Watching Champ Bailey walk out onstage during the CBS telecast of the “NFL Honors” ceremony from Atlanta’s Fox Theatre Saturday night was a sweet moment for those of us in Bulldog Nation who watched him play at Sanford Stadium.
We remember him as a three-way “iron man” who played defense, offense and special teams for the Dawgs. But, at the Fox, Bailey was being announced as one of the newest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
From the start of his time in Athens, we knew that Champ was special. That didn’t change, of course, during his 15 seasons in the NFL, where he was a shut-down cornerback who snagged 52 career interceptions and was picked for a dozen Pro Bowls (most ever for that position). Bailey was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s, so it’s only fitting that he was elected to the hall of fame in his first year on the ballot.
It also was good to see him still swearing allegiance to UGA and the Dawgs when he met the press afterward. “This is Bulldog Country around here,” he said. “We definitely represent ourselves well, and I’m proud to say I’m a Bulldog … and I’m a Hall of Famer.”
Georgia now has four members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with Bailey joining running back Charley Trippi, quarterback Fran Tarkenton and running back Terrell Davis.
But, that’s just scratching the surface of noteworthy NFL Dawgs.
Georgia is one of only two schools (Southern Cal is the other) to have had three different alums be named Super Bowl MVP, with Jake Scott, Davis and Hines Ward all having achieved that distinction.
Picking an all-time most valuable NFL Dawg out of that bunch isn’t easy.
After his time at UGA and a brief stint in baseball with the Atlanta Crackers, Trippi played for the old Chicago Cardinals of the NFL from 1947 to 1955, leading the league in all-purpose yards in both 1948 and 1949. He signed a then-unprecedented four-year contract worth $100,000, with a $25,000 signing bonus and became part of the Cardinals’ “Million Dollar Backfield,” leading the team to the 1947 NFL championship. This was back before players became so specialized, and he at times played halfback, quarterback, defensive back and punter.
Davis, a San Diego native who transferred to UGA after his freshman year, when Long Beach State shut down its football program, didn’t really achieve superstardom until after his college playing days. His seven-season NFL career with the Denver Broncos was cut short by injuries, but he was arguably pro football’s top back in 1996-98. After rushing for 1,117 yards as a rookie in 1995 and 1,538 yards in 1996, he had 1,750 yards in 1997 to help lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl, where he was named MVP after running for 157 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Green Bay. Then, in ’98, he became the fourth runner in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season (2,008) and led NFL with 21 rushing TDs, en route to Denver’s second straight Super Bowl title. He was named to three Pro Bowls and twice was named NFL offensive player of the year and league MVP once.
A favorite with many Dawgs fans is Scott, a five-time All-Pro who was a key player in Miami’s 1972 undefeated season and also played for the Redskins, but who inexplicably not only never has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but hasn’t even been a semi-finalist. Scott played in three Super Bowls (twice as a winner) and was named MVP of Super Bowl VII, in which he intercepted two passes, including one in the fourth quarter to help clinch a 14-7 win for the Dolphins over the Redskins. He retired with 49 interceptions in nine years, including 35 as a Dolphin, which is a franchise record.
My sentimental pick as the greatest NFL Dawg would be Ward, who was a particular favorite of my kids. Not yet elected to the hall of fame (though he’s been a semi-finalist three years running), he played 14 seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and became the team’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yardage and touchdown receptions. Upon retirement, he was one of eight NFL players to have at least 1,000 career receptions. He was voted MVP of Super Bowl XL, when he helped the Steelers beat the Seahawks by catching five passes for 123 yards, including a game-clinching 43-yarder. Ward played with a sprained MCL in Super Bowl XLIII and still had 43 yards on two catches to help lead the Steelers to their sixth Super Bowl victory. And, he and the Steelers made it to another Super Bowl two years later, but lost to the Green Bay Packers. However, Ward had seven catches for 78 yards with one touchdown in that effort.
Still, I think I have to pick, Athens’ own Fran Tarkenton as the greatest NFL Dawg, though I didn’t really want to. Despite the fact I grew up idolizing him as he led Athens High and UGA to championships before moving on the the NFL, in recent years I’ve been turned off by his egotistical manner as he spouts off on a wide variety of subjects. Sometimes, he’s right (as when he criticized UGA’s fractious coaching staff late in the Mark Richt era) and when he recently lambasted the Falcons for not drafting Georgia Bulldogs. Sometimes, he’s wrong (two years ago he said the Rams’ Jared Goff “isn’t very good at quarterback”). The problem is, right or wrong, he comes off as a bit of a jerk.
I even asked several UGA friends to give me a good reason not to pick Tarkenton as the greatest NFL Dawg, but the only reason anyone could come up with was that he never won a Super Bowl, despite leading the Minnesota Vikings to three of them.
Tarkenton played 18 seasons in the NFL (mostly with the Vikings), which is amazing, considering he broke the QB mold back in those days, frequently scrambling out of the pocket to elude defenders. He threw for more than 1,000 yards in each of his professional seasons — an NFL record. That included the 1977 season, when he missed the last five games of the season with a broken leg. When Tarkenton retired at age 39 after the 1978 season, he was the NFL’s career leader in passing attempts (6,467), passing completions (3,686), passing yards (47,003), and touchdowns (342). He also ran for 3,674 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground. That’s incredible, as they used to say on a TV series he co-hosted.
Those aren’t the only Dawgs who’ve had exceptional NFL careers, of course.
Among other notables is Richard Seymour, one of the NFL’s greatest defensive ends, who played three times on the Super Bowl winner and was named All-Pro five times during his career with the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders.
Seymour is the Dawg with the most Super Bowl appearances (four: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008), but there are eight former Dawgs who’ve appeared in three Super Bowls: Scott, Tarkenton and Ward, plus Guy McIntyre, Clarence Kay, Patrick Pass, Bill Stanfill, and now David Andrews.
Stanfill was a three-time All-Pro with the Dolphins (also on that unbeaten 1972 team) and is considered by many to be one of the greatest defensive linemen ever. McIntyre was a dominating offensive lineman who was a Pro Bowl selection five times in a career that included stints with the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles.
Then, there’s Len Hauss, who played center for the Redskins from 1964 to 1977, being named All-Pro three times and to the Pro Bowl five times. And linebacker Thomas Davis, a Panthers stalwart whose playing career survived three ACL tears, and who toughed it out in a Super Bowl loss, playing with a surgically repaired broken arm.
Also worth mentioning is placekicker Kevin Butler, who helped da Bears win Super Bowl XX, and who in his 13 NFL seasons made 265 of 361 field goals (73 percent) and 413 of 426 extra point attempts, giving him 1,208 total points, sixth-most in NFL history among kickers. And wide receiver Jimmy Orr, who played with the Steelers and the Coltss, and retired in 1970 with 400 career receptions for 7,914 receiving yards and 66 touchdowns.
The list of Bulldogs who’ve been selected for the Pro Bowl in the past also includes, among others, Rodney Hampton, Garrison Hearst, Mo Lewis and Falcons kicker Bobby Etter.
Of course, we can’t overlook Herschel Walker, a consensus pick as the greatest college running back ever, but whose pro career always has been underrated, because his productive years with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL aren’t counted by the NFL, where he played for the Dallas Cowboys, Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. If the USFL numbers were counted, his combined rushing numbers for the two pro leagues (13,787 yards) would place him fifth all-time on the career rushing list, and his combined all-purpose yards (25,283 yards) would be the most of all time.
Besides the previously mentioned Andrews, there also are quite a few Bulldogs currently making a name for themselves in the NFL (42 at the beginning of the 2018 season), topped by Todd Gurley, who already has been named to the Pro Bowl three times, earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2015 and was named the NFL Offensive MVP in 2017. Others drawing attention in the league include rookies Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, Matthew Stafford, Reshad Jones, Justin Houston, Alec Ogletree, Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd. Hopefully, receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who helped the Pats beat the Falcons in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, will be able to resume his career, currently sidelined by a lingering knee injury.
While Georgia’s NFL track record already is impressive, Kirby Smart’s recruiting prowess looks set to continue UGA’s reputation as a developer of athletes who can play on Sundays.
Yes, there likely are quite a few more great NFL Dawgs still to come.