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August 12, 2015

Although Once Forgotten, "Flan" Is Now Finally Found

Anthony (Tony) Flanagan, "The Flim-Flan
Man," Georgia's first African-American QB
Thirty years agoalmost to the dayas Georgia was opening its fall camp of 1985, Vince Dooley suddenly uttered the name of one of his former players most of the surrounding Bulldog followers had long forgotten. 

Dooley had been questioned by the media regarding whether he was going to choose Wayne Johnson or sophomore James Jackson to start under center, signifying the first time in school history an African American would be starting at quarterback for the Bulldogs.

"It is [an antiquated subject] to me," Dooley declared to reporters. "People forget about Tony Flanagan."

Yet, although it had been nearly a decade since he had left UGA, how could anyone truly forget Anthony (Tony) Flanagan, "The Flim-Flan Man," or simply "Flan"?

Between leading Southwest (Atlanta) High School (now known as Mays High) to state basketball championships as a junior and senior, Flanagan guided the Wolves to a state football title in 1973. The lanky, 6-foot-3 and roughly 200-pound quarterback could run like the wind, and had a rifle for an armmake that, arms. Flanagan was ambidextrous, able to throw a football 70 yards on the fly with his throwing arm, and nearly 60 yards with the other.

During Southwest's perfect 13-0 campaign, Flanagan passed for 2,241 yards and 31 touchdowns, rushed for 12 touchdowns and, get this, kicked 60 PATs and two field goals. Simply listing his high school accolades would be a blog post in itself, but the fact of the matter is Flanagan was one of the most highly recruited and publicized high school athletes in the state and, still today, is considered perhaps the best amateur athlete ever to come out of the Atlanta area.

Flanagan was lured by what was reported as over 300 colleges, offering scholarships in four different sports: football, basketball, tennis, and track. In the end, he decided to sign a football grant-in-aid at Georgia, for one, since the school was close to home. But, by also signing a football scholarshipand not a grant-in-aid specifically with any of the other three sportsFlanagan had the option of being a multi-sport college athlete. Regardless, as a senior in high school, he announced he would only play basketball at UGA... at first, leaving the door open for the possibility of participating in a second sport down the road. 

After he averaged nearly 12 points and more than three rebounds per game, while leading the Bulldogs in assists both years, during his freshman and sophomore seasons on Georgia's basketball team, Flanagan finally decided to explore other avenues and went out for the football team in the spring of 1976.

The quarterback position at Georgia in 1976 was described as undoubtedly the deepest position on the team, and perhaps the deepest the Bulldogs had ever been at quarterback. Already six signal callers were jockeying for position that spring, including the top two, who were both proven seniors: Ray Goff, the starter the season before, and Matt Robinson, the starter in 1974. 

Nevertheless, after having not played organized football in about two-and-a-half years, Flanagan promptly began showing flashes that spring of the brilliance which made him a household name around Atlanta a few years before. He soon was the team's No. 3 quarterback, yet seemingly stuck behind the two immovable seniors, Goff and Robinson. 

"When Tony got comfortable on the field, he was a really good player," Steve Davis, a teammate of Flanagan's at Georgia, recently told me. Davis was Georgia's starting split end, and second-leading receiver in 1976. "Tony had a really strong arm." 
The first 3 possessions Flanagan was
a Bulldog quarterback, he directed
Georgia on drives for touchdowns.

For the G-Day spring game, Flanagan was named the starting quarterback of the Red squad, honorably coached by newspaper editor Harley Bowers; Goff the starter of the Black team, headed up by renowned sports writer Jesse Outlar (Robinson was sidelined with an injury). Late in the second quarter with the Red leading the Black, 9-3, Flanagan proceeded to direct his team on a long drive which would be the difference in the game.

Facing second and goal from the Black's 11-yard line, Flanagan rolled to his right and appeared to be trapped at the sideline by several defenders. Suddenly, he jumped in the air and out of bounds but, while still in the air, he whipped a perfect touchdown strike to Davis. 

"It was unbelievable," Davis said. "Tony threw me the ball when he was out of bounds, but his feet were inbounds when he left the ground. He probably was about five to six feet out of bounds when he finally landed."

Trailing 16-3 at halftime, Outlar would report that he approached his quarterback, Goff, to say "if he didn't get a couple of quick touchdowns his coach was going to get fired." Whereupon, Goff apparently replied, "To heck with the coach, did you see what that other quarterback (Flanagan) is doing? I'm the only one who may get fired." 

Flanagan's running and passing prowess established him as the star of G-Day, which ended in a 19-13 victory for his Red team.

By the start of the season, although remaining the Bulldogs' third-string quarterback, Flanagan was drawing nationwide attention, like from Georgia's season-opening opponent, 15th-ranked California. Cal's Mike White believed there was such a good chance of him seeing playing time against his Bears, the head coach actually spent some time game planning for Flanagan. 

Flanagan wouldn't appear against Cal; however, a week later at Clemson with Georgia leading 34-0, he was inserted late in the game and, according to Matt Robinson in my book Game of My Life:
"...this was a rather historical moment in UGA football history...Anthony made the first ever appearance for the Bulldogs by an African-American quarterback in a varsity game. Late in the game, Anthony led the offense on a long drive which resulted in a touchdown to wrap up the scoring."
At Clemson, Flanagan had also become the first Bulldog athlete to see varsity action in both football and basketball since Zippy Morocco during the late 1940s.

For the 1976 regular season, Flanagan appeared in four games, rushing for 73 yards on eight carries and completing his only pass attempt for a 16-yard gain. Against Vanderbilt, he also added another milestone to his legacy when he rushed for this 1-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter:

In the season's end Sugar Bowl, trailing Pittsburgh 27-3 and the game already decided, Dooley inserted Flanagan under center for Georgia's final offensive series, essentially indicating who was the Bulldogs' likely starting quarterback in 1977. But, any vision the head coach had of the dual-threat signal caller starting for him nine months later would not be realized.

Entrenched in a three-way quarterback battle as late as just a week prior to the start of the '77 campaign, Flanagan reportedly first stopped practicing, followed by his sudden departure from campus. After having difficulty with his studies, Flanagan had been declared academically ineligible because of an alleged grade forgerya charge he vehemently denied. In January, he enrolled at Gardner-Webb, seeking to play both football and basketball after sitting out a year. But, Flanagan would never participate in either sport at the small college in North Carolina, and his collegiate athletic career was over.
Flanagan and Coach Dooley during the '77
Sugar Bowl vs. Pitt inside the Superdome

Flanagan resurfaced four years later at the age of 25 when it was reported he had decided to try out for the Atlanta Pride semi-pro team of the non-paying American Football Association. Roughly 1,100 individuals, including a handful of former NFL players, tried out for the Pride's meager 37 roster spots, with Flanagan emerging as the team's starting quarterback.

Passing and running with the mastery he had demonstrated years before, Flanagan guided the Pride to the league's playoffs. In late August 1982, just over a week after being responsible for four of his team's five touchdowns in Atlanta's playoff game, Flanagan was signed by Boston of the upstart United State Football League (USFL). However, during training camp prior to the start of the new league's initial season, Flanagan became ill and was cut from the team. He would soon be diagnosed with diabetes.

It's been said by those who knew Flanagan that he surely had to be disappointed that his athletic career after high school didn't quite pan out, and saddened because of the disease he endured. Still, those same people will say he never appeared disheartened or dissatisfied. In fact, Flanagan appeared to find as much pleasure in teaching sports to kids as he had discovered while playing sports himself as a youth.

For 14 years, Flanagan worked with the Atlanta Parks and Recreation Department, coaching youth sports—namely (and fittingly), football and basketball—at the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center. As a consequence of a tough lesson Flanagan had learned while at UGA, children could not play for "Coach Flan," as he was affectionately called, unless they had passing grades in school.

In 2001, after a bout with pneumonia two-and-a-half years before, and a steady decline in health, Flanagan suffered a burst blood vessel in his brain from complications from his diabetes, leading to an untimely death at the age of just 44. He left behind his wife, Rosalyn, two grown children, and a grandchild.

Less than a year after Flanagan's death, Rosalyn and supporters from old Southwest High School formed a group to lobby the City Council to rename the John F. Kennedy Recreation Center. The center, where Flanagan touched the lives of countless children, was successfully renamed in honor of the man who was still regarded as likely the greatest amateur athlete from the area. However, not long after its opening, stringent budget cuts closed the center, creating a void in the community for youth and adults, while the facility fell victim to vandals.
Rosalyn (left) and Mayor Kasim Reed (center) 
were part of a large gathering recently reopening 
the Anthony Flanagan Recreation Center in Atlanta.

Still, Flanagan's story would have a happy ending, and one certainly fitting for an individual who might have made mistakes, but learned from them to move forward and help others.

After running a campaign of reopening area recreation centers, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, along with Councilman C.T. Martin and the Department of Parks and Recreation were successful in reopening the Anthony Flanagan Memorial Recreation Center at West Manor Park in Atlanta. Just last week, there was standing room only for the reopening, brimming with a mixed crowd of former high school and UGA teammates and coaches, elected officials, community activists, and contemporaries and family members of Flanagan. In addition, the event would not have been complete without the attendance of the number of former youth under Coach Flan's direction.

And, of course, Rosalyn was there too.

It was Rosalyn who just after Flanagan's death had said, "he told me [recently] that whatever God had put him on this Earth to do, he had done it."

Furthermore, even since leaving this earth, you could say Flanagan had "done it," as well. For now, although his time at Georgia is forgotten by most, the athletic legend once known as "The Flim-Flan Man," or simply "Flan," will be remembered with the center that bares the name of "Coach Flan."


Rugbydawg79 said...

Great story ! Thank you Patrick.

Anonymous said...

Great synopsis of some real Bulldog football history! Those of us who were there and knew and loved Flan really appreciated this story! Thanks Patrick

Anonymous said...

Tony Flanagan only had one biological child, his son Antione, who loves and misses him deeply daily. Unfortunately he is away from home serving his country being a Navy Chief Petty Officer.
Reading this article i felt the urge to clarify this since i know how much it means to Antione!


Excellent read on an exceptional individual.


Excellent read on an exceptional individual.

Anonymous said...

I got to know Tony while working at basketball camps for kids at Gardner-Webb in 1977. We coached kids during the day and in the evenings the counselors - college and NBA players played pick-up games. Afterwards we would grab a burger and talk. Clean and simple fun. I remember Tony as a talented athlete, but more he was a very kind and humble, a well-spoken and articulate young man.

Being from Georgia and playing for Georgia Tech at the time I was somewhat familiar with his story, but not the details. One night I asked him about his experiences. He was very honest and down to earth. He said remorsefully that he "had it all" at UGA, the opportunity of a lifetime, but that he struggled some with authority and some things that happened, and that he challenged the authority there. He said "I thought I could take on the administration and that was a mistake."

I never asked the details of that "challenge" but I can say that for whatever may have happened in his life prior to that point, when I met him Tony was a good person, a mature person, an upstanding young man, and a great person to be friends with.

I am very sorry to hear of his passing, but I can tell people to be proud of him and the person he was.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people may not know that Anthony Flanagan raised Latrez Harrison!! A highly recruited quarterback out of Booker T. Washington High School. A lot of people said he reminded them of flanagan!! I could believe it since Flanagan was the first person to put a football in his hand.

Christie Turner Hicks said...

I went to Southwest High School with Flan, as we called him. Family called him Tony. We had a sister/brother relationship which continued and grew aftet he introduced me to fellow UGA basketball teammate Jo Jo Hicks in 1976, and to whom I've been married for forty years.

Jo Jo was with Flan, Rosalyn, and Flan's only sibling Patrick when Flan passed away. I was in the hospital lobby. It was a sad day. Unbelievable.

Flan will always be remembered for his phenomenal athletic abilities but more for his kindness and humor. We really miss Flan. He and Rosalyn visited us often. We would talk, listen to music,laugh and eat.
Every memory of him is a great one. RIP Flan.����

Jeff McDowell said...

I remember these guys. Shows I'm just an old man that still loves the Dawg . Thanks for bringing back the memories.

Unknown said...

I remember the spring game as a kid