This weekend, when Georgia travels to Columbia to meet the Gamecocks, it will mark the third week of the 2014 football season. But in my first year attending games as a UGA alum, mid-September was when the season actually started!
That was 1974, a year of important events in my life that are now marking their 40th anniversary.
It’s 40 years since I graduated from the University of Georgia. Forty years since I started working at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And 40 years since I became a UGA football season ticket holder and Bulldog Club member.
Looking back on the latter half of 1974, it was notable for a lot of other reasons, too.
Watergate came to a head that summer. The House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon, and on Aug. 8 he went on TV and announced he’d resign the next day.
As the newbie, my assignment at the paper was to interview a political scientist about what it all meant. Not a major part of the coverage, but my Mom was proud I had a byline in that historic issue of the Constitution.
Not long after that, President Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon for all crimes he may have committed while president. That same day, Sept. 8, daredevil Evel Knieval failed in his attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon on a rocketcycle.
What else was happening in 1974 as I set up residence at Southland Vista apartments (which no longer exist now) on LaVista Road near Briarcliff?
Musically, rock was everywhere. At least, in titles and names. Hit songs on local Top 40 king Quixie that summer and fall included “Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation, “Rock Your Baby” by George McCrae and “Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim. And Officer Don’s “beautiful music” station, WKLS, morphed into 96 Rock.
On TV, CBS started those “Bicentennial Minutes” that July, and the new network prime-time season beginning in September featured “Chico and the Man” (introducing Freddie Prinze) and “The Rockford Files” (bringing James Garner back to prime time).
Among the films I recall seeing that summer and fall were Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown,” Warren Beatty in “The Parallax View” and Gene Hackman in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation.”
And do you remember Expo ’74, the World’s Fair in Spokane? Of course, not.
Jimmy Carter was in his final months as governor of Georgia and already there was talk of him seeking higher office. I remember that fall being assigned to cover some dinner speech he gave and being shocked a few days later when I received a letter from him on official gubernatorial stationery complimenting me on what a fine job I’d done considering I didn’t have the prepared text. “That guy is definitely running for president,” I told a coworker. Carter made it official in December.
In the race to replace Carter, George Busbee (“A workhorse, not a showhorse”) beat former governor and current Lt. Gov. Lester Maddox in the Democratic primary and cruised to a win over Republican Ronnie Thompson (“Machine Gun Ronnie” of Macon mayoral fame) in November.
That fall, Bill Elliot won his first race at Dixie Speedway in Woodstock; Hank Aaron hit No. 733, his final home run in a Braves uniform; and ground was broken for the Georgia World Congress Center.
The A’s won the World Series for the third straight year, four games to one over the Dodgers. Muhammad Ali won back the heavyweight boxing title by knocking out champion George Foreman in Zaire (“The Rumble in the Jungle”). There was a six-week NFL players strike in July and August. After the season got underway, the Steelers and the Vikings (led by former UGA QB Fran Tarkenton) ruled. Atlanta finished at the bottom of the NFC’s Western Division and head coach Norm Van Brocklin was fired before the end of the season. The World Football League was a thing (briefly).
The polls would wind up split in 1974 over college football’s champion, with AP choosing Oklahoma and UPI (the coaches’ poll) going with Southern Cal because the Sooners were on probation. Oklahoma and Alabama were the only major teams undefeated and untied during the regular season. Bama won its fourth straight SEC championship but would be beaten by Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, losing its No. 1 ranking in the UPI poll. The Heisman Trophy went to Ohio State’s Archie Griffin.
What wasn’t so memorable was the 1974 season played by Vince Dooley’s Georgia Bulldogs.
A team that included such talented players as Craig Hertwig (who would be named a first-team All-American that season at offensive tackle), Mike Wilson, Sylvester Boler, Abb Ansley, Richard Appleby, Horace King, Gene Washington, Allan Leavitt, Bucky Dilts, Glynn Harrison and future NFL quarterback Matt Robinson finished just 6-6.
The Dogs opened the season Sept. 14 with a 48-35 win over Oregon State in Athens. Georgia was running an option offense called the veer in those days (at one game that season a friend asked me to explain the “beer” offense to her) and they scored a lot (for a Dooley team), thanks to Robinson’s passing proficiency and the running of Glidin’ Glynn, as Harrison was dubbed by UGA sports information director Dan Magill.
But, in an off year for Erk Russell’s defense, the Dogs gave up a lot of points, too. An average of 24 points a game.
The up-and-down nature of that season was made apparent in the second week, when Georgia lost 38-14 to Mississippi State in Jackson. It was Dooley’s worst regular-season loss since his first season, when Bama beat the Dawgs 31-3.
Dooley’s Dogs bounced back the next week, beating South Carolina big-time (52-14) in Athens, but then lost a topsy-turvy game (with five lead changes) at Clemson’s Death Valley 28-24 the next week, marking the Tigers’ first win over Georgia in 19 years.
Georgia got back on track that next week, notching the first of three wins in a row by blanking Ole Miss 49-0 Between the Hedges. Next, Vandy lost to the Dogs 38-31 in Athens, and UGA edged Kentucky 24-20 in Lexington.
The winning streak ended Nov. 2 with a 31-24 loss to Houston in Athens that saw Georgia fight back from a 14-0 deficit with two scores, including a touchdown pass to Harrison from Robinson, who was 16 of 30 on the day for 281 yards but had four interceptions. This is the kind of day it was: Right before the half, Georgia’s Larry West intercepted the ball but then fumbled at the Dogs’ 7-yard line, leading to a Houston score.
The Dogs beat the Gators in Jacksonville 17-16 the next week. In a twist that delighted Georgia fans, Florida (7-1 at the time) already had accepted a Sugar Bowl bid (big bowls often locked in teams early in those days), only to lose to the 5-3 Dogs. (It got worse for Florida; they lost again to Kentucky the next week.) The key plays in the game included a successful fourth-quarter 2-point conversion by the Dogs (a Robinson pass to Richard Appleby) after a Horace King touchdown run. The Gators scored late in the game but missed on their own 2-point attempt. The almost-highlight of the game for Georgia fans was a scintillating 87-yard touchdown run by Harrison that was called back because one of the ends had lined up offsides.
The next week the Dogs lost another close one, 17-13, at Auburn, with the 9-1 Tigers shutting out Georgia in the second half. The Dogs marched to Auburn’s 10-yard line in the fourth quarter before King fumbled the ball away. Georgia’s only touchdown of the day came on a 50-yard pass from Robinson to Gene Washington. The Dogs wound up 4-2 for the season in conference play and tied with Auburn for second place in the single-division league, behind champion Alabama.
Georgia entered the regular-season closer against Georgia Tech 6-4, but that’s when the wheels came off for the Dogs, who were soundly beaten in a 34-14 upset by first-year coach Pepper Rodgers’ Jackets in a heavy rain at muddy Sanford Stadium. Tech had 23 first downs to Georgia’s 11 and led 20-0 at the half. That’s all I could take; cold, wet and dispirited, I left at halftime and later watched “highlights” of the game on TV at the Athens apartment of a UGA coed I’d started dating a few weeks earlier.
“I’ve never been so embarrassed,” Georgia’s head coach recalled years later of that game.
But the heartbreak wasn’t over yet for the Dogs and their fans. Georgia went on to play little-regarded Miami of Ohio in the little-regarded Tangerine Bowl in Orlando Dec. 21 in what Dooley later lamented was “an invitation I never should have accepted.”
The Redskins (as they were then known) dominated the game from the start, recovering a fumble on Georgia’s first play from scrimmage, leading to the first score. Miami was up 14-3 in the second quarter when it recovered another fumble deep in Bulldogs territory and got another TD. The final score was 21-10 in favor of Miami and, once again, I couldn’t bear to stick around for the end. I turned the TV off and went to drown my sorrows at legendary Athens bar TK Harty’s with my girlfriend, Leslie (who just over 11 months later would marry me).
Recalling that season, Dooley later said in the book “Dooley’s Dawgs”: “I don’t believe there was a more depressing time for our fans than the winter of 1974 … My popularity had reached its nadir.”
Part of it, the coach said, was the changing times and morale problems on the team. “With my military background, I was, perhaps, too rigid. I had to change and adjust. I became a better communicator and learned to be more sensitive to what players were saying and asking.”
Dooley entered 1975, his 11th season at UGA, with the Bulldog Nation (as it was not yet called) unhappy. He was in the last year of a contract and rumors were running rampant that unless he turned things around quickly, it would be his last in Athens. But UGA President Fred Davison had faith in the coach and announced a contract renewal the day the Sky Writers Tour (the traveling equivalent of SEC Media Days back then) hit town.
Thankfully, things were about to get a whole lot better, due in part a dual-quarterback system alternating Robinson with shifty option running QB Ray Goff, and Erk going back to the blackboard and revamping the 1975 defense … which he dubbed the “Junkyard Dogs.”
Next time: Thoughts on this year’s “Border Bash” with the Gamecocks.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg