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January 3, 2015

A Bulldog Bowl Story

The 1976 Bulldogs embark on their trip to New
a journey resulting badly on the field,
but full of off-field experiences they'll never forget.
Sometime during the third quarter of Georgia's victory over Louisville in the Belk Bowl, I concluded the Bulldogs would be extending their obscure, yet remarkable postseason streakone which (without looking it up) I guarantee has never been equaled before in college football history, and likely never will: spanning 38 years, Georgia has now played in 32 consecutive bowl games (13 of which did not result in a Bulldog victory) where they were not defeated by more than a touchdown.

Think about it, a period of nearly four entire decades where each time Georgia has played in the postseason, it has, at the very least, been "in" the ballgame just one possession from victory, if not winning altogether.

As I've gotten to know more and more former Georgia players through my workmost of which played during this current, successful streak in the postseasonI've discovered that behind every bowl gameno matter the final scoreis an intriguing bowl story, or two, or more. Most Bulldog enthusiasts are aware of past bowl trips in terms of their recaps and boxscores, yet each postseason appearance seemingly involves compelling on- and off-field experiences hardly publicized.

Some Bulldog bowl stories are so unbelievable, they're almost Hollywood-like (1943 Rose Bowl); for others, you don't know what to believe (1969 Sugar Bowl); and then you have those that shouldn't be believed because they're actually not entirely true, but have been slightly exaggerated over the years (1969 Sun Bowl). Regardless, any Bulldog bowl story is a good story in my book, so I reached out to a number of former players just after Christmas, asking for any postseason anecdotes.  

Of all the stories I heardat least, the ones I can publish herethe two most appealing to me just happen to be from the same bowl game, which happens to be the last time Georgia was defeated by more than seven points in the postseasonthe 1977 Sugar Bowl against top-ranked Pittsburgh. Ironically, leading into Georgia's current bowl streak, the '77 Sugar Bowl was the third bowl game in a row the Bulldogs were defeated by more than a touchdown, and the second consecutive by three touchdowns or more. Nevertheless, for Georgia's Ken Helms and a teammate of his who wanted to remain anonymous (for obvious reasons you'll read), there are vivid memories which linger from the 27-3 loss to Pittsburgh. And, to some degree, such memories are somewhat associated with the 31-10 setback to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl from the year before.

Despite receiving bowl "swag" not nearly up to today's standardsa cowboy hat and a knockoff Rolex watch"the [1976] Cotton Bowl was cool," according to Helms, who was a standout offensive lineman for the Bulldogs from 1974 to 1976. "I do remember bathtubs full of Lone Star Beer in some [hotel] rooms, but we had to go get the beer, and it was about a mile walk!" 

"James Brown came in our locker room before the game, but a lot of guys didn't recognize him," Helms continued.  "I got him to sign my game program; I still have it."

Just as every Bulldog probably recognized Brown by the time "The Godfather of Soul" accompanied the team again a year later to New Orleans, seemingly everyone was aware of the renowned Dooley's Junkyard Dogs as the program was making a second consecutive major bowl appearance for the first time in 34 years.

Bear Bryant and Ken Helms in 1976. Notice
the cigarettes in the Bear's front pocket

box undoubtedly that was soon to be opened.
At a Sugar Bowl banquet during the week of the game, Helms and the late Jeff Sanders were sitting alone at a table when they were approached by another iconic figure. "It was Bear Bryant, asking if he could sit down," Helms said. "He sat at an empty place and ate the piece of cake that had been set there. He then fired up a cigarette, and said, 'y'all kicked our ass!'" referring to Georgia's 21-0 victory over the Bear's Crimson Tide earlier that season.

In preparation for Pittsburgh, "it was weird," Helms added. New Orleans was unusually cold during the week of the game, and the team practiced outside at old Tulane Stadium, but then played inside at the newly-opened Superdome.

"That was before there was "no smoking," so people could literally smoke inside the Superdome," Helms recalled. "It was dark inside the dome, and smoke gathered and was hanging over the top of the field like a cloud! It was nothing like us ole country boys from Georgia had ever seen before. Not to mention, that Pitt team with Tony Dorsett was something we hadn't seen, as well."

Indeed, Dorsett rushed for a then-Sugar-Bowl-record 202 yards, while the Bulldogs' high-powered veer offense was held to three points and less than 200 total yards as the Panthers defeated Georgia by 24 points, and it actually wasn't even that close. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs' disheartening loss wasn't about to totally ruin their trip to New Orleans.

"The morning after the game, some of us put on a coat and tie and played the 'big dog,'" said Helms, who would be the only Georgia player to appear later that month in the prestigious all-star games, the Japan and Hula Bowls. "We ran up a pretty good tab at breakfast, eating Eggs Benedict and drinking mimosas. Of course, we had to pay for it when we got home."

Also, having to "pay for it" laterin a sense—for his actions during the 1977 Sugar Bowl trip was the anonymous player I spoke with. "It's something I'm still embarrassed about today almost 40 years later," he said. And, this Bulldog isn't necessarily talking about the game itself, but what happened afterwards.

"But, it was during the game when things first started to come unraveled for several players," he remembered. "Down by three touchdowns, I think it was during the third quarter, we had two guys get into a shoving match literally in the huddle. They had to be separated. The '77 Sugar Bowl was that frustrating for some of us, like me, who was playing in my final game at Georgia."

Things quickly went from bad to worse for the anonymous player. He admits that it might sound a little selfish looking back on it, but no competitive collegiate athlete wants to be taken out of any game at no fault of his own.

"For the most part, Coach Dooley allowed his assistant coaches to have most of the authority as far as when a starter was replaced during a game, who came in to relieve the starter, etc.," the player said. "My position coach [player gives assistant's name] took me out with almost an entire quarter left to play against Pittsburgh, and I thought I had actually played well. I was not happy. Of course, [the assistant coach] and I never saw eye to eyesomething I think he'd even admit to todaymostly because he went out of his way to [here, the player explains their indifferencereasoning which seems quite logical to mehowever, unveiling as much could possibly reveal the identity of the player and/or the assistant coach]. So, it shouldn't have surprised me that [the assistant] benched me early." 

A couple hours after the embarrassing loss in the Sugar Bowl, a saddened and disappointed anonymous player was riding up an escalator at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans. Coincidentally, coming down the opposite end was his position coach, looking away from the player.  

"It was immature of me, and I totally overreacted; I instantly snapped," the player admitted. "I thought, I'm done with this SOB, and I'm going to tell him what I think of him." Suddenly, as the two were crossing on the escalators, the player verbally blasted the startled assistant coach with a myriad of profanity-laced insults.  

The Godfather of Soul loved the Bulldogs,
following the team to the 1976 Cotton Bowl (left)
and the Sugar Bowl a year later (right).
"I don't remember this part, but my dad has always said that I also reared back with my fist high in the air aimed to hit [the assistant]. My dad would know; he was riding the escalator with me, and had to physically restrain me," the former player said. "I acted impulsively and obviously was not thinking clearly."

The player continued, "But, the look on [the assistant's] face after I went after him, I'll never forget it—it was like, 'what the hell just happened?!'"

Curious, I asked the former player how he could have possibly been driven to the point to verbally, and apparently physically, attack his position coach simply because they hadn't got along, and for his removal from a bowl game a little early. And, for the anonymous player, here's where the '77 Sugar Bowl is somewhat associated with the '76 Cotton Bowl:  

"There was no 'simply' to it," the player responded. "That was the second bowl game in a row [the assistant coach] pulled me out early with no good reason in my mind. Believe me, I'm certainly not saying we would've beaten Arkansas or Pittsburgh if I had remained in any of those bowl gamesthat's ridiculous. But, you can check it out for yourself. If I remember correctly, I was pulled from the Cotton Bowl sometime in the second quarter when we actually had a lead but, for whatever reason, I was not put back in."

For what it's worth, I did indeed "check it out" for myself, getting my hands on the 1976 Cotton Bowl's old play-by-play/statistics media packet. And, sure enough, the anonymous player was removed against Arkansas with no explanation midway through the second quarter after seemingly playing well with Georgia leading, 10-0. He would not return to the game as the Bulldogs were outscored 31-0 the rest of the way.

The player explained that getting removed from your final game a "little early" after getting pulled from the bowl game the year before "way too early" by someone you didn't get along with, and who happened to have the most say in your playing time, "I guess, I had just had enough," but added, "it was a learning experience that although regrettable, I value to this day."

As the college football bowl season, or what's been called the most wonderful time of the year, begins to wrap up, I'm grateful for a wonderful Bulldog bowl history during my lifetimeone where Georgia has remarkably been "in" 32 consecutive postseason games. But, almost more so than the game resultsthe wins and lossesI'm grateful to learn of intriguing off-field bowl "learning experiences" for young men in their late teens, early 20s that will always be valuedespecially by the players involved, but also valued by anyone fortunate enough to learn of those experiences.


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Anonymous said...

Great Blog, I think I know who your anonymous players was, he was thoroughly abusive to fans (including me) that day at the Hyatt...a dark day in UGA lore...

Anonymous said...

who was this anonymous player who was abusive to the fans Mr Anonymous?

Mr. Curious

Anonymous said...

I remember watching this game and something just didn't seem right. The Junkyard Dawgs were a dominate team all year and they played so poorly in this game it makes me wonder if something was up. Have you ever seen the episode on 30-30 playing for the mob which happened around this same time period.

Mr. I Wonder Dawg

Unknown said...

The Bulldogs are extremely deep along the defensive line. Georgia has the capability to consistently rotate five tackles and six ends.

georgia bulldogs

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