One of the most outstanding and successful teams in Georgia football history celebrates its Golden Anniversary this year. In 1966, the Bulldogs captured the Southeastern Conference championship, posted a 10-1 record, and following a Cotton Bowl triumph finished with a Number Four national ranking.
This remarkable campaign marked Georgia’s return to college football’s elite and was highlighted by some of the most memorable and significant victories in program annals.
Under the watch of Wallace Butts, the Bulldogs enjoyed tremendous success in the 1940s, capturing three SEC titles and finishing ranked Number One in at least one poll in 1942 and 1946, and earning berths in a Sugar, Rose and two Orange Bowls – with starring roles from legendary All-Americans like 1942 Heisman winner Frank Sinkwich, 1946 Maxwell Award recipient Charley Trippi and Johnny Rauch.
But the 1950s brought disappointment and turmoil. That dark decade did have a happy ending, as the Bulldogs won the 1959 SEC championship, the Orange Bowl, went 10-1 and finishing Number Five in the land. Butts would retire following the 1960 season, and inner political strife hampered Georgia. Johnny Griffith, who never had a chance, was the coach for three years, and the Bulldogs did not post a winning record.
Joel Eaves was brought in as Georgia’s athletic director on November 22, 1963 – not an insignificant date in American history – and his first move was to bring in Auburn’s young freshman coach Vince Dooley to lead the football program in Athens.
Dooley, dubbed Georgia’s Great Young Chieftain by the greatest Bulldog ever Dan Magill, put together a tremendous staff, including the legendary Erk Russell at defensive coordinator, and “brother” Bill Dooley to lead the offense.
Straight out of the gate, Dooley’s Dogs proved to be an SEC contender. In 1964, the Bulldogs beat Florida and Tech, received the school’s first postseason berth since ’59, and concluded the campaign with a 7-0 Sun Bowl win over Texas Tech.
The college football world took notice as Georgia upset defending and eventual national champion Alabama to open the 1965 season, and two weeks later followed that transcendent victory with a victory over Big Ten kingpin Michigan in Ann Arbor. Unfortunately, a rash of injuries crippled the Bulldogs for the remainder of the season, which included a 10-3 loss to Florida State, a four point setback to Florida and 21-19 heartbreaker to Auburn.
Dooley and his staff put together a tremendous recruiting class in 1965, using that first year bump (similar to what Kirby Smart and his staff are doing on the hunt for top prospects this year) to assemble what would go down as one of the most ballyhooed crops in program history. Unfortunately, freshmen were ineligible in those days.
Dooley has always been convinced those freshmen would have made a difference and helped deliver another couple of wins. But those freshmen were ready in ’66 as sophomores, and they joined a tremendous group of veterans who now knew how to win.
It began in knee-knocking fashion, as the Bulldogs edged Mississippi State 20-17 in Jackson, with a hustling Happy Dick, a sophomore, coming up with one of the season’s biggest plays, a clutch interception in the waning moments to clinch the game. That night in Jackson also marked the debut of Larry Munson as the “Legendary Voice of the Georgia Bulldogs.”
A 43-7 romp of VMI in Roanoke pushed the Bulldogs to 2-0. Then came a defensive struggle in Columbia, with senior All-American George Patton, sterling sophomore Bill Stanfill and junior Larry Kohn leading a fierce front that dominated South Carolina in a 7-0 Bulldogs victory. Georgia came home and won another tight one, downing Ole Miss 9-3 between the hedges to make it 4-0.
Then came the lone loss of the season, 7-6 at Miami. All the pieces then came together for Georgia.
Bill Dooley’s offensive line was led by All-American tackle Edgar Chandler, All-SEC guard John Kasay and center Jack Davis. Senior Kirby Moore was one of the league’s best quarterbacks and junior Ronnie Jenkins amongst the top fullbacks. A trio of sophomores, wingback Hardy King, future All-SEC defensive end Billy Payne at end on offense, and lightning fast sensation Kent “The Jet” Lawrence at tailback, rounded out what became a tremendous offense.
With All-SEC kicker Bobby Etter, the Bulldogs had all the parts for greatness.
Coming off the tough loss at Miami, Georgia took down Kentucky 27-15 between the hedges, then mauled North Carolina 28-3 in Athens.
Georgia was the underdog in Jacksonville, as SEC leading Florida, led by eventual Heisman winner Steve Spurrier was in pursuit of its first ever conference title. The Gators led 10-3 at intermission, but it was all Georgia in the second half.
Stanfill had one of his finest performances, as the defensive line continuously harassed Spurrier. All-American Lynn Hughes made the big play, picking off Spurrier, and returning the interception 39 yards for a touchdown to give Georgia a 17-10 lead. Etter was again true … then the Bulldogs would punch in a final touchdown in the closing seconds to win 27-10.
A 21-13 win over Auburn on the plains clinched that sweet SEC title, and after a pair of narrow loss to the Tigers in ’64 and ’65, marked Dooley’s first win over his alma mater.
This magical season was stamped with greatness, as the once-beaten Bulldogs topped undefeated Tech 23-14 between the hedges in Bobby Dodd’s final game as the Jackets head coach.
In Dallas on New Year’s Eve Day, the defense was again great, and Lawrence’s 74-yard touchdown run was a Cotton Bowl record.
Georgia handled SMU 24-9 to put the finishing touches on this grand campaign.
Georgia would finish behind Notre Dame and Michigan State, which played to a famous 10-10 tie, and Alabama, which went undefeated and tied the Bulldogs for the SEC title (Bama beat Tennessee 11-10 in Knoxville in October, as the Vols missed a 19-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in the game).
Two seasons later, Georgia would capture another SEC championship and reaffirm the Bulldogs spot as one of the grand programs in the toughest league in the land.
The Bulldogs of 1966 featured some of greatest players and coaches in red and black lore and provided memories and a legacy that will forever be cherished by the Georgia faithful.