The record for the Georgia bulldog team of 1978 was 9-2 and 1. The team had tied the Auburn Tigers in the last conference game of the year 22-22. Now, I hate ties almost as much as I hate losing to a kicker at the end of the game. Football games were never meant to be tied—ever. You win or you lose, but no draw. But there it sits, the “and 1” at the end of the 1978 season.
Although, back then, the NCAA in all their infinite wisdom never really considered the “and 1.” To tie is to break every rule of the sandlot etiquette we had growing up—to retire from a game that was tied. Darkness and serious physical injury, that required medical attention, of course, were the only possible reasons for a tie game because there was the strong possibility of continuing that game the next day. I was now playing major college football and we were stopping the game with plenty of daylight left! The refs were still there, the fans were all waiting in the stands, and then, the game is over.
You have to be kidding me? I felt like the kid in the “Bad News Bears,” the kid that ran around avoiding everyone until they let them finish the game. A score of 22-22—how does a team even score 22 points, let alone both teams—and then having it end in a tie. Then, we have to go through the same end-of-the-game ritual of pretending to like the other team while shaking their hands and offering congratulations on a game well played. What game? Now, I have no doubt that the Auburn football team probably felt the same way that day. They also have the ”and 1” at the end of their 1978 season, and again like us, are watching another team attend the Sugar Bowl that year.
The thing I failed to mention about the Tigers football teams of 1977 and 1978 was that they were very good and their running backs would become legends. Each one of them would go on to extended careers in the NFL. Joe Cribbs, William Andrews, and James Brooks composed the Auburn backfield for those first two years I played at UGA. How did the offensive coordinator for Auburn make up his mind about who would get the ball? How does a defense attempt to concentrate on stopping the greatest backfield in the history college football? Well, we did not stop them, though we did try!!
Frank Ros, our 1980 team captain, reminded me of a play that took place during that game in 1978. Bob Kelly ran down the field not only catching, but also subduing, William Andrews just before he could score as time ran out in the first half. Frank said Bob looked like a cowboy at his first rodeo attempting to wrangle the meanest bull in the corral. It took him almost twenty yards before Bob finally got him down. Our defense struggled with the Tigers running formation. They had the backfield coaches dream about, but they also had great split ends and flankers. They were never going to throw the ball. But then, why would they?
In 1979, all we had to do was beat Auburn, and we would go to the Sugar Bowl. There were some folks worried that a 5-4 team would win the conference. We worried too much about the pass they never threw, while they ran the ball all day. We lost that day, and it still bothers me. The Auburn game was always a fight during those years, leaving my record against those guys at 1-2-1—certainly not bragging material. Coach Russell, after several years of losing to the running game, decided if they beat us in ’80, it will be done by them throwing, not running, the ball. I was concerned in 1980. Playing in Auburn had not been good to us, and it was a difficult place to play. They were always tough and a hard nose team. Playing good old fashion control football, always with runs of 3 and 4 yards in a cloud of dust. But watch out, they could go the distance in the blink of an eye.
James Brooks was a senior that year, coming out of Warner Robbins in ’76, winning the state football championship along with Jimmy Womack and Ron Simmons. He was hard to tackle, not to mention fast, quick, strong, and a really great guy and outstanding football player. I met James again at his Georgia Sports Hall of Fame induction a few years back in Macon. We shared good stories about the games we played—from the other player’s perspective.
People think the season of 1980 was just a walk in the park. Easily winning games by outrageous margins could not be further from the truth. The team of ’80 was special in many ways, but we dominated few games that season, winning many by the skin of our teeth. The Auburn game of ’80 was no different. The Auburn defense was determined to stop Herschel at all costs, and did a remarkable job, again leaving other teammates open to make plays.
Rex Robinson opened the scoring with a field goal in the second quarter putting us up 3-0. My dear friend and brother in arms, Greg Bell, another senior leader who was from Birmingham and a team captain for the game that day, would make a spectacular play. Doing his best Superman imitation, he timed his jump perfectly and blocked a punt. Then, Freddie Gilbert catches the ball on first or second bounce and is off to the end zone with a special team score, making it 10-0. Herschel scored another touchdown before halftime in an unorthodox fashion by changing directions on a broken play that allowed both Buck and Lindsey to throw perfect blocks, sending Herschel into the end zone untouched. How many quarterbacks do you see lay down a good roll block? Just more unselfish play by our teammates. We go in at the half leading 17-0 over the Tigers.
The team comes out of the locker room after the half and breaks with tradition. Coach Dooley’s philosophy of gambling during football games is well known—he did NOT gamble. He would never go for it on 4th down or run a trick play, except every now and then when the Georgia team would need something special. Then, Coach would give the nod. Well, the kickoff team got that nod, a surprise onside kick. Rex, again, makes a great kick, and we get the ball to begin the second half. Momentum is again ours, and the offense takes charge keeping those guys off the field. The game in 1980 ended 31-21, a win for the good guys.
There was a saying back then at UGA that the SEC championship went through Auburn. I think what makes the rivalry what it is today and keeps the fire burning, is that Auburn and Georgia have always been so much alike. Just look at our records.