Like many of you, I have watched repeats of various SEC football games from recent years over the past couple of weeks, what with spring sports sidelined by the pandemic. In fact, I’ve even having resorted sampling a couple of Wake Forest games on the ACC Network to get a look at transfer quarterback Jamie Newman.
Even though it’s mostly repeats and old documentaries on the SEC Network and its ESPN parent right now, I’ve still been struck by how spoiled today’s UGA fans are when it comes to seeing the Dawgs on television.
Those of us following the Bulldogs in the 1960s, ’70s and even the early ’80s can remember when getting to see Georgia play on TV was a big deal, something that didn’t happen all that often.
Nowadays, all of the Dawgs’ games are televised, even the cupcakes, but, through the ’90s and even into the early 2000s, that wasn’t the case.
Still, the last time less than half the Bulldogs’ schedule was televised was 1993, when we got to see only five games. And five games seemed a lot at the time.
Incredibly, during the national championship season of 1980, Herschel Walker and the Dawgs were on TV only three times: the South Carolina matchup with George Rogers, the Florida game, and the Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame. No wonder Larry Munson’s radio broadcasts were so important to us.
Actually, I clearly can recall the very first time UGA was seen playing football on TV. It was New Year’s Day, 1960, and Wally Butts’ Bulldogs, led by QB Fran Tarkenton, were set to play Missouri in the Orange Bowl. I awoke that morning with both sides of my face ballooned out with a terrible case of the mumps, but my 7-year-old self was determined not to miss the game! Thankfully, Mom allowed it, propping me up with pillows to see Georgia take a 14-0 win.
The next time the Dawgs were on TV was the following fall, when Georgia’s 21-6 loss to Alabama in Birmingham became the first regular-season Georgia football game to be televised and, in fact, the first college football game ever televised by ABC Sports.
The Bulldogs weren’t on the tube again until Vince Dooley wound up his first season at the helm, with 7-0 win over Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl.
The fact that Georgia rarely appeared on TV in those days wasn’t unusual. Back then, the game of the week was literally the game of the week! I remember what a major event it was when ABC came to Athens to televise the 1965 season opener against national champion Alabama. There’s no doubt that the Dawgs’ flea-flicker upset win being televised to the entire nation was a big leg up for Dooley in returning the Georgia program to national relevance.
I was in 8th grade at the time, and attended the game with my Dad, so I didn’t see the telecast, but 12-year-old Darrell Huckaby watched it on TV at his home. After the Dawgs won, he ran out his back door and turned down the alley toward the house where future Bulldogs player Craig Hertwig lived. “We leaped into one another’s arms, like in one of those old movies,” he recalled.
Beginning in the late 1960s, and lasting until the mid-70s, Georgia usually only had two or three regular-season games on TV each year.
An eye-opener for many younger fans is that the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville, now an automatic addition to the CBS schedule, wasn’t televised at all until ABC gave it a regional slot (as opposed to national) in 1967. It would be another 20 years before the clash between the Dawgs and Gators started being televised every year.
A little-remembered Dawgs TV footnote is that, in 1981-82, Georgia’s games were taped for delayed replay Sunday nights on Channel 5 and Monday nights on cable’s USA Network. Longtime Atlanta sportscaster (and UGA grad) Bill Hartman called those games, with folks like Lewis Grizzard, Buck Belue and longtime high school coach Butch Clifton doing the color. “It was all about Herschel,” Hartman told me this week. “Once he left Georgia, the production stopped.”
Things started looking up in 1984, when Ted Turner’s SuperStation signed an SEC football deal. That year, half a dozen Georgia games were televised, and that was about par for the course through the rest of the ’80s.
We gradually started seeing more games televised as CBS, ABC and Turner were joined by Fox, the nascent ESPN (which showed its first UGA game in 1984) and various regional syndicators like Jefferson-Pilot/Raycom. Local Atlanta stations even televised games occasionally.
There also were a few cupcake games shown on pay-per-view. That included one game in 2004, the first season that all of Georgia’s games were on TV in one way or another.
An ESPN syndication package, originally called the SEC Network (later SEC TV), joined the fray in 2009, and all of Georgia’s football games have been televised nationally or regionally ever since then. SEC TV was replaced in 2014 by today’s 24-hour SEC Network.
Looking back over 60 years of Bulldogs football on television, many high points come to mind. Asked to name their favorite Georgia game on TV, a lot of fans automatically say the 1981 Sugar Bowl against the Fighting Irish.
Frankly, I think viewers who weren’t fans of either school probably found that 17-10 Georgia win a bit of a snore. My longtime friend Ben Anderson conceded that it was “not the most dramatic of games with a lot of twists and turns,” but he made the valid point that it still “was a national title game with a one-possession final score.”
The other great TV game that quickly comes to mind is the thrilling double-overtime 2018 Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma. Many believe that one is Georgia’s greatest game ever — and its back-and-forth nature made it great television, too.
Another fan favorite is the 1971 Thanksgiving night comeback win over Georgia Tech engineered by Athens’ Andy Johnson, televised nationally by ABC.
A much less remembered game, treasured by Jeff Dantzler of the Bulldogs radio network as an “underrated doozy,” is Georgia’s 1982 visit to Starkvegas for a 29-22 win over Mississippi State. “Herschel was tremendous,” recalled Dantzler, who watched the regional CBS telecast as a boy from his home in Statesboro.
Another TV game that stands out in the memories of fans who came of age in the ’90s is No. 12-ranked Georgia’s 28-27 upset of 6th-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge in 1998. The Dawgs’ freshman quarterback, Quincy Carter, had a great night, completing 27 of 34 passes for 318 yards, catching a pass for 36 yards and rushing for 41 more. Three-way player Champ Bailey, who was in for 96 of the game’s plays, caught 7 passes for 114 yards, and fellow defensive back Kirby Smart had a team-high 12 tackles. Clinging to a 1-point lead, the Dawgs’ final, clock-killing drive of the fourth quarter, highlighted by a key third-down reception by Bailey, was gripping viewing.
And, certainly a TV classic was the New Year’s Day 2000 Outback Bowl, billed as “the first sporting event of the millennium,” which saw Carter lead the Dawgs in an amazing comeback against the Purdue Boilermakers, who had future NFL star Drew Brees at QB.
Brees set or tied six Outback Bowl records in the game, including passing for 378 yards, and, early in the second quarter, Purdue had a 25-0 lead over Jim Donnan’s Dawgs. Things looked bleak. Terrence Edwards finally put the Dawgs on the scoreboard with a 74-yard scoring run, and it was all Georgia from that point on, with an 8-yard Carter-to-Randy McMichael TD pass tying the game with 1:19 remaining. After the Boilermakers missed a field goal in overtime, Georgia placekicker Hap Hines made a 21-yard kick for the win. At the time, it was the largest comeback in bowl history. Now, that’s great television.
When ESPN televised Georgia’s visit to Tuscaloosa in 2007, I watched it on a big-screen TV with my two brothers, my daughter and one of my nieces. We wanted to hear how the Scott Howard-Eric Zeier broadcast team did in their debut without Munson, so we muted the sound on the TV and instead listened to the Bulldogs radio broadcast while watching. The last time previously where all three King brothers had watched Georgia on TV together was the 1999 game against Tech, an overtime affair that didn’t turn out well. So, when this one also went to overtime, we were more than a bit nervous. Thank goodness, Matthew Stafford and Mikey Henderson were as cool as could be, though. After Bama kicked a field goal in OT, Stafford threw a perfect strike to Henderson for the one-and-done winning score. That’s the last time the Dawgs have beaten the Tide … to date.
Another fan favorite from the 2007 season is the 42-30 win over Florida that saw most of the Georgia team celebrating the Dawgs’ first score by dancing in the end zone. There was a lot more to the game, of course, with Knowshon Moreno running for 188 yards and 3 TDs, and the Dawgs defense sacking Gators QB Tim Tebow 6 times. But the “Gator Stomp” is what fans remember most.
Other fan TV favorites include the 1996 win over Auburn (Georgia was terrible in the first half, but the second half and four overtimes were great viewing); and the 2007 Auburn “Blackout” game, with CBS’ Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson dancing along to Soulja Boy in the booth.
However, the most frequently mentioned choice as the greatest Bulldogs TV game is known by two words: “Run, Lindsay.”
The 1980 Jacksonville clash saw the Dawgs trailing 21-20 in the fourth quarter, facing third-and-long at their own 7-yard line. Backed up in his own end zone, quarterback Buck Belue found receiver Lindsay Scott at the 25-yard line. Urged on by Munson on the radio, Scott scored the game-winning touchdown.
That game was playing on TV during Clint Ard’s 21st birthday party, and, he said, when Scott scored, “my whole family exploded with joy. … It was one of the greatest birthday presents I’ve ever received!”
Jason Hasty, now the sports archivist at UGA’s Hargrett Library, was just 5 years old at the time, but his favorite memory of watching the Dawgs on TV is looking up from playing with his toys to see his quiet church secretary mother on her feet as Munson shouted “Run, Lindsay!” on the radio. Hasty still prefers a radio soundtrack for TV games. “When I’m not in Sanford Stadium, the TV will be on with the sound turned down and the radio broadcast turned up,” he said.
Mark Symms, meanwhile, was a UGA student watching that Florida game at the Alpha Gamma Rho house in Athens. After Scott’s touchdown, Symms said, he and his drunken fraternity brothers ran out the front door and straight into Milledge Avenue, bringing traffic to a complete halt as they jumped up and down, screaming.
A police officer, who had no idea what they were celebrating, got them out of the street and wrote Symms a ticket for “rioting.”
The brothers continued their celebration — safely on the sidewalk — for a few more minutes, when the cop suddenly returned.
“I am really in trouble,” Symms thought, but the officer grabbed the ticket and tore it up. “He glared at me again, then winked. He had heard the news. He walks back to the car and says, ‘Stay out of the damn streets. Go Dawgs!”
As Symms put it: “Greatest UGA TV game ever.”