Generally speaking, Ray Goff doesn’t come in for many accolades these days from Georgia fandom. It still hurts too much to recall the depths to which the UGA football program sank during his time as head coach.
But with James Rayford Goff being inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame tonight at the Macon City Auditorium, I think we ought to take a few moments to acknowledge some of the high points in the Moultrie native’s career before he was tagged as “Ray Goof.”
Goff’s playing career at Georgia is interesting because during all three of his years on the varsity (this was still when freshmen couldn’t play), he shared snaps with Matt Robinson and was known mainly as the “runner” while Robinson was the “passer.” For many fans, the memory of that time is as my brother Tim put it: “If it was third and long they would bring in Matt Robinson to throw it.”
As Vince Dooley recalled in his 2005 memoir, “When Ray came to Georgia … he had a reputation for being a great high school passer who couldn’t run very much. As it turned out, the opposite was true.”
And yet Goff was all-SEC and finished seventh in the Heisman voting his senior year.
Actually, operating in the veer, an option running attack, Georgia didn’t have to pass that much in those days. In fact, in the 1976 game against Auburn that clinched the SEC title, Goff played injured, couldn’t even lift his throwing arm and didn’t complete a pass, yet the Dogs won 28-0.
Dooley was pretty much spot-on in his estimation of Goff as “a great option quarterback.” My friend Rusty, who’s been watching the Dogs all his life, agrees. Goff, he says, “was the best option quarterback I ever saw. Perfect timing/decision making on pitch outs.” And, Rusty added, “he could actually throw the ball when least expected,” as during the 1976 season when his passes included touchdown strikes of 75 and 87 yards.
(At a Macon Bulldog Club meeting one year, Rusty recalls, fellow UGA QB Kirby Moore of flea-flicker fame was kidding Goff about his passing and Ray replied, “Well, at least I didn’t have to relay mine.” Not bad.)
With Goff and Robinson alternating at quarterback, the Dogs won the SEC championship in 1976 and had a shot at the national championship before falling to the Tony Dorsett-led Pitt Panthers in the Sugar Bowl.
I asked several longtime UGA fans for their favorite memory from Goff’s playing days and most of them cited the game in Jacksonville against the Gators, where the Dogs rallied from a 27-13 halftime deficit to score 28 unanswered second half points for a 41-27 win in the game immortalized for Florida coach Doug Dickey’s “fourth and dumb” call.
Goff was absolutely terrific in that game, accounting for five touchdowns as he passed for two and ran for three. He rushed for 124 yards on 17 carries and completed all five of his passes.
As my friend Scott recalls, “I still remember him going around end and some Gator grabbing his jersey, only to have Ray keep going in the days of tear-away jerseys.”
Other Goff highlights from that 1976 season include his 73-yard touchdown run in the Dogs’ 41-0 nationally televised rout of the Clemson Tigers, a 70-yard touchdown run in the lone regular season loss to Ole Miss, and a 63-yard scoring run against Vandy. Goff was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year.
We also should note that while Goff’s time as head coach at Georgia definitely was disappointing, it wasn’t without its moments. He lost his first two to Tech but then reeled off five straight against the Jackets. Goff was known as a great recruiter whose talent tended to underperform and it’s true that his talent-loaded 1992 team — with the likes of Eric Zeier, Garrison Hearst, Mack Strong, Andre Hastings and Randall Godfrey — probably should have won the national championship but lost close games to Tennessee and Florida. Still, they finished 10-2 and No. 8 in both national polls after beating Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl.
Goff’s 1994 team was a mediocre 6-4-1, losing to Vanderbilt and getting blown out by Florida, but that one tie (in the days before overtime) was a memorable one, ending Terry Bowden’s 20-game winning streak at Auburn. As one headline blared: “UGA beats Auburn 23-23.”
And then there was probably the biggest win of Goff’s coaching career in 1991, when the No. 6-ranked Clemson Tigers came to Athens for a nationally televised night game and were upset 27-12. It was quite a day. The Braves had wrapped up the National League West title earlier that day, setting the Sanford Stadium crowd off into a frenzy of tomahawk chopping, and then the Dogs took down the Tigers.
“It’s a great day,” Goff said after the game. “The Braves won and we won.”
It doesn’t get any better than that, and unfortunately for Goff there weren’t enough of those days in Athens during his time as coach.
But that shouldn’t overshadow the success Goff had has a player at Georgia. He was, and remains, one damn good Dawg.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg