As I mentioned previously, I recently had the pleasure of meeting Robbie Burns, the author of Belue to Scott!: The Greatest Moment in Georgia Football History. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak with Robbie, who was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule in order to be interviewed. What follows is (apart from a few minor edits to clear up a few verbal slips and ticks on each of our parts) our conversation:
Dawg Sports: We’ve seen Bill Cromartie’s book about the Georgia-Georgia Tech series, and we’ve seen Cale Conley’s book on the Georgia-Florida series, but, of all the books out there about college football, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one that was written about a particular game and certainly not a particular play. What gave you the idea of devoting a book to this one play?
Robbie Burns: Well, I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’ve done a lot of writing in magazines, locally and some nationally, but I was in the ninth grade when this game took place. It’s always stuck with me like it has with thousands of other Georgia fans. I was just really praying about writing a book, and this was one of the things I was looking at. I just felt like it was the right time, with the 30th anniversary coming up, for this to take place.
Dawg Sports: Obviously, this is, as you’ve noted, the most famous play in Georgia football history. We all probably can recite off the top of our head the Larry Munson play call. When you were going through it, with it being so familiar and something we all know so much about, what did you learn in doing the research for this book that surprised you, that maybe the rest of us don’t know?
Robbie Burns: Well, I guess there’s quite a few things. I learned that Mike Shanahan was Florida’s offensive coordinator that day. I had no idea that was the case until I was looking through the game program, and there was a young Mike Shanahan with a head full of hair. I was like, "Oh, my gosh!" I ended up getting an interview with Coach Shanahan, who was great. I also did not know that there was a possibility of Georgia and Alabama playing for the national championship even after Alabama had lost the week before to Mississippi State in Starkville. That possibility was still there. The scenario was written about quite a bit going into that week, and it was just really dependent upon if Alabama was going to beat Notre Dame the next week in Birmingham, which they did not. They lost 7-0. I had always heard that it was a defensive back that had fallen down for Florida. Actually, it wasn’t a defensive back, it was Val Brown, their outside linebacker, who dropped back into coverage. I had always wondered why was Nat Hudson able to come off his block and make the play. Either it was just a great physical play, he saw the guy coming, or there was another reason why he was there, and it was a combination of both. In talking to Jeff Harper, I found that out. And just why did they run that play? I did not know why they ran the play, and come to find out from Coach Whittemore the specific reason why they ran the play. I was just really trying to dig down and find out those things that I always had questions about, and, then again, at the same time, stumbling upon some things like Mike Shanahan that I had absolutely no idea about.
Dawg Sports: You mentioned interviewing Coach Shanahan and talking to one of the offensive linemen, Jeff Harper. How many interviews did you conduct for this book, and what people did you talk to?
Robbie Burns: I guess I conducted, through phone conversations, a few that were in person, and some that were done over e-mail, over 50 interviews. I interviewed coaches and players from both teams, media members who covered the game, two officials that were on the field that day, Bobby Gaston and Joe Delaney, both of whom are members of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame now, and fans such as me and you, who were either at the game or were at home watching it on TV or listening to Munson on the radio. To be able to tell the story of the game through their eyes, through the narrative, stating facts, painting the scenario before the game, leading up to it, then during the game, but really trying to incorporate how those people saw the episode, saw that situation take place, and everything leading up to it, really just telling the story through their eyes.
Dawg Sports: When you talked to the Florida people about it, I can imagine, of course, from the Georgia side, we’re happy to talk about that play all day. Did you get any sort of resistance from the Florida people who would just like to put that memory behind them?
Robbie Burns: Not one. Not one. I was very surprised. Coach Shanahan, take him for example, the first time I called him, I left him a message. I was in Byron, Georgia, I was driving back to Macon, which is about 20 minutes away, and, by the time I got back home, he had called me back. He said, "Oh, my gosh, Belue to Scott!" He went through the whole play: "Play-action fake to Herschel. . . ." I was shocked, and that was just us talking about it before I could even sit down and do the interview with him. Tim Groves, the safety who was the last Florida Gator to dive at Lindsay’s feet, kind of chuckled about it, not that it doesn’t still hurt, because it does still hurt him, but he said, "Man, that play has haunted me for almost three decades now." Dock Luckie agreed to be interviewed, but he said, "Robbie, this is the first time I have talked about this game and this play in depth with anybody since it took place almost 30 years ago." He said, "It hurt me that much." Jeremy Foley was great. I interviewed him. I interviewed Greg McGarity, who was at Florida Gator at the time, of course, and now is the AD at Georgia. Mike Bugar was great. He was the defensive line coach at that time. Wayne Peace and Robin Fisher were fantastic. They were very open about it. It still hurts them. It’s something they can never, never change, but, to a man, they were proud of the way they played up until that last 63 seconds.
Dawg Sports: For the folks who are interested in finding out more about you, tell us a little bit about who Robbie Burns is.
Robbie Burns: Well, I grew up a Georgia fan. I’m not a Georgia alum. I did not go to UGA. My dad did. I went to Mercer University in Macon, walked on and played baseball there. I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees there. Claude Felton helped me get an internship at LSU. I was intern there for three years from ‘91 to ‘94, then I came back home and worked at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame from 1996 to 2007. Those experiences right there really, I think, put in motion and taught me a great deal of what I needed to know, and the contacts I needed to have, to be able to write this book. Again, I know that it is all part of God’s plan for my life to do this.
Dawg Sports: I know you’re heading down to Jacksonville for the game this weekend. Tell us where you’re going to be and where people will be able to find you this weekend.
Robbie Burns: I’m in Jekyll right now. Thursday evening, I’ll be at the Jacksonville Bulldog Club in Jacksonville, then, Friday, I’ve got a book signing at G.J. Ford Bookshop in St. Simons. We have the UGA alumni oyster roast here on Jekyll at Great Dunes Park, and then, Saturday, I will be at the Hyatt Regency, which is right there on the Jacksonville Landing, out in front their gift shop, selling and signing books. Hopefully, I’ll be doing that after the game, after a Georgia win. There’s a lot of different places you can find me this weekend here on the coast, if you’re looking to get an autographed copy of the book.
Dawg Sports: Great! For the folks who aren’t going to be down there and are interested in getting hold of the book, how do they go about finding it?
Robbie Burns: The easiest way to do that is to go to my website, BeluetoScott.com, or it can be purchased off Amazon.com. The book is also in every Barnes & Noble in the state of Georgia, and you can also find it at Borders in both John’s Creek in north Atlanta and in Athens. It’s also in the UGA bookstore in Athens, and in multiple smaller spots around the state.
If you’re going to be in Jacksonville this weekend, go by and see Robbie at one of his stops, and be sure to tell him you read about his book here at Dawg Sports. If you aren’t going to be in Jacksonville this weekend, be sure to order a copy from Robbie’s website. Now is as good a time as any to knock out some of that Christmas shopping! My thanks go out to Robbie for his willingness to be interviewed here.