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25TH ANNUAL ALBANY SPORTS HALL OF FAME: Lee bolts into HOF

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

ALBANY -- He still hears about it, still gets kidded and congratulated.

Georgia Tech fans love him to this day, and Georgia fans? Well, they'll never forget Gary D. Lee.

How could they? His heartbreaking 95-yard kickoff return back in 1985 still lingers (and burns a bit) in the hearts of Georgia fans. Lee, who beat the Bulldogs that night, still hears about it to this day.

It's still a popular YouTube video, and the late Georgia announcer Al Ciraldo is well-remembered for his call of the play that beat Georgia, 20-16.

No, they won't ever forget Gary D. Lee.

Neither will Albany, where Lee will be inducted into the Albany Sports Hall of Fame on Monday night along with four other inspirational athletes at the Albany Civic Center.

"It is an honor, a real honor,'' said Lee, who is now the executive director for the city of Warner Robins, where he oversees all the development for the city. "When I got the call about the Hall of Fame I was shocked.''

Fitting -- fitting for an athlete who shocked so many. Lee was simply a lightning bolt waiting to hit, a blur on the football field who brought quickness and toughness to the game, and a star in track and field. He played for one of the best football teams in Westover High history, and was the biggest reason the team won the region when he was there.

"We were the region champs, and we were the team (in Southwest Georgia) when I was at Westover,'' Lee said. "My most memorable moment was when we went down and played Lowndes County in Valdosta. I gained about 299 yards and scored four touchdowns and we just destroyed them. I was the Runningback of the Year in the region that year. We ran the wishbone, and I ran it.''

He left Westover for Georgia Tech, but not until his mother pulled off a meeting for the ages. Lee was being recruited for football and track, and was being hit by an avalanche of offers. His mother had the answer to his dilemma -- bring the coaches from Georgia Tech, Auburn, Florida State and Georgia to their home in Albany.

"I had Billy Curry, Pat Dye, Bobby Bowden and Vince Dooley at my house at the same time,'' Lee said. "It was my mother's idea. We brought in those coaches and each of them had a half an hour to present their case. Georgia Tech brought along the academic adviser.''

Lee called them all the next day and told them his decision: Georgia Tech.

Lee became a wide receiver under Curry and while he was at Tech Lee had the best yards-per-catch average in Tech history at that time, catching 67 passes for 1,229 yards for an 18.34 average. He also had 42 kick returns for 874 yards (20.80 average) and two TDS, including that 95-yarder against the Bulldogs.

"It's one of the highlights of my career, and one of the most famous plays in Georgia Tech history. The Georgia fans always bring it up,'' Lee said. "I don't talk much about it, but other people keep bringing it up.''

He doesn't mind talking about going into the Albany Sports Hall of Fame, though.

"I'm elated,'' he said. "Albany is where I cut my teeth in sports. I owe a lot to the city. We are bringing an entourage (for the ceremony) from Warner Robins. The mayor and his wife, the city attorney and his wife...

Lee made his way back to Warner Robins, where he was born, after a three-year career in the NFL, where he played two years for the Detroit Lions and a year with the Denver Broncos.

But he was a bolt of lightning first at Westover.

"He is one of the best players to ever come out of Westover,'' said Bob Fowler, the president of the Albany Sports Hall of Fame. He was a great football player and a star in track. and everybody remembers the kickoff return he had against Georgia. I wasn't at that game, but I'm sure any Georgia fan can tell you about it.''

That kickoff is a part of Lee now -- and forever. just like his induction will be on Monday night.

"Albany is where I got started,'' Lee said on Thursday. "I have great memories there. To think I'm going to be inducted in the Hall of Fame with the other (people there). It's such a great honor.''