Dusting off the details of past Georgia-Flolongtimes and you usually connect with the ’59 game in Jacksonville. It was a glorious afternoon in the old Gator Bowl which seemed to be such a compatible venue hard by the St. Johns River. Little did I know that I would someday fish the outer reaches of the St. Johns’ with a seasoned fisherman named John Drysen.
My longtime college pal, Vernon Brinson, introduced me to Drysen, and I sought him out as often as possible when I was in Jacksonville. We always caught fish. John knew where trout and bass lurked. I could reel in a trout with the Gator Bowl framing my catch.
I often started out with another angler of repute, John Donaldson, at Shellman Bluff in McIntosh County, and worked my way down to Vernon’s quarters at Ponte Vedra Beach for the weekend. Along the way, you noted all the red and black colors waving from cars and business establishments. All the golf courses were filled with Georgia fall vacationers.
The Georgia fans were always optimistic at the end of the Wallace Butts era. There were some lean years in the fifties, but there were highlights—as in 1959.
The ‘Dogs arrived in Jacksonville once defeated (to South Carolina at Columbia). Georgia was the only undefeated team in the SEC. Auburn had a tie in their game with Tennessee, but not much was said about the SEC championship. It had not become a milestone objective. Bear Bryant had just settled in at Alabama, however, and would cause all that to change in a hurry.
Wallace Butts had won three conference titles in the forties, but the fifties were not good to him. Losing had become a habit and the Georgia loyalists were becoming increasingly disgruntled.
Something good needed to happen in those troubled times. Something good did come about with a series of big plays in Jacksonville, highlighted by the play of Charley Britt, who shared the quarterback duties with Fran Tarkenton.
Britt threw a touchdown pass to Gorden Kelley, returned a pass interception for over 100 yards and chased down a guy named Bobby Joe Green, sprinter, inside the Bulldogs’ five yard line whereupon the Georgia defense held on downs.
Britt famously said, “Green was running for a touchdown, but I was running for my life.”
Georgia won 17-10. Auburn would be next, and the celebration would continue.
In the Auburn game at Sanford Stadium in 1959, Vince Dooley was in the Auburn coaching box and Pat Dye was on the field, wearing red and helping Georgia defeat Auburn, 14-13. On the premises that day was an Auburn man, Joel Eaves, who had a scouting role for the visitors. He would be the man who would become the Georgia athletic director who would hire Dooley and who would make things right in Jacksonville.
The issues in Jacksonville were that Georgia by contract were entitled to half the stadium tickets and half of the good tickets. Florida took more than half of the good tickets and more than half of the seats. No fault of Florida — Georgia allowed that to happen. The Gators got away with it, since their ticket demand was greater. Didn’t matter to Coach Eaves. If the contract called for a split, he expected an equitable distribution.
I remember getting a call from Ray Graves the athletic director and head coach at Florida, asking me as business manager of Georgia athletics if we could help Florida with the problem. “Joel’s too tough; we are hurting down here,” he pleaded.
Coach Eaves had no sympathy and Florida got no relief. Vince’s teams started winning and tickets started selling. Before long, there was as much demand for tickets in Athens as there was in Gainesville. You may have forgotten about Joel Eaves who passed away in 1991, but as you enjoy your parties this weekend wherever you are, toast him for his contribution to this rivalry.