Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
TAMPA — As Georgia’s 47th bowl game moves nearer to kickoff, there have been flashbacks this week to two other holiday invitations which bring pause and an underscoring of, “Only in America.”
First there was the Rose Bowl, Georgia’s second bowl opportunity.
For years, the local gentry in Athens was troubled that the Bulldogs had not won a conference championship and earned the right to play in a New Year’s Day bowl game. (There were only four bowls at the time: Rose, Orange, Sugar and Sun).
Following the 1941 season, the Bulldogs got one of the two missions accomplished — an invitation to play in the Orange Bowl in Miami, and the community was exhilarated by the Rose Bowl invitation in 1942 which followed the smashing defeat of Georgia Tech, 34-0, and Wallace Butts’ first SEC title.
World War II was intensifying, but the Bulldogs were going to the Rose Bowl. Few, owing to war time conditions, would be able to make the trip, but Athens puffed out its chest with the greatest of pride.
The opponent was UCLA, which had a tailback named Bob Waterfield, who would go on to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, but was, perhaps, better known for his marriage to buxom Jane Russell.
In the final quarter, Red Boyd, the mountaineer farm boy from Toccoa, blocked Waterfield’s punt out of the end zone for a safety for the Bulldogs’ first points. After an interception, Frank Sinkwich later scored from the 2-yard line which gave the Bulldogs a 9-0 victory.
When the game was over, Red went off to war like the rest of the able-bodied young American men. Red came home from the Army and began a life of coaching and teaching.
His days of headlines were over. He had gone to college to get a degree and would spend the rest of his life trying to help poor kids, as he was as a boy, make a better life for them.
I often visited Red when I went to Toccoa, finding him to be an honorable, forthright man who believed that coaching and teaching was his calling. His goal in life was to help others. He was a man of modesty and altruism.
Red would talk about the Rose Bowl if you brought it up. He was obviously proud of having had the experience of playing in Pasadena and making the cross country trip by train. Life didn’t bring him great riches, but it did bring satisfaction and humility.
There is much to be said for that.
In 1980, the anticipation in New Orleans prior to Georgia’s national championship game with Notre Dame was almost too much to bear.
All during the week, I thought of what it would mean to my alma mater for the Bulldogs to become the national champion.
Glory! Glory! All eyes were focused on the star running back Herschel Walker. He had carried the team throughout the season — his shoulders were broad; he led with his heart and spirit as much as he did with his big thighs which caused would be tacklers to become prone in his wake. His humility and humanity were so refreshing.
This was a man with a terrible swift sword, but he was ever the soft spoken and selfless player, deflecting praise to his teammates and saying the right thing for every occasion. Most of all, he led by example. He had played in the lowest classification in high school, a big back with speed who could keep the chains moving. He had critics aplenty but silenced them early on when he scored two touchdowns against Tennessee in Knoxville to begin an improbable journey.
This was a man who wrote poetry and ate Snicker bars for his meals. He dislocated his shoulder in the first offensive series but came back and took 34 snaps in the teeth of the Notre Dame defense, gaining 153 yards.
I’ve often thought about Herschel and his contribution to Georgia’s success in 1980 and the fact that he would not have been allowed to enroll at Georgia in Red Boyd’s day.