ATLANTA – There is nobody in Georgia’s camp more excited about the Bulldogs’ trip to Notre Dame this fall than Vince Dooley. In fact, it’s a trip he thought he’d be making as UGA’s athletic director two decades ago.
Georgia’s legendary former football coach Dooley revealed earlier this week that he thought he had “locked down” a deal with the Fighting Irish for a home-and-home series in the “late-1990s.” But it fell apart, he said, before they could get a contract signed.
“The AD we were working with left,” Dooley said in an interview with DawgNation before speaking to an international group of Rotarians earlier this week at the College Football Hall of Fame. “The new AD wasn’t interested. We almost had it worked out. We were excited about it.”
The 84-year-old Dooley could not remember exactly when the games would’ve been played. But he said that the talks ended because Notre Dame had “a change in administration.” That means the negotiations likely took place in 1999 as Notre Dame Athletic Director Mike Wadsworth resigned under pressure in February of 2000.
That was a tumultuous time for the Fighting Irish indeed. The program was in the throes of an NCAA investigation that would eventually result in a major infractions case that exposed notorious booster and felonious embezzler Kim Dunbar, who admitted to having relationships with and lavishing gifts on players.
Dooley just knows he and Georgia really wanted to put the series together then and he’s thrilled that they finally have now. The Bulldogs will play in South Bend in the second week of the season this fall, and Notre Dame will come to Athens in Week 4 of the 2019 season.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Dooley said. “It’s a natural.”
Dooley has a special affinity for Notre Dame, and it goes beyond the fact that his 1980 Georgia football team defeated the Fighting Irish in the Sugar Bowl to claim the Bulldogs’ second consensus national championship. He talked about rooting for Notre Dame growing up as a Catholic boy in Mobile, Ala.
“Growing up that’s where I wanted to go to school,” said Dooley, who ended up playing quarterback at Auburn. “I was a Catholic boy and we used to sit around and listen to Notre Dame on the radio. We’d have a rosary going as we listened, praying for Notre Dame to win.”
The Irish usually did. Notre Dame currently has the second-most national championships in college football (12). But “Dooley’s Dawgs” defeated the Irish 17-10 on Jan. 1, 1981, to complete a perfect 12-0 season. Freshman tailback Herschel Walker rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
That was the last season for Notre Dame coach Dan Devine, who had announced his retirement shortly before the season. He was feted at a grand banquet the next spring and Dooley was asked to speak on behalf of the American Football Coaches Association.
“So I went up and spoke and I told them that I’d always wanted to go to Notre Dame, and now I’d finally gotten a chance,” Dooley said with a laugh. “Moose Kraus was the AD up there, a great basketball player back in the day. He’d punch me and say ‘we’re two of a kind.’”
Dooley pointed out that Georgia has numerous other ties to Notre Dame, including former head coach Harry Mehre, and assistant coaches Rex Enright and Frank Thomas.
Dooley will celebrate his 85th birthday on Sept. 4, the Labor Day Monday before the Bulldogs and Notre Dame play. He plans to be in South Bend that Saturday.
“Greg McGarity invited me to go,” he said of Georgia’s current AD. “I haven’t heard anything since then though.”
Odds are Vince Dooley will get to Notre Dame, just 20 years later than expected.