Having grown up in Athens, I’ve enjoyed a lot of special moments in my life as a Georgia Bulldogs fan. But one of my all-time favorite Dawg experiences happened this week far from the UGA campus and away from any athletic event.
The occasion was my last day at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after 42½ years with the paper. As I head into retirement (from my regular job, though I plan to continue blawging!), the newsroom staff gathered for the customary send-off.
And, immediately, folks started commenting on something different: After years of sporting my school affiliation just about every day in the office, I wasn’t wearing one of what a coworker referred to as my “endless supply” of UGA T-shirts. In fact, I wasn’t even wearing anything with a Bulldogs logo. I had decided to throw everyone a curve on the last day by going “formal” — that is, wearing a shirt with a collar. And, while the polo shirt I chose was Bulldog red, there was no power-G or Bulldog head in sight, much to everyone’s amused amazement.
That didn’t stop them from putting a definite Red and Black spin on the festivities, however. Several of the folks speaking at my farewell noted my dual devotion to the Bulldogs and The Beatles through the years, and the staff at DawgNation sent up a collection of their branded swag for me.
The topper, though, was something that instantly became one of my family’s most prized possessions, and the jewel of my Bulldog collection.
Mike Luckovich, the AJC’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, usually does a caricature of retiring newsroom staffers that is framed and presented to them at the farewell. But, with mine, newsroom consensus was that Mike outdid himself: The drawing features my head atop the UGA mascot’s body, dubbed “Billdawg.”
Any personalized Luckovich drawing would have been worthy of a place of honor in my home, but this one is truly special. My daughter Olivia, who attended the ceremony along with my wife Leslie, texted a photo of the drawing to my son Bill, in North Carolina, and he called excitedly later to find out where I planned to hang it. My brother Jon summed it up succinctly on Facebook: DGD! And my other brother, Tim, texted me that I should get the likeness emblazoned on a T-shirt!
I am very grateful to the AJC staff and editors for such a wonderful tribute. It’s truly one of my favorite moments as a Dawgs fan ‚ which set me to mulling over some of my other Bulldogs favorites, many of which I’ve written about here in the Blawg.
Over the years, I’ve compiled and updated a list of my “favorite” Georgia players (not necessarily the greatest, but the ones I felt a particular affinity for), and that includes Fran Tarkenton (the first Bulldog player I really remember), Lynn Hughes (an early Dooley defensive stalwart whose Atlanta Journal I delivered when I was in junior high), Jake Scott (everybody’s favorite bad boy during his years at UGA and the guy who ran the movie projector in my drivers ed class), Andy Johnson (an Athens classmate from seventh grade on), Herschel Walker (of course!), Kevin Butler (our greatest placekicker and a very funny guy), Hines Ward (a great all-purpose player), Champ Bailey (the UGA iron man as a two-way player), brothers Matt and Jon Stinchcomb (brains and brawn personified), David Greene (coolest QB I ever saw), Matt Stafford (the purest talent I’ve seen at UGA), Mohamed Massaquoi (underrated as a receiver), Aaron Murray (did any Bulldog ever play with more heart?) and Chris Conley (UGA football’s renaissance man).
Since they decided to return for another season as Dawgs against all odds, I think Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are likely to join that list, too.
If I had to narrow it down to one favorite, well, naturally it would be Herschel. It was a sheer pleasure watching him play during his days at Sanford Stadium. The greatest.
And my favorite Georgia running back other than Herschel? That’s really tough, because there have been a lot of great ones, from Garrison Hearst to Musa Smith. But, the way Todd Gurley kept coming back from adversity, and the times I saw him giving his all even when he wasn’t at 100 percent physically, certainly puts him in the running, so to speak, for that honor.
Favorite Larry Munson call? I don’t think I can pick just one, but the three greatest are: “Run, Lindsay” from the 1980 Florida game (including the end bit about breaking “a metal steel chair” and his “Man is there gonna to be some property destroyed tonight!” warning); the whole extended “Hunker down” scenario culminating with “Look at the sugar falling out of the sky” from the 1982 Auburn game; and, probably his best-known call, from the 2001 win in Knoxville: “We just stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose!”
Favorite of our Uga mascots? That has to be Uga V (1990-99), who portrayed his father, Uga IV, in the film “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and who famously lunged at Auburn wide receiver Robert Baker in the 1996 game. Sports Illustrated put Uga V on its cover as the “nation’s best college mascot,” too.
Favorite play? There have been many great ones, and I know many people would opt for the “Run Lindsay” touchdown pass beating Florida in 1980, paving the way to the national title, but I still think the single greatest play I’ve ever seen as a Bulldog fan is the flea-flicker pass to beat national champion Alabama in 1965. It still ranks as one of the most unexpected and exciting plays in college football history.
Favorite Bulldogs team? Also a difficult choice, but I think I’d have to accord that honor to Mark Richt’s 2002 team, which won an SEC championship in a thrilling season and, but for a stumble in Jacksonville, probably would have had a chance to get Richt the national title that always proved to be just beyond his grasp.
Speaking of coaches, it won’t surprise longtime readers that I definitely go old-school in picking my favorite there: Vince Dooley. He not only won six SEC titles and Georgia’s only national championship of my lifetime, but he was always one of the classiest guys in coaching. To those who associate Dooley with a less exciting three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust brand of football, I say: flea-flicker, shoestring, Appleby-to-Washington and … you get the point. I’ll say again that I look forward to the day when Dooley is properly honored by UGA adding his name to the stadium or field.
Finally, my favorite game day tradition? That’s definitely the solo trumpeter kicking off the “Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation” from the southwest corner of the upper level of the stands. If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, you’re definitely not of the Red and Black persuasion.
I look forward to experiencing more Bulldog favorites in the years ahead. That’s one thing I’ll never retire from: Being a UGA fan.