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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.