Brian Cleveland 30-yard completion.
  • 1990 vs. Alabama: tailback Larry Ware two-point conversion pass to Chris Broom, cutting the Tide's lead to 16-14, which allowed Georgia to later win the game with a field goal.
  • 1994 vs. Georgia Tech: freshman running back Hines Ward throws incomplete on his first collegiate pass attempt; however, it makes for good practice as Ward would close the following season as Georgia's starting quarterback.
  • 1997 vs. Tennessee: holder Drew Cronic completes a 21-yarder to Patrick Pass off a fake field goal; nevertheless, the Bulldogs had been faced with 4th down and no less than 26 yards to go.  
  • 1998 vs. Georgia Tech: receiver Michael Greer completes a 68-yarder to Larry Brown for a touchdown; the play remains the last Georgia trick pass to cover more than 50 yards.
  • 2003 vs. Auburn: receiver Michael Johnson throws a 40-yard completion to Fred Gibson on an apparent reverse; Johnson catches a 19-yard touchdown from David Greene on the very next play.  
  • 2012 vs. Alabama: tight end Arthur Lynch, playing the protector position in punt formation, completes a 16-yard trick pass in the SEC title game to cornerback Sanders Commings, who was positioned as a lineman.
  • 2013 vs. North Texas: it was Lynch on the receiving end of a 42-yard completion from Rantavious Wootenlikely satisfaction for the fifth-year senior receiver who had misfired on a trick pass attempt the year before.