ATHENS – Don Brown. He was my recruiting source.
I guess it’s OK to reveal that now. I imagine the statute of limitations has passed, if one is required. I don’t think any rules were being broken or anything like that. It’s not like we were doing anything illegal. We were just sharing information.
But it sure felt like we were being sneaky anyway.
Everything about recruiting seemed to be on the down-low back in those days. I’m not talking ancient history, but I am talking about the pre-Internet days, before there were chatrooms and fan sites. BorderWars.com is the first one of those I recall. Not sure when it came about.
Before that, inside recruiting info was passed around from telephone-to-telephone on a need-to-know basis. Occasionally there would be these sort of secret-society meetings called by these clandestine groups somewhere or another around town. Reporters like me would never be invited to such gatherings, but the good intel would flow freely afterward, so you wanted to be aware they were taking place.
Georgia fans would hold those on occasion at a local Moose Lodge, if I’m recalling correctly, or another such place. At these “big meetings,” one of the Bulldogs’ assistant coaches might show up and give everybody the straight inside intelligence on everything that was going on in recruiting. For his trouble, the “recruitniks” of the day would pass the hat and give him a small cash gift for coming.
I met Don Brown, who’d have a front-row seat for such gatherings, as a young reporter at the Athens Banner-Herald & Daily News. I say met, but I’m not sure we actually ever met in person. He was just a voice on the other end of the line.
My phone would ring at my desk in the newsroom and I’d answer, “sports, Chip Towers.”
“This is Don in Commerce,” he’d say, so I’d grab a pad and pen. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m hearing that So-and-So committed to Georgia tonight. You might want to check that out.”
So I’d pull out my ever-present Forrest Davis or Max Emfinger recruiting magazine, run my finger down the list of prospect names until I found said recruit. Davis’ magazine was my favorite because it would always include the coaches’ names and the names of the parents. So then I’d turn to the good ol’ white pages (remember those?) and look up a home number, or just call 411 for information (remember that?).
And, sure enough, Don would be right! Actually, I’m not sure he was ever wrong. So I’d write it up for the next morning’s paper. It was a great way to get a little scoop in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Such is the way recruiting information used to be delivered. Nowadays, you can’t set your smartphone down five minutes without receiving a notification of “BREAKING NEWS” on recruiting. Which is good I guess.
Of course, what’s news is a little different these days. People don’t just know when a kid has committed or is going to sign. It’s considered breaking news if a kid is going to visit or camp at your school. Commitment news comes from kids that are a year or sometimes two from signing. And everybody knows it instantly. Heck, most of the kids just announce their news on their own social media channels, then us media types report it off of that.
I was thinking about all this Tuesday, on the eve of yet another national signing day for me. I’ll be covering the scene at UGA tomorrow, which will attract a couple of hundred fans to Georgia’s Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Wednesday and spark signing day parties at the Blind Pig Tavern and other places in Athens and all around Atlanta.
Anyway, it got me to wondering where Don Brown is nowadays and whether or not he’s still following recruiting like he used to.
To my surprise, I found him right where I left him. He’s still working at his family’s insurance company in Commerce, Hyman Brown Insurance Agency.
“I miss that,” Brown told me in a brief telephone conversation. “Now it’s like, ‘boom,’ everything is right there right away. It’s not as fun anymore. I used to like to hear all the rumors. I’m serious. I loved the rumors.”
Ah, yes, there were always rumors bouncing around. Usually they were about “so-and-so is cheating” or this kid’s not going to qualify and is going to have to go JUCO or what-not.
“That’s what I enjoyed about it,” Brown said. “I’d be on the phone an hour-and-a-half, two hours a night, talking to the different guys I knew that were keeping up with it and exchanging information.”
I thought I was Brown’s exclusive newspaper source. To my disappointment, I learned I was not.
“I used to talk to the guy at the Macon paper, too,” Brown informed me. “Ed something-another, I think his name was.”
Grisamore, it still is.
“He got me out of bed late one night to tell me that Garrison Hearst had committed to Georgia,” Brown said. “And I was glad he woke me up.
“I also remember Bill Hartman who was Channel 5 at the time. We got Tim Worley out of Lumberton, N.C. Bill called me and told me, ‘I have it from an impeccable source that he’s coming to Georgia.’ I’d say, ‘just say you got it from Daddy.’ And we got Worley, of course.”
Brown said he still follows recruiting like he always did, just in the ways it is done now. He said he reads DawgNation every day on his computer.
And he has passed on his passion to his sons. Rob works with him in the family insurance business, and Russ is a school counselor and youth minister at a local church.
Now they are Don Brown’s primary source for recruiting news.
“They love the recruiting, too,” said Brown, now 63. “Their phones are set up now that if anything happens they get a ding or something about it. Then they tell me.”
They both have the DawgNation app on their phones. I asked Don if he had it on his.
“Listen, my 8-year-old twin grandboys know more about what my phone does than I do,” he said with a laugh. “I can answer it, but that’s about it.”
But it was nice to reminisce Tuesday with my long, lost source.
“I miss those days,” he said again. “It was so much more fun.”
Of course, Brown is still a die-hard Dawg. Never one to miss out on a chance to pick on Georgia Tech, he did.
“Be sure to let your readers know that Georgia Tech alumni are also meeting Wednesday,” Brown said. “In a local phone booth.”
Do they still have those?