Doug McFalls never picked up the nickname cobra, but that would have been an appropriate description for the way he played the game of football. He would, in the nomenclature of his day, “strike” you, making running backs pay when they encroached into his territory.
A native of Rome, McFalls learned to play both sides of the football with one platoon football beginning to fade away when he arrived in Athens in the sixties. He was a ball hawk and a big play connoisseur. Sometimes it was not flashy or headline-worthy but in the scheme of things, a consistent get-the-job-done style that kept the chains from moving by the opposing team—all akin to an offensive lineman making measured block after block that make an offense generate yardage and scores that win games weekend after weekend.
McFalls was a quiet man who walked softy on the football field but carried a big stick. He was the consummate team player who was at his best when time was of the essence, when the game was on the line, a clutch player, the Bulldog defense’s money player.
He was the centerpiece of the hard-luck team of 1965, perhaps the team which, owing to debilitating injury, became the epitome of the “what might have been” syndrome.
In the preseason, John Glass a veteran linebacker went down, the victim of season-ending ACL tear. Bob Taylor, fighting for extra yardage had his leg broken against Florida State in Tallahassee. Joe Burson’s fragile knees would not hold up and McFall’s jaw was broken in a collision. Quarterback Kirby Moore would have to play with a broken nose. The other QB, Preston Ridlehuber was taped head to toe, mummy-like, but with a competitive fire that allowed for playing excellence that helped avoid late-season disaster. All of the aforementioned M*A*S*H unit had to contend with brokenhearted emotion. No Georgia team had more promise than this one. No band of Bulldogs could have been afflicted by more misfortune.
None started with more glory. Alabama was “flea-flickered,” in the opening game, 18-17, and the upstart Bulldogs then rained on Michigan’s parade at Ann Arbor where the defending Rose Bowl champions were humbled by the modest score of 15-7.
The greatest “Welcome Home” party in the history of Ben Epps Field awaited the returning team while in Ann Arbor, Michigan they were printing, “fire the coach” stickers.
The injury-riddled team lost three road games mid to late season—Florida State, Kentucky, and Florida. A shootout, certainly for the era, took place in Chapel Hill, N. C., the last Saturday in October. The Bulldogs kept falling behind, rallying and finally closing out the Tar Heels 47-35.
A tough loss at Auburn, 14-7, was followed up with a season-ending pasting of Georgia Tech 17-7 to make a bittersweet season serendipitously sweet at its conclusion.
McFalls, blessed with singular quickness, was without the top speed for the National Football League, but he had the right stuff for the college game. After a brief tenure with the Chicago Bears, he came home and settled in Dalton where he was successful in business.
The celebration of Georgia’s success at Notre Dame two weeks ago left those who knew Doug McFalls with conflicting emotions. It was a challenge to toast the young Bulldogs who are the age of Doug’s grandchildren, without melancholy interfering when there was reflection on the life of No. 37, the cobra of the class of ’65.
He was a reluctant hero. The leadership of the Georgia chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame had difficulty in getting him to show up to be recognized for post graduate achievement in 2009.
His reason: “I don’t think I deserve an award like that.”
We should remember our past heroes and remembering this fallen hero is a reminder that some guys play the game for the love of it and then move on and never live in the past.
Doug McFalls was one of those men.