You’ve been given three trips on a time machine to take you back to any three Georgia football games in history. Which ones do you pick, and why?
That’s the kind of impossible-but-fun question fans come up with in sports bars, and it usually leads to an interesting discussion.
A while back, someone posed a similar query to columnist Stewart Mandel of The Athletic, covering college football games in general. Mandel opted for Rutgers vs. Princeton in 1869 (the very first college game), the tie between Notre Dame and Michigan in 1966, and the Auburn-Alabama “Kick Six” game in 2013.
I’ve always been a sucker for a good time travel film or novel, so I decided to tackle the same exercise in what-if, only I limited it to UGA football games. My first couple of destinations came to me quickly, but settling on a third required thought, discussion, and the setting of some arbitrary criteria.
Both my brothers, and my son and daughter, suggested the Georgia-Oklahoma overtime thriller in the Rose Bowl. Yeah, it would be great to be at that big Dawgs win in Pasadena (as my son was). I definitely consider it to be one of UGA’s all-time greatest games. Along the same lines, you could make a good case for traveling back to the Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame that gave Georgia the 1980 national championship, or the 10-9 “what time is it in Dallas?” Cotton Bowl upset of Texas, neither of which I got to attend in person.
However, I decided I didn’t want to use my limited voyages on this hypothetical time machine (hopefully not made out of a hot tub) to watch a game that I’d already seen on TV.
Instead, I opted for three-ish (I’ll explain) games that weren’t televised, and one of which happened before I was born.
So, let’s fire up the time machine; here are my destinations …
Georgia-Alabama, Oct. 31, 1942, Grant Field, Atlanta.
This was during Georgia’s first national championship season, and, while there were other games in 1942 that might have meant more overall (including UGA’s victory in its only other Rose Bowl appearance), I have a personal reason for wanting to attend this particular one, which took place back when the Dawgs still played the occasional “home” game in Atlanta.
It also was a great game. Wally Butts’ Bulldogs, featuring the one-two punch of that season’s Heisman Trophy winner, Frankie Sinkwich, and fellow future College Hall of Famer Charley Trippi, had an 11-game winning streak going, and Bama had won eight in a row entering this matchup.
The Crimson Tide led 10-0 with 10 minutes remaining, when Butts told Sinkwich to “shoot the works” with the passing game. Sinkwich complied, throwing two touchdown passes to George Poschner, and Andy Dudish snagged a fumble in the air and returned it for another score. Georgia won 21-10. Many years later, Butts said that game was the greatest comeback by one of his teams, and his greatest single day in football.
However, the main reason I’d like to travel back to see the Alabama game is that my father was on the Georgia sideline.
Dad, who shortly would be going into the Army in World War II, had traveled to Atlanta with a friend for the game, but there was just one problem: They didn’t have tickets.
They hung around outside the stadium, though, and one of the UGA coaches took pity on them and gave them sideline passes.
“We’ll call you high school prospects,” he said.
So, for one game, at least, my father was a UGA “recruit”!
On to my next destination …
Georgia-Michigan, Oct. 2, 1965, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor.
Two weeks after upsetting national champion Alabama in Athens with the famous flea-flicker play, Vince Dooley’s second team was ranked No. 10 as it headed to Ann Arbor to play 7th-ranked Michigan, the defending Big 10 and Rose Bowl champion.
The favored Wolverines were much bigger than the Bulldogs, but Georgia held its own in the first half at the Big House, trailing 7-6 at halftime on the strength of two Bobby Etter field goals.
It was all Georgia in the second half. A fourth-quarter scoring drive by the Dawgs, keyed by a 23-yard scamper by Preston Ridlehuber (who alternated at quarterback with Kirby Moore), put Georgia up 12-7. Then, QB-turned-All-American-safety Lynn Hughes intercepted a Michigan pass and returned it 38 yards, setting up another Etter field goal, for the final upset score of 15-7.
The time the team would be landing at local Ben Epps Field (back when the Dawgs still flew out of Athens) was announced on Athens radio, and, as Dooley later recalled, “cars were lined up from the city of Athens all the way to the airport. Some fans just parked on the side of the road and walked to the airport.”
The crowd of 10,000 fans at the airport chanted and cheered. When they thought the Bulldogs’ charter was landing, they started chanting “Here they come!” and “Damn good team!” It turned out to be a commercial flight, not the Bulldogs’ charter, prompting the chant to become “Wrong damn plane, wrong damn plane!”
If, for some reason, the time machine can’t land in Ann Arbor, I’d settle for being at Ben Epps Field that night!
Meanwhile, on the way back from 1965, I’d try to get the time-traveling pilot to stop off in Jacksonville on Nov 5, 1966, so I could catch the second half of the game between No. 5 Florida and No. 7 Georgia.
This was the day that Bill Stanfill, playing despite an injury, sacked that season’s Heisman Trophy winner, Gators QB Steve Spurrier, four times, as the Dawgs overcame a 10-3 deficit. Spurrier was harassed all day by Stanfill, George Patton and Dicky Phillips, and wound up throwing three interceptions, including one to my boyhood hero (and customer on my Atlanta Journal paper route) Lynn Hughes, who returned it 50 yards for a TD.
Florida made no first downs, and gained only 34 yards after halftime, as the Dawgs outscored the Gators 24-0 in the second half on their way to a 27-10 win. It’s the game that gave birth to Spurrier’s lifelong hatred of UGA, and I’d like to be there to see that happen.
Finally, my official “third” destination would be …
Georgia-Yale, Oct. 12, 1929, Sanford Stadium, Athens.
This was the day UGA’s new stadium was dedicated, and, since the school’s founder, Abraham Baldwin, had been a Yalie, Georgia invited its “mother institution,” which made its first trip South.
Yale was a national power in football back then, and it was a gala weekend in Athens, with reporters and dignitaries from all over the country on hand. At least 15 trains delivered 40 cars of folks to Athens for the very big game, which was broadcast nationally on radio by NBC. The UGA band greeted the Yale team by playing the older school’s fight song, and the Yale band, marching in a parade through downtown Athens, returned the favor by playing “Hail to Georgia.”
More than 30,000 crammed into the new stadium (they even sold space in the aisles) for the game. Yale hit the field wearing long-sleeved blue wool jerseys on a hot, humid day that even taxed coach Harry Mehre’s young Georgia team (which started eight sophomores and wore what was then its home whites). Athens resident Milton Leathers recalls his father, Georgia player “Red” Leathers, saying he “lost about 12 pounds” that day.
Georgia won, 15-0, with all of the points credited to future College Football Hall of Famer Vernon “Catfish” Smith — a second-quarter touchdown on a blocked punt recovered in the Yale end zone (after which Smith also kicked the PAT); a third-quarter safety on another failed Yale punt; and a touchdown pass caught by Smith in the fourth quarter.
However, Leathers quotes his father and other Georgia players as saying that, in reality, Catfish Smith did not score all 15 points.
One of Georgia’s scores actually was by teammate Bobby Rose, Leathers said. “As the pile of players stood up, Catfish said, ‘Bobby, give me the ball!’ At halftime, they all said, ‘Bobby, tell Coach Mehre those points are yours.’ Bobby Rose did not care. And thereby hangs a tale. Or a legend. And it’s not nice to mess with legends.”
Leathers’ memory was that the play in question was the safety, but that occurred after halftime, and UGA football historian Patrick Garbin checked the reports in the next day’s Atlanta Constitution and Los Angeles Times, and both reported Yale’s Albie Booth ran out of the end zone, rather than being tackled. Smith was credited with the safety for chasing him out.
It’s more likely the play Leathers’ dad was remembering was Georgia’s first score, the blocked punt. You can see a pile of players in the end zone on that touchdown in the photo on this page.
Still, Leathers said his dad and Catfish were lifelong friends, and no one really minded Smith getting credit for all the points.
“We all need our heroes,” he said.
Amen to that.
A different kind of trip back in time
I reminisce about my love of train dining cars in a column I’ve written for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. You can find it here, and it is in the print edition of Sunday’s AJC. In addition, some of the stories behind that story can be found at my Quick Cuts blog, where I share memories of The Station, an entertainment complex at a former train station in Athens that included the legendary T.K. Harty’s Saloon. Check it out at here.