It’s Georgia-Florida week, which for Dogs fans unfortunately means having to put up with constant reminders that the Gators have dominated the series in recent years.
It wasn’t always that way. During the Vince Dooley era, it was UGA that was dominant in the annual Jacksonville fixture, which yielded many fond memories for Georgia fans — none fonder than the game played on Nov. 8, 1980, that catapulted the Dogs into the No. 1 spot in the polls that they would not relinquish the rest of that football season.
The film clip of the famed Buck Belue-to-Lindsay Scott desperation pass that won the game has been shown so many times over the years that most fans can visualize each second in their minds, complete with the memorable Larry Munson call of the play.
”Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!” indeed.
Now, however, thanks to filmmaker Lenny Daniel, a fellow graduate of UGA’s Grady College, fans can experience that game — and the entire 1980 season — through the eyes of more than two dozen of those playing and coaching for the national championship Bulldogs.
And in connection with the renewal of the Dogs-Gators rivalry, the producers of “1980 Dawgs: The Inside Story of the National Championship Season” have released an excerpt from the Florida game chapter of the DVD release.
Watching the interview segments and game footage puts you back in the old Gator Bowl on that fateful day, with the participants offering detailed reminiscences of the game then known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Defensive guard Tim Crowe remembers the crowd noise and that the first thing the players smelled when they came out of the locker room was liquor.
Despite coming off a tough game the previous week against South Carolina and soon-to-be Heisman winner George Rogers, Georgia got off to a fast start, with eventual Heisman winner Herschel Walker scoring on one of his patented long runs less than two minutes into the game. The Dogs led 14-10 at halftime but Florida was ahead 21-20 in the fourth quarter thanks to the trouble the Georgia defense had with what rover Chris Welton recalls as offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan’s “cutting edge” short-passing attack with four wideouts, which the Dogs hadn’t seen before. Florida receiver Tyrone Young was practically unstoppable, the old Dogs recall.
Finally, though, when Georgia absolutely had to have a stop to get the ball back, Erk Russell’s defense rose to the occasion, as it did so many times that season, and forced Florida to punt. But the Dogs were backed up deep in their own territory and with just over a minute left it was third-and 12 at Georgia’s own 8-yard line.
The Dogs stuck with their I-formation play-action attack because, defensive end Robert Miles says, “That was our game.” Though Belue notes wryly, “I’m not sure what the play action was about. Florida knew we had to throw the ball.”
It didn’t look good. On the Georgia sideline, Welton and Russell were already talking about what the defense would have to do to get the ball back. Dooley noted that some of the Florida players were already starting to celebrate. But, center Hugh Nall says, “I knew somehow … we were going to win.”
Belue scrambled into the end zone and nearly got sacked, but the unsung hero of the play, right tackle Nat Hudson, peeled off his initial block just in time to deflect a blitzing Gator and allow Belue to find Scott open over the middle.
The plan was just to get a first down and then hopefully get into field goal range so that ever-reliable placekicker Rex Robinson would have a chance to win yet another one for the Dogs. When Scott made the catch, Welton told Russell he was going to get a first down. “Hell no,” Erk said, grabbing Welton in a bear hug and lifting him off the ground, “he’s gonna score!”
Sure enough, Scott turned upfield and hit an “alley” in the Florida coverage and turned on the afterburners. On the sideline, Dooley and other coaches and players, including the injured Nall in a leg cast, raced along with him, mobbing him in the end zone after he scored. The field was pandemonium but Russell summed up the improbable 92-yard play in his inimitable style by saying simply, “That was something, wasn’t it?”
There is, of course, much more on Daniel’s two-DVD set, which runs more than four hours and differs from the 78-minute documentary “1980! UGA National Championship Year Revisited” released on VHS in 1990 in more than just running time. Where the previous film, never issued on DVD, concentrated mostly on game footage supplemented by a few interviews, the new release focuses on the first-hand memories of the players, coaches, sideline reporter Loran Smith and even training assistant (and future TV meteorologist) David Chandley, sportscaster Bill Hartman (whose dad was the volunteer kicking coach) and Ed Legge, who covered the season for the Red & Black student newspaper. Just about the only significant voices missing are Walker and the late Russell.
As a piece of filmmaking, it probably could have benefited from being trimmed by about half, but I doubt many Bulldogs fans will complain about the surplus of anecdotes and memories, which include the fullest telling to date of the infamous “Seagraves initiation” the spring before, in which five Bulldog seniors were punished by Dooley for stealing and barbecuing one of the UGA farm’s prize pigs, an incident cited as a team bonding experience.
It’s all there, including special segments on Munson, Russell, the late Wayne McDuffie, “Mad Dog” Bill Lewis, the late Jimmy Payne, Dooley’s flirtation with his alma mater Auburn between the end of the regular season and the national championship Sugar Bowl game, and what it was like to play for Dooley. (He was the one the players were scared of, not “heart of gold” Russell.) You hear the players talking about how little Walker impressed them in preseason practice — at least, until he dented Jeff Hipp’s facemask in a goal line drill — and how much they loved the fans sitting around the railroad track.
There were a lot of heroes that season besides Belue, Scott and Walker — most notably defender and kick returner extraordinaire Scott Woerner, who just about single-handedly beat Clemson despite not even starting that game. And you’ll find out how scout teamer Terry Hoage came to make the trip to New Orleans and have a chance to block a Notre Dame field goal attempt.
Yes, it’s pure Dawgporn. And never more so than in those on-the-field and sideline memories of the win over the hated Gators. As Scott puts it, “It was magical.”
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