Cooper Gunby ain’t nothin’ but a Bulldog. Chances are he could peruse the lyrics of Elvis Pressley’s hit song (“You ain’t nothing but a hound dog”) and then take the aforementioned sentence to verbiage that would be ^ original, downhome and worthy of rendition on a county music stage.
A good ole boy, who loves red and black, cold beer, barbecue and county cooking, Cooper probably shouted, “Go Dogs,” before the doctor gave him the tradition spank on the rear.
He was a member of the Poss clan, the passionate Thomson Georgia Bulldog oriented family who felt that you couldn’t enjoy life if you weren’t a ‘Dog. His uncles, Dexter and Sonny, earned scholarships to the University of Georgia and made the family and community proud.
Dexter lettered in football in 1950-51-52, a sturdy lineman (6-0, 190), who could hold his own with the best in those days.
Sonny, Dexter’s younger brother, was one of the best all-around athletes ever in McDuffie County. At Georgia he was a three sport star in basketball, swimming and baseball. He probably could have played somewhere in football if had set his mind to it.
With his heritage, there was no place for Cooper to enroll other than in Athens. He learned about Georgia football and Bulldog heroes before he read his first book in the first grade.
He was recruited to Georgia by Frank Inman, the former Bulldog backfield coach who also, at one time, was the recruiting coordinator. Frank had coached at Richmond Academy where he won a state championship and was a counselor at the Athens Y Camp. Sonny Poss was also a member of the Y Camp staff but Inman didn’t need any solicitation from Sonny or anybody else. He knew that Cooper had the heart for football and felt that he could compete.
Cooper signed with Georgia in 1972. Before a knee injury cut his career short, he had a signature moment in Sanford Stadium, which his old friends and teammates still recall with the greatest of admiration. It took place against Vanderbilt in 1974 Between the Hedges.
Vince Dooley had hired Bill Pace, who was considered one of the best offensive minds in the Southeastern Conference. The Veer offense was one of the most popular in college football at that time. It was a high-risk offense with a lot of movement in the backfield, but teams utilizing the Veer put up a lot of points.
Interestingly, Steve Sloan, the Vanderbilt coach, who replaced Pace, ran the Veer, too. When the dust settled between the hedges on Oct. 19, Georgia was the victor 38-31, happy that Vanderbilt did not get the ball back in the closing minutes of the game.
With all that scoring, the kickoff team spent considerable time on the field. Cooper was a proud member of the kickoff team. He was imbued with team concepts and he was overjoyed to be on the field for any assignment. “I have always loved Georgia so much and for me to be down there on the field between the hedges is something I still think about today. It was the highlight of my life and I never walk into Sanford Stadium that I don’t look down on that field without choking up. I loved my time at Georgia. Dressing out for a game just made you feel special and then to have playing time between the hedges was an overwhelming feeling.”
Cooper’s signature moment came in the first half of the game. Vanderbilt had a tight end, who was a very capable athlete, returning kickoffs. “I can see him now,” Cooper says. “Barry Burton was a fine athlete and we respected his ability. I remember one of the NFL teams was high on him and he was drafted in an early round.”
After a Georgia score, Vanderbilt’s receiving team came up field with blockers picking out their man on defense. The guy assigned to Cooper knocked him off balance, and he landed on the field—but quick as a cat, Cooper bounced to his feet and crashed head on into Burton. You never have heard such leather popping. It electrified the sideline. Some say they have never seen such a more explosive collision.
The ball carrier was knocked unconscious and Cooper was woozy from the impact. His helmet was split in half, and as he recovered, he told Defensive Coordinator, Erk Russell, “I need a helmet so I can get back out there.”
When there are reunions and players of his era congregate for any reason, Cooper’s play in the 1974 Vandy game often comes up.
“I love my teammates and it makes me feel good that they remember,” he says.