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May 1, 2015

A Bulldog Break

I'm taking a break from blogging—a short hiatus from this site as I continue to tackle what has turned into two full-time jobs.

I'm not complaining, writing magazine articles, covering the Bulldogs, and working on two book projects—all college football relatedis a good deal. However, it literally has me dreaming at night about deadline dates, which isn't.

Not that I've been blogging that much recently anyway but, for what it's worth, it'll be even less, like not at all, for the next three or four weeks. In the meantime, I still will continue to routinely post at my UGA Football FB page. Also, checkout DAWGTIME from time to time as we add content and further develop the site.

So, as Loran Smith would say, Charles, you're from South Georgia. You like boiled peanuts, don't you? 

Um, I mean, the other thing he's acclaimed for saying: Until next time, c'est la!

April 7, 2015

What The Hail?!?

The rare colored photo is a peek inside Memorial 
Stadium just as the '63 Georgia-Clemson game is 
being interrupted by a massive hailstorm.
With the up-and-down temperatures seemingly starting to finally subside, while keeping with the theme of the turbulent Georgia football program of the early 1960s, I wanted to pass along a story I heard a few weeks back concerning the Bulldogs in what has to be the most unusual moment in their history from a weather standpointa turbulent account I had never heard before.

I arrived at Clemson University to meet with the school's most prominent historian, interviewing him for a magazine article I'm writing involving an incident in Tiger football from 1963. However, before we discussed the subject matter at hand, knowing my association with Georgia football, he wanted to tell a story from that same season involving his Tigers and my Bulldogs that seemed much more interesting.

As he walked with his wife to Memorial Stadium for the Georgia-Clemson game in mid-October of 1963, the weather was sunny with temperatures in the mid-80s. However, "I remember saying, 'that cloud over Seneca looks threatening,'" recalled the historian regarding a pitch-black sky over the nearby town less than 10 miles away.

On the game's opening drive, Clemson fumbled inside its own territory, and Georgia recovered. Nothing seemed too unusual concerning the rivalry from back then as the Bulldogs soon scored on a run by quarterback Larry Rakestraw, and Georgia held an early 7-0 lead.

With the score remaining the same and the first half drawing to a close, the temperature suddenly dropped to the high 50s, or nearly 30 degrees lower than what it had been only 45 minutes before. And then, the heavens opened up.

"First, there was sleet for about 10 minutes, and then it poured hailthe size of golf ballsfor another 10 minutes," said the historian. "The hail was like I had never seen before, or since." 

During the hailstorm, as the story goes, everybody ran for cover under the stands, including Clemson Head Coach Frank Howard and Georgia Head Coach Johnny Griffith, who met underneath the seats, decided there would be no halftime show, and to delay the start of the second half for 30 minutes.

"That's truefor some," the historian said of those seeking shelter. "That was before Memorial Stadium had an upper deck, so only a portion of the crowd [of 24,000-26,000] could squeeze under the lower level stands. Everyone else headed for shelter in bathrooms, concession stands, and literally inside ice chests."

So, where did the historian and his wife find shelter?

"Nowhere!" he exclaimed. "Every place was filled. However, fortunately for us, the hail stopped after about 10 minutes, and then it "just" rainedhard!"

Also, as the story goes, the grounds crew promptly worked through the rain, picking up all the hail off the field. "Grounds crew?" the historian inquired. "We didn't have a grounds crew back then. We had to send the freshman team out onto the field with push laundry carts to scrape up all the ice."

Before the heavens above Clemson would  
open up, Georgia's Rakestraw (R) runs for 
a touchdown against the Tigers. 
The historian adds it is the only Clemson game he has ever attended, and he still goes to them today more than 50 years later, where he left early. "I was always taught that you never leave early from church, you never early from the opera, and you never leave early from a football game. But, I had to make this one exception. We were soaked, and battered and bruised from hail."

On the walk back to the car, the historian and his wife finally had a stroke of good luck when they heard their names being shouted. "It just so happened to be a couple of friends of ours, calling from their apartment for us to come inside," he said. "One friend said, 'you look like drowned ducks.' I answered, 'we feel like it.'"

Back at Memorial Stadium, playing on a drenched, icy field for the entire second half, the Tigers scored a game-tying touchdown in the third quarter, and the score remained deadlocked to the end, 7-7. And, although Georgia missed three field goals, including two that were blocked, the Tigers should have been the victors, having twice as many first downs (20-10) and total yards (291-146) than the Bulldogs.

So, as they say, "Hail to the Victors" because, in a way, both teams came out victorious on the gorgeous-turned-turbulent afternoon: Because he didn't lose to Georgia, Frank Howard said he was "happy with a tie," whereas the Bulldogs won against the odds, which were set at Clemson as a two-point favorite.

As for the historian and his wife, in a way, the pair came out victorious, as well. Once inside their friends' apartment, they were treated to a cozy fire and "hot buttered rum drinksafter a few of those, we didn't care much that we had been soaked and beaten up by hail," he said, "or, for that matter, really care much for the football game either." 

March 20, 2015

Butts' R-Rated Rant

Whatley on top;
Butts bottom
Twelve days prior to facing Alabama in Georgia's season opener 55 years ago in 1960, Wally Butts addressed his coaching staff at 8 p.m. after practice. The Bulldogs' head coach was upset, to say the least, and absolutely went off on his staff (and players). 

And, assistant Jim Whatley was there to take down the entire R-rated outburst by Butts.

Butts' tirade posted below was given to me by a friend in West Virginia, of all places, who has never had any association with UGA football. He told me a player under Coach Butts gave it to him, and swears the recorded raving prior to the '60 Alabama game is the absolute truth. Regardless, I thought it was rather humorous and entertaining. It's a little dirty, and I try to keep this blog relatively clean, so I did my darndest to mark up the profanity.

Finally, if anyone can shed any light on the following rant (i.e., Have you seen it before? Is it legitimate?, etc.), please feel free, but only if you can keep your comments PG-rated...

March 18, 2015

Spring Has Sprung!

I'll be covering the Dawgs all spring and into the fall at, posting articles, videos, photos, and more. 

Come on over and take a look, beginning with my first report of spring practice, where I learned yesterday that Jeremy Pruitt, just in case you've been wondering since the Belk Bowl, still doesn't play!

February 25, 2015

Here's John (for Johnny)!

With OC Charley Trippi there for support, DC
John Gregory backs up Johnny Griffith as head
coach against Alabama in 1961. 
It's been a long, three weeks since my last post. Recently starting a new full-time job covering a few college football teams, including our beloved Bulldogs, while in the thick of working on two book projects both due to be released this fall, more of the same sporadic blog posting is anticipated over the next few months. 

A reminder: please visit and "like" my UGA football page, where I post at least once, often multiple times, nearly on a daily basis.

Speaking of continuity, or lack thereof as is the case recently with my blog, following Tony Ball's departure and Thomas Brown's arrival, I discovered Georgia has now experienced three or more annual coaching changes, whether by coordinator or position coach, entering back-to-back seasons under the same head coach for only the second time in the last half-century-plus since Coach Dooley's arrival in 1964. The only other time this occurred was in 1999-2000, or entering the final two seasons of the Coach Donnan era.     

Such coaching changeoverlikely, a sign of the times, so to speak, more than anythingreminded me of the overall importance of assistant coaches to a program, especially to the players, beginning with the recruitment process (just ask UCLA about Roquan Smith), and the head coach they serve under. Thus, I'm prompted to tell the intriguing but obscure story of a particular Georgia assistant coach from a long time ago, who loyally served under a pair of Bulldog head coaches, only to be caught between the two in the end:

"No, I don't think so," answered the only person reachable for comment at the time, Winnie Butts. "Probably one of the assistants will do it."

Winnie, the wife of Georgia's then-previous head coach, Wally Butts, was who remained after the quick departure for Athens General Hospital by her husband and the wife of the then-current Bulldog head coach, Johnny Griffith. Griffith played and been an assistant under Butts, and had succeeded him less than nine months earlier. He was rushed to the hospital to undergo emergency surgery for acute appendicitis, and Winnie was left to answer if her husband was going to fill Griffith's spot the next day as Georgia's head coach for its 1961 season opener against Alabamawhat was supposed to be Griffith's first game at the helm.  

"What A Way To Start A Season," headlined the United Press International, "and also a head coaching career," might I add, for Griffith, who at 36 years old was set to be the second-youngest head coach in the SEC. While Griffith laid in a hospital bed, assistant John Gregory was handed the daunting task of heading up a team less than 24 hours before facing the third-ranked Crimson Tide and their head coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant. 

Gregory had college head coaching experience, guiding McNeese State to a combined on-field record of 12-6-1 in 1955 and 1956 before departing for Georgia, where he was named ends coach under Butts, and chosen over the likes of the esteemed Joe Tereshinski. With Griffith replacing Butts four years later, Gregory was promoted to defensive coordinator, but first he'd have to undertake an even bigger task.

Just a touchdown underdog to Alabama at Sanford Stadium, Gregory's Dogs hung around the Tide for a half, trailing only 10-0 at intermission, until the visiting foe opened the flood gates, building a 32-0 lead late in the fourth quarter despite the fact they had gained only 256 yards of offense. Georgia's offense, which totaled a paltry 112 yards and five first downs, finally found paydirt on the game's last play when Dale Williams tossed a 13-yard touchdown to Carlton Guthrie.

In the hospital, Griffith had planned to follow the game by radio but reportedly slept through the 32-6 loss. While on the field, the defeat was unfortunately a sign of things to come for the next three seasonsall losingwhich made up the Coach Griffith era. 

Gregory was the defensive coordinator for the first two seasons of Griffith's tenure, but absent from the 1963 campaign because of a certain article printed in the Saturday Evening Post in March of that yeara piece many in the Bulldog Nation are quite familiar with, although you probably won't find it mentioned anywhere in the annals of UGA football. Of course, the article claimed Butts, who was Georgia's athletic director at the time, gave away "Georgia's plays, defensive patterns, all the significant secrets Georgia's football team possessed" to, ironically, Alabama's Bryant prior to the teams meeting in 1962a 35-0 loss by the Bulldogs in Birmingham with, this time, Griffith present on the sidelines versus the Tide.

Because of the article, Butts filed a libel suit against the publisher of the Post, resulting in an 11-day trial prior to the start of the 1963 season. In defense of Butts included two Georgia assistant coaches, including Gregory, claiming the plays supposedly passed between Butts and Bryant wouldn't have aided Alabama significantly. On the contrary, testifying for the publisher were three Georgia coaches, including Griffith, declaring the information would have indeed helped the Crimson Tide.

After emergency surgery, Griffith (right) is back
the next week vs. Vandy. After the next season,  
Gregory would be gone for his backing of Butts.
Despite the fact Gregory had first curiously signed a statement indicating the information allegedly passed would have actually helped Alabama, and the popular opinion of the time was Butts and Bryant were likely in cahoots to "fix" the 1962 Georgia-Alabama game, Butts came out of court on top (similar to another aforementioned ex-Bulldog head coach when it seemed to most he probably would lose a highly-publicized trial).

Regarded as a star witness in Butts' successful suit, John Gregory had stepped up and defended his old head coach against an opposition, which included his current head coach, after previously relieving the current head coach two years before, all of which involving the same competitionAlabama and Bear Bryantin successive seasons. 

Soon after the jury awarded Butts a whopping $3.06 million in general and punitive damages, Griffith asked Gregory to resign from his coaching position at Georgia, and not surprisingly. The head coach really had no other choice but to ask for as much; as Gregory would say to the media, "I assumed that I was [already] fired."

The response to Griffith's request for a resignation over the phone: "I would not resign," according to Gregory. And then, perhaps motivated by all that time spent in a courtroom, where two coaching legends faced a head coach who would be forced to resign himself less than three months later, Gregory added to his refusal that Griffith, "could talk to my attorneys."

February 4, 2015

Another Signing Day That's Great, But Will It Eventually Translate?

Later today, there should be lots of smiles because
of yet another great Signing Day, but will the
smiles still abound in subsequent football seasons?
It's Signing Day! And, at least as of late last night, it appeared Coach Richt and his crew were going to ink another top-10 class by the end of this afternoon. A top-tier class would notably be Georgia's 12th class in a row (2004-2015) of ranking in the nation's top 12, which ironically followed four consecutive years (2000-2003) when the Bulldogs' recruiting class ranked 13th or lower in the country (and, as I've mentioned here before, I prefer using Phil Steele's recruiting rankings because he combines the ratings of roughly a dozen reputable recruiting services into one).

Georgia's Signing Day prowess is widely recognized, like by the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum, who said on his show last week that the Bulldogs were "amazing when it comes to recruiting." He then added, "exactly how that translates on the field...could be why we have so much conversation about Mark Richt." Finebaum indicated the success Nick Saban, for example, had in recruiting "translates" to on-field success, whereas for Richt, not so much.

I wanted to see exactly what Richt's high-ranking recruiting classes had translated towas Finebaum correct in his assertion? I've done something similar at this blog before, comparing annual team recruiting rankings with the final on-field polls during the Richt era staggered by two seasons, assuming it takes about two seasons for your average recruiting class on the whole to make a significant impact, while for what it's worth, it also took two seasons (2001 to 2003) before most of Georgia's starters under Richt were his own recruits, and not Donnan's. 

Calculating the top-25 team recruiting rankings from 2001 through 2012 (where 25 points were given to the team with the annual No. 1 recruiting class, 24 points to the annual No. 2, etc.) and the last 12 final top-25 AP Polls from 2003 through 2014 (where 25 points were given to the team with a final No. 1 AP ranking, 24 points to a No. 2, etc.), I discovered the following, where Georgia's 182 recruiting points ranked 10th in the nation, while its 139 poll points ranked 8th: 

Combined Recruiting Rankings, 2001-2012
Southern Cal, 270
Texas, 253
Ohio State, 230
Florida, 222
Notre Dame, 211
Florida State, 205
Michigan, 205
LSU, 200
Oklahoma, 199
#10: GEORGIA, 182
Tennessee, 166
Miami, 151
Alabama, 147
Penn St, 131
UCLA, 103

Combined AP Poll, 2003-2014
Ohio State, 216
Southern Cal, 179
LSU, 177
Alabama, 170
Oregon, 158
Oklahoma, 145
Texas, 142
#8: GEORGIA, 139
Boise State, 135
Florida, 119
TCU, 118
Auburn, 117
Florida State, 108
Wisconsin, 103
Virginia Tech, 101

I first noticed that of the AP Poll teams ranked 13th or higher, No. 8 Georgia was the only program not to at least play for a national championship from 2003 to 2014 and/or finish an entire season undefeated (as in the cases of Boise State and TCU).

Regardless, I then calculated the correlation coefficient between the recruiting rankings and the AP Polls for all FBS teams, resulting in 0.741Now, I had never even heard of such calculation before last April, but with +1 being a perfect positive correlation, 0.741 is considered "very strong." In other words, there is undoubtedly a relationship between the 2001 through 2012 recruiting rankings and the final AP Poll rankings staggered two years later. Therefore, if a team consistently lands top-10 talent, then it should be reflected on the field with top-10 poll finishes, or what appears to have resulted at Georgia during the Richt regime.

However, although the Bulldogs' national ranking in regards to poll points is two slots higher than that of their recruiting points, the latter is 43 points less than the former, which is the 14th worst, or most underachieving, in the FBS (just below No. 13 Texas A&M, and right above No. 15 Washington). The top-5 overachieving teams and underachieving programs in terms of difference between 2003-2014 poll points and 2001-2012 recruiting points:  
Overachievers, 2003-2014
Boise State, 135
TCU, 118
Oregon, 104
Wisconsin, 87
Louisville, 73

Underachievers, 2003-2014
Notre Dame, -158
Michigan, -131
Tennessee, -128
Texas, -111
Florida, -103
#14: GEORGIA, -43 

Having the 14th-lowest difference in the FBSis it really all that significant? Probably not. Any "underachieving" during the entirety of the Richt era actually pales in comparison to that of Notre Dame, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, and Florida during the same time frame.

Notwithstanding, Finebaum did say "why we have so much conversation about Mark Richt," and from what I recall, the "conversation" really started to heat up around 2009 when clearly the program's lofty recruiting did not translate in on-field performance. For a smaller sample size, measuring from 2007 through 2012, Georgia had the 7th-most recruiting points in the nation, yet only the 16th-most poll points from 2009 through last season, for a difference of minus-62, or the 7th-most underachieving team in the FBS: 

Underachievers, 2009-2014
Southern California, -101
Texas, -95
Notre Dame, -86
Florida, -85
Michigan, -64
Tennessee, -64
#7: GEORGIA, -62
Miami (Fla), -52
North Carolina, -48
Oklahoma, -45

On the contrary to the first half of Richt's tenure, beginning in 2009, Georgia's underachievement in the polls compared to its recruiting is very much comparable to that of, as mentioned before, Notre Dame, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, Florida, and you can add USC to the top of the underachieving list.

In summary, the Bulldogs are shaping up to have yet another stellar recruiting class in 2015, but will it eventually translate to stellar seasons? For the past six seasons it hasn't; instead, top-tier recruiting at UGA has translated to top-notch underachieving. 

January 30, 2015

When the University Boys Knew How to Play Football

An edited and updated piece of mine I originally posted five years ago: On this day 123 years ago, the University of Georgia competed in the very first of its 1,245 football games played through this past season.

The birth of one of college football’s most prominent programs began when 24-year-old Dr. Charles Herty decided to bring the sport to his alma mater after first witnessing it in Baltimore while earning his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins. At the initial practice, Herty, considered more of a “trainer” than a coach, walked onto the field carrying a Walter Camp rule book. To start practice, he simply tossed a football in the air and then watched as a group of college boys fought for it.

George Shackelford, one of those boys, said in a 1946 interview, “[Herty] selected the strongest looking specimens for the first team. Luckily I was the one who recovered the ball and thus I was assigned a position.”

Assigned for a contest against Mercer, the “strong specimens” in Georgia’s initial starting lineup averaged 156 pounds and 5-foot-10 in height, or nearly 100 pounds lighter and a half foot shorter than the Bulldogs’ starting eleven on offense for the 2014 season.

On January 30, 1892, 1,500 spectators gathered at Alumni Athletic Field on the school’s campus to witness the first intercollegiate football game in the Deep South. A few years later, the venue would be renamed “Herty Field” in honor of UGA football's founding father.

School records indicate Georgia’s mascot made its initial appearance at the Red and Black’s second game—a meeting with Auburn in Atlanta three weeks following the first contest. On the contrary, according to the Athens Banner, “the university goat was driven across the field by the boys and raised quite a ripple of laughter,” just prior to the 3:00 PM kickoff with Mercer. You also won't find in the UGA annals that the school's first mascot was almost not an animal, but literally a manan African-American gentleman, Old Tub.

Soon after the introduction of the goat, the Red and Black student section hollered, “rah, rah, rah, ta Georgia!” This was answered by the Mercer fans with a “rah, rah, rah, U-ni-v-sis-boom ah Var-sity Mercer!”

At the time, football resembled more of a rugby scrum than the sport we know of today. The rules were considerably different: no passing, five yards were needed for a first down, a kicked field goal was actually worth more than a touchdown, and because of a loophole in the game’s rules, a team kicking off could easily gain possession by nudging the ball forward, recovering it, and promptly go on the offensive. Mercer worked this type of onside kick from yesteryear to begin the game to perfection, and started with the ball around midfield.

On the first play in Georgia football history, a Mercer ball carrier was thrown for a three-yard loss. This was followed with a play for no gain, and then a lost fumble recovered by Shackelford.

On the Red and Black’s first offensive play, Frank “Si” Herty, cousin of Dr. Herty, got the ball, made an “extraordinary” run, and scored a touchdown, giving Georgia an early 4-0 advantage.

Later in the contest, Georgia increased its lead to 16-0 when Shackelford made the play of the game by scoring a two-point safety in a most unusual fashion. “I picked up the ball-carrier,” said Shackelford, “and slung him over one shoulder, carrying him [along with the football] twenty yards across his own goal-line.”

The game ended with Georgia prevailing 50-0 over the visitors. “Si” Herty led the Red and Black by scoring 5½ touchdowns. Unofficially, Herty is awarded one-half of a touchdown since he reportedly scored a touchdown together somehow with fullback Henry Brown for Georgia's final points.

The kind of "refreshments" served
down at the Athens Dispensary...
Speaking of final points, the final score should have actually been 60-0 but the official scorer made two trips to the local dispensary during the game for some “refreshments,” missing two touchdowns and a successful kick-after by Georgia.

After the game, spectators’ hats were tossed into the air and Georgia players were hoisted onto the shoulders of patrons in celebration as “the red and crimson of the University of Georgia waves triumphantly, and a score of fifty to nothing shows the university boys know how to play football.”

Exactly 123 years later, much has changed in the sport of college football, especially its rules. However, as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same, particularly, the “university boys” still know how to play some football, and play it pretty darn well.

January 23, 2015

Living Low On the Hogs

Anyone else find it mind-boggling
that Georgia continues to land a
 low number of OL signees?
With less than two weeks remaining until Signing Day, I was reminded yesterday that the Bulldogs had just two offensive line commitments for this year's class. Granted, Georgia is certainly well represented as far as non-offensive line commitments, including national top-10 prospects DT Trent Thompson and ATH Terry Godwin; however, the Bulldogs have seemingly once again failed to land an adequate number of offensive linemen, or the all-important "Hogs" upfronta curious trend that has persisted now for four consecutive years. 

The following are the number of annual offensive line signees during the Coach Richt era broken down by Rivals' star value (5 star-4 star-3 star-2 star):

Year: # of OL Signees- 5*-4*-3*-2*
2001: Four- 0-1-3-0
2002: Six- 0-3-3-0
2003: Seven- 0-2-4-1
2004: Three- 0-1-2-0
2005: One- 0-0-1-0
2006: Seven- 0-2-5-0
2007: Eight- 0-3-5-0
2008: Four- 0-2-2-0
2009: Four- 0-3-1-0
2010: Three- 0-1-2-0
2011: Six- 0-0-5-1
2012: Three- 1-0-2-0
2013: Four- 0-1-3-0
2014: Three- 0-2-1-0

Notably, for the first 11 years of the Richt era, Georgia signed an average of 4.8 offensive linemen per year, or 21% of its incoming classes; however, from 2012 to 2014, those figures dropped by roughly one-third to 3.3 and 14%, respectively.

In addition, beginning more than three decades ago in 1982or, the first season UGA linemen signees were consistently differentiated between offensive and defensiveand through 2011, there were only five occasions of back-to-back years where Georgia's annual signing class was made up of less than 16% offensive linemen (1986-1987, 1992-1993, 1993-1994, 1999-2000, and 2004-2005); it resulted just once for three consecutive years (1992-1994), and never four years in a row... that is, until likely this February 4th when it appears the Bulldogs will sign a low number of offensive linemen for the fourth consecutive Signing Day.

Recent UGA offensive lines haven't suffered 
consequences for the insufficient number of 
OL signees, but is it only a matter of time? 
Continuing to geek-out on data, I again present the "Hog Index"originally, an NFL comparative measurement for offensive line performance which I tweaked for the college game. A team's offensive line ranking is determined by its average of the following three rankings in comparison to other teams being measured: yards per rush (sacks omitted), percent of passing plays (pass attempts + times sacked) resulting in an interception or sack, and third- and fourth-down combined conversion rate.

For each of the aforementioned occasions of back-to-back years where offensive linemen made up less than 16% of Georgia's signees, the Bulldogs followed with an annual poor-to-below-average offensive line performance within two seasons, which certainly makes sense: if a team signs few offensive linemen in consecutive years, it should be expected that the team will have an inferior offensive line within a couple of seasons. And, as indicated at the link, according to the Hog Index over the last 20 years, there is a positive correlation between Georgia's annual Hog Index and its winning percentage that same season. Therefore, the worse the Bulldogs' offensive line performance, generally, the worse the overall team.

On the contrary, although Georgia signed a combined 10 offensive linemen from 2012 to 2014, it's evident that the Dogs' lowly number of Hog signees did not result in repercussions the last two seasons: in 2013 and 2014, Georgia's offensive line performance was the the 3rd-best and the very best, respectively, during the last 20 years.

Finally, perhaps the most glaring evidence concerning the Bulldogs' upcoming offensive line units: heading into the weekend and according to Rivals, although the top five non-offensive line recruits in the state of Georgia all are currently committed to become Bulldogs, nonenot a single oneof the state's top nine offensive linemen have committed to UGA. Baffling!

In summary, although Georgia's offensive line has been admirable the last few seasons on the field, off the field, those responsible at UGA for signing offensive linemen have done a dreadful joban unprecedented lackluster effort in landing the Hogs upfront. And, despite the line's recent annual performances, and the unit should be excellent in 2015, as well, history has shown if Georgia consistently doesn't land the Hogs, it could take a couple of seasons or so, but consequences eventually come back to bite the Dogs.

January 12, 2015

Able to Give Every Detail

In '66, Bruce Yawn was on the receiving
end of a rarity in UGA football lore,
and is able to give every detail of it.
"I assure you that any lineman in all of college football..." Bruce Yawn started telling me last week, "...would be able to give you every detail of it."

Yawn, a three-year lettering lineman at Georgia who started at left guard for the Bulldogs' 1968 SEC championship team, chimed in on an observation I made that there seemingly was a phenomena of sorts during the last one to two months of the college football season of linemen catching passes. 

In mid-November, a "fat guy" at Mercer was on the receiving end of a touchdown, bowled over some teammates, and then did a cartwheel. In bowl games on consecutive daysthe Cotton Bowl and Cactus Bowla 390-pounder from Baylor followed by an Oklahoma State defensive lineman caught passes on lineman-eligible pass plays. And, in helping them defeat LSU a couple of months ago, Alabama ran a pass play involving a lineman which I still don't quite fully understand

Notably, the lineman pass play, whether by design or accident (that is, off a deflection), has a small place in UGA football historyvery small, and having last occurred long ago. 

From what I discovered, the first Georgia lineman to catch a pass during the modern era was center Phil Ashe for a 2-yard gain during the 1960 campaign. For nearly all of the next half-dozen seasons, at least one Bulldog "Big Ugly" annually made a receptionabout half of which were off deflections, the rest designedly on lineman-eligible pass plays.

The longest-gaining reception by a Georgia lineman came in 1964, when first-year Bulldog coach Vince Dooley pulled the trickery against his alma mater, Auburn. Trailing by two touchdowns, QB Lynn Hughes threw to tackle George Patton on a lineman-eligible pass. Patton raced for 40 yards until tackled near the Tigers' goal line, setting up what would be the Bulldogs' lone touchdown of an eventual 14-7 loss.

Although Patton's reception was close, the only lineman in Georgia history to actually score a touchdown receiving was left guard Don Hayes against Mississippi State in the 1966 season opener. Hayes, who lined up as a guard-eligible receiver with Georgia trailing in the first quarter, caught a wide-open 4-yard touchdown from QB Kirby Moore on 3rd and goal. The score would be the difference in a 20-17 victory for Georgia, and remains the last time a Bulldog lineman caught an intentional pass attempt.

Less than a month after Hayes' catch, an undefeated Georgia team was playing Miami on a Friday night in the Orange Bowl. The Bulldog offense, which would generate less than 100 total yards of offense for the entire game, was struggling, so Moore was benched for the much-heralded sophomore signal-caller Rick Arrington. Trailing 7-6, Georgia had reached inside the Hurricanes' 20-yard line, and then, as Yawn described, "it" happened: a lineman catching a passthis time, of the deflected variety.

Against Auburn in '64, George Patton rumbles
for the longest lineman-eligible pass play in
UGA football history. 
"Arrington dropped back to pass, the pass was deflected, I looked up and saw the ball in the air and the goal line in front of me," recalled Yawn, who owned the acclaimed Snooky's Restaurant in Statesboro before its closing a few years ago.  "As I grabbed the ball, I had the vision of scoring the winning touchdown. I took two steps and was dropped for a three-yard loss."

Alas, Georgia lost to Miami that night, 7-6, in what would be the Bulldogs' lone defeat of the season.

"Every time the stats were printed that year, I received a great deal of ribbing from my fellow offensive linemen," Yawn said.

It was in 1966—the only season where Georgia completed more than one pass to a lineman—when Alabama's "Bear" Bryant ran a successful tackle-eligible pass play to help defeat Ole Miss for the second consecutive year. Bryant, who reportedly "loved" the deceptive play and "used it with great effect, especially against the Rebels," was phoned two days following the game by Ole Miss head coach John Vaught, a long-time friend of Bryant's. 

"He was mad, about to throw a fit," Bryant said of Vaught at the time. "John started a campaign to get the tackle-eligible banned from football." Vaught joined the NCAA Football Rules Committee in 1966 and, two years later, when the committee was about to adjourn, Vaught reportedly lodged a chair under the doorknob of the meeting room and declared that no one was leaving until something was done about "that damn tackle-eligible pass."

Essentially, a college lineman can catch a pass under today's rules; however, five men on an offensive line must wear jersey numbers 50 to 79, while it is ruled players wearing numbers 50 to 79 are not eligible to catch a forward pass (unlike before the late 1960s). Therefore, in order for a lineman to be eligible he can a) change jersey numbers during the game as was the case of the Baylor lineman; b) be a defensive lineman wearing numbers other than 50 to 79 as was the case of the Oklahoma State lineman; or c) catch a backward lateral pass as was the case of Mercer's "fat boy."

Still, despite ways to get around the no-passing-to-linemen rule, it has been nearly a half-century since a Georgia lineman caught a pass intentionally thrown his way. Even receptions made off deflections have been rare, occurring just once since Yawn's memorable 3-yard loss in 1966. A deflection against Auburn was caught by guard Kim Stephens for an 11-yard gain in 1987, or more than 27 years ago, justifying that a receptionwhether intentionally thrown or not, and no matter the number of yards gainedmade by a Georgia lineman should be a dream come true, of sorts, for that Bulldog player. 

"Fifty years later, I am able to tell my nine grandchildren that I am in the record books for UGA football," Yawn added. And, I'm sure the former Bulldog lineman is able give them every detail of it.

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.