The start of football season is official with the first kickoff, but begins emotionally when the teams report in early August. This always sets in motion reminiscing about the past.
That is why I often hark back to cold beers and conversation with the late Dan Magill who was one of the greatest of aficionados of football. “Oh, boy, King football,” he would say as he sipped what his good friend, Erk Russell, called “the nectar of the gods.” While there has never been a greater advocate of other sports, building a tennis empire and diligently promoting all winter and spring sports teams at Georgia all his life, Magill had an enduring passion for football. As a kid, he cut his teeth on the dedicatory game with Yale in October 1929.
If he felt football was king in his time, wonder what he would say now with what has made the game an imposing colossus on the campuses of this great land? Occasionally, he might raise an eyebrow, but my feeling is that he would quickly recognize that if football prospers, so do the other teams in the intercollegiate galaxy.
It was simpler back in Magill’s day. In that era, football players didn’t report until the day after the Labor Day holiday, all of which spawns considerable reflection.
Fifty years ago, players were expected to work out on their own with the publicists (Sports Information Directors now) at various schools, writing summer pieces about the interesting jobs the players had landed. In the late fifties, Magill caused a stir with his off-season story about quarterback Tommy Lewis flying jets in Pensacola, Fla.
Most players sought jobs like construction, outdoor labor in the sun, which usually paid well and provided an opportunity to get in shape for the forthcoming season. Picture day took place in Sanford Stadium, mostly for the press. There were no tape recorders visible – note pad and pens only. Fans were allowed to move down on the field, but not more than a couple of dozen, perhaps three dozen, showed up – few, if any, with Brownie’s.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sent three or four writers and a couple of photographers. Athens was usually represented by a photographer and the sports editor. Writers and sometimes a photographer from Macon, Augusta, and Columbus might be on hand, but for the most part, most of those outlets used the Associated Press for their coverage — a rewrite of what the AJC had reported.
Jesse Outlar, the sage of Omega and Constitution sports editor, was always there along with the college editor of the Journal, Jim Minter. Harley Bowers, the doting sports editor of the Macon Telegraph never missed picture day.
The main attraction was the beer and barbecue party, hosted by Magill in his side yard down by a no-name creek. The long time mayor of Athens, Upshaw Bentley, took care of that one August by officially naming the sleepy little stream, “Magill Creek.” Not sure if the city maps reflect that citation by the mayor, but he did make it official much to the pleasure of the most memorable of Bulldog personalities.
Long after the out-of-town press had departed, Magill regaled the remainder with colorful stories. When darkness finally confirmed its dominance, the party broke up. Magill, a classic raconteur kept the participants spellbound with his stories and knowledge of Bulldog lore and history. He grew up in Athens and covered sports, while in grade school, for the Athens Banner Herald, whose pages were edited by his father. The Bulldog life, for this colorful and unforgettable character, was the good life.
While I enjoy the game still—there is nothing like a kickoff between the hedges in the opening game with 93,000 plus fans— the pace and informality of yesteryear was “old shoe” comfortable.
I miss that and often confess that getting too big and too rich has implications that I don’t want to think about. If you want to compete with the best, however, you have to keep pace. That means you have to hire more staff, you have to fundraise for more elaborate facilities, you have to seek more revenue streams.
Watching Kirby Smart at work can be quite mesmerizing.
His cogency factor is remarkable and his ability to multi-task in a demanding environment with things crashing around him, suggests that he is the right man for his job. No alumnus wants him to succeed more than Kirby Smart, class of ’99.
Kirby would likely appreciate the Dan Magill theory of what it takes to win which Magill laid out one September afternoon at Harry’s Restaurant in Five Points. I can hear him now:
“First of all you got to have the ‘hosses.’ You can’t win without the ‘hosses.'”
“Then you gotta have injury good luck.”
“Next, it helps if your opponent has injury bad luck.”
“And, last, you got to have coaches who do more good than harm.”
While we are at it, remembering the exalted past, let’s also remember Bill Hartman, the former backfield coach under Coach Wallace Butts who was always on hand to meet the press by Magill creek over a plate of Poss’ BBQ. William Coleman Hartman was the longtime chairman of the Georgia Student Educational Fund which has become the Hartman Fund.
With football underway, it is fitting to remember these two Bulldog icons. We fundraise under the banner of the Magill Society and we write priority checks to the Hartman Fund. We have Greg McGarity to thank for that.