I was greatly saddened Thursday by news of the death of UGA great Jake Scott, an All-American for the Dawgs, an All-Pro defensive back and Super Bowl MVP for the Miami Dolphins — and one of my heroes growing up in Athens.
I have vivid memories of his days playing for Georgia, and also of him running the film projector during a summer driver’s ed class I took!
Here’s a tribute to Scott that I wrote back in 2011, when Scott was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
For Georgia fans of my generation, the announcement that Jake Scott is being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame elicits a response along the lines of “About time!”
But my son pointed out to me that, for many younger fans, Scott is just a name they hear the old folks talking about. Even his fame with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and as a Super Bowl MVP is distant history. And that’s a shame.
Part of that may be because the maverick Scott, who lives in Hawaii, has kept a determinedly low profile for years. Although he’s been a frequent social visitor to Atlanta and Athens over the years and has maintained steadfast friendships with former Dawgs teammates, Scott has never been part of the coterie of former UGA stars trotted out for charity events and banquets and media appearances — by his choice.
Scott fell out with Vince Dooley over the coach’s decision to send the 1968 SEC champions to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans rather than the team’s choice of the Orange Bowl in Miami, where the Dogs could have gone. The team ended up making a lousy showing in a 16-2 bowl loss to Arkansas, with tales of the hellraising they did in the Big Easy quickly making their way back to Athens. The rift with Dooley led Scott to leave UGA and play pro ball in Canada since juniors weren’t eligible to sign with the NFL in those days.
Dooley, who’s always praised Scott as the “most gifted all-around athlete” he ever coached, says they’ve mended their relationship in recent years, but it wasn’t until Vince was no longer athletic director that Scott made a public appearance at Sanford Stadium in 2006.
The famously prickly Scott didn’t get along with Dolphins coach Don Shula, either, so that shouldn’t be taken as a knock on Dooley.
But, despite his bolting early from UGA, Jacob E. Scott III always has maintained a hold on those fans who were around during his playing days because he was such a superb, heady athlete and played with such reckless abandon both on the field and off.
You have probably heard about him riding a motorcycle over the top of Stegeman Coliseum — let’s call him the original “Wild Dawg.”
Scott always went his own way. Although born in South Carolina, he grew up mostly in Athens and at age 12 played on Cobern Kelley’s Athens YMCA team that won the Pop Warner Little League national championship. Before he could become a star at Athens High his mom took a job in Washington and so he played his high school ball first in Virginia and then at a prep school in Maryland after he got kicked out of his Virginia school for, he said, spending too much time playing pool.
So, the wild streak was evident early on. After he returned to Athens to play for UGA, Scott, who was known in Athens for his love of partying, sat out a quarter during his freshman year after becoming academically ineligible. Then he turned around the next year and earned all-SEC academic honors because it suited him to prove he could.
He played the game like a wild man, too. Whether returning a punt or snagging an interception — both of which he excelled at — it was thrilling to see the gambling free safety Scott twisting and turning, breaking tackles, as he snaked his way through the opposing players and then shot down the field.
He led the SEC in punt returns and punt return yardage, holds the conference record for most interception touchdowns in a single game (two) and still holds the school record for career interceptions and return yards with 16 for 315 yards. Incredibly, he did all that in just two seasons, since freshmen didn’t play on the varsity in those days.
Jake Scott is never likely to be signing autographs at the UGA Bookstore or pressing the flesh with fans at Countdown to Kickoff, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that he is truly a Bulldog football legend. Dooley tried to get Scott named to the College Hall of Fame once before but the drive faltered when Scott made it clear he didn’t care about the honor and probably wouldn’t show up. Whether he shows up or not this time, the hall has decided to go ahead and honor him.
I hope he does show up this time, though, because he deserves to spend a little more time in the spotlight. And all UGA fans need to know about “Jake the Snake.”