JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — I had the pleasure of attending the Georgia-Florida game this year as an Inductee into the Georgia-Florida Hall of Fame. My fellow inductees were Marcus Stroud, one of the greatest defensive tackles in Bulldog history. Representing the Gators were Ben Troupe, tight end from Swainsboro, and Jeff Chandler, kicker from Jacksonville. Chandler’s parents were Dawg fans, except for the four years he played. The legendary Verne Lundquist was also inducted, and again I had the pleasure to listen to more great memories and stories from him.
Friday was an enjoyable fun day for my wife Marianne and me. It started with a meet-and-greet, followed by the Hall of Fame luncheon. Here I met Lenny Curry, the mayor of Jacksonville, the one person I had been looking for since arriving in Jacksonville the night before. You see, Friday morning after leaving the parking lot next to the hotel we were staying in downtown, I thought I was the rat in a Skinner box trying to find its way out. It had the most confusing number of one-way streets and construction projects, which kept sending me in a direction I did not want to go. The engineers were either French (have you ever seen the giant multi-lane roundabout at the Arch de Triumph) or from Georgia Tech (I know most of you have driven in Atlanta).
We enjoyed the luncheon as each inductee had a few minutes to speak on the games that were played during their tenure at the respective schools. To be honest, I never really had a great Florida game. As a matter of fact, that game only added to the misery of being nicknamed “Toast” years earlier. Toast, you may ask? Well, let’s just say I got burned a few times.
Ben Troupe and I were also invited to be on the Paul Finebaum Show on the SEC Network. We shared memories, good and bad, during the years we played in the Georgia-Florida game. Later in the evening, Marianne and I were invited to the Jacksonville Bulldog Club where I tried to rationalize how it was possible that after playing so poorly in 1980 that I could get inducted into this particular Hall of Fame.
When I first mentioned to Marianne that I was being inducted into Georgia-Florida Hall of Fame, her response was “what for? You always played terrible against Florida?”
She should know. Marianne has seen almost every game of football I played since the seventh grade. She does give me pause and keeps me well grounded. Marianne just retired after 30 years teaching high school students. I have to frequently remind her that I am not one of her students.
Later that day, it comes to me. I am the forgotten man! No one remembers how poorly one plays when your team wins. You see, the touchdown scored by Florida’s Chris Collinsworth, which put the Gators in the lead 21-20 in 1980, was essentially my fault. The way I look at it that makes me responsible for “The Play.” I’ll get to that in a minute.
At the game this weekend, my fellow inductees and families, which included their adorable children, all shared the Sky Box during the game, giving us an uninterrupted chance to share stories and memories. Ben Troupe was a Georgia guy to begin, but we lost him to Florida and Coach Spurrier.
Ben says to me, “What’s up with that David Pollack? Man, did he have motor.” He said that to this day he has never played against anyone like Pollack. Even when he was holding him with both hands away from play, he said Pollack would drag him back towards the ball carrier just to get in the camera frame.
Walking around EverBank Field with Marcus Stroud, a first-round pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars, was a real treat. He must have shaken hands and said hello to every policeman, security guard and stadium worker, all of which he seemed to know by name. It was obvious Stroud made an impact during his time with the Jaguars and not just on the field. I am honored to be included in this group of amazing men.
Jeff Chandler grew up in Jacksonville and walked on at Florida before becoming the most prolific kicker in UF history. Jeff said during his time at Florida he always left the Georgia-Florida game smiling. Jeff Chandler’s father, with whom I had the pleasure of speaking on Friday at the luncheon, ran track for Georgia’s legendary Spec Towns. He still speaks with his teammate, Lewis Gainey, who later was my Bulldog track coach.
During our series with the Gators, the teams I was on went 3-1, with the last game being 1980. That’s probably the most memorable for Georgia fans. I call it “The Play,” it it made me the “Forgotten Man.” The way I see it, without my poor execution of cornerback skills, The Play would not have been possible. The real reason I was inducted into the Georgia-Florida Hall of Fame, as I explained to the luncheon crowd, was I made “The Play” possible. If Chris Collinsworth had not caught that last touchdown pass over my head, putting the Gators in front 21-20, then “Lindsay Scott, Lindsay Scott, Lindsay Scott” never would have happened. We won that game, 26-21, I became “The Forgotten Man,” and winning made everything OK.
Did you know that Lindsay Scott’s only touchdown during the season of 1980 was against Florida? “The Play,” which was a pass play from Buck Buck to Scott with Big Nat Hudson’s block to spring Buck, was just another example of more characters playing their part in storybook season that was 1980.
The Flowers in My Garden
I almost didn’t make the festivities down in Jacksonville this past weekend due to my younger sister, Christi’s, battle with cancer. She had been fighting it since July, but she took a turn for the worse when her kidneys began to shut down this past week. I spent time with her on Wednesday and Thursday before leaving for Jacksonville late on Thursday. She had promised to be here on Sunday when I returned from the game.
“You have obligations you need to honor, so you have to go to the game,” Christi told me.
My sister was always worried about everyone else. She was the primary caregiver for our mother in the years after my dad’s passing. I relented, reluctantly, and agreed to go the game.
Saturday morning, we received the call very early that Chrisi had decided she needed to go. She had explained to my sister, Tammie, on Friday that she was tired of fighting and needed to rest. There is now a giant hole in my heart left by the passing of my little sister.
What do I do? Take a deep breath and keep going, because that is exactly what she would want us to do. Matter of fact, she would demand that from all of us, and certainly be happy.
People are surprised to find out that one of my hobbies, much like Coach Dooley, is gardening. I grow vegetables, of course, but also many varieties of flowers. I guess my green thumb comes from my mother. I tell my wife Marianne that I grow them for her, and I always have. I will now expand my flower garden, for mom and my little sister, attempting to fill the emptiness in my heart left by their passing.
From the Pike County Journal-Reporter:
Christi Woerner Friend, a humble servant, always sacrificed herself for others. She was a dedicated mother and wife who did it the right way.
Christi, 55, of Williamson, GA., formerly of Jonesboro passed away October 29, 2016. Christi was preceded in death by her parents John & Fern Woerner, and nephew Jacob Woerner.
Survivors include her husband of 26 years Mark Friend; daughter Jordan Friend; son John Mark Friend; brothers and sisters Kent Woerner, Scott Woerner, Tammie McDaniel, and Clay Woerner; along with many nieces & nephews.
Funeral services will be held 11:00 AM, Wednesday, November 2, 2016 at Carl J. Mowell & Son Fayetteville Chapel with Pastor Mark Harris officiating. The interment will be at Camp Memorial Park. The family will receive friends Tuesday, November 1, 2016 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at the funeral home. Carl J. Mowell & Son Fayetteville Chapel www.mowellfuneralhome.com
Scott Woerner was an All-American defensive back and kick returner for the Bulldogs and played on the 1980 national championship team. He has been tabbed for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in December in New York City. Woerner took the year off from teaching and coaching to enjoy that experience. He will be writing a weekly diary for DawgNation.com in honor of that special occasion.