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December 7, 2015

When less than $3.75 million delivered a HOF coach, & an MVP

For the third straight year, no Bulldogs...
As I write this, looking upon the playing surface at the Georgia Dome prior to the start of the SEC Championship Game, I still find it hard to believe it has been three years since the Bulldogs last appeared in this game, and all while the SEC East has been relatively “down”—or, as was the case this season, really down.

I’m reminded of a story I recently heard, which first circulated around this time 51 years ago—an account of how the Georgia football program, after firing its head coach, instantly turned around upon the appearance of a new addition. And, although a young, first-year head coach and his assistants certainly were a major reason for the Bulldogs’ reversal of fortune in 1964, I do not speak of the arrival of the Vince Dooley coaching regime.

After a lowly 10-16-4 combined mark from 1961 through 1963, Georgia hired Dooley, and then got it, or acquired him, if you prefer—he was recognized by both, but most referred to him simply as “number 94.”

When No. 94 first came on campus that summer, it was said “students and faculty members alike lined to streets to watch” his arrival. Not long afterwards, Georgia was known for its hustling and dazzling play on defense and, as the 1964 regular season drew to a close, reportedly, “it can now be revealed that the ‘94’ helped make…the razzle-dazzle possible.”

Number 94 had the uncanny ability of anticipating the various play patterns of opposing offenses which, in turn, made the entire Bulldogs defense much more “knowledgeable,” as Dooley acknowledged—“like mind readers at times.” During a time when two-way players were on the decline, No. 94 was just as valuable to Georgia’s offense as its defensive side of the ball. “Needless to say, we’re enthusiastic,” Dooley remarked regarding the newcomer’s overall performance.

By the end of a 6-3-1 regular season, whereupon the Bulldogs were headed to a bowl game for only the second time in 14 years, it was declared No. 94’s “contribution to the red-shirted Dogs throughout the fall has been nothing but short of sensational, most fans and seasoned analysts, alike, agree.” And, he was likely “the Georgia Bulldogs’ most valuable player of the ’64 season.”

Sketch of Georgia's "most valuable player
of the '64 season"
No. 94. 
When I initially heard the beginning of this story, I racked my brain trying to figure out who, or apparently the MVP of Coach Dooley’s first Georgia football team, wore jersey No. 94 in 1964. I was absolutely stumped—that is, until I was informed that “he” was not No. 94 the Bulldogs’ football player, but No. 94 shortened for the IBM 7094 computer.

The arrival of Dooley resulted in a curiosity regarding if a scientific approach could better the team’s chances to win ballgames. Nearly filling an entire room at UGA’s Computer Center, an IBM 7094 computer was purchased by the university for around $3.5 million which, considering inflation, would equate to roughly $27 million today. Serving as a liaison of sorts between man and machine, Georgia’s head scout Frank Inman approached the center’s Dr. J.D. Williams, who developed a program which coded information into No. 94.

Scouting data from Inman was entered on a deck of “source cards” by Williams. The data primarily consisted of offensive and defensive play details like down and distance, formation, position on the field, etc., and obviously the plays' results. For each game in 1964, Georgia used the opposition’s play details from its previous four games. Taking about an hour to compute each game’s data, No. 94 compiled the information and then printed it out on “output sheets” for the coaches’ usage.

Although an opponent’s effort, spirit, and determination obviously could not be considered, nor if the Bulldogs happened to encounter new plays, No. 94 was able to reveal what was called “the complete picture” of every offensive and defensive play for that week’s opponent.

I did some research and found that from 1961 to 1963, or before the computer, Georgia’s .400 winning percentage ranked tied for 98th of the then-135 Division I college football teams. With No. 94 assisting the program, the Bulldogs recorded from 1964 through 1968 a 38-13-3 mark, or a .731 winning percentage—the 13th-best winning percentage in college football, which ranked second in the SEC only behind mighty Alabama. Georgia would not achieve a higher winning percentage over a period of five years until 1978-1982.

However, seemingly out of the blue, the Bulldogs promptly followed their extraordinary turnaround by finishing 5-5-1 in 1969, and then another .500 season at 5-5 in 1970, begging the question: What the heck happened?  

There are a number of theories as the reason for Georgia’s sudden two-season setback following its five-season success. For one, understanding technology develops so rapidly, doesn’t it always seem like when a new computer is purchased, in almost no time, it already seems outdated?

Well, by the late 1960s, IBM’s 7000s had become obsolete and were replaced by the company’s System/360 model. In other words, number 94, the presence which played a major role in turning around the Georgia football program in the mid-1960s, had run out of eligibility, so to speak, by the end of the decade.

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