Inspired by all the tie scores in soccer’s World Cup, Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com recently paid tribute to the days when college football wasn’t afraid to let a game end deadlocked.
As Maisel noted, “Ties brought a different kind of strategy to the field. Ties brought controversy. They may have ended games, but they started debates that endure to this day. … You want to get an argument restarted? Wander over to a tailgate outside Notre Dame Stadium and criticize Ara Parseghian for the 10-10 tie with Michigan State that secured the Irish the 1966 national championship.”
Which prompted my son to ask me about famous (or infamous) ties in Georgia football history. He’s 25 and thus “I only remember the last one against undefeated Auburn in 1994,” when he was 9 years old. “But I’m sure there were others of note.”
Indeed, there were, and as Vince Dooley put it in his memoir a few years ago, “Some ties feel like a win; some ties feel like a loss.”
Going back before my time, the “good” ties — the so-called moral victories — include Georgia’s 1941 meeting with former UGA coach Harry Mehre’s Ole Miss team in Athens when the Dogs’ Frankie Sinkwich had his broken jaw wired shut and played with a protective metal chin strap and still managed to ramble for 98 yards in a 14-14 game, and the 1948 Gator Bowl when quarterback Johnny Rauch led a fourth quarter comeback from a 20-7 deficit to tie Maryland 20-20.
Easily the worst tie, at least as far as my old friend Dan and I are concerned, was the nationally televised season-opening1968 game in Knoxville. On the one hand, you’d think Georgia would have been pleased with the result since it was nearly a touchdown underdog to the previous season’s No. 2 Vols, but the Dooley team that went on to win the SEC title led the game 17-9 with second left. On the last play of regulation time the refs awarded Tennessee a touchdown catch, despite the fact that video replays showed the ball bounced off the infamous artificial Tartan Turf and into the receiver’s hands. Dooley said that was one that “definitely felt like a loss because we outplayed them. … It was a lousy way to let a game slip away.”
Interestingly, Tennessee wasn’t the Dogs’ only deadlocked game that season. (That was one of 10 seasons where the Dogs had two or more ties, and in three seasons they had three ties, including the 1950 team that had a soccer-like 0-0 game with UNC.)
The other tie in 1968, as the Dogs went 8-0-2 in the regular season, was a 10-10 result with Houston in Athens, which gets Dan’s vote as Georgia’s “best” tie and which Dooley recalled “felt like a win.” Houston had the nation’s top-ranked offense and racked up 532 yards against Erk Russell’s defense that day, with All American fullback Paul Gipson rushing for 230 of them. And yet the Cougars only scored one touchdown and led 10-7 when Georgia got the ball on its own 9 with 1:59 left. Sophomore QB Mike Cavan nearly gave the game away with an interception, but the Houston defender dropped the ball. Then Cavan led the Dogs to the Cougars’ 22, where placekicker Jim McCullough kicked a field goal to end the game even.
One of the ties that left Georgia unhappy was the 1973 opening game in Athens against Pittsburgh, which up to then had been pretty awful. The Dogs were a 17-point favorite, but the Panthers had a running back making his collegiate debut that day named Tony Dorsett, and he rushed for 101 yards as the two teams played to a 7-7 tie.
I’d been managing editor of The Red and Black that summer and all the student newspaper staff wasn’t back yet since school hadn’t started, so the sports editor asked me to help out with the coverage. It was the only regular season game I’ve ever watched from the press box, an experience I didn’t particularly enjoy since you weren’t supposed to cheer, plus a sportswriter sitting near me provided a running racist commentary on Dorsett’s exploits. My assignment was to do the UGA locker room reaction story after the game, and believe me, Andy Johnson and the guys definitely weren’t feeling lucky to have come out of that game tied. Maybe in retrospect, after losing to Heisman-winning Dorsett and Pitt in the regular season in 1975 and the Sugar Bowl in 1976, they should have.
On the other hand, a tie that felt like a win was in 1983 at Clemson. The Tigers led 16-6 in the fourth quarter when Todd Williams threw a touchdown pass to Clarence Kay, pulling Georgia within 3. Then, with 31 seconds left, Kevin Butler kicked a 31-yard field goal to tie it up. But the game wasn’t over. Clemson’s Donald Igwebuike tried a 68-yarder with 7 seconds left, but was short. So, just for the heck of it, Dooley had Butler try a 66-yarder with 1 second on the clock, but it also was no good, and the tie stuck.
The 1984 Citrus Bowl in Orlando (now the Capital One Bowl) against Florida State was another good tie. Georgia was unranked and the No. 15 Seminoles were favored by 4 points. Actually, the Dogs led 14-0 at the half, but FSU came back with two fourth quarter scores to tie the game at 17-17. Butler tried a 70-yard field goal as time expired and was just short.
Not so good were the two ties in 1985, both remarkably by the same score. Georgia came into Nashville ranked 16th in the country and a 19-point favorite, but was lucky to escape with a 13-13 score, as Vanderbilt kicker Alan Herline pushed what would have been a game-winning field goal attempt to the right at the end. The Commodores were tearful in the locker room over their missed opportunity for an upset. And in that season’s Sun Bowl the favored Dogs had to rally for 10 fourth quarter points to tie Arizona 13-13, and Wildcats substitute kicker Davis Jacobs missed a field goal that would have won it.
For my money, Georgia’s best-ever tie was its last one. That was the game my son remembers in 1994, when a mediocre Ray Goff team came back from a 23-9 deficit thanks to two Eric Zeier touchdown passes and tied the No. 3-ranked Tigers 23-23. The Auburn kicker missed a field goal try with 13 seconds left and so the Dogs denied Terry Bowden a 21st consecutive victory. That tie definitely felt like a win for those of us in red and black!