Freshman memories of the Dawgs’ often-overlooked 1970 season
Fall classes at UGA began last week in Athens, but the delayed football season won’t open until the Dawgs’ Sept. 26 visit to Arkansas.
It may seem like a late start for fans who’ve gotten used to the season beginning before Labor Day, but it’s actually more like it used to be in my younger days, back when 10-game schedules were the norm rather than an exception.
Of course, classes also used to start in late September, instead of mid-August. In fact, Sept. 24 will mark the 50th anniversary of me starting classes as a UGA freshman, two days after my 18th birthday.
Obviously, a lot has changed in half a century. The UGA where I matriculated in 1970 was a considerably smaller, more parochial, much less diverse campus, located in a city that was a little over a third the population it is now.
One big difference, in terms of UGA athletics: There were only three Black athletes on scholarship at UGA in the fall of 1970, The Red & Black reported, with the most notable being Ronnie Hogue of the basketball team, the first Black athlete to receive a full athletic scholarship.
(Unfortunately, 1970-71 wasn’t a great season for Ken Rosemond’s basketball Dawgs, who were starting over after the departure of stars Bob Lienhard, Jerry Epling and Herb White. They lost their home opener to lowly Rollins College. As one Red & Black columnist put it: “It was embarrassing.”)
Meanwhile, the first Black athlete offered a football grant-in-aid by UGA, John King, decided to go to Minnesota instead in 1970. So, integration of the football team wouldn’t happen until 1971, although one Black player, James Hurley, had walked on during spring practice in 1970. However, before the fall season arrived, he had transferred to Vanderbilt.
A couple of other differences: NCAA rules were a lot different back then, and Georgia had 124 players on scholarship that season, plus 36 walk-ons. There also were no varsity women’s sports teams yet; the women’s basketball team, formed in 1969, was sponsored by the P.E. Department, not the Athletic Association. The latter finally sanctioned women’s basketball in 1973-74.
Another key difference from today: To receive a parking permit for home games in 1970, you had to contribute “at least $10” to the athletic department! Of course, other things never change. They issued more parking permits than there were spaces, so it was first-come, first-served.
Also, as my classmate Tom Hodgson recalled recently, “college football, and UGA football in particular, was unabashedly front and center in the social universe of autumn in Athens” in 1970, just as today.
One big reason, Tom noted, was that a home football game “was an occasion for a ‘date’ and … suddenly there were literally thousands of newly minted freshman girls to try and impress.”
Still, Tom said his 1970 memories of college football games in Sanford Stadium are of “futile discomfort.” Tom was a Greek (Kappa Alpha) and, he said, “we dressed in suits for football games in those days, and I’m not talking about tropical weight poplin. I’m talking full-bore woolen houndstooth, passed down from Uncle Ned, who lived in Alaska or someplace. They itched and made me miserable. The girls had it no better. … Panty hose and wool skirts. I know they were as miserable as me.”
But, he said, “we drank bourbon and Coke in the hot sun and smiled at our corsages on Homecoming weekend. There was always a live band back at the fraternity house on Lumpkin after the game, win or lose, and there was even a touch of air-conditioning deep in the house. I loved it.”
Not being a fraternity member, my memories of Sanford Stadium attire in 1970 hew closer to what Melinda Teasley Erwin recalls: “Students wore blue jeans and T-shirts,” whereas when she’d been a freshman in 1969, “students dressed up for UGA football in their Sunday best.” She thinks maybe the anti-war, anti-establishment spring of ’70 at UGA, with the school briefly shut down by protests after the shootings of students at Kent State University, had loosened things up a bit.
My own football Saturdays that fall were focused more on what was happening on the field than the social scene, and that meant a lot of frustration, mixed with the occasional moment of exultation, in an up-and-down season that saw three different starting quarterbacks for the Dawgs.
Head coach Vince Dooley had hired Fred Pancoast from Florida as the new offensive coordinator. He brought a “new” pro-type offense with more emphasis on the passing game — good news for receivers Billy Brice, Mike Greene and Charles Whittemore. The stadium seated 58,898.
Playboy magazine had been wildly optimistic by predicting the Bulldogs would win the SEC, but the only SEC championship UGA won that year was in golf.
Georgia ranked No. 19 in AP’s preseason poll, but the football season got off to a bad start when Georgia lost its opener on the road against Tulane at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, 17-14. Sophomore James Ray was the starting quarterback, but senior Mike Cavan also played. Buzzy Rosenberg showed a lot of promise as a punt returner, but tight end Greene hurt his knee, knocking him out for the season.
Darrell Huckaby recently told me a funny story about that opener against Tulane, a night game. He went to the game with a couple of friends from Newton County. “We arrived in New Orleans around 8 a.m. and went into a diner” on Bourbon Street for breakfast, Darrell recalled. They weren’t sure where the stadium was, so Darrell’s friend Kevin Price, called a waitress over to the table and said,
“Excuse me, ma’am, but where is the Sugar Bowl?”
“She just looks at us for a while, then walks away, muttering to herself,” Darrell said. “A few minutes later, she comes back with a traditional bowl full of sugar, slams it on the table and says, ‘I don’t know why y’all couldn’t just use the little packets like everybody else!’”
The second game of the season was the home opener for the Dawgs, with Clemson visiting.
This was back in the day when the Tigers generally were UGA’s whipping boy, and 1970 was no different: Georgia beat Clemson 38-0. Still, it was cause for celebration, because this was a down period for Georgia football, and that game marked the Dawgs’ first win since Oct. 25, 1969. Ray started again at QB and alternated with Cavan.
After losing 7-6 on the road to Mississippi State in a defensive struggle, the Dawgs welcomed Ole Miss, ranked No. 6 in the nation, and celebrated quarterback Archie Manning Between the Hedges.
The Birmingham News coaches poll had picked Ole Miss to win the SEC, but the Rebels ended up going 7-4 and finished fourth. (LSU won the conference. The coaches picked Georgia to finish sixth, which proved to be correct.)
This was a big game (with scalpers asking $25 for tickets that had a $6 face value), in part because UGA’s Senior Parade was to take place. This was a tradition where seniors paraded around the field of Sanford Stadium at halftime, the men wearing planter’s hats and carrying canes (which were sold at the UGA Bookstore and local men’s wear stores) and their dates dressed to the hilt. The parade had been moved from Homecoming to the Ole Miss game, because of rowdiness the previous two years, when the seniors parading around the field at Sanford Stadium had attacked the Vanderbilt band and stolen some of Kentucky’s equipment.
To move things along, the seniors had been instructed to enter the field at the west end and exit at the east end. But, instead, the mostly drunken students, chanting “All the way around!” circled the entire field and, in the process, stole a megaphone from the Ole Miss cheerleaders, got into a fight with one of them, climbed the goalposts, and waved rude signs, including one saying, “Piss on Miss.” Recalled Bill Andrews: “The parade was so long that the students were still circling inside the hedges when the second half began. A well-served senior stepped out into the endzone and caught the kickoff.”
That killed the Senior Parade, a tradition that dated back to the late 1800s, and which had gone uninterrupted for 40 years. It never has resumed.
As for the action on the field, my lifelong friend Carlton Powell remembers it was classic Dooleyball: play good defense, run well and keep it close until the fourth quarter.
It almost worked. Georgia held Manning to 14 points in the first three quarters on a day when Rosenberg snagged three interceptions, but mistakes doomed Georgia. Ray injured his knee, and Cavan took over at QB. It was 14-14 at the half, and Georgia led 21-14 late in the third. Then, Ole Miss tied it up with a 52-yard Manning touchdown pass, took the lead with a field goal after Georgia misplayed the kickoff, and Archie threw for another score. Manning ended up with three TD passes and ran for another, as Mississippi won 31-21.
Bill Hartman, who had just graduated from UGA the previous June, had taken over for Bill Curry as the 11 o’clock sports anchor at WAGA-TV in Atlanta. (The great Ed Thilenius did the 6 p.m. show.) “Returning to my hometown to cover the Bulldogs at age 22 was a dream come true,” Hartman recalled. “It was fascinating to be around all that as an alum after watching it through a student’s eyes the previous year.”
A friend of mine, Mark Gunter, who was 11 at the time, said he and his family attended the UGA-Ole Miss game, even though they weren’t Dawgs fans, because he loved Archie. Some of the UGA fans around them were dissing Manning, and it made Mark cry. Kids take these things to heart.
The next week, Georgia beat Vandy 37-3 in Athens, with Cavan starting his first game of the season. The third-string QB, Paul Gilbert, a local hero from Athens High whose career at UGA had been hampered by injury, also played some.
The Bulldogs beat Kentucky 19-3 in Lexington, with left-footed placekicker Kim Braswell notching a then-school record four field goals. Cavan looked good at QB, and Whittemore had 10 receptions.
Next came a regionally televised Homecoming offensive shootout with South Carolina. Paul Dietzel’s Gamecocks led 14-0, then 21-3. Georgia scored and went for 2 to make it 21-11.
Then, Cavan suffered a pinched nerve in his neck when a Gamecock jerked his facemask. Gilbert entered the game with 8 minutes remaining in the second quarter, and led the Dogs 73 yards in six plays, scoring on an option. The Gamecocks led 28-18 at the half.
However, Carolina scored only two field goals in the second half. A 60-yard pass from Gilbert to Brice put Georgia up 32-31. Then South Carolina regained the lead, 34-32. There followed another 67-yard drive in seven plays for the Dawgs, with Gilbert scoring from the 10, then he threw to Brice for a 2-pointer to give Georgia a 40-34 lead. Gilbert scored again late for a final tally of 52-34.
In a very un-Dooley showing, Whittemore had seven catches for 95 yards and Brice caught four for 123 yards — a couple of them circus catches — plus punter-receiver Jimmy Shirer caught three for 66 yards. Gilbert completed 13 of 20 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown, and ran for three other TDs. He was named AP and UPI Southeastern Back of the Week in what Dooley called “one of the best individual performances I have ever seen.”
“This was one of the greatest games I ever saw,” recalled fellow Athens High grad Charles Isbell. “I was particularly proud that Paul Gilbert was from Athens High.”
“Paul blew out his knee his sophomore season or he would have been a three-year starter,” Bill Hartman said.
UGA historian Patrick Garbin notes that the 1970 comeback win over the Gamecocks “still ranks tied for sixth biggest comeback in program history,” with Georgia having been down by 18 in the second quarter.
Len Fleming recalls that the win over South Carolina was the first time he ever rang the UGA Chapel bell. “I was 10,” he said. “My father helped me.”
With Gilbert starting at quarterback against Florida in Jacksonville, the Bulldogs led 17-10 early in the fourth quarter, but fumbled deep in Gator territory. Florida tied the regionally televised game up, then the Dawgs were stopped on fourth down at the Florida 38. The Gators scored again with 1:39 remaining, for a 24-17 win.
The 4-4 Bulldogs then traveled to Auburn, where they beat Shug Jordan’s Tigers, who had the tremendous passing tandem of QB Pat Sullivan and receiver Terry Beasley. Georgia was a 19-point underdog, and the Tigers had been averaging more than 500 yards per game, but the Dawgs held them to 373 offensive yards. The nation’s third-leading offense scored only in the second quarter, leading 17-14 at the half. Georgia then took over, including a pair of fourth-quarter TDs, for a shocking 31-17 upset, knocking Auburn out of a Sugar Bowl bid. Dooley later said the regionally televised upset of that Auburn team was “one of the biggest of my career.”
The season ended on a down note, however, as the favored Dawgs lost to Tech, 17-7 due to Bulldogs miscues: six turnovers, including four interceptions. Gilbert scored the only touchdown. Braswell missed a chance at the SEC record for field goals in a season, and Georgia missed out on a Peach Bowl invitation, finishing 5-5.
For those of us from Athens, however, there hope on the horizon. Freshmen couldn’t play for the varsity back then, and another hometown hero, Andy Johnson, an Athens High classmate of mine, had alternated with Valdosta rival Don Golden at QB for the Bullpups in a so-so junior varsity season. However, by the end of it, Golden mostly was playing defense and Andy was the heir-apparent to start as QB for the varsity the next season.
The game against the Yellow Jackets on Thanksgiving night of 1971 would be a very different story from 1970.