Want to see Herschel Walker’s helmet, or a uniform from the Georgia Bulldogs’ win in the 1943 Rose Bowl? How about the ball Kevin Butler kicked for a field goal to beat Clemson in 1984, or Sony Michel’s gloves from the 2018 Rose Bowl?
All it takes is a visit to UGA’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library in Athens, where Georgia history (including athletics) is preserved for posterity.
The athletics collection covers Bulldogs football from the highs of national championships and such illustrious stars as Frank Sinkwich and Walker, to the low point — a player’s death in the early years that nearly put an end to the game in Georgia.
The artifacts of that legacy now reside in a 30,000-square-foot climate-controlled storage vault under the Richard B. Russell Special Collections building on North Campus in Athens, not far from Herty Field, where Georgia football was born in 1892.
“It’s an extensive archive, a huge collection,” UGA athletics history specialist Jason Hasty told me on a recent visit to the library.
A sampling of what it includes: dozens of players’ jerseys, helmets and “silver britches,” football game programs (going back to the 1903 Georgia-Auburn game at Brisbane Park in Atlanta), tickets dating to the 1920s, athletic department working documents, letters from coaches, players’ scrapbooks, a hundred or so game balls, and an extensive photo archive (including the only known shot of the goat that was Georgia’s original mascot).
Hasty’s favorite items? One is a thick, wool jersey from the 1920s that is a darker red than what we now associate with the Georgia Bulldogs, and which has no insignia. He’s also partial to a silver chalice Georgia won when it beat Auburn in 1894. “It’s the oldest Georgia football artifact we have,” he said.
But, he said, “the one item everyone wants to see is Herschel Walker’s helmet.”
Rather than keeping these prized items hidden away for only archivists, researchers and the ghosts of Herty Field, the Hargrett Library makes its athletic collection available for fans, alumni and everyone else.
Free tours open to the public are held at 3 p.m. on the Fridays before home games in the fall, and the archive puts together special exhibits for display at the Russell building.
But, beyond that, anyone actually can go to the UGA special collections library and ask to see the athletic treasures it contains.
“All this is open to the public,” Hasty said. If you want to look at old programs or some other bit of Bulldog memorabilia, you can just go to the reference area on the third floor of the Russell building; no appointment is needed. You just fill out a form, “and we set you up with a researcher,” he said. “You can see anything we have. We try to make everything publicly accessible. … We’re hoping people will start thinking of us as the place to go for Georgia football history. Outreach is part of what we do and is part of the university’s mission.”
Hasty, a UGA grad who’s worked for the university’s libraries since 2002, has been curating the athletics history ever since the UGA Athletic Association transferred its collection to the Hargrett Library six years ago. “Here, we can actually preserve it properly for posterity,” Hasty said, thanks to that basement vault, where it’s constantly 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 30 percent humidity.
Athletics history exhibits are staged in the second-floor rotunda at the Russell building. Past topics have included Vince Dooley’s career, the 1980 national championship season, Dan Magill’s life and career, the NCAA tennis tournament in Athens, and the history of the Redcoat Band. “We try to give people an idea of what we have and also keep it fresh, so they’ll have a reason to keep coming back,” Hasty said.
The current exhibit, which will be up until the end of August (and also has a digital version online), is “Covered With Glory: Football at UGA, 1892-1917.”
It covers the genesis of Georgia football, with vintage photos, an 1893 scrapbook (including one article that refers to the players as “footballists” and another that uses sketches of the action at a game used by a paper in lieu of photographs), a letterman’s “G” from the late 1800s, early school fight songs (like “Ye Sons of Georgia,” “Yale Undertaker Song” and “Watch Georgia Win”), a leather helmet from 1903 (which didn’t protect much more than the ears in an era when helmets were optional), and diagrams of plays (such as the “Harvard Flying Wedge,” where the aim was for 11 players to link arms and bear down on one opposing player).
The exhibit also covers the darkest years of the Georgia football program, after UGA player Von Gammon died as a result of a head injury in the 1897 game against Virginia. Only the dead player’s mother’s pleas kept the governor from signing a bill that would have outlawed football in Georgia.
But, even then, support for the team was minimal for a few years. “Georgia football was in a precarious position,” Hasty said. “People were not as interested in the game as they had been before Von Gammon’s death. In The Red & Black [student newspaper], you can read players asking people to come out and play for the team.”
As the exhibit shows, things turned around in 1910, a “watershed year,” Hasty said, when Georgia got a new coach (Alex Cunningham) and a player, Bob McWhorter, who would go on to be UGA’s first All-American. “That really turned around the future of Georgia football.”
(McWhorter also was an inveterate keeper of scrapbooks, and one of his, signed by all the players on the 1910 team, is on display in the current exhibit.)
Scheduled to go up in the rotunda before this year’s first home game will be a new exhibit, covering Georgia football’s first real glory period in the 1940s, under coach Wally Butts.
Hasty also likes to take his show on the road.
This summer, highlights of the collection have been displayed in a limited run in various cities, with the final stop of the season set for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 18 at the Clarkesville Public Library in Habersham County. Hasty hopes for “a more robust schedule next year. My goal is to promote UGA athletics heritage and the Athletic Association archives. … This year, I’ve focused on the mountains in North Georgia. Next year I hope to go south of Athens (Eatonton, Monroe, etc.) and move around the state from there each summer.”
He said he’s always enjoyed working with Georgia and university history at the library, but he considers himself especially lucky to be the athletics history specialist now, because “I’m also a fan. And, as a fan, it’s pretty fun to work with this stuff every day!”
Getting to see it all is a lot of fun for the rest of us fans, too.