If there was one word used more than any other by fans and sportscasters to describe Jake Fromm in his first season as Georgia’s quarterback, it was “cool.”
Cool, as in not showing much in the way of nerves, despite making his first college start in a nationally-televised prime-time game time at Notre Dame. Cool, as in not getting rattled under pressure, despite his lack of experience.
And cool, as in the quiet confidence the freshman showed as he led the Dawgs to their best season in years, despite beginning the year as the backup.
I’m not sure one season is enough of a basis on which to rank Fromm as one of the Bulldogs’ all-time coolest athletes, but at this point I wouldn’t bet against him cracking that list eventually.
Note that I said coolest, not greatest. Frequently, the two go together, but I can think of quite a few great athletes who never really exuded coolness — Georgia football’s original excitable boy, David Pollack, for instance. I fully agree with Chip Towers that Pollack, a three-time first-team All American, deserves to be voted into the College Football Hall of Fame this year, his first time on the ballot.
But, as great as he was, I never really associated Pollack with coolness, not when he was jumping all over the field as a player, and not now that he’s spewing rapid-fire analysis for ESPN.
It’s one thing to be great, and another to be cool. That’s a designation I generally reserve for those athletes who, in addition to their sporting achievements, also possessed a certain grace, style, swagger or charisma, in and out of competition, that made them fan favorites.
Admittedly, picking the all-time coolest sports stars is a very subjective process, and it helps to define what you’re talking about. Two years ago, when Esquire picked its list of the 25 Coolest Sportsmen of All Time — the aging men’s magazine is still a bit hung up on its original gender target — they said their picks were “the men who not only changed their sports but influenced the way we dressed and how we think of athletes.”
In 2001, when ESPN came up with its listing of the Top 10 Coolest Athletes of All Time, they did at least include one woman, women’s World Cup soccer star Brandi Chastain.
And, in 2011, GQ magazine released its list of the 25 Coolest Athletes of All Time, saying they were the ones who “excelled in their sport and showed individuality in the way they played, exemplified cool, and had a unique sense of style/appearance.”
Those lists got me thinking about who would qualify as the coolest Georgia Bulldogs of all time. Here are 23 cool Dawgs I came up with, listed alphabetically:
Kevin Butler: The greatest college kicker ever, and the first kicker ever inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, he went on to become the Chicago Bears’ best-ever kicker. After retiring from football, he became a wisecracking, plain speaking UGA broadcaster, and returned to school to get a business degree (and work as a student assistant coach remolding Georgia’s special teams). His current protégé, “Hot Rod” Blankenship, could wind up on this list one of these days.
Champ Bailey: A virtual iron man for the Dogs, playing on offense, defense and special teams, Bailey almost never left the field, and won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player after his junior year at UGA. That’s pretty cool all by itself, but he went on to be a top NFL defensive player.
Nick Chubb: He overcame a devastating injury to become one of Georgia’s greatest running backs, ranking No. 2 in school history for rushing yards, and teamed with Sony Michel for the most combined yards of any duo in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history. And, having delayed entry into the NFL a year to return for his senior year, he ended up ranking second in SEC history in rushing yards, trailing only No. 34. But, to me, what really makes Chubb one of UGA’s coolest athletes is his quiet, modest manner. His only comment to CBS after Georgia won the SEC Championship: “I’m so glad I came back.”
Chris Conley: In addition to his success as a wide receiver, including making some incredibly difficult catches, UGA’s own Renaissance man was a Dean’s List journalism student, winning SEC scholar-athlete of the year honors, and represented the SEC on the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Whether he was writing and directing a Star Wars fan film or playing piano in the hotel lounge on a bowl game trip, Conley was the epitome of what a student athlete should aspire to become.
Teresa Edwards: She led Georgia to the women’s basketball Final Four in 1983 and 1985 and was twice an All-American. In 1984, while still playing for Georgia, she won her first Olympic gold medal as the youngest member of the USA basketball team. She was part of gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic teams in 1988, 1996 and 2000, and the bronze-winning 1992 team. Sports Illustrated ranked her 22nd on its list of the 100 greatest female athletes of the 20th century. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.
Bill Goldberg: He followed his football days at UGA and in the NFL by becoming practically a household name as a pro wrestler. It definitely was cool when I took my son to see him star before a packed Georgia Dome and the crowd chanted, “Gooooooldberg!” repeatedly.
David Greene: Greenie was the coolest Georgia quarterback I’ve ever seen, maintaining his composure even when he didn’t have much of an offensive line. He also was the most adept at faking the handoff, and could make some of the prettiest, most precise passes imaginable. A classy guy and, at one time, the winningest QB in NCAA history.
Terry Hoage: A two-time consensus All-America defensive back who Vince Dooley said was the best defensive player he’d ever coached, but the College Football Hall of Fame member also graduated from UGA with a 3.85 GPA in genetics. After a 13-year pro football career, he now has his own vineyard, which is also very cool.
John Isner: UGA’s all-time leader in singles and doubles victories, this tennis star earned All-American honors each of his four years and led Georgia to the 2007 NCAA championship. He’s currently ranked world No. 10 in men’s singles by the Association of Tennis Professionals. But, you want cool? After outlasting Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010 in the longest-ever professional tennis match, he sat down for media interviews wearing a vintage UGA T-shirt.
Andy Johnson: Athens’ hometown hero was always the coolest guy I knew, on the field and off, from seventh grade on. Besides being Georgia’s greatest-ever running quarterback, he always kept his cool as a team leader. An example: After leading the Dawgs down the field for a last-second touchdown to beat Georgia Tech in 1971, capped by Jimmy Poulos going over the top for the score, Andy avoided a celebration penalty that might have given the Jackets one more chance. As he told Loran Smith in “Between the Hedges: 100 Years of Georgia Football,” “I grabbed Jimmy and embraced him and kept him from throwing the ball into the stands, which he wanted to do so badly. Even though there were only seconds left, I didn’t want to give Tech any advantage with a 15-yard penalty.” Now, that’s cool.
Courtney Kupets: Winner of two Olympic medals and just about every individual collegiate gymnastics honor around during the Gym Dogs’ run of consecutive NCAA titles, Kupets ended up being named the nation’s top female college athlete. And, now, she’s returned home as head coach to try to take Georgia back to elite status in gymnastics.
Sony Michel: With the exception of when he had to carry the whole load while Chubb was injured, Michel mostly shared playing time as a change-of-pace back, yet he still wound up ranking No. 3 in school history for rushing yards, right behind Chubb. Michel also was a nice counterpoint to Chubb in his more outgoing personality, releasing a couple of hip-hop tracks under the name Flyguy2Stackz.
Malcolm Mitchell: Mitchell was a terrific receiver for Georgia, and now is with the New England Patriots, catching 6 passes for 70 yards during their comeback 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl. But what makes Mitchell such a cool guy is his campaign to get kids reading. After starting college at UGA, Mitchell realized his own reading skills were lacking, and set out to fix that. He became a voracious reader, and first attracted national attention by joining a women’s book club while starring for the Dawgs. He went on to write a celebrated children’s book, “The Magician’s Hat,” launched Read With Malcolm, a youth literacy initiative, and now makes appearances all over the country encouraging kids to read.
Aaron Murray: My daughter, who was in school at UGA during Murray’s time as quarterback, picks him as her all-time coolest Bulldogs player, and I can’t disagree. Murray rewrote UGA and SEC record books while also graduating early and beginning graduate studies in psychology, but he also had the biggest heart of any player I’ve ever seen. As long as Aaron was in a game, you couldn’t write the Dawgs off.
Johnny Rauch: His playing days as a UGA quarterback were before my time, but I remember Rauch as a coach who took the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl. What really makes him cool, though, is he’s credited by Bill Walsh with having invented the West Coast offense.
Allison Schmitt: Before enrolling at Georgia and joining the swimming program, she competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics and was part of the 4×200-meter freestyle relay team that won a bronze medal. At Georgia, she was a six-time national champ, winning the 500-meter freestyle in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and the 200-meter freestyle in 2010, 2011 and 2013. She was 2013 SEC Female Athlete of the Year. Then, she returned to the Olympics in 2012 and was part of gold medal-winning 4×200 freestyle and 4×100-meter medley teams, and won individual gold in the 200-meter freestyle. In the 2016 Olympics, she went gold again as a part of the 200-meter freestyle relay team. With all that bling, you know she’s cool.
Jake Scott: The UGA All-American defensive back went on to be a two-time first-team All-Pro for the Miami Dolphins during their heyday. Scott also is remembered as one of the wildest Dawgs players ever, and the guy who rode a motorcycle over the roof of Stegeman Coliseum. Jake Cool, indeed.
Matt Stinchcomb: Named to UGA’s Circle of Honor, the brainy former offensive lineman is one of the school’s best representatives. He co-founded the late, lamented annual Countdown to Kickoff charity event, and now is one of the more knowledgeable sportscasters for the SEC Network.
Richard Tardits: A rugby player who knew practically nothing about football when he joined the Dawgs, Tardits wound up for a time holding the school record for QB sacks. Plus, he’s French, which automatically makes him cool.
Charley Trippi: Starred in both football and baseball at UGA and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 96-year-old legend is still an Athens resident, and is known as a classy gentleman.
Herschel Walker: The greatest college running back ever cemented his coolness in his freshman year when he was asked if he got tired carrying the ball 30 times a game. His answer: “The ball ain’t heavy.” Plus, when you’re known nationally just by your first name, you’ve got to be cool!
Hines Ward: Mr. Everything on offense for the Dawgs and one of the gutsiest players I’ve ever seen. He went on to a long NFL career, being voted Super Bowl MVP. And, as if that wasn’t cool enough, he also won the “Dancing With the Stars” TV competition.
Dominique Wilkins: Known in the NBA as the Human Highlight Reel for his incredible dunks, he made the All-Star team nine consecutive years with the Hawks. Wilkins was the NBA scoring champ in 1986, when he averaged 30.3 points per game, and he’s the only basketball Bulldog to have his jersey retired.
This is by no means a definitive list of UGA’s coolest athletes ever. I’d love to see what other names Blawg readers think belong on a list of the coolest Georgia Bulldogs. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.