ROAD TO HALL OF FAME
SAUTEE NACOOCHEE — Saturdays in Athens during football season are very special in the Bulldog Nation. This weekend at the Georgia-Tennessee game was not any different. If anything it was one of the biggest crowds I have ever witnessed since becoming a Bulldog in 1977.
I had a wonderful opportunity to be honored in front of the home crowd one last time with a Hall of Fame plaque that will hang in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. Even at age 57, what a thrill it is to stand in front of the home crowd. A sea of red dotted with splotches of some other color. I am colorblind, but I think it was some nasty shade of orange.
I do wish the outcome of the game would have been different, but it will go down on a long list of other unbelievable games that have occurred in Sanford Stadium. College football is still the undisputed favorite sport of millions of fans and alums across this great nation and it will remain so as we continued to be mystified by games like the one this weekend.
One of the wonderful opportunities that has come with being inducted in to the College Football Hall Of Fame is the people I get a chance to meet. Verne Lundquist, the legendary CBS sports announcer, was honored by his dear friend, Loran Smith, on Friday night. Someone pinch me. My wife Marianne and I sat at Loran’s house listening to stories of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at Augusta National as witnessed by Verne in all his many years of covering the event. What an unbelievable storyteller and announcer! His retirement will create a vacuum that very few can fill these days.
During one of his stories, Verne mentioned going to college near San Antonio, Texas. Now I was born in Texas and almost went to school at UT. I have family scattered all over south Texas. So, I asked Verne what college in south Texas he attended.
“Texas Lutheran,” he replied. “The other Bulldogs.”
I was just in Seguin, Texas in 2014, where Texas Lutheran is located, visiting family and attending the Texas Relays in Austin. My parents had met while attending college at Texas Lutheran. My mother graduated in the mid-1950s and my father and Uncle Howard played football for Coach Kramer there. So, it seems that the legendary Verne Lundquist and my parents attended the same small college in south Texas at about the same time. I need to locate my mom’s yearbooks to verify exact dates. Small world, isn’t it?
As Verne told stories of all the great sports legends he had covered over the years, a recurring theme kept coming up: How different athletes interact with fans and deal with signing autographs. Now, I have signed a fair share of autographs over the years, but nothing like I’ve seen when Herschel Walker comes to town. I have witnessed Herschel’s handlers drag him from a group of people wanting his signature. You see, Hershel would stay and sign every last one, but the line never ends.
Verne shared that Arnold Palmer would speak to Jack Nicklaus and the younger players about how important it was to interact with the fans. Arnold made sure the fans knew how important they were to him. It is estimated that he had signed somewhere in the neighborhood of four million signatures, according to his secretary at the time. And these were only the requests that came through the office, so the number is probably closer to five or six million. Arnold Palmer was a generous public figure and always grateful to the fans.
People will say to me now, “I sure enjoyed watching you play.” Well, let me tell you, there was no greater thrill for me than playing in front of the home crowd at Sanford Stadium. I felt and played like a fourth grader at recess. It provided me with so many wonderful memories and opportunities. It is a great game and it still is just a game.
Saturday, after witnessing a devastating loss, we need to remember that we have a great team full of hard-working young men. We have a great coaching staff that is laying the groundwork for success in the future. And, above alI else, I know we absolutely have the greatest fans in college football.
Thank you for all the support you have given me over the last 40 years. Go Dawgs!
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 in honor of that special occasion.