With regime changes, there is new enthusiasm, which has no bounds. However, hope springs eternal, especially when it comes to college football. Georgia had experienced the best of times under Wallace Butts in the forties, but the worst of times in the fifties when the University of Georgia suffered through the drought of losing to Georgia Tech for eight straight years.
In subsequent years, there have been two seven-year droughts experienced by the Yellow Jackets in the ancient series, but those two millstone-around-your-neck frustrations don’t get the resonation that the downturn of the fifties losing streak that is remembered by the Bulldogs.
That is why the record of Vince Dooley and Mark Richt is so appreciated by UGA aficionados. They were dominant players in the rivalry with Tech. Interestingly, in 1964 there was no one hanging around when Vince Dooley arrived—that had expectations that Georgia would dominate the series for the next half-century as has been the case.
There was something refreshing about the new staff when Dooley and his associates went to work in the first quarter of the year in 1964. Spring practice didn’t reveal anything earth-shaking. When the season began in Tuscaloosa with the ‘Dogs enduring a 31-3 thrashing by Bear Bryant and Alabama, the most loyal of Bulldogs would not have dared believe that the season would end with an upset of Bobby Dodd and the Yellow Jackets between the hedges and that Georgia would earn a bowl bid—but that was the way it was.
Johnny Griffith, Vince’s predecessor, left the new staff something to work with, not many players with flash, but a collection of hard-hitting overachievers. They were hungry and responded to the call for rock-jawed fundamental competition prescribed by the new staff.
This team is one of my favorite Georgia teams. I was young, not much older than those Bulldogs myself so I could relate to them and bonded with them. Many of them would become life-long friends. They were fighters. The Georgia tradition meant something to them. They bled Red and Black.
The state of Georgia football could not have been worse when Dooley arrived. Losing had become a habit. Financially, red ink accompanied all accounting reports. The Georgia faithful were “weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth.”
Eventually, it was as if Dr. O. C. Aderhold, UGA President, was listening to the hue and cry, “hire an athletic director and let him run the athletic program.” He did that, offering the job to Joel Eaves and telling him to get on with the show. Eaves shocked everybody by naming Dooley head coach. Dooley was not afraid of the challenge and set about managing the football team with an accent on fundamentals, discipline and hard work.
He and his tightly-knit staff ignored the carping and forecast that Georgia was headed for more misery by hiring a 31-year-old freshman coach and a collection of assistant coaches nobody had ever hear of.
The staff worked hard, the hardest working staff of any during the Dooley era. Until Kirby Smart showed up, I would rate Vince’s first staff as the hardest working staff in town prior to 2016.
Those early years were like a good marriage and good times of the fifties. You didn’t have a lot but appreciated the good things that came your way. Every perk, every plus brought gratitude. With Georgia’s football team, a first down was something to cheer about. Every victory was heartwarmingly appreciated.
It took a while for traction to surface, however. After the trip to Tuscaloosa, Georgia beat Vandy in Nashville, tied South Carolina at Columbia, beat Clemson between the hedges and lost a heartbreaker at home to Florida State. Nothing to write home about except for the gallant effort against FSU. The Bulldogs felt they should have won this nail-biting thriller. Wayne Swinford, the hard-nosed defensive back on that team, perhaps, said it best. “I know the record book says that we lost 17-14, but we won that game.”
When a solid Kentucky team arrived for homecoming on Oct. 23th, the 2-2-1 Bulldog record did not impress any critics, but Georgia fans and alumni were duly impressed with the heart of this team. They could sense the charismatic and upstart Red and Black boys were going to fight to the finish every outing.
For the first ten minutes on October 24, 1964, it was all Kentucky. The Wildcats took the opening kickoff and marched authoritatively down the field to the end zone. It was 7-0 and the superior team at that point appeared to be the Wildcats.
As the Georgia team came to the sideline, instead of the fans expressing any doubt and offering a verbal back-of-the-hand, the passionate fans in the South stands suddenly stood to their feet and gave a rousing cheer to the ‘Dogs. The players were in shock, the coaches were flabbergasted.
The crowd seemed to be saying. “We like you, we like your fight and courage and we are with you.” There was a flip of emotions and performance thereafter. Kentucky would not move near Georgia’s goal line the rest of the afternoon. The Bulldogs then put together back-to-back drives to take a 14-7 lead at the half. (Preston Ridlehuber ran for two scores of seven and 12 yards). A third touchdown was added in the third quarter with Bob Taylor setting up the final score with a 15-yard burst to the two-yard line from where he scored the final TD. Georgia 21, Kentucky 7 was the way it ended. All Bulldog aficionados felt it was a thorough thrashing.
The irony of this story brings about the question, “Will we ever experience such a crowd reaction again?”