With the passing of Bill Stanfill on Thursday evening at 8:30 pm in his hometown of Albany, Bulldawg Nation lost one of its most beloved and legendary football players.
When I think of his name, it surely invokes a flood of fond and wonderful memories in my mind.
Defense, and I’m talking tenacious defense.
1966 and Steve Spurrier.
1968’s wonderful season with Bill’s buddy and teammate Jake Scott.
The all-star years with the Miami Dolphins including 17-0 in 1972.
And the 2010 induction into the Miami Dolphins’ Honor Roll.
It starts with Cairo High School, which sits in the southwestern corner of Georgia, just a long punt from the Florida and Alabama state lines. Stanfill was truly a defensive force as a high school football player for the Cairo High Syrupmakers … a nickname that ranks among the most unique in Georgia high school football circles. It was on the recreation and high school fields in Cairo where Bill Stanfill began developing his body and football skills into the kind of player that the University of Georgia wanted to add to its football program.
And once he enrolled at UGA in the fall of 1965, the young Stanfill quickly became an integral part of a defensive unit coached by the iconic Erk Russell. They weren’t yet called the Junkyard Dogs in those days but let me tell you, those Bulldog defenders, from Stanfill’s sophomore season in 1966 (freshmen couldn’t play on the varsity at that time) through his senior season in 1968, would get after you from opening whistle to closing buzzer. Russell demanded as much from his charges and Stanfill was tailor-made for an Erk Russell-coached defense, with his strength and quickness off the ball.
Ah, 1966 and the aforementioned Mr. Spurrier. That autumn, the 7th-ranked Florida Gators rolled into the annual Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville undefeated and its starting quarterback, Steve Spurrier, was en route to winning the coveted Heisman Trophy. But, thanks to sophomore tackle Bill Stanfill and senior teammate and tackle George Patton — both of whom would go on to All-America honors — Spurrier, that day, was the second-best quarterback on the field to Georgia’s Kirby Moore. Stanfill and Patton were in Spurrier’s face all day when he dropped back to pass and continually sacked the Gator great to pace Vince Dooley’s Bulldogs to a 27-10 upset of Florida. It was from that game that Spurrier’s distinct disliking of everything red and black began and why he delighted in extracting revenge on the Bulldogs all through the 1990s when he served as the Gators’ head coach. Those 1966 Bulldogs would go on to beat SMU in the Cotton Bowl, finish 10-1 and deliver Dooley his first SEC title in Athens.
“By far, that was my most memorable game at Georgia,” recalled Stanfill. “I really wasn’t supposed to play that day after hurting my neck on that Tuesday before the game. Coming in, we had a one-point loss to Miami in the Orange Bowl and were 6-1 while Florida was unbeaten at 7-0. Well, they (Gators) were fairly successful in the first half but we then came out in the second half and were exceptional. We shut them down. Being from South Georgia, Florida was always my main rival and that day, it was not only myself and George but the effort of our entire defensive team. We just all played off of each other that game.”
Then there was the fabulous Bulldog season of 1968, when Stanfill and his fellow All-American buddy, safety Jake Scott, led Georgia to an unbeaten regular season and Stanfill reaped every significant defensive honor in America. Stanfill, playing left tackle that season at 6-5, 245 pounds, not only was a consensus first-team All-America during the Bulldogs’ SEC championship run but also was an Academic All-America, captain of the Bulldogs and recipient of the coveted Outland Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation’s most outstanding lineman. He was voted to the All-SEC team all three years of his UGA varsity career and was the SEC Lineman of The Year in 1968. Georgia, with sophomore Mike Cavan at quarterback, went 8-0-2 during the ’68 regular season — smashing Florida 51-0 along the way — and was declared national champion in at least one poll before then falling to Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
“That’s (Outland Trophy) for the best lineman in the country but right at that time, it didn’t really mean that much to me,” Stanfill said in a 2010 interview. “I remember I was walking into the coliseum at Georgia in 1968 and here comes Coach Dan Magill. He said, ‘Bill, I’ve been looking for you. Congratulations, you just won the Outland Trophy.’ I looked at him and said, ‘What is the Outland Trophy?’”
Said Vince Dooley of Stanfill: “He was everything you’d want in a defensive tackle. He combined speed, size, range, quickness and competitiveness to make him one of the greatest linemen to ever play the game.”
“Personal awards, really, were never what I was looking for,” said Stanfill. “Team championships are what the game is all about, just getting out there and excelling and doing the best you can to help the team win. Then maybe all the good stuff will follow with victories and championships. I was fortunate to be a part of two SEC championships at Georgia but I was a low-key kind of guy.”
Stanfill recalled one humorous incident when he was at Georgia, concerning Scott, somewhat of a maverick who truly walked to his own beat, both in his Bulldogs and Dolphins’ careers. It was when Scott rode his motorcycle over the top of Georgia’s basketball facility, then four-year-old Stegeman Coliseum. Up one of the wide beams of the coliseum roof Scott sped then, after reaching the top, roared down the other side.
“Jake always said it wasn’t bad going up,” chuckled Stanfill, “but that it got pretty hairy coming down.”
Following his brilliant career at UGA, Stanfill would go on to equal fame as a member of the Miami Dolphins. Paired again with former UGA roommate Jake Scott, those powerhouse Dolphins of the early ‘70s put up some staggering numbers, both defensively and offensively. Stanfill, who was drafted by Miami one year prior to Scott in the first round of the 1969 draft (11th overall), led the team in sacks with eight in his rookie year and was named to the AFL All-Star game. In 1970 Stanfill again led the team in sacks with six. The following season he was an All-AFC choice and was third on the team with 6-and-a-half sacks.
In 1972, Stanfill was second on the 17-0 Super Bowl-winning Dolphins team with 10 sacks and followed it up with a stellar season in 1973 with a team record 18-and-a-half sacks as Don Shula’s Dolphins captured their second consecutive Super Bowl championship. In his eight seasons with the team (1969-76), Stanfill totaled 67-and-a-half career sacks, a team record at the time. He also is unofficially tied for fourth in the Dolphins’ playoff record for sacks with four. Stanfill was also a five-time Pro Bowl selection (1969, 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1974).
Never did Bill Stanfill seem happier than when I talked to him in late November of 2010, when he and Scott were inducted into the prestigious Miami Dolphins Honor Roll.
“It was a great honor to go in the Honor Roll as just the 19th and 20th inductees in the 44 years of the Dolphins’ franchise,” said Stanfill, speaking then from his Albany home “And it was a dream for both me and Jake to go in together. Not only because we were college teammates at Georgia but roommates there as well. That fact made it very special. We’re still very close to one another – both of us wouldn’t let anybody do anything to the other without us covering each other’s back. We would come to the defense of each other, no matter what. Jake was just a helluva athlete and a character, too,” Stanfill chuckled. “And really, this (Dolphins’ Honor Roll induction) was long overdue, not just for me and Jake but for our No-Name Defense with the Dolphins. It has never received the recognition that it deserved — you wouldn’t believe the statistics we put up back in those glory days.”
Stanfill at that time said he doubted that any NFL team will ever be able to put together a perfect season, as those ’72 Dolphins did. “An unbeaten season had never been done before or been matched since,” he said. “The Patriots came close a couple of years ago when they lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl. With 16 (regular season) games today, some teams would have to win 21 games to finish undefeated and I don’t think that will ever happen.”
Back to Steve Spurrier, that Georgia-Florida 1966 battle in the old Gator Bowl stadium wasn’t the only time Stanfill and Spurrier encountered each other on the gridiron. Stanfill, as a member of the Dolphins, saw Spurrier numerous times on NFL fields when Spurrier was a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
But Stanfill pointed out, that besides the occasions when he played against Spurrier in pro football, he encountered the former Florida great and ultra-successful collegiate coach only one other time since the Bulldogs’ 1966 win over the Gators in Jacksonville. “We were at the Florida Sports Hall of Fame in Lake City when they inducted the entire 1972 Dolphins team,” he remembered. “Well, I was walking from one building to another with my wife and Steve and his wife walked by. I said, ‘Steve, allow me to introduce myself in street clothes.’ Well, he froze and said to his wife, ‘Honey, you’ve got to come back here and meet this guy.’ Steve didn’t mention the 1966 game and, of course, I certainly didn’t bring it up myself. That was history.”
But among Bulldog fans everywhere, Bill Stanfill’s great performance in helping frustrate Spurrier on that Nov. 5, 1966 day in Jacksonville lives on forever. And the Georgia faithful still like to laugh about the joke that got started at UGA Bulldog Club meetings in the years following the ’66 game.
It goes as follows: Once Steve Spurrier was getting fitted for a new suit of clothes and being as fidgety as he ever was, the tailor told Spurrier to “Stand still!” Well, Spurrier mistakenly thought the man said “Stanfill,” and he turned so shaky he promptly fell through an adjacent glass window.
Bill Stanfill, a player who will forever remain in the hearts of Georgia fans and a truly fine human being who will be sorely missed.