Saturday Memories

It’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog. Fall in Athens. Between the Hedges, in the stands, or watching the game on TV matters not. On Saturday morning I wake up all full of nervous energy.

My neighbors laugh at me. If I’m not going to the game, I’m in the yard. Blowing off the driveway, raking pine straw, pulling weeds. If it’s a big SEC game (and they all are) I might even make it to the roof. Yea, the neighbors laugh, but they don’t know. They’ve only been in Athens a couple of years. I try to educate them. But they can’t understand. They weren’t born in Athens. They didn’t attend UGA. They can’t get it.

They didn’t see Georgia bury The Citadel 76-0 in 1958. It was my first Bulldog game. Billy Slaughter played for the Dogs that day. I’m proud to say that I saw Billy play. Wally’s Boys are all special, but Billy and I had been friends for several years before I asked him one day if he played in the Citadel game. He laughed and said yea that it was one of the few games that he got into. He sweated and bled in Coach Butts’ legendary practices every day knowing that he wasn’t likely to see action in games. But he kept coming back. He shook his head as he thought about those days and told me that he didn’t know why he did it. But I could see it in his eyes as he remembered. It was pride. He was proud to be one of Wally’s Boys. He was proud to be a Georgia Bulldog. Talking to him made me proud to be a Bulldog fan and knowing that he played in the first game that I ever saw made me even more proud.

I saw Georgia lose 21-0 to Vandy on a rainy Saturday in 1961. I remember sitting alone in the stands as the clock ticked down. I had gone to the game with Kelley and the YMCA. We played a game on the field before the teams came out. The early arriving students and our parents cheered us on as we ten year olds played and dreamed Between the Hedges. It was another thing that let me know how privileged I was to grow up in Athens.  But on this dreary Saturday as I sat there waiting for my parents to come down from their seats I had to face for the first time that Georgia wasn’t always a good football team. But they were still my football team.

I remember the FSU game in 1964. Georgia lost the game but the spirit was reborn that day under first year coach Vince Dooley. We then won four of our next five including victories over Kentucky, Florida, and Tech before beating a good Texas Tech team in the Sun Bowl. We were good again.

The Dogs entered 1965 wanting to show the nation that we were ready to enter the upper echelon of college football. The opponent opening day was defending national champ Alabama and for the first time ever, television came to show off our beautiful stadium to a national audience.

I was sitting (actually standing and yelling)  alongside my father on row 42, south side, around the 40 yard line when Kirby Moore dropped back to pass. He threw the ball to Pat Hodgson about 15 yards downfield and Hodgson lateraled the ball to Bob Taylor who streaked by him and past the Alabama defenders who were converging on Hodgson and he sprinted to the endzone for a 73 yard touchdown to pull Georgia within one point. Moore then hit Hodgson for the two point extra point and the Dogs won 18-17.

The flea flicker play is written in stone, but just think if we’d had instant replay in 1965. The officials would probably still (50 years later) be in the pressbox stopping the film frame by frame trying to determine if Hodgson’s knee hit the ground. Well I was there and I can tell you without any doubt that it was a legal play.

1966 brought Coach Dooley’s first  SEC Championship and another of my all time favorite games.

Florida came into Jacksonville undefeated and looking not only for their first ever SEC Championship, but they were going to win it all, the National Championship.

George Patton and Bill Stanfill harassed Mr. Heisman (Spurrier), Lynn Hughes, one of my all time favorite Bulldogs,  picked off a Spurrier pass and went for a touchdown and the Georgia offence showed the Gators the meaning of physical when Coach Dooley sent in two fullbacks (senior Ronnie Jenkins and sophomore Brad Johnson) and QB Moore took the snap on first and goal and trotted around the end untouched as the two big men laid waste to the Gator defenders.

The Gator players spent the fourth quarter begging “please Mr. Bulldog don’t hit us again” while Spurrier whined and cried on the Gator bench.

The ’76 season was highlighted by a 21-0 beat down of Alabama that keyed an incredible 48 hours of partying in Athens that led to a hangover that got us beaten in Oxford the next weekend. Our only loss of the regular season.

We did however lose in the Sugar Bowl, memorable for different reasons. I like to go to games early and watch the teams warm up. This Sugar Bowl game against Pittsburgh was the first time that I ever watched a team warming up and went into a total panic knowing that we were going to be massacred.

They must have had 1,000 players on their team and they all looked like they could play for the Green Bay Packers. That we just lost that game 27-3 was a tribute to the pride and dogged determination of the Georgia players. I stayed until the end proud that they only lost by 24 points.

Four years later I sat on the floor of the Superdome and felt much different. The Dogs had just beaten Notre Dame to clinch the National Championship. Everybody else was dancing and jumping around but all I wanted to do was sit and watch and feel the emotions and the memories from my years as a Bulldog fan wash over me.

But that wasn’t even my favorite moment of 1980. My favorite moment came in the second game of the season. Texas A@M came to Athens as a preseason top 20 team and was probably favored over the Dogs (I’ll have to check that with Reno).

I think that it was Georgia’s first play from scrimmage. The first time that I saw Hershel carry the ball. He swept around the right side and exploded 75 yards or so for a touchdown. Nobody could touch him. Nobody could catch him. To appreciate my feeling you have to keep in mind that this was the time of end zone dances and ball spiking after scores. Hershel crossed the goal line and turned back towards the field. He sidestepped a teammate wanting to celebrate, took a couple of steps, handed the ball to the referee and trotted back to the Georgia sideline. I was in love.

That’s enough memories for one off Saturday. I just barely scratched the surface on my first 22 years and I haven’t even mentioned the 35 years since. Let me just say that Mark Richt is my sixth Bulldog coach and he’s my favorite. He’s got me half way through his 15th season with a lot of great memories already and knowing that the best is yet to come. Starting this week at Florida.

It’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog.

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