Andy Roddenbery distinguished himself at the University of Georgia by playing football and probably would have gone into coaching except for circumstances surrounding a fishing accident in Canada.
The incident took place at Lake Ontario, where he worked as a guide in the summer, but first some background. Andy grew up in Macon and came to Georgia to play for Harry Mehre, and while he was there he established a bond with assistant coach Ted Twoomey.
Roddenbery lettered in 1935-37, playing quarterback in Mehre's Notre Dame system. In those days, many schools wanted to hire a Notre Dame coach to put in the Irish system, the Notre Dame box. Many Southern schools hired Notre Dame coaches, hoping to gain an edge on the competition.
Twoomey, a Notre Dame expatriate, coached six years in Athens. He liked the easy-going style of Roddenbery, who was the epitome of the Southern gentleman off the field but was tenacious when the competition heated up. Andy would never back down from any challenge and played the game with the heart and soul of a champion.
Twoomey's family owned a camp in the Ontario province and invited Andy to work there in the summers. Andy enjoyed the cool waters and the pristine environment of Canada and became an expert fisherman. One summer, Twoomey invited his longtime friend Rex Enright, another of the Notre Dame graduates, to come south. He did and eventually moved on to a head coaching assignment. After coaching at Georgia, Enright became the head coach at South Carolina.
Andy took Twoomey and Enright fishing one day, and while the circumstances of how Enright got hung in the head with a treble hook are not clear, we know that the episode influenced Andy Roddenbery's career path. Enright experienced considerable discomfort, and nobody knew what to do. The old heads on the boat finally designated Andy as the one to remove the hook. "I've never had to do anything like that," the Bulldog quarterback said. "Doesn't matter," they said, "You have to do something."
Andy surveyed the situation and took some needle-nose pliers, one of a fisherman's greatest friends, and clipped off the barbs of the fishing hook. He then pulled the shaft from Enright's scalp. Immediately, Andy's dexterity with his hands and his clear thinking overwhelmed the adults present.
"You ought to become a doctor," they said almost in chorus. Andy modestly explained that wasn't sufficient evidence that he should study medicine, but the big deterrent was that he could not afford medical school.
"We'll get your schooling underwritten," his coaching friends said, and they meant it. They found four underwriters.
Medical college in those days cost more than $4,000 a year, a small fortune for a modest upbringing in Macon for Andy Roddenbery. Nevertheless, Andy became a doctor and, when he became established in his medical practice, he went back and paid off each one of his benefactors but one.
A Coca-Cola executive was one of those in on the support plan, but he had passed on, so Andy offered to pay his widow. She declined, saying "All I want you to do is help other young boys become doctors."
Andy fulfilled her wishes and one of those boys was Tommy Lawhorne, Georgia linebacker under Vince Dooley and valedictorian of his graduating class in 1968. "Dr. Roddenberry," Tommy said at Roddenberry's funeral, "in many ways influenced my life more that my own father."
Today, you'll find Tommy Lawhorne reaching out to others in the Roddenbery tradition. Andy gave of himself; Tommy gives of himself.
When his family and friends came to say goodbye to Andy Roddenbery, the atmosphere of the church dripped with respect for the fisherman-turned-doctor, an endearing story that is a reminder that football, even today with its skewed attitude toward money, can often become a conduit to usher a boy from a modest upbringing into professional achievement.
Loran Smith can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.