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LORAN SMITH: Remembering the old days

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

With college football headed to a playoff, which I am not so sure is a good thing, maybe one positive is that it doesn’t appear that we will be playing games in July.

There was a time when college games started in mid-September. Do you remember that era? That was before college athletics became big business, and while there is a lot to be said for what is being accomplished today, there is the element of the overt corporate influence, which doesn’t bring a lot of joy to Mudville if you are a traditionalist.

In the old days, there was something simple about the pre-season that warmed the cockles of one’s heart. The coaches had the summer off to fish, play golf, paint the house or grow a garden. The players all had part-time jobs, ran wind sprints and worked up a good sweat in the afternoon. Nobody got in trouble, and nobody broke any rules. If a player went to summer school, in most cases it was because he wanted to, not because he had to. In short, the coaches and players had a life.

Around Labor Day, the players reported for fall practice, dressing out in red jerseys and silver britches on the pristine grass of Sanford Stadium for picture day. Former UGA coach Dan Magill orchestrated the afternoon between the hedges, making sure that a photo was made of each player with the head coach to be sent to the player’s hometown paper. Magill would call the local Bulldog Club president and let him know a story would run soon in his corner of the state. Fitzgerald, Tifton, Newnan, Valdosta, Toccoa and Rome — it didn’t matter. Wherever a ’Dog hailed from, he was going to be the beneficiary of a write-up in his local paper.

After picture day, everybody gathered in Magill’s backyard for beer and Poss’s barbecue. The savvy Magill always invited, in addition to the press, key faculty members and former players, like Charley Trippi and Frank Sinkwich. Loyal supporters and game day staffers.

Down by Magill Creek, officially named during the administration of Mayor Upshaw Bentley, everybody congregated as Magill held court. A spirited social, reminiscent of dinner-on-the-grounds past under leafy hardwoods with iced cold beer and storytelling. That was living at its best!

Enrolling at Georgia and getting to know Magill was one of the fortuitous moments of a good life. Listening to him, the coaches and the Atlanta sportswriters was a magical experience. Enlightenment reaches its pinnacle when your leader is a generous raconteur. Magill could inspire and entertain with the best. He made you want to be a part of the Georgia scene.

Jesse Outlar, then-sports editor of the Atlanta Constitution, would always be there, as were Jim Minter of the Atlanta Journal and Harley Bowers of the Macon Telegraph, weekly editors and radio station operators. The atmosphere reflected that hope does indeed spring eternal. All that serenity and intimacy gave way to bigness. Television’s influence would change it all.

The corporate world would opt for participation; eventually new behemoths would appear — mainstream and social media.

The horse and buggy gave way to the automobile, and that was good, most of us would agree. The growth of college football has been phenomenal, and there have been many beneficiaries. For example, women’s sports, which need facilities and staffing. Money, used properly, can enhance programs across the board. It means you can become better able to compete. Nobody can really complain about that, but there is something to worry about — and that is greed.

Playoff tickets will surely go for $250 or more. When the playoffs become for corporations only, we will have gone the way of the NFL, the NBA and all the rest. I want Georgia in the championship game, but I’d like for the loyal fan from Ellijay or Carrollton or Elberton to be able to see the game without taking out a second mortgage.

If only the powers-that-be were required to pull up a chair down by Magill Creek with a beer and some barbecue before they began making decisions about college football’s future.