A classic Erk Russell story was making the rounds on Twitter this week.
It involves a rattlesnake.
Russell, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 80, was the legendary UGA defensive for 17 years, including for the Bulldogs’ national championship season of 1980. Also, after talking with a UGA fan, he helped popularize the phrase “Junkyard Dawgs.”
However, this Erk moment happened when he was the head coach of Georgia Southern, where he won three NCAA I-AA national championships.
After NBA-bound Len Bias and an NFL player died of a cocaine overdose within a span of weeks, Russell had what some old-timers call a “teaching moment” with his 1986 team. Others would call it “risky.”
Here’s the story as originally reported by former Augusta Chronicle sports reporter Chris Gay:
With drug use in the national spotlight, Russell found a unique way to get across his message at a team meeting early in the season.
After the entire football team crowded into a small room, Russell brought in a friend carrying a box. According to former Georgia Southern player Ross Worsham (you can read the full story at coolcatchristian.com), Russell had his assistant coaches lock the doors. After the man placed the box in the middle of the room, Russell removed the snake from the box with a handling stick. The snake rattled and hissed as the frightened players backed away as far as they could.
After a few moments, the snake was put back in the box. Russell made his point.
“They wanted to get out of that room,” Russell said then about his players to oknews. “I told ‘em, “When that white stuff (cocaine) comes into a room, you’re not nearly as apt to leave as when that rattlesnake comes in. Look, they’ll both kill you. If that white stuff comes into a room, you get out of there like it’s a rattlesnake because it is!’ ”
Russell appeared close to being named as UGA’s head coach a couple of times, but neither one worked out. He was set to succeed Vince Dooley in 1980 after Auburn made a lucrative offer to Dooley to be both the head football coach and athletics director; however, Dooley turned it down. Years later (1988), when Dooley retired, Russell was considered the frontrunner for the vacant job, but he was edged out by Ray Goff.
Back to the snake story: In the tweet below, one of Erk’s former star players (Flint Matthews) commented on the event this week:
Pretty close ! On point with the intent of the rattler. Eyewitness here. Not a locker room, but a classroom we used as a meeting room. Erk didn't open the box ..the guy kinda dumped him out on a table. 2 Doors not locked, because the room pretty much emptied in about 0.5 sec.
— Flint Matthews (@flint_matthews) February 26, 2019