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February 20, 2016

It's the Individuals that are the Essence

(L to R): Georgia's Brendan Douglas; Pat Douglas at Georgia, at
Georgia Southern; and Erk Russell at Georgia, at Georgia Southern.
I was planning on writing a post about the 1892 Georgia-Auburn game since today is the 124th anniversary of the first contest played in the "Deep South's Oldest Rivalry." However, within an hour of me figuring for work that Brendan Douglas needs 285 rushing yards in 2016 to become the 50th Georgia player in history to total 1,000 for a career, I ironically had a phone conversation with Pat Douglas, Brendan's father, prompting me to totally switch gears, so to speak.

First off, in speaking with Pat, I see why Brendan is such a courteous and likable young man; as they say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. And, like his son currently, Pat was once a Georgia football player, as well. Still, by having had a relationship with one of the greatest Bulldogs of all time, Pat holds a distinction that no one else can claim.

Pat was a walk-on, scout-team defensive back at Georgia from 1978 to 1980. When the Bulldogs' acclaimed defensive coordinator Erk Russell accepted the head coaching job at Georgia Southern College to build a program from scratch after the school had not played football for 40 years, Pat followed Coach Russell to Statesboro.

In just 14 career games at Georgia Southern from 1981 to 1982, including a three-game exhibition/scrimmage schedule which comprised the entire '81 season, Pat remarkably made 12 interceptions and returned a punt for a touchdown. The only individual to play under Russell at both Georgia and Georgia Southern, Pat would then be an assistant under the legendary coach for three seasons, culminating with the Eagles capturing a I-AA national championship in 1985their first of four titles over the next six years. 

Like my post on how the Georgia-Georgia Southern series originally unfoldedthis piece may seem a better fit around the time the schools play one another. However, concerned with more so than simply the teams' rivalry, this post is meant to convey just one of countless examples of how one of the greatest Bulldogs of them all greatly impactedfor the second timea college program, as told by one of the individuals who knew him best.

"'When life gives you lemons, make lemonade'Coach Russell had that saying on his office wall," Pat informed me. "That was his attitude, his demeanor."

Like a lot of people, I have always had a strong admiration for Erk Russell, and his capability of "turning lemons into lemonade," whether involving individuals, or defensive units, like at Georgia in 1975 and the Junkyard Dogs defense, or even entire football programs, like at Georgia Southern during the early 1980s. Pat Douglas was there to witness the entire transformation of the latter.

I was curious how a single individual could be primarily responsible for the miracle of developing a program from a three-game club team one year to a national champion, playing in only its second season at the I-AA level, just four years later.

"Simply, how could one individualCoach Russellbe responsible for a lot of what Georgia Southern was able to achieve so fast?" I asked Pat.

"You said 'a lot of that' was Coach Russell, I say 'nearly all of that' was Coach Russell," Pat replied. "Besides Coach Russell, nobody in the world could have developed a team that fast to a national championship at a program which didn't even own a football at its inception."

Pat was not joking...

Minutes away from Georgia Southern holding a press conference announcing Erk Russell as its head football coach in May of 1981 in front of a gathering of college and town people, the school's athletic director and president agreed that maybe something football-related, like a football, should be on display. 

But, there was a problem: there wasn't a football in sight, in fact, the college didn't even own one at the time.

"They got somebody to run across to K-Mart and buy a football," Pat recalled. "He ran back over, and tossed the football to the athletic director just in time to start the press conference."

Pat concluded, "That's what you call 'starting from scratch.'"

And I'll add, that's what you call making lemonade when you didn't even own a lemon four years before.

From the prominent, like UGA-Auburn, to the much lesser, like UGA-Georgia Southern, rivalries certainly are a part of the great tradition and lore of University of Georgia football. Still, it's more so the individuals both past and present, like Erk Russell and the Douglas', and their stories, which are the essence of college football in its entirety. 


Unknown said...

Awesome article. Thanks! I wish Erk could have been the head coach for the dawgs. I loved Erk and his humor.

Patrick Garbin said...

Thanks, Teddy. Erk was definitely a DGD, and much more...--Patrick