Rent a Home for a UGA Football Game!

February 1, 2014

"We'll Come Back"

The McKnight trio (L to R): father John
and sons David and Larry.
Recently, I was contacted by a "Russ Grimm" (no, not that Russ Grimm), who lives in Virginia but from Nebraska and a Cornhuskers fan, played "lightweight" football and rugby at Army and graduated from West Point, and actually a distant cousin to the football hall-of-fame "Hog" with the same name.  After coming across my blog, Russ proudly offered up a plethora of information regarding a family of Bulldogs from his resident state.
 
The state of Virginia has never been a recruiting pipeline for the UGA football program; for example, one can literally count on one hand how many Virginians Vince Dooley signed during his quarter-century tenure as head coach.  It was two of those handful of Dooley recruits from the statethe first twooriginally stationed more than 500 miles away from Athens, but had Bulldog blood already running through their veins.
 
Hailing from Toccoa, GA, John McKnightthe eventual father of the Bulldog recruitswas a standout center for Georgia during the 1930s.  Against Tulane in 1933just McKnight's second game on UGA's varsitythe sophomore lineman was recognized as a "star" of the contest because of a punt he blocked and for his part in opening holes for the Bulldog backfield in an upset victory over the Green Wave.  McKnight earned All-SEC honors the following season and was named co-captain for his senior campaign of 1935.
 
Soon after graduating from UGA, McKnight enlisted in the Army, where he would eventually serve as a Captain in World War II and a Company Commander of I Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment on D-Day.  A true leader, McKnight exhibited heroism and resiliency in "his escape attempts from the Nazis" after being captured by the enemy.  Upon his freedom, he was discovered to weigh a scant 60 pounds, but seemingly had possessed enough will to escape complete demise.
 
Prior to retiring at Fort Benning, GA, in the late 1960s, Colonel McKnight was stationed in Fort Monroe in Virginia.  His oldest son, John Jr., graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he was a Cadet Brigade boxing champion.  However, sons David and Lawrence (Larry)the aforementioned recruitsand daughter Mimi believed that father had known best, and the three children would become Bulldogs at UGA.

I mentioned David a while back in my posting on Georgia's "neutral-sited" season opener against Mississippi State in 1966.  In his first game as a member of UGA's varsity, McKnight's late-game interception clinched a victory in Jackson, MS.  For that entire season, he was the lone sophomore to start a game in the Bulldogs' secondary.  In the spring of 1967, McKnight was the recipient of the team's prestigious Coffee County "Hustle Award," but would be lost for the year to an injury.  Switching from the defensive backfield to the defensive line, he started at right end for the Bulldogs in 1968 and was part of the only Georgia team to date to lead the nation in scoring defense.  Weighing a mere 175 to 180 pounds at that time, McKnight remains the lightest front seven starter in UGA football history since the team fully adopted two-platoon football in the early 1960s.

Capping McKnight's junior season, undefeated Georgia was upset by Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.  The Bulldogs' defense wasn't the problem in the 16-2 loss as McKnight and his mates held the Razorbacks to only 225 total yards, yielded half the number of points the Hogs had averaged per game during the regular season, and scored the team's only points thanks to the end from Virginia:
 
video
 
For that spring's G-Day game in 1969, the Black team featured McKnight brothers as its starting defensive endssenior David and sophomore Larry.  The versatile, younger brother had played quarterback, tailback, wingback, fullback, and end for Kecoughtan High in Hampton.  At Georgia, he would eventually be moved to yet another position, defensive tackle, where he lettered in 1970 and 1971.

The 1969 campaignthe brothers' one varsity season together at Georgiawas a rough one for the Bulldogs.  Although David excelled, intercepting four passes (as a defensive lineman!), returning one thrown by Ole Miss' Archie Manning for a 34-yard touchdown, Georgia slumped to a 5-5-1 mark following its banner season the year before. 
 
It was immediately after one of the Bulldogs' setbacks in '69 that David declared to the media something that caught my attention in my researcha Joe Namath-like promise that if proclaimed today, or more like tweeted, by your average football player, you wonder if the statement would even be taken seriously.  Regardless, showing the leadership and recovery skills that his father displayed, David was not your average football player and was taken very seriously, while validating the notion that the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree:

"That game's over and we're not going to grieve about it," McKnight announced, speaking for the entire team after the defeat.  "Georgia doesn't stay down after a loss.  We'll come back."
 
Fittingly, McKnight would become a football coach; perhaps, the only other suitable career would have been one in the military.  From 1979 through 1985, he was the head coach at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, where he guided the Red Terrors to the state region final in two of his final three seasons.  From the high school ranks, McKnight was a long-time assistant under a teammate of his at Georgia, Mike Cavan, coaching at Valdosta State College, East Tennessee State, and finally SMU.
 
David McKnight instructs fellow defender
Lee Daniel during the '69 season.
If the UGA football teama program exhibiting a lack of leadership the last several years, coming off a rather disappointing season, and needing to "come back" if ever a team needed todesires a pep talk prior to the 2014 season opener against Clemson, I know where it can find a speaker.  According to the Lettermen's Club, David McKnight currently lives in St. Simons with his wife Beth.
 
Notably, in my latest book on UGA football, I list the most prominent father-son pairs to ever play at Georgia: Porter and Billy Payne, Tom Nash Sr. and Tom Jr., Knox Culpepper Sr. and son Knox, John Kasay Sr. and John Jr., Nate and Tony Taylor, and Kevin and Drew Butler.  Obviously, I mistakenly omitted a more than worthy father-son trio from the list.  If there is ever a second printing of the book, I won't make the same mistake twice.
 
Finally, I appreciate Russ enlightening me even more on a subject I tend to think I know rather well.  In our final correspondence, Russ asked aloud, "am I getting to be a Dawgs fan?"  With that, I have to inquire if the Cornhusker fan, who informed this Dawg fan of John McKnight's legacy and the "come back" attitude he passed down, is perhaps now starting  to "come around."

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am the oldest of three proud son's of David McKnight. He actually lives in St. Simons, GA. He unfortunately suffers from some memory loss due to concussions from his playing days but is otherwise doing great. I hope to bring him and his grandson to a game soon so my boy can grasp what a great player his "Pop" was. The David that you found in LA is his actually middle son. Thank you for the great article. My heart beers with pride. I'm going to go read it to my son now. All the best, J.C. McKnight.

Anonymous said...

Beams*, darn that auto correct

Patrick Garbin said...

Thanks, J.C. Sorry about the "Los Angeles" error--that's the address listed in the Lettermen's Directory. Wishing you, David, and the rest of McKnight family well!--Patrick

LMac said...

Patrick-Thank you for writing this piece about my family's legacy. I'm the second of four children of Larry McKnight, the youngest of the trio. My father blew out both of his knees his sophomore year playing for The Dawgs. He continued to coach high school football for more than 25 years in Tennessee and is now retired. The McKnight family has an immense amount of history and pride and are honored to be a part Georgia Bulldog history as well. The McKnight family wants to thank Russ and you for acknowledging our Bulldog heritage.

Anthony Stanley said...

I'm a first generation Dawg (actually, a first generation college graduate), but my father was a lifelong fan and the main reason I chose to attend UGA. The football legacies intrigue me, and in the case of the McKnight family - especially David - I'm a little more interested because he coached at my HS alma mater in Griffin, GA for only 3 games. I don't know what happened, and I don't care. I just know he was a damn good Dawg.