ST. SIMONS ISLAND — There is a relatively new landmark at this garden spot, a roundabout which is at the heart of the island. I have always liked the rhythm of the roundabout which keeps traffic flowing fluid and efficient.
Right down the street from the roundabout is Rich Seapak, the producers of cured and canned seafood. Seapak and the roundabout remind me of Racehorse Davis, one of the most brilliant athletic performers in the history of the University of Georgia.
Racehorse, after a successful career with the original Baltimore Colts, spent his life working at Seapak. The roundabout? It keeps traffic moving with alacrity, which is the way Racehorse played football. He was always in motion, always in a hurry to get some place — usually the opponent’s end zone.
There were many things to admire about Racehorse. First, he played in the same backfield with Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi. The most astonishing thing about his performance was that if he got the ball, a touchdown often resulted.
His average gain per catch in 1942 was 28.5. A wingback, he wasn’t going to be given the ball very much with Sinkwich and Trippi in the backfield. Yet he scored 25 touchdowns in his three year varsity career (freshmen were ineligible in his day). He was a sprinter with natural talent. He had the suddenness, the explosiveness of Herschel Walker. He was sleek, a sprinter with a thoroughbred’s elegance and class. John Donaldson, who later played and coached at Georgia, saw Racehorse play and called him a “beautiful runner.”
I always enjoyed stopping by to see Racehorse when I was at St. Simons. He gave me the clippings to research his long distance runs, which he helped organize for a book. One day, he said about Sinkwich and Trippi, whom he adored: “I never felt left out. I got a lot of balls because Coach Butts thought the wingback could contribute to the offense. If he hadn’t had that innovative offensive mind, I might never have figured into the game plan. That wasn’t the way it was, and I never had any complaints. I did have a chance to rest up a little, so when I was called on, I was usually fresh.
“Frank was a power runner, but he had the knack of stepping into a tackler and then stepping away. He made them miss. Trippi could make you miss as well as anybody in the open field, but Frank ran inside more. Frank made all those long runs because people appeared to have him in their grasp, but he would evade them before they could lock up, and with his great quickness he was in the open in a flash. Trippi was truly great at everything. I never saw a player who could do more things on a football field that Charley. He was as good, maybe better, on defense as he was on offense. I never saw a player who could win a game for you on defense as well as he could on offense like Trippi.”
The most dramatic touchdown ever scored in Georgia history was Racehorse’s TD catch of a pass from Sinkwich in Columbus in 1941.
When the ball was in the air, the final gun sounded. Racehorse sprinted, caught the ball and scored. Georgia’s 7-0 victory in such dramatic fashion had much to do with the Bulldogs getting an invitation to play in the Orange Bowl.
If there had been television to cover this “Hail Mary” completion, no telling what the residuals would have been for Racehorse. Even when his days were numbered and Racehorse was in the hospital, just before moving to that Great Gridiron in the sky, I went to see him. He recalled the play like it had happened the day before.
“The play was Pass 2, ends in front,” he smiled.
Racehorse had undying affection for his coach, Wallace Butts.
“I don’t believe anybody appreciated Coach Butts more than I did,” he said. “I didn’t have a good family situation. I lived with relatives much of my life, and I knew what it meant to have that scholarship. Three meals a day was a big thing. Coach Butts might have gotten on me when I was loafing, but he never got on me unless I deserved it. The practices were long and rough, but we were certainly not abused. Nobody went hungry. I’ll always be grateful to Coach Butts.”
If only some of today’s players could have had a conversation with my friend Racehorse Davis.