Boss Bailey … If you were hanging out in the hedges the second weekend in October, 2002, you remember the story. Tennessee and Georgia are scrimmaging all out, no holds barred, in a prodigious battle that would result in a memorable Bulldog victory, 18-13, which led to the Southeastern Conference Championship and broke a 20-year SEC title drought.
There were heroes aplenty that afternoon, but none greater than Boss Bailey, the 6-4, 218 pound linebacker who made one of the most athletic plays in history of Sanford Stadium. If you were making a list of the most athletic performances ever between the hedges, Boss’ block of the Volunteer field goal would certainly be ranked in the top 10.
There have been sensational offensive plays by the dozens historically. Some worthy of recall include:
- Catfish Smith versus Yale in the dedicatory game, 1929, scoring all 15 points— recovered blocked kick in the end zone, catch of a touchdown pass (kicked the extra point) and caused a safety.
- Charley Trippi versus Alabama in 1946; this was supposed to be a big matchup between Trippi and the Tide’s great Harry Gilmer. Trippi scored on a rush of 46 yards and passed to Dan Edwards for another in a 14-0 victory. Ole timers who saw the game contend that the biggest play, which showcased Trippi’s considerable athleticism, came when his third down quick kick was blocked. With Alabama players having the advantage of proximity to the ball, nonetheless when the pileup was untangled, who but Trippi came up with the ball? He then kicked Georgia out of trouble on 4th down.
- With the SEC championship on the line, Fran Tarkenton threw a 13 yard touchdown pass on fourth down to defeat Auburn 14-13 in one of the greatest games ever between the hedges. Kirby Moore passes to Pat Hodgson who laterals to Bob Taylor for a 73 yard score in the opening game of the 1965 season to upset defending national champion Alabama, a team that went on to win the championship again.
- Herschel Walker rushed for 65 yards for a touchdown versus Georgia Tech in 1980 to set the NCAA freshman rushing record of 1,616 yards.
- The longest touchdown pass and catch came in 2013 versus North Texas—Aaron Murray to Reggie Davis, not necessarily spectacular but, nonetheless, the longest.
Kevin Butler’s 60 yard field goal versus Clemson in outranks all other kicks and Boss’s field goal block ranks among the most athletic defensive plays to take place in Sanford Stadium.
This was the way it was on that memorable afternoon October afternoon: Georgia’s Reggie Brown blocked a Tennessee punt, and Ben Watson chased it out of the end zone which gave the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead. Two possessions later, the Vols were driving and had reached the Georgia 26 yard line, fourth and one when Coach Phil Fullmer sent in his field goal team. Phillip Newman attempted a 44 yard field goal when Boss, in a hold-your-breath-leap, soared upwards and blocked the kick. It was no surprise to his teammates who were familiar with Boss’s 46 inch vertical leap.
Larry Munson, in the radio booth, did not come with a memorable call, but this was in the second quarter. If the blocked kick had come with the game on the line, you can only imagine how dramatically passionate his call might have been.
This was one of those equally matched arm wrestling type of games with neither side gaining the advantage unit the blocked field goal attempt gave Georgia defensive momentum.
The ensuing possession, Billy Bennett kicked a field goal to make it 5-0. In their next offensive series, the Volunteers moved down to the Georgia 35. It was 4th down and three yards to go when the Volunteers gambled on fourth down but did not make it. Sanford stadium went wild. Bulldog quarterback David Green went to work. With 38 seconds left in the half, he moved his team to the Tennessee 27 in five plays. Billy Bennett kicked a 44 yard field goal as the 2nd quarter ended. Georgia led 8-0 at the half.
The Dawgs would tack on ten points in the third quarter for an 18-0 lead, but Tennessee scored 13 points in the final quarter. With 3:18 remaining, Greene and the Bulldog offense would not let the Volunteers get the ball back. The quarter ran out with Greene killing the clock, taking a knee for three consecutive snaps.
Growing up in Folkston, the seat of Charlton County, Boss followed his older brother, Champ, to Georgia. That was a highlight for him, to play with his brother between the hedges. Actually, there were three Baileys to letter for the Bulldogs. The first to play between the hedges was Ronnie who lettered in ’95-‘97, followed by Champ, ’96-’98 and Boss ’98-‘02.