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September 26, 2014

When "Great" Wasn't So Much...

It has been recognized as the "Miracle on 
Tartan"a "great" play in UGA football his- 
tory that actually wasn't too great for the Dogs.
For what it's worth, I recently got some potentially good news: the publisher of my book The 50 Greatest Plays in Georgia Bulldogs Football History is thinking about printing an updated edition for next fall. The new version will be in paperback, include more diagrammed plays, and they hope in the what-would-be seven seasons since the initial release, there has been a few new plays which could be replacements for my original top 50 released prior to the 2008 season.

At this time, honestly, only one play comes to mind involving Georgia over the last 6+ seasons worthy to be included in a new top 50, and that was a play that actually went against the Bulldogsthat darn "Immaculate Deflection" resulting on the Plains last year at Auburn.

You see, according to my publisher, a listing of 50 all-time greatest plays should include "four to six plays" which might have been "great," but rather for the opposing teamto which I agree.  However, it kind of stinks when you cannot think of at least one great play executed by the Bulldogs to offset the one that went against them.

I started to look through my book to identify which of the four original great plays for the opposition I would need to throw out to be replaced by Auburn's game-winning touchdown pass (because if you say "four to six" great plays not in Georgia's favor, I'm identifying four, and only four):

#46 The Timeout: Disputed timeout called by Florida negates Georgia’s potential game-winning score (1993)
#38 Trapped on the Tartan Turf: Tennessee’s game-tying touchdown catch on fourth down in ’68 is later declared an incomplete pass
#31 Bulldogs’ Sugar Turns Sour: Dan Marino throws a 33-yard score on fourth down in the final minute to defeat Georgia in ’82 Sugar Bowl
#19 Sanks’ Phantom Fumble: An erroneous ruling arises as Georgia is driving for winning score against Tech in ’99

Because of who the Bulldogs face this week, coupled with the fact that besides the Sanks fumble against Tech, it's the only other play of the four later proven it actually should not have counted, Tennessee's game-tying touchdown trapped on its Tartan Turf against Georgia in 1968 first caught my eye.  Besides in my book, I detailed a little over a year ago the erroneous Tennessee touchdown as one of the "worst calls"good and badin UGA football history.  Notably, in my latest book on UGA football, Jim McCulloughGeorgia's placekicker in 1968stated, "Against Tennessee, we felt like a win was stolen from us and a tie was handed to the Volunteers."

To get more perspectivea sideline perspectiveon the '68 Georgia-Tennessee game, which ended in a 17-17 tie, and the Volunteers' mistaken touchdown, this week I reached out to Charley Whittemorethe Bulldogs' starting split end and leading receiver that season. 

Charley first brought up Tennesse's playing surface at the timenewly-laid Tartan Turfa controversy in its own right which would ironically aid in the scoring of the controversial touchdown. 

"It was like a brillo pad," Whittemore said of the Tartan Turf.  "Because of that surface's abrasiveness, plus the heat and humidity of the game, staph infection would go through the team that year.  I don't know if the turf was the real cause of everyone having staph, but that's what we blamed it on." 

With only 2:41 left in the game, and Georgia leading 17 to 9, Tennessee had possession at its own 20-yard line.  "I was standing on the sideline, and just like everyone else, I thought we had already won the ballgame," Whittemore admitted.

Tennessee quarterback Bubba Wyche began moving the Volunteers towards the Bulldogs’ goal. Tennessee faced a second and goal on Georgia’s 4-yard line with approximately 30 seconds remaining but successive eight-yard sacks by Billy Payne and Bill Stanfill, respectively, pushed the Volunteers back to the 20-yard line.

Tennessee faced fourth and goal with enough time remaining to run just one play, but then, it happened. Wyche dropped back in the pocket, set himself, and fired a pass over the middle to Gary Kreis. Just as Kreis tried to make the catch near Georgia’s goal line, cornerback Penny Pennington hit the receiver, evidently jarring the ball loose. Kreis rolled into the end zone and in the process, gained possession of the football. To Georgia’s disbelief, officials ruled a Tennessee touchdown. With time expired and trailing by two points, Wyche passed to tight end Ken DeLong for the conversion to end the game in a 17-17 tie.

"What I really remember about that game is Tennessee entered ranked [9th in the nation]we weren'tand they were a substantial [7-point] favorite," Whittemore recalled.  "But, when the game ended in the tie, we were really upset, while they were all happyecstaticabout the tie.  It should have been the reverse."

Two days later, reports were disclosed that Kreis had actually trapped the football as he rolled over Georgia’s goal line. Members of the media examined game film and concluded that Wyche’s pass definitely bounced from Kreis’ hands to the turf and then bounced off the hard surface directly back into his arms as he rolled into the end zone. Evidently, as Pennington and Kreis rolled over the goal line, the receiver was still trying to gain possession.

"Whether [Kreis] caught it or not, it's historythey scored on us," Whittemore said.  "That was the way it was back thenofficials made bad calls all the time. Bad callsyou lived with them; they were part of football."

Whittemore's head coach agreed.  When UGA was asked to comment on the media's findings the next week, only Vince Dooley responded, and it was certainly short and to the point: "You don't win football games on Sunday."

The Bulldogs would find some solace of sorts seven weeks later in Athens, when outgained by the Houston Cougars 532 to 276 in total yardage, Georgia somehow came away with a 10 to 10 tie. “Unlike at Tennessee, against Houston, we celebrated after that tie like we had won!" McCullough informed me.  "When you allow an opponent to move up and down the field all day and they score only 10 points, you’ve accomplished something."

With the Redcoats in the background, UGA and 
UT face off in '68, while on the verge of being 
part of perhaps one of the most controversial 
TDs in college football  history. 
Ultimately, Georgia would come out on top, finishing the regular season undefeated and as SEC champions. Despite a loss to Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, the Bulldogs were declared national champions at season's end by the Litkenhous ratings.

Reflecting upon the 1968 season and Georgia's tie against Tennessee, followed by the second draw coming against Houston, Whittemore stated, "sometimes you don't have things go your way, but sometimes you do..."

And, just as I was about to point out how the Bulldogs recently, seemingly have things or game-deciding playsgreat plays—always not go their way, Charley continued...

"Like last year, we maybe should've beaten Auburn, but if not for a fumble by Tennessee ("Pig" Howard) in overtime, we might have lost to them too, but it was the other way aroundwe beat Tennessee."

I want to thank Coach Whittemore for giving his account of when a "great" play wasn't so much, but also reminding me of one that actually resulted in Georgia's favor during the last several years; here's to a couple more great plays resulting in 2014. Moreover, I appreciate being reminded that sometimes we tend to focus on when things don't go our way, and neglect to recognize all the times when they do.  

September 19, 2014

Blue, A True Bull-dawg

James Brown and Bluetwo fixtures of UGA 
football during the mid-to-late '70sat the 
team's walk through for the '76 Cotton Bowl.
Ever had a very likable friend that, simply put, just made it happen?  He or she always seemed around, everyone enjoyed their presence, and if something needed to be obtained or achievedlike finding a ticket to a certain game or concert, or gaining access to some VIP areahe/she somehow always found a way to get it done.

Many members of Georgia's football teams of the mid-to-late 1970s had such a frienda guy I first became familiar with at last year's Letterman's BBQas former players spoke of him with the admiration similarly to that of an All-American teammate.

His real name was Gene, but he went by his nickname, "Blue."  And, at the BBQ it seemed like every Bulldog who played from about 1974 through 1978 wondered what ole Blue was currently up todid anyone know his whereabouts?

Interestingly, Blue was not a Bulldog player, nor was he a trainer, manager, cheerleader, etc.  He was just ole Bluethe greatest "team follower" in the history of UGA football. 

Blue was not even a native of the area, growing up about 700 miles away from Athens. He was in the Navy fresh out of high school and stationed in South Carolina when his fondness of the Georgia football program began.  It all started when he wanted to see a friend from homea Bulldog player during the mid-70sso he ventured to Athens for merely a visit, but returned intrigued with Georgia football, and it intrigued with him. 

Every chance Blue got to visit his hometown friend, and all of his Georgia teammates, he did so, leaving his Navy base in South Carolina and venturing west for the weekend.  And, he never missed a home game.

I was told, it was the day following a particular home affair when Blue was where he always was the day after a Bulldogs' game: at the Coliseum saying "good bye" to the players before their Sunday meetings, and before he was to return to base. As Blue walked away towards his carthe familiar white Pinto station wagon with wood panelingCoach Dooley walked up to a group of waving players. Some will tell you that Coach Dooley wasn't even familiar with every member of his own team, but he was certainly familiar with Blue.

"Who is that guy?"  Dooley asked the group of players.  "I see him everywhere!"

"The guy was like dog sh-- after the snow meltseverywherethe bus, the locker room, you name it," a former player said of Blue.  "I think even Coach Dooley quietly accepted Blue’s presence.  He was so much part of the team, I wouldn't be surprised if our trainers wrapped Blue’s ankle before games."

It has been said Blue first became "part" of the team by carrying a star player's shoulder pads on the bus for him.  For the next few years, those same shoulder pads would be brought onto the team bus by Blue, and there he'd sit with the team as the only individual on the entire bus not actually associated with the team.

Notably, it was on one of the team buses following a big victory when some alumni approached from outside, calling through the open windows, ready to hand out some "$50 handshakes."  Blue thought, what the heck?, and stuck his arm out a bus window.  Just like the standout players were handed, he too received $50 for a job well done.

Blue was one of those people who quickly made friends with seemingly everyoneplayers, cheerleaders, and even coaches.  He was innovative, as well, creating the "Shag Rag"the name "SHAG" and jersey No. "80" on a towelfor wide receiver Steve "Shag" Davis, marking what I believe to be the first personalized equipment accessory in UGA football history.  At the 1976 Cotton Bowl, while the Georgia players, coaches, and their wives attended the pregame galas during the weekget thisBlue babysat the kids of an assistant coach.  On the return flight home, Blue got to fly on the chartered plane carrying UGA President Fred Davison and the Georgia cheerleaders, assuredly saying "Go Dogs!" all the way home.

From the "Shag Rag" to "DAWGS," Blue
was innovative among having many 
other quality traits.
And, who could forget the way Blue would say, "Go Dogs!"  With his Mid-Atlantic accent, he would prolong "Dogs," mimicking a southern drawl, sounding more like "D-awwwww-gs."

A year later, after the team landed in New Orleans for the 1977 Sugar Bowl, and boarded a bus headed for the Hyatt Regency, they heard a car horn blowing while en route to the hotel. Pulling up next to the bus was, you guessed it, the familiar white Pinto station wagon with wood paneling, bearing a sign cheering on the team. Blue had driven all the way from his Navy base to New Orleans, arriving at the exact same time the team bus had gotten onto the highway headed to the hotel.  

Appropriately, Blue would not only follow the bus to the Hyatt Regency, but he would sleep there, as well, staying with two players.  Later on, those two players brought a couple of girls back to the room, after which Blue soon spotted the girlfriend of one of the player's in the lobby.  It was Blue to the rescue, dashing from the lobby to the elevator and up many floors to warn his friendhis "teammate"his girlfriend had unexpectedly arrived.

Although he might have been in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl, it was apparent not even Blue was going to be attending the Sugar Bowlhe had no ticket, and the game was a complete sellout.  One of the rooming players gave Blue his key to the room so he could watch it on TV.  Nevertheless, remember who we're talking about heresomeone who, when faced with no ticket, it simply meant no problem.

Prior to the start of the game, a couple players warming up on the field noticed a trainer's cart being not only pulled by a team trainer, but curiously there was also a "trainer" dressed in all-white trainer's garb and sporting a Georgia cap pushing the cart.  Of course, it was Blue, who had somehow, some way found some trainer's clothing and snuck down onto the field, hiding his midsection from authorities behind the cart not to reveal the fact he had no sideline pass. As soon as Blue reached the Georgia sideline, the players observed him walk up to and briefly chat with a Bulldog assistantthe same one he had babysat for a year before. The assistant coach soon handed his sideline pass over to Blue.

Most of Blue's closest teammates graduated after the 1976 season, so sightings of the guy who always seemed to be around began to decrease.  There was the case of a graduated player who wanted to return to Athens for the 1977 Kentucky game to witness Prince Charles' visit.  He first called the athletic office for a ticket; they were no help.  His second call was to the guy who seemed to always find a ticket, ole Blue, and of course Blue delivered with a ticket to the game.

In 1978, Blue was still around.  Here, during the Georgia Tech game that season, and with the Bulldogs trailing the Yellow Jackets, 20 to 0, Georgia's freshman phenom quarterback begins warming up to relieve starter Jeff Pyburn. That's Blue in the blue sweater, having recently grown a beard.  That's Buck Be-lue, No. 8, who would lead the Bulldogs to a come-from-behind 29 to 28 victory (but due in large part to Blue's presence, I'd like to think):

It was soon after this game and his enlistment in the Navy ended, it is believed Blue stopped venturing to Athens.  During the 1979 NFL season, he was spotted again in a locker room, but this time it was following a game at the Baltimore Colts, where former-Bulldog Bucky Dilts (1974-1976) was the Colts' punter and seemingly Blue's "ticket" to associate with a new team.

Thirty-five years later, this leads to tomorrow and another Letterman's BBQ prior to Georgia's noon game with Troy.  And, rumor has it the ever-mysterious, yet faithful and lovable Blue might be returning to Athens to unite with his former Georgia Bulldog "teammates" for the first time since the late 1970s. Because of work responsibilities, I unfortunately will not be able to attend the BBQ; therefore, I thought I'd use this space to salute the greatest "team follower" in the history of UGA football.

Let me add, even if you don't have that friend, like Blue, who somehow always finds a way to get it done, you actually were already connected with Blue to a small degree even before you read this piece.

As indicated, Blue was rather innovative...  Remember the sign I mentioned on the outside of his familiar white Pinto station wagon with wood panelingthe one cheering on the team prior to the 1977 Sugar Bowl?  Like Blue's pronunciation of the team's shortened nickname, the sign read, "GO DAWGS!" According to players on the bus, it was the first time they had ever seen "Dogs" spelled in that manner, and the first time I'm aware of that the nickname "Dawgs" was visibly associated with Georgia football.   

Finally, here's to you, Bluea true Bulldog through and through!  Through your association with UGA football long ago, when you repeatedly got it done, we Georgia fans have been able to say, "Go Dawgs!" for decades instead of using just plain "Dogs." 

September 12, 2014

The Columbia Curse Abounds

Not since Zeier lit up the 'Cocks 20 years ago
has a UGA offense been potent in Columbia. Of
course, the Dogs are not alone regarding
offensive struggles in the Soda City.  
It has been said South Carolina football, along with the rest of the school's athletic teams, have been stricken with the Chicken Curse, afflicting mediocrity on all Gamecock teams and their athletes. However, the curse has been alleviated to some degree following baseball national championships in 2010 and 2011, and Spurrier's 'Cocks capturing the SEC East in 2010 followed by three consecutive 11-win seasons.

Still, there is a curse which prevails in the city of Columbia, although this particular misfortune has impaired our very own Georgia Bulldogs--the Columbia Curse.

The Columbia Curse has been widely accepted, especially leading up to this week's game at Williams-Brice Stadium. Even Coach Richt is fully aware of the burden: "To think that the last nine times, the most amount of points was 20," said Richt at his recent Tuesday press conference. "I knew what it had been for us when I’ve been at Georgia, but I didn’t realize it went back that far."

In short, the Bulldogs have endured the Columbia Curse by exhibiting a rather stagnant offense, hardly able to put points on the scoreboard, following the teams' meeting in Columbia in 1994.  Beginning in 1996, when then-first-year head coach Jim Donnan lost at South Carolina, 23 to 14, Georgia has failed to score more than 20 points against the 'Cocks on the road in nine consecutive trips.  What makes the Bulldogs' ineptness on offense even more puzzling is that they scored more than 20 points in 7 of the 11 games in Columbia prior to 1996.

To put Georgia's inefficiency on offense at South Carolina in perspective, the following are the per-game averages of points, total yards, offensive plays, offensive touchdowns, turnovers committed, and field goals made by the Bulldogs in Columbia, in which Georgia has won 5 of 9 meetings since 1994, and in Athens, resulting in 7 wins in 10 games during the same time period:

Georgia vs. SC (1995-2013)   at Columbia   at Athens 
Points                                             13.2          29.0
Yards                                            299.9        396.3
Plays                                              62.0          69.6
Off. TDs                                           1.1            3.1
TOs lost                                           2.4            1.5
FGs made                                         1.4            1.7

In a word--extraordinary.  Ever since Eric Zeier put on a passing clinic at South Carolina in 1994, throwing for 485 yards and three touchdowns, in a 24-21 Georgia victory, the curse has been alive and well, comparatively speaking. Playing the Gamecocks in Athens compared to at Columbia over the last two decades, Georgia has averaged more than twice the number of points, nearly 100 more yards, two more offensive touchdowns per game, and has committed about one less turnover.

For tomorrow, here's to a return to 20 years ago, when Georgia's offense was potent in Columbia, beginning as early as the game's second play:   

So, what's the problem--why has the Bulldogs' offense struggled so when facing the Gamecocks at their place?  No one seems to know--not even the head Bulldog of them all: "I don't know," Richt repeated three times when asked what made the South Carolina game in Columbia so difficult in the past. "Just a great atmosphere, great defense and Georgia not getting it done," he speculated.

Yet, as I watched the '94 Georgia-South Carolina, longing for a return to when we seemingly moved the ball at will against the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice, I soon recalled some of the home team's recent offensive performances as the Bulldogs were struggling.

The following is the same as above, but South Carolina's per-game averages in Columbia and in Athens against Georgia after 1994:

SC vs. Georgia vs. (1995-2013)   at Columbia   at Athens 
Points                                                 14.3          21.1
Yards                                                305.4        345.2
Plays                                                  63.0          69.0
Off. TDs                                               1.7            2.1
TOs lost                                               1.7            1.7
FGs made                                             0.2            1.4

Although not quite the difference as in Georgia's offensive production, the Gamecock offense has performed notably better against the Bulldogs in Athens than in their own stadium: a touchdown better per game, gaining 40 more yards, while committing the same number of turnovers per contest at home than away. 

So, what would be the reason for South Carolina's curious drop off on offense at home against Georgia?  Personally, and like Coach Richt said, I don't know. Maybe its the great atmosphere, a great [Georgia] defense, and South Carolina not getting it done, as well.

One thing is evident: although Georgia has been afflicted by the Columbia Curse for a long time now, it appears the same curse has been plaguing the team impaired by the Chicken Curse before--the other team in the rivalry... cursed in its very own backyard.

September 5, 2014

When It Paid to Lose

(click image to enlarge) Like a wedding at the half in '78, a dog on the field during a 
1st half in '97, and kicking off to open both halves in '86, UGA's defensive performance in the 2nd half last Saturday could be a spectacle never witnessed again at Sanford Stadium.  

The day after Georgia's 45-21 win over Clemson, I got a call from a friend, "Bulldawg Carl," who wanted to discuss the impressive victory.  

Referring to the Bulldogs yielding just 15 yards, one first down, and no points in the second half after allowing 276, 14, and 21, respectively, in the first, my friend declared, and I quote, "There might be many outstanding defensive performances for the Bulldogs to come; but, dude, you'll probably never, ever witness it again in Sanford Stadium what happened there Saturday night after halftime."

"Probably never, ever"that's a strong expression.  Still, my friend's statement got me thinking back to previous on-field events or occurrences "Between the Hedges" in my lifetime that haven't happened since, and probably won't in the future, and three immediately came to mind. 

In 1978 during halftime of the Vanderbilt game, a UGA student couple was literally married in a three-minute ceremony while the Redcoat Band performed its "Wedding Show."  As a student in 1997, I'll never forget the labrador that sprinted onto the field during the first half of the Dogs hosting the 'Cats of Kentucky on Homecoming.  And finally, in between in 1986, I recalled the unusual circumstances which ensued during halftime of the Ole Miss game, the details of which were recently cleared up for me in an interview with All-American John Little.

From what I remember as transpiring on a beautiful early-October afternoon in Athens, Georgia surprisingly trailed the Rebels at halftime, 10 to 7.  In 1986, Ole Miss was a pretty good team, especially on defense, entering the game ranked 11th in the nation in total defense, but they weren't supposed to be that good.

The team captains, including safety Little for Georgia, met with the referee just after halftime, followed by the Rebels promptly lining up to kickoff to the Bulldogs to begin the second halfrather routine, except for the fact Ole Miss had kicked off to begin the first half, as well.

The same team kicking off to begin both halves?  

An 11 year old at the time, I distinctly remember overhearing a man in the crowd indicating the Rebels purposely kicked off to start both halves because of their stout defenseforce Georgia to punt deep inside its own territory, and the Ole Miss offense should get the ball in good field position.

On the contrary, what was believed by some to be team strategy was actually a gaffe, essentially resulting in a Rebel tragedy. 

Ole Miss had won the coin toss, deferring its decision to the second half. Assuming the Rebels would then obviously want the ball, Georgia elected to receive the kickoff to open the game.   

After halftime, Little and the referee were curiously joined by two Ole Miss captainspunter Bill Smith and placekicker Bryan Owenneither of whom had been the Rebels' captain to begin the ballgame.

A Georgia victory was reached over Ole Miss in
'86 primarily because of No. 14 Jackson's passing,
and No. 19 Little simply not saying a word.
"The referee asked [the kickers] what they wanted to do, and one of them said, 'we want to kick that way,'" Little informed me during our interview.  "The referee looked at me confused, but I didn't say a word."

Little ran to the Georgia sideline, announcing Ole Miss was going to kickoff again.  "Everybody was asking me what had happened, and I just replied that their kickers said they wanted to kick."

Realizing his team's error, Ole Miss head coach Billy Brewer tried to get the referee to change the call, but it was too late.  The kickers had elected to kickoff to begin the second half, Little hadn't opposed, and the Bulldogs were more than happy to receive an opening-half kickoff for the second time.

Similarly to last Saturday when Todd Gurley's kickoff return for a touchdown seemingly electrified Georgia's efforts against Clemson, Ole Miss' blunder nearly 30 years before evidently jump-started the Bulldogs' defensive play versus the Rebels.  Reportedly, "while Ole Miss controlled the ball in the first half, Georgia's defense stopped the Rebels in the second half."

Defensively in the second half, Georgia allowed Ole Miss no points, and about half the number of first downs and total yards than yielded during the first half.  On offense, running-quarterback James Jackson looked more like Dan Marino (for a UGA quarterback of the time), finishing with 11 completions for 161 yards, or about two and a half times what he totaled per game the season before.

Perhaps most decisively, because the Rebels kicked off to begin the second half, they faced a steady wind during the fourth quarter"a significant advantage" for the Bulldogs, it was reported.  After not turning the ball over in the first three quarters, Ole Miss threw two interceptions in the fourth, including the game-winning pick deep in Georgia territory with less than a minute remaining, corralled by Doug Samuelan unknown redshirt freshman cornerback, who would hardly set foot again on a football field as a Bulldog.   
Following Georgia's 14-10 victory, Vince Dooley was asked to comment on how his team lost the opening coin toss, yet received the kickoff to start both halves.  The Bulldog head coach just laughed and then uttered, "Sometimes it pays to lose."

After the game, captain Little expanded a little further on the unusual incident: "I haven't been [game] captain too many times, but that's never happened [to me] before.  I've never even seen it happen before."

As a player, Little also wouldn't see it repeated.  And, like Bulldawg Carl insisted about the defense's recent performance against the Tigers, "dude, you'll probably never, ever witness it again in Sanford Stadium."