Six decades ago Georgia was the surprise winner of the SEC championship and defeated Missouri in the Orange Bowl 14-0. Following is an account of that season and recall of the first time the two teams met.
When the 1959 Georgia team gathered to elect its captains in the pre-season, 60 years ago, it was a custom that had prevailed in college football historically. Owing to the limited substitution rules, only the captain was allowed to call time out on the field during games, which meant that teams chose an alternate captain in case the captain was sidelined.
The Bulldogs had traditionally elected captains at old Poss’ Barbecue Restaurant on the Atlanta Highway. Robert E. Poss Jr., a member of the 1942 Rose Bowl team, was the genial host. In those days, the NCAA didn’t care if a former lineman who was a successful businessman underwrote the cost of a team meal.
Mortal students, like yours truly, could go to dinner at Poss’ restaurant, order a crown steak for 99 cents, and browse around the restaurant and peruse the dozens of photos of Georgia players framed for the walls. This was before I met and became friends with Dan Magill the Bulldogs’ legendary sports publicist. My familiarity with Bulldog lore and history began at Poss’.
In addition to the headlining Bulldog athletes, there were smashing photos of Georgia coeds and beauty queens such as Jody Shattuck who became first runner up in the Miss America contest 1958 and Carolann Conner, who was 4th runner-up in the Miss USA contest 1955. I liked those photos, too. Perhaps … more than those of Georgia’s gridiron heroes. I can hardly remember a more photogenic coed on campus than Carolann Conner.
There has always been pre-season excitement in college football, especially in Athens. Your team is undefeated and hope springs eternal. Nobody has a knee injury and buying tickets was not the challenge it is today.
At this annual gathering, the good-natured and convivial Bob Poss was his usual self, overseeing the generous servings of barbecue, Brunswick stew, slaw, and beans. If a player wanted seconds, Poss “hisself” would slap another serving on your plate. Coach Butts gave his usual pessimistic speech and Magill chronicled the affair for Western Union to forward to papers across the state.
The next pre-season highlight was picture day. Magill orchestrated that event with the greatest of flair. He not only invited the press and radio folk (media might have been in the dictionary, but nobody knew what it meant) to his back yard for another classic social. Poss was also on that scene serving his product down by the creek at Magill’s chick brick house on Woodlawn Drive.
The menu included beer which meant that Magill served Miller and Budweiser beer. Frank Sinkwich, who owed the Miller distributorship, often showed up. When he retired from pro football and returned to Athens, Charley Trippi became a post picture day regular.
Those were not the best of times for Georgia, although there was a lift in sprits with the Bulldogs having beaten Georgia Tech two years in a row. Little did the populace know but a four-year streak would be forthcoming.
Ed Thilenius, WRFC Sports Director, was the play-by-play announcer in that memorable season. Believe it or not—he was as popular then as Larry Munson would become. Uga I would be starting his 5th season. Sonny Seiler had just graduated and had begun the practice of law in his hometown of Savannah. He became an annual fixture in Magill’s backyard.
The Georgia prospectus didn’t impress the scribes who covered SEC football and picked the ‘”Dogs to finish near the bottom of the conference. That didn’t bother anybody …except the team. Few in the community could wax clairvoyantly, considering Georgia’s recent history of one winning season in the previous six.
Anybody with a close proximity to the team could sense, however, that there was a loss and an addition in personnel, which turned out to be propitious for the team. The coaches, led most enthusiastically by Coach Butts, lamented the loss of center/linebacker Dave Lloyd, an intimidating player who was a telling disruptive force. His departure turned out to be decided plus. The team knew that Lloyd was not a team player. His exit to the NFL (Cleveland Browns) had a positive influence on the team.
More telling was the addition of line coach J. B. Whitworth. Members of that team, will passionately tell you, Coach Whit was the difference. Whitworth caused clumsy B-teamers to feel good about playing for Georgia. There was a harmony in the locker room that had been missing. By the end of the season, these ‘Dogs “could hunt.”
Led by quarterback, All-Americans-to-be Francis Asbury Tarkenton and guard Pat Dye, the Bulldogs were the surprise team in the Southeastern Conference. They only stubbed their toe once, losing to South Carolina in Columbia. The creative Magill’s account of the game simply and aptly stated, “’Dogs Serve Gamecocks on Silver Platter.” In the ignominious 30-14 loss, the Bulldogs coughed up four fumbles and endured a blocked punt. “It just wasn’t our day,” Tarkenton said years later.
Tarkenton and Charley Britt shared the quarterback duties. Both were big playmakers throughout the season. Dye’s big plays included recovering a fumble by Auburn at the Tigers 35 with less than three minutes left which provided the opportunity for Tarkenton to lead the team to victory with a touchdown pass with 30 seconds left. That game is remembered as one of the greatest in Bulldog history. Tarkenton’s fourth down and 13 pass to Bill Herron for victory became legendary.
The Bulldogs defeated Tech on Grant Field for the third time in a row and received its third Orange Bowl invitation to Miami where they shut out Missouri 14-0 on two Tarkenton touchdown passes—to Bill McKenny and Aaron Box.
Everybody wanted to go back to Athenstown as Bulldogs across the state celebrated like they hadn’t celebrated since the 40s when Butts appeared to be building a dynasty before World War II ended it all.
Defeating Auburn gave “The Little Round Man” his fourth SEC title and his last. He would retire from coaching following the 1960 season. He would be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
In his office on Sunday mornings in that serendipitous season, the indefatigable and ultimate drumbeater, Dan Magill, was given to playing on his reel-to-reel tape recorder, “Happy Days are Here Again.”