Olyn Gee is a classmate of mine in the Grady College of Journalism at UGA. As the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry continues this weekend with its 125th installment, Gee recalls a childhood memory from one of the rivalry’s most memorable matchups. At the time, UGA legend and former head coach Vince Dooley was in his fourth season as an assistant coach for the Tigers. Former Auburn coach Pat Dye was on Georgia’s team as a lineman. Gee shares experience about the game, which is a memory he said will cherish forever.
Before the 1959 college football season, the Georgia Bulldogs, coached by Wally Butts, were projected to finish ninth in the Southeastern Conference. Either way, it wouldn’t turn out that way in the end as the Bulldogs finished the season strong with a 10-1 record and win over Missouri in the Orange Bowl. The Bulldogs finished ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll that year.
Georgia started out the season strong with back-to-back conference wins over Alabama and Vanderbilt. In week three, the No. 13 Bulldogs traveled to Columbia, Sc. to take on the No. 16 South Carolina Gamecocks (who were in the ACC at the time). The Gamecocks won in dominating fashion and sent Georgia back to Athens with their first loss of the season.
That’s when Butts rallied his squad together to pull off five straight wins, including key victories over Mississippi State, Kentucky and Florida. That sent No. 12 Georgia into an important matchup against the No. 8 Auburn Tigers on Nov. 14, 1959.
Recalling game day
This game was special for a few reasons. For starters, it was the first time that the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry was played in Athens since Sanford Stadium’s dedication in 1929. Second, it was the day that current UGA student, Olyn Gee, remembers fondly because he attended the game with his father.
Gee said that he was just 12 years old when a relative of his sent him and his father tickets to the Georgia-Auburn football game.
“In our light-blue Chevrolet Bel-Air, we traveled the bumpy backroads across the state line to Athens, Georgia,” Gee said. “We parked on College Avenue and walked to the old Varsity restaurant. The aroma of chili dogs took my breath away. Then we followed the crowd down Jackson Street. So many people were all dressed up for the game.”
Gee continued that it seemed like more people were piling into Sanford Stadium than lived in the rural South Carolina county he was from.
“My excitement grew when I saw the stadium,” he continued. “After battling the crowd we finally found our seats. About a dozen rows up on the 20-yard line. Perfect seats, except for being the Auburn visitors section. My father cautioned me to not yell too much for Georgia.”
Gee said his father explained to him that people were drinking liquor and that “folks get mean sometimes.” Soon there after, he recalled that he saw someone had blood running down their body getting all over their white dress shirt.
The game itself
Up to that point in the game, it had been a defensive battle.
Auburn was able to hop on the board first with a made field goal by fullback/kicker Ed Dyas. He hit another one of the first half to give the Tigers a 6-0 lead going into halftime. Things started to change for the Bulldogs as the game went on.
Georgia punter Bobby Walden pinned Auburn inside their own two-year line. The Bulldogs’ defense held the Tigers on the ensuing drive and forced them to punt. Georgia safety Charley Britt field the punt and returned it to the endzone to tie the game at six apiece. The PAT was good and the Bulldogs led 7-6.
Later in the contest, Britt made a bad play on specials teams on a Georgia punt. That gave the Tigers the ball at the Bulldogs 1-yard line, which led to a touchdown as they recaptured the leading winning 13-7.
Even though morale was low, the Bulldog faithful still rallied behind their team. With less than three minutes to go, Georgia defensive end Bill Herron forced a fumble from Auburn quarterback Bryant Harvard. The fumble was recovered by former Auburn head coach and (at the time) UGA lineman Pat Dye. The Bulldogs would start the drive at the Auburn 35-yard with one more chance at victory.
One of the most memorable plays in UGA history
“Georgia’ scrappy little second string quarterback got the team moving,” Gee recalled. “I yelled and I believe I was louder than the Auburn band.”
With 2:30 left on the clock, Georgia’s quarterback Fran Tarkenton started the drive. Tarkenton found Don Soberdash on two passes, which put the Bulldogs inside the Auburn 10-yard line. Although, the Auburn defense forced a fourth down for 13 yards out.
The next play went down as one of the all-time greatest plays in Georgia football history.
Tarkenton took the snap and rolled to his right connecting with Herron on the left side of the field. Herron made an incredible over-the-shoulder grab at the two-yard and waltzed right into the endzone to set up Georgia for a game-winning PAT.
“He (Tarkenton) threw a touchdown pass,” Gee said. “The game was tied. The kicker, from my father’s hometown made the extra point. The home crowd went wild. Georgia won 14-13. I alone cheered in the Auburn section. After the game, we walked through the north campus. I told my father Georgia would be a great place to go to college. In a soft voice, he agreed.”
A bright ending
Gee said that the next decade wasn’t good for his family, although he had made all A’s in high school and thought of Athens often.
“But I learned about out-of-state tuition fees and the medical expenses of my family,” Gee said. “While I worked in a cotton factory, I attended a small community college. Fast forward five decades. I was a wedding photographer in Atlanta and a bride paid me to photograph her engagement session on the north campus.”
Gee recalled that Athens and UGA had both grown.
“The memories of that day with my father flooded back to me,” Gee said. “With its stately trees, the campus was even more beautiful than I remembered. Then, I learned that seniors over 62 could go to state colleges in Georgia, tuition free. At 63, I began driving to Athens on Tuesday and Thursdays to take classes.”
Gee said he that he found that when at UGA, he loved to study and learn different things.
“I fell in love with Athens again,” Gee said. “In May of 2018, I received a degree from the university. I thought of my father that day. My years at UGA have been the best years of my life. And my love for UGA began that day in 1959.”
UGASports.com’s Patrick Garbin and UGA student Olyn Gee contributed to this story.