First Game Can’t Get Here Soon Enough
OK, y’all. Here I am. I know that I am not due to appear until next week, when my Fearless Friday Forecast comes out, but I just can’t stand it. I am so past ready that I just had to jump the gun. The Good Looking Guy in the Red Shirt is back. The season is soon to follow, and what a season I think it will be!
But as we approach kick-off for the 2014 campaign, I thought it might be fun to look back, over the next few days, at some memories of season openers of years gone by, so here we go. Toe meets leather!
Oops. That’s not right. Scratch that. We’ll leave that expression to the Nerds on North Avenue as they prepare to roll out the perfect option against the mighty Wofford Terriers. If I were a teenager I’d put LMAO after that comment, but I haven’t been a teenager for a lot of years, so I won’t.
Alright, get the picture now. Better? The year was 1965. I can honestly say that was the first season opener I can remember looking forward to with any anticipation. I was 13 years old and Vince Dooley had been in Athens for just over a year. He had brought us out of the quagmire that was the Johnny Griffith era with a 7-3-1 inaugural season which included a shutout victory over Georgia Tech and a duplicate 7-0 win over Donny Anderson and Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl on the day after Christmas.
Does that make you wonder when the last time Georgia pitched back-to-back shutouts? Believe it or not, it was 2006 when the Dawgs beat South Carolina and UAB 18-0 and 34-0, respectively. Before that it was 1980. Last year’s team held Vanderbilt to 31, though.
Speaking of defenses—and season openers—in 1971 Georgia beat Oregon State 56-25 on the first day of the season. Georgia’s defense would give up a total of 4 touchdowns over the next 9 games. You read that right. Georgia’s opponents failed to score in 5 of those 9 games and they scored one touchdown in each of the other 4. Can you say “Junkyard Dogs?” And the younger generation wonders why old farts like me revere Erk Russell and go around writing “GATA” on everything they see.
I know. I know. It was a different age and a different game. But let me give you one more stat that Jeff Dantzler knows by heart and I had to look up. Over the 17 years that Erk Russell coached the Georgia defense, the opponent’s final score was a big fat 0 a total of 26 times. In the ensuing 33 years, it has happened only 14 times. I know. Different era. But still . . . Get after their ass, indeed.
One more Erk story. Sports Illustrated was doing a feature on the violence in college football and used a picture in the article from a Georgia game in which 10 of the Dogs’ 11 defenders were tackling an enemy player. The reporter asked Erk what he thought when he saw the picture. Erk responded, “I wondered where in the hell the eleventh player was.”
Let me get back to 1965. Georgia was playing Alabama, of course. Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide was the defending champion of college football and the game was going to be televised. It would be the first contest ever televised from Sanford Stadium and I was as pumped as a 13 year-old boy could be pumped. I was going to actually get to see Georgia play between the hedges from the comfort of my own living room—not that it was all that comfortable.
My daddy even got excited about the game and went out and bought a six-pack of those little Coca-Colas for the occasion and made popcorn on the stove. You’d have to know my father and understand life in the Southern mill villages of the 1960s to understand how big that was.
My buddy Steve Piper, who was three years older, lived three houses up the street. He stayed at his house, watching with his daddy. We met in the back alley at half-time, however, to marvel at how well the Bulldogs were playing and at the fact that we were still in the game. We threw the football around until his father, N.J. whistled for him to come back in for the second half.
My mama and daddy and I watched in disbelief in the fourth quarter as Kirby Moore, in beautiful black and white, hit Pat Hodgson with a desperation pass which Hodgson lateralled, from his knees, if you believe Alabama fans and stop-action camera footage, to Bob Taylor, who ran the ball 73 yards into the end zone for a never-to-be forgotten touchdown. We held our breath as Coach Vince Dooley decided to go for two points and the win—this in the age before overtime games. When Moore found Pat Hodgson in the end zone for the two-point conversion and the ultimate win I went tearing out my back door and right back down the ally to meet a jubilant Steve Piper. We jumped into one another’s arms and celebrated long into the afternoon.
When we got through jumping around in the alleyway we dashed down the street to taunt the only Tech fan we knew, about the Georgia victory. His name was Craig Hertwig. His brother played at Tech, but he would grow up to be called Sky and make All America at UGA.
I never dreamed, at the time, that I would grow up and get to know so many of the luminaries of that game. My dear friend, Wayne Ingle, loves to tell me the story of that game and does so several times a year. According to Wayne Ingle—and other reputable sources—the team had practiced the “Flea Flicker,” as it has become known in Dawglore through the ages, all week without having once run it successfully. Wayne says that he was in the game at tight end and breathed a sigh of relief when Pat Hodgson came rushing into the game to replace him, calling out “Flea Flicker, Flea Flicker!” He also likes to point out, as does Coach Dooley, that the two-point conversion was necessary to secure victory.
I have also gotten to know Pat Hodgson well through his work with the annual Georgia Club celebrity golf outing, which I am allowed to participate in, even though I am not a celebrity or a golfer. He is an incredible person that would give you the shirt off his back. He still looks like he could play, too. Wayne does not.
Bob Taylor, the third leg of the Moore to Hodgson to Taylor triumvirate, died recently. I have a Bob Taylor story, too.
When I was a PE major at Georgia in 1970, Coach Earl Fales decided that it would be a great idea to have all the PE majors take a football course in which they actually suited up and practiced all quarter. We played an actual game the last week of the course. Bob Taylor had come back to school, at the age of 26, to finish his degree. He was a man, literally, among boys. I was playing quarterback and one play into the game he tackled me so hard that my stomach felt like it was coming out of the back of my head. I saw stars for days and still get a headache when I think about the play.
Mainly I remember coming to and staring into the eyes of Coach Fales who was saying, “That tackle was a thing of beauty, Huckaby. I’m sorry you had to sleep through it.”
Opening day. It can’t get here soon enough. I wonder who might make history against Clemson.
Go Dawgs and GATA.
Darrell Huckaby is an author, educator and syndicated newspaper columnist. Visit his website at Dhuck08@bellsouth.net.