The game was over, but the wave of Georgia fans kept getting closer to Vince Dooley and Tim Brando.
It was a chilly November day in 1986. The Bulldogs had just sealed a shocking win against Auburn. Two joyful players hoisted their legendary coach into the air and carried him onto the field in triumph. They lowered Dooley so that he could shake hands with Tigers coach Pat Dye, and then conduct the customary on-field postgame interview.
But the Georgia fans wanted to celebrate with their coach too, and before long, they were jostling, jumping and hollering “Go Dawgs!” inches away from him. Brando at one point put his hands on one, silently urging him to calm down, but realized the struggle was futile.
“I’ll release you,” Brando told Dooley, cutting the interview short. A pair of harried police officers whisked him away from the quickly-spreading chaos.
The UGA fans, mostly students, came careening onto the field in droves. They flooded it with warm, exuberant, inebriated bodies — until they were the ones being drenched.
Jordan-Hare Stadium came equipped with massive hoses used to water the pristine new field. But on this night, they were Auburn’s last line of defense against their red and black-clad invaders.
“(Assistant AD Kermit Perry) had turned the sprinklers on the field to get the fans off the field, which wasn’t a bad thing to do,” Dye said. “And then somebody got hold of the sprinkler cannon, it could shoot water 55 yards.”
“It’s a little chilly to be getting drenched down there, but the Georgia fans probably aren’t gonna mind,” the ESPN broadcast observed.
Even that wasn’t enough to entirely fend off the fans. As hoses showered what Auburn now calls Pat Dye Field on all sides, a large Georgia contingent gathered at midfield and began pulling and ripping at the Jordan-Hare Stadium field. Soggy grass became free postgame souvenirs.
Thirty years later, with the 120th edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry on deck, Dye caught a replay of the game on ESPN. But the postgame celebration wasn’t what sticks with him. “The Game Between the Hoses” was a pretty good football game, too.
“It was like watching a horror movie,” he said. “They just lined up and beat us. Cost us a conference championship.”
A familiar foe
Georgia and Auburn were at the height of their powers under a pair of legendary coaches. Between 1980-89, the two schools combined for seven SEC titles and were competitive almost every season.
The Bulldogs began the decade by winning three straight conference crowns, starting with their national championship season in 1980. It was after that title run that Auburn approached Dooley about returning to his alma mater. The Tigers had just gone 29-25-1 in five seasons under Doug Barfield, the recently-fired successor to Ralph Jordan.
Dooley turned down the offer but wound up recommending Dye, an All-American defender at Georgia.
“I had interviewed for the job and just felt like I was here too long, my roots were more recent and deeper. I couldn’t leave,” Dooley said. “The person that would be the best fit, even though I knew he would be tough competitor, was Pat Dye. And I did mention that, both to one of the board members that I knew who played football at Auburn, and also to Gov. Fob James.”
Dye got the job and took Bulldogs coaches to the Plains with him, just as Dooley had done in reverse two decades earlier when Georgia hired him away from Auburn. The coaching staffs were well-acquainted and stationed 174 miles apart. They recruited the same areas, as well.
“(It’s) what we called an underground railroad. It’s just a happenstance in the profession,” Dooley said. “You’ve got this movement, integration and hybridization of the Georgia and Auburn coaches.”
By 1983, in Dye’s third year heading the program, the Tigers were establishing themselves as a major power. They went 11-1, winning the first of four SEC titles under Dye, and handed Dooley the only loss of his 10-1-1 campaign. The Tigers went on to beat UGA in ’84 and ’85.
But the familiarity on both sides was perhaps near its peak when Georgia and Auburn met in 1986, as the all-time series record sat at 41-41.
“If (the rivalry) took on any feeling, it’d make you want to win it worse. I don’t know if that’s possible,” Dye said. “And I’m sure Coach Dooley feels the same way. The Georgia game was always a big one for me, and the Auburn game was always big for him. There has always been a lot of crossover between the coaching staffs.”
Auburn was off to a 9-1 start, leaning on one of the country’s elite defenses and a future first-round draft pick in tailback Brent Fullwood. With the Tigers’ only loss coming against Florida in The Swamp, they still had a shot at the SEC championship.
Georgia had fallen to three ranked teams and looked on track for another relatively disappointing finish — at least by Dooley era standards — as they prepared to enter the Plains as double-digit underdogs.
Amid all this, Dooley had to face another challenge.
It was Tuesday, and Georgia starting quarterback James Jackson had received tragic news: His grandmother passed away.
“(She) practically raised James. And James told me earlier that week it was going to be hard for him, because the funeral was the Saturday of the game,” Bulldogs quarterback Wayne Johnson recalled. “He said it was going to be hard for him to make it to that game. But Coach Dooley and his staff actually thought James was going to come there, because the game was at 6 o’clock that afternoon.”
In the meantime, Johnson prepared for the possibility that he would play. The sophomore took first-team reps in practice with Jackson away, and his excitement built with each passing day.
A native of Columbus, Ga., Johnson grew up much closer to Auburn than Athens, but the Tigers never recruited him. He grew up knowing exactly how much Georgia-Auburn meant to the area, and knew several of his family and friends would be in attendance.
There was no doubt in Johnson’s mind that he wanted to start.
“The question was when (Jackson) would return to the team,” Dooley said. “That was an uncertainty. He was not able to come back on Friday. That took priority in my mind, the personal thing. You have to tend to that, or else your mind is not completely where it ought to be on the field. It was more important for him to be with his family. So I understood that.”
By the time Saturday morning arrived, the team still didn’t know if Jackson would show up in time for kickoff.
“Coach Dooley asked me (Saturday) morning, he called the (hotel) room,” Johnson recalled. “He asked ‘Has James arrived?’ I said ‘No sir.’ So I’m saying to myself, ‘James told me he wasn’t going to be there, so I guess he didn’t tell Coach Dooley he wasn’t going to be there.’ I said ‘Coach, I’m ready.’
“It was kind of strange.”
The hours passed. On the Auburn sideline, Dye and the rest of his coaching staff had no clue anyone but James Jackson would be under center for Georgia.
The media was just as unaware.
“Pregame they were talking about James Jackson, because the game was on ESPN,” Johnson said. “And then I had to go back out to get a head shot when Coach Dooley announced that I was going to start the game. Right before pregame warm-up.”
Facing one of the toughest defenses in the country, Georgia had to roll with its backup quarterback.
Right away, Auburn quarterback Jeff Burger looked off. Georgia forced a quick punt, took over on offense and called a first-down handoff to get its possession going.
Johnson attempted his first pass on 2nd-and-7, a near-interception that deflected off the hands of not one, but two Auburn defenders before hitting the turf.
“Well, he had a lot on it but he threw it to the wrong guy,” was the play-by-play comment from the broadcast booth.
The drive fizzled, and soon Auburn had a 7-0 lead after Reggie Ware capped an 84-yard drive with a touchdown.
“My adrenaline was going. I was so hyped and ready,” Johnson said. “But you had guys like (running back) Lars Tate, who was a good friend of mine. He was kind of calming me down, telling me to relax. So it’s great to have other good players surrounding you. It really helped me out a whole lot.”
As Johnson settled down, so did the Georgia offense. The Bulldogs answered with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to tight end Troy Sadowski, and booted two more field goals in the waning minutes of the first half.
By the fourth quarter, the underdogs had extended their surprising lead to 20-10 — no small feat for a backup quarterback against Dye’s top-five defense.
“You talk about people like (Auburn defensive lineman) Tracy Rocker, who (now coaches) at Georgia. He was one of the defensive guys, and he was just as fast as I was. And then Aundray Bruce,” Johnson said. “They had a front that was so vicious. I’m talking mean.”
The Auburn offense, meanwhile, was struggling. Burger had thrown a pair of interceptions, and his offensive line was being out-muscled.
“They didn’t need (Jackson),” Dye said of Georgia. “They had a large team. Big strong offensive line, good defense. Typical Georgia football team.”
But, as fate would have it, Burger and the Tigers responded to Georgia’s 10-point lead with a 99-yard touchdown drive. The scoreboard now read 20-16, and though Georgia had outplayed Auburn for three quarters, its hard-fought lead was now in danger of vanishing.
“You know it’s a long football game and Auburn was very, very good. We had a fight on our hands,” Dooley said.
Auburn got the ball back once more, and with less than two minutes remaining was again driving down the field behind a slew of Burger completions. There were misfires and drops, but somehow, the offense kept churning ahead.
With 54 seconds left, Georgia standout linebacker Steve Boswell — who had accounted for 19 tackles in the game — extended his hands toward an errant Burger pass for a game-sealing interception, Georgia’s third of the day.
“Auburn was coming down the field and could easily have gone back ahead. But he made a terrific interception that kind of saved the ball game for us. It was a terrific win, and one that we needed,” Dooley said.
Georgia was soon kneeling in the victory formation. Behind their own talented defense and an unpredictable performance from the backup quarterback, the Bulldogs held on for the shocking 20-16 upset.
“It’s amazing sometimes what people can do when they get an opportunity and respond. And Wayne Johnson just had the best football game of his life,” Dooley said.
“It was,” Johnson concurred.
Then came the rain.
“Water won’t hurt you”
By the time Dooley was rushed back to the visitor’s locker room, the Georgia mob was at full strength, and neither football team knew what was happening.
“They came on the loudspeakers and warned everybody to stay off the field,” Dye said. “When the game was over, the Georgia fans didn’t pay attention to the PA announcement. They ran out onto the field.
“I’m in the dressing room with the players after the ball game. somebody runs in there and says they turned the sprinklers on. (Assistant AD Kermit Perry) had turned the sprinklers on the field to get the fans off the field, which wasn’t a bad thing to do.”
Out came the water cannons, showering everyone who dared set foot on the field. Eventually, someone — whether it’s an Auburn or Georgia fan was unclear — got a hold of a cannon and began dousing Georgia fans still celebrating in the stands.
More mayhem ensued.
“That was one thing I think made it not so good is that they turned the hose on some of the fans in the stands that were celebrating,” Dooley said. “Coach Dye, you have to laugh at it, it came to his mind. He said, ‘Well, Georgia needs to take a bath on Saturday night.’ Of course that didn’t go over too well with some of the Georgia people. But that’s Pat.”
The whole fiasco resulted in Jordan-Hare Stadium as we know it today: With hedges surrounding its field, just like Georgia’s Sanford Stadium.
“Auburn appointed a study committee that came over and visited with us, and finally adapted hedges to keep that from happening in the future,” Dooley said. “And it is a real deterrent against running on the field, which I really think is not good.”
Dye couldn’t help but reflect upon the postgame circus with disappointment. Extraordinary and wild though it was, Georgia cost Auburn a shot at winning the SEC and what could have been four straight conference titles for the Tigers.
“It wasn’t no big deal. They just got wet. Water won’t hurt you,” he said. “That was insignificant to the whupping we took on the field. That’s what hurt.”
Georgia and Auburn will continue their heated rivalry on Saturday. As in 1986, the Tigers are a big favorite with SEC title aspirations. And the series record, currently 56-55-8 in Georgia’s favor, could wind up back at dead even after 120 tries.
Perhaps that’s fitting. Both schools, for all the on-field sparks and havoc in their meetings, are more alike than they are different. The deep-rooted ties are as unshakable as the rivalry.
“There’s probably a great mutual respect between the two schools. A lot in common in a lot of ways,” Dooley said. “The fact that we’ve continued this series for so long, with all of those intangibles, here we are out there 120 times going at each other.
“It’s certainly one of the great rivalries based on history.”