Posts Tagged 'Dawgs'

Tales Around the Gridiron

Last week was, without a doubt, the suckiest weekend for football since the NCAA quit allowing football games to end in a tie, thus eliminating forever the only suitable ending for a Florida-Tennessee game:  a 3-3 tie in 38-degree drizzle.  True, I had been saying all week long that Texas Tech was due for a win over the Longhorns, and since I don’t bleed burnt orange like most folks in Austin do, I wasn’t losing sleep over that upset.  Georgia-Florida?  I’ve done it before, and again, I will quote the one of the late, great Lewis Grizzard’s most famous columns for the Atlanta Journal-Constipation:

Frankly, I don’t want to talk about it.

This weekend, though, we’re kind of taking a football holiday.  Georgia-Kentucky is not being televised here, and I’m just not too terribly pumped about any of the other match-ups being offered.  I’ll check the scores on my Yahoo page from time to time, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.  The desire to blog while the marinated chickens are being saturated with 250-degree mesquite smoke has taken priority.

Over our traditional Saturday in the country lunch of Mrs. Saucedo’s tamales, fresh from her cooler outside the Bellville Meat Market, we were all re-telling our favorite tales from the gridiron.  Now is as an appropriate time to share as any during the all-too short college football season.  The first two involve one of the most colorful characters ever to grace a sideline:  former Georgia Tech (ecch!) coach from 1974-1979 Pepper Rodgers.  Take a minute to check out the website that I just tagged.  It’s pure Pepper, believe me.

Anyway, Pepper had everything the Georgia Tech faithful wanted in a coach:  tutelage under their resident pigskin deity Bobby Dodd.  Pepper also had everything we Georgia fans wanted in a Tech coach:  a complete inability to win against the Dawgs.  What isn’t as widely known was that Pepper also played baseball.  A story about Rodgers’ legendary ego is a classic.  It may have been published before, and if so, let me know the credit, and I’ll give it.  Anyway, the story goes:

Pepper was at bat, and (as so often happens), the catcher was trying to psych him out.  “So you’re the great Pepper Rodgers,” said the catcher.  “They say you think you’re something.  They say you think you’re God’s gift to baseball.  They say you think you’re special.  Well, you ain’t.”

Without taking his eyes off the pitcher, Pepper replied “Know what they say about you?”

“What?” asks the catcher.

“Nothing,” said Pepper, as he belted a line drive for a go-ahead RBI base hit.

Before he came back to become the head coach at Tech, though, Pepper came through the ranks at UCLA, first as an assistant, then as the Bruins’ head coach.  Pepper picked up a few habits in “LA-LA Land” that caused some consternation among the Old Gold and White’s Old Guard, such as wearing loafers without socks, and allowing a bit of flightiness to enter that self-hallowed brain.  In fact, Pepper had become downright eccentric, which is the term we in the South use when someone has either too much money or position to have his sanity called into question.

Back to the story:  one evening early in his tenure at what we Dawgs call the North Avenue Trade School, Pepper was slated to address a group of well-funded Tech supporters on the “rubber chicken circuit.”  Pepper left his office in midtown Atlanta without incident, headed to whatever hotel conference room across town where the dinner was scheduled.  Arrival time arrived, no Pepper.  Thirty minutes passed, still no Pepper.  Keep in mind, this is still two decades before cell phones became commonplace.  No one has any idea of what’s happened to the man of the hour.

After 45 minutes, the kitchen staff is beginning to worry about maintaining the quality of their hotel dinners (as if they had cause to worry about the quality getting any worse to begin with).  It was decided to go ahead and serve the guests.  Pepper will surely arrive during the dinner, and he can speak during dessert.  The salad was served, eaten, and removed:  still no Pepper.  The “Boneless Chicken Mariott” was served, eaten, and removed–still no Pepper.  The dessert was served, eaten, and removed, and yet again, the keynote speaker had failed to show.

Just as the organizers, seeing their prospects for a huge infusion to Tech’s scholarship fund evaporate into a massive loss, were about to profusely apologize to the supporters and send them home, Pepper arrived disheveled, filthy dirty, clothes wrinkled beyond comprehension and smeared with dirt and grease.  Without missing a beat, he bounded to the dais and began his explanation.

“I had just left the campus and gotten onto the [Downtown] Connector,” began Pepper.  “All of a sudden, I hear ‘ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK’!  The tire had blown.  So I pull over, get out the jack and the spare, lie down on the shoulder and change the tire.  When I’m done, I throw my stuff in the back of the car, and take off again.  I don’t even get back in traffic before I hear ‘ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK, ka-THUNK’ again!”

“You had another flat tire?” asked an incredulous VIP at the front table.

“Naw,” replied Pepper.  “I’d changed the wrong tire!”

Well, I didn’t intend for today’s blog to be a tribute to the clown prince of the Sith, but, “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” aside, Pepper Rodgers is the funniest guy you’ve never heard of.  Some of his most hilarious moments are intentional, others not, but Pepper doesn’t care as long as you spell his name right. (Notice the “d” in the middle????)  He even made a foray into writing the Great American Novel.  No, Fourth and Long Gone didn’t win a Pulitzer (or even come close to nomination, for that matter), but it is one of the funniest accounts of the cutthroat game of recruiting in the Holy See of Collegiate Football: the various impoverished, ill-educated, and remote pockets that dot the Southern US.  It also has as a secondary story one of the most classic prolonged practical jokes ever depicted in literature.  An incompetent assistant, the lone holdover from the previous coach’s tenure who was kept only because he knows all the shortcuts around recruiting rules that were already established, is given the sole task of keeping tabs on the weekly stats for a fictitious out-of-state recruit named “Tnassip.”  For weeks after the high school season has ended, stats are called in for the nonexistent phenom, which the incompetent faithfully reports to the only other member of the staff not in the know–the head coach.  The scene in which the hoax is revealed during a coaches’ meeting by writing the recruit’s name backwards to reveal the most common nickname used by coaches for their players is classic!

The one thing those of us from the Deep South enjoy more than a reverent regard for football is the ability to tell a great story.  Pepper Rodgers has both.  Even if he’s a Tech product, he’s an entertaining so-and-so, and that’s good enough for me.

Time Marches on Down the Gridiron

The news broke Monday night and rumbled in waves of anticipated yet unexpected anguish throughout the Bulldawg Nation, reaching me late yesterday afternoon.  After 43 years, our beloved Voice of the Georgia Bulldogs, the legendary Larry Munson, announced his retirement, effective immediately.

We all knew this day would come…someday.  Larry had tried to break it to us gently, broadcasting only home games last year and leaving the trips longer than from Munson’s home in Atlanta to Sanford Stadium (nearly 70 miles one-way) in the capable hands of longtime assistant Scott Howard and former Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier.  We knew age was catching up–equally legendary color man Loran Smith had a nasty battle with cancer a few years back, and Munson himself had surgery for a blood clot back in April that required a long stay in a rehab hospital.  Still, that’s the thing about Somedays–you expect them, you plan for them, but when they do arrive, it’s still a shock.  They sucker-punch you and leave you on your backside, wondering from where in the world that blow came.

Still, to my friends among the Bulldawg faithful, at this time I beg you to remember the man who preceded Munson.  Anyone my age or younger won’t remember the golden throat of Ed Thilenius, who called UGa football games for 10 years before he moved on to call games for the new Atlanta Falcons and the gravelly voiced Minnesotan by way of Nashville entered the broadcast booth.  When Thelenius left after the 1965 season, Bulldog (they wouldn’t be “Dawgs” until nearly the end of the next decade) fans thought he was irreplaceable.  Then came Munson, and the legend of the nascent Athletic Director, Joel Eaves, and his anointed coach, Vince Dooley (who both had arrived on the campus just two years earlier) grew before our ears.

Modern-day Georgia Football traces its roots to Eaves/Dooley/Munson.  Don’t get me wrong; the Bulldogs were great almost from the start.  The dry spell of the late 50’s and early 60’s, before the arrival of the aforementioned trio is a Tale for Another Day.  The coaching torch was passed long ago:  Coach Eaves (always “Coach Eaves,” even though he arrived as AD) retired after the 1976 conference championship season, handing the reins to his protegé, Dooley.  Coach Dooley, in turn, gave up stalking the sidelines after the 1988 season, handing off to his protegé, former quarterback Ray Goff.  In 1996, Dooley selected Marshall’s Jim Donnan to replace Goff, then in 2001, Dooley then selected Donnan’s replacement, former FSU offensive coordinator Mark Richt, who is now poised to grab Georgia’s first national championship since 1980.  Dooley himself retired from his AD position after the 2004 season.

Now Munson, too, has said it is time to give up his headphones and mike.  We have heard “Loran, whaddyagot?” live for the last time.  Thank God an astute co-worker gave me the Bulldog Boogie CD about 10 years ago back in Florida.  It contains tailgating songs, selections by the Redcoat Marching Band, and, most prized, several tracks of the “Best of Munson.”  I could describe my favorites, but perhaps it’s better to let you hear for yourself.  Thanks to matthewkham, who put a very moving tribute on YouTube.  We love ya, Larry, and wish you a long, happy and well-deserved retirement.  How ’bout THIS Dawg?

It’s Almost Football Season!!!!! Dawgs on Top!

Less than a month to go.  I’m a kid who just celebrated Thanksgiving and is already sleepless at the thought of Santa’s impending visit.  On August 30 at 12:30 pm Eastern, my beloved University of Georgia Bulldogs (hereafter known as “the Dawgs” will kick off their 2008 season against Georgia Southern.  You will find me either glued to the TV or downstreaming Larry Munson’s audiocast, or perhaps both.  As a warm up, enjoy this article from Cary Estes, a contributor to NBCSports.com.  I like the way this guy writes!  The message isn’t half bad, either.

\”Georgia great, but it\’s still easy to doubt Dawgs\” from NBC Sports

If you don’t enjoy gushing over the gridiron, be forewarned regarding the next 5 months.  I love football.  I live for football.  My father started working part-time for the UGa Athletic Department when I was 1.  When he retired from there, I was married and had 3 kids.  Bulldog sports wasn’t just entertainment; it put food on our table.   It paid for the little extras.  It got my brothers and me out of school on the Friday before the Georgia-Florida football game the first weekend of November every year (although, since the SEC went to 12 teams, the game has been moved to the last Saturday in October).

Thanks to Daddy’s position with UGAAA, I got to meet my first celebrity outside of UGa Athletics.  In 1976, the Dawgs were on their way to their first SEC championship in 8 years.  They had fired up the fans the year before by labeling Defensive Coordinator Erk Russell‘s squad the “Junkyard Dog Defense,” taking the name from the last line of the chorus of Jim Croce‘s #1 hit song, “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown.”  The Godfather of Soul, James Brown (an Augusta native and a HUGE Bulldog fan), wrote his own anthem to celebrate the Dawgs’ athletic achievements and to, in his own unique way, wave the flag of the Bulldawg Nation.  He was to perform his song, “Dooley‘s Junkyard Dogs,” named in honor of the beloved (and later legendary) head coach, during the halftime show.

I just happened to find a video of James Brown’s performance on YouTube.  I was there, and thanks to the kind soul who not only had the forethought to film it, but the generosity to post it.  Enjoy, sports fans!

Since Daddy had to be at the Gator Bowl Stadium 2 hours before the gates opened, so did we.  Mom was letting my older brother and me (my oldest brother was in the Army by that time) burn off steam by walking laps around the empty stadium.  We happened to look down, and I saw for the first time in my life a limousine.  I thought it was the biggest, fanciest thing I had ever seen.  There was a small group of people gathered around a man in the flashiest red suit I had ever seen.  Amazingly, Mom took us downstairs to meet James Brown himself!  He was in a jovial, generous mood and spoke very kindly to this 12-year-old white chicklet who wasn’t fully aware at the time of the greatness she was meeting.  He even autographed my game-day program, right above the Jack Davis (another illustrious–pardon the pun–Bulldog alum who gives back during football season) cartoon that was the cover art.  I still have that program–I was looking at it just last week.  I really need to frame that thing.

You know, the Redcoat Band still plays exerpts from both songs during football games!  “Leroy Brown” gets played after a great defensive play, and “Dooley’s Junkyard Dawgs” usually before or after the game, even though Coach Dooley retired as Head Coach after the 1988 season and as Athletic Director after the 2004 season.

There are more Tales to tell about Life, the Universe, and the Bulldogs, but I’ve got the whole season to tell them.  For now, all problems are overshadowed by the fact that the USA Today Coaches’ Poll put my beloved Dawgs at #1 in the preseason!  Life is good!  How ’bout them Dawgs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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