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"1980 Dawgs": A not-so-critical review

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I received a late Christmas gift last week. The twin-DVD documentary, 1980 Dawgs The Inside Story of the National Championship Season, directed and filmed by Lenny Daniels along with executive producer Mike Moss, arrived with much anticipation. I actually bought it as a present to myself, after getting the green-light from Mrs. DavetheDawg. Turns out, the Christmas credit card bill wasn't so bad this year...so I was allowed to indulge in this bit of Georgia history, which isn't cheap at $50 bucks. Is it worth the price? It is, at least in my mind. This is a delightful trip down memory lane, and for the older fan who remembers how this particular season played out, it belongs on your shelf. The harder sell might be the younger generation of Dawg Nation. The production of the film is not flashy, but it doesn't need to be. It's strengths are not necessarily the film clips of each individual play, but the stories. The wonderful, wonderful stories. These guys obviously put in a great amount of time in researching and writing for such a niche-specific audience, and it shows.


If you are looking for Larry Munson's greatest calls, you'll be a bit disappointed. This is not the intent of the film. Of course, some of Larry's most famous calls occurred during the1980 season and you will hear them again as they fit within the context of the narrative. This documentary is much more than just replaying the "greatest hits" from our greatest season ever with overdubs of Munson. If you are looking for brand-new, fresh, never-before seen footage from the 1980 season, sorry. In fact, much of what you'll see is readily available on YouTube. There is some footage that I have not seen in years, specifically from the Kentucky game on a very cold night in Lexington and the Auburn game. To their credit, Daniels and Moss go through every game with the best available highlights, and each game is a separate story unto itself. And, c'mon...watching Herschel shred through Vanderbilt or Lindsay sprinting down the Gator Bowl sideline will never, ever get old.

What this film does bring are great one-on-one accounts from some of the key players, coaches and support people that helped create our greatest season. There are moments of sheer joy, much humor and some genuine sadness as the players remember some of the dearly departed members from the National Championship team; most notable Jimmy Payne, Coach Wayne McDuffie and Erk Russell.

"He's the greatest motivator in the history of college football."

-Scott Woerner on Erk Russell

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Erk. The segment dedicated to this man could be it's own film.

Disc 1 of the film actually begins with a recap of the 1979 season; one of the more bizarre in Georgia history. We almost won the conference that year with a horrible out-of-conference record - especially against ACC teams - losing to Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia. Injuries really took a toll on that season, but to hear the players tell it, there was a real dearth of leadership, especially regarding senior leadership. The importance of this is stressed throughout the film.

The '77 and '79 teams were not mature football teams. The '78 team and '80 teams were very mature football teams.
- Chris Welton, Rover

What's really funny is how the film transitions from talking about senior leadership into the "Seagraves" incident. If you're not familiar with this, it basically involved a bunch of (you guessed it) senior players, a hog farm, a hog, some beer, and old Chevy and big trouble for all who participated. This story alone, as told by some of the offenders, is just about worth the cost of the film. But through "adversity", a special bond was formed and this feeling is palpable and really sets the stage as the chronology of the season unfolds. The recruitment of Herschel Walker is covered as well and the drama that surrounded the Seige of Wrightsville is always interesting to revisit

The individual games themselves, as mentioned before, are beautifully done. If you were around then and old enough to remember how these games unfolded, your memory might just be jarred like mine was regarding some of the detail of each game. I remember how close we came to losing to Tennessee after we took the lead. The Texas A&M game was Herschel's coming out party in Sanford, but the defense absolutely dominated. And throughout the narrative, the interviews with players such as Hugh Nall, Tim Morrison, Jimmy Harper, Steve and Bob Kelley, big Nat Hudson and Scott Woerner, after all these years, bring everything home. And they're not just interviews and answers. They're mini-stories; right down the some fine detail about a play, or a series of plays that led to an outcome (most often in our favor).

My favorite segments from disc 1, aside from seeing some of the aforementioned footage for the first time in many a moon, is the segment dedicated to Erk Russell. Disc 2 includes a tribute to Jimmy Payne. This will leave you with a lump in your throat as we lost a Damn Good Dawg far too soon.

I vividly remember how spent I was after we beat South Carolina at home that year 13-10. The Gamecocks gave us hell that game. I also remember thinking that we'd better watch out for Florida the next weekend because 'Carolina might've sucked the life out of us. This nearly came to pass as the documentary really grasps this well and the revelations about the Georgia-Florida game, from the players and Coach Dooley, are things I've never heard before.

Florida obviously game-planned extremely well for the Cocktail Party in '80. The players really break down some things that you probably didn't know, regarding schemes and overall philosophy the Gators brought to the table that day. Again, Daniels and Moss really grasp the historical significance of this game with some great storytelling from the guys who played. The buildup to the last 1:08, from the player's perspectives is gripping. I promise you that the hero of that play was not Buck Belue. Not Lindsay Scott. It was Nat Hudson. I'll always contend that his block on the Florida rush-end was the most athletic part of "the play." As Lindsay runs down the sidelines, the accounts of the players and what they were doing, feeling, thinking is just...well, watch the film.

"That was something, wasn't it?"

-Erk Russell to Defensive Back Greg Bell right after Lindsay scored.

The segment on The Tracks and the relationship between those special fans and Erk Russell is captured very well. Having sat on the tracks exactly one time in my life (I was in high school and I was, frankly, scared to death), I can vouch for how rowdy and wonderful and insane and missed that part of the game day experience was. The documentary certainly explains how important the Track People were to the team. If you view this, you will be convinced that they closed the wrong damn end of the stadium.

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If you want a nice, concise history of what the "Track People" were all about, this film is for you.

In 1980, there was an asinine NCAA rule that basically stated any college football team could not appear on television more than twice in the regular season. Against Auburn, we wouldn't have been on television that day regardless of the rule. Why? Because Auburn was on probation. Shocking, I know. 1980 Dawgs chronicles our victory over the Tigers to clinch the SEC Championship and how a blocked punt really fired up a team that needed a spark in the rain on the Plains that day. Herschel Walker's record-breaking day is the highlight of the Georgia Tech recap from the film on a perfect late-fall day in Athens.

The accounts of the Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame on January 1, 1981 really stirred up some personal memories for me. I had forgotten how damn hot it was inside the Superdome that day. I recall buying a very large cup of Dixie beer that game and by the time I got to my seat, my beer was more than warm. I nursed that thing until halftime. And the smoke was as thick as a fog...from cigarettes. The player's accounts of the heat inside the Dome, the smoke, the size of the Notre Dame players and the pre-game "associations" with the Fighting Irish and their "attitudes" makes for a great build-up to the game itself. Notre Dame was really a very good team. Trouble was, they knew it.

This film could have easily become the Herschel Walker story. To the credit of all involved, Herschel's contribution, although prominent, does not dominate the story. Another aspect of the season I had forgotten is how some of the more unheralded players, when given their chance, rose up time and time again. For every Herschel Walker, there was a Carnie Norris. When guys got hurt, someone stepped up, or stepped in - even if it was a brief moment to shine. Terry Hoage was on the scout team all season, but made a huge contribution in the Sugar Bowl because someone noticed something special he was doing all-season long during practices. This film is full of little tid bits and anecdotes like this, and this is why it's so good.

So, "1980 Dawgs" is a little bit pricey. I think it's worth it and I hope I've presented a few reasons why you should consider owning it. This film isn't a bunch of ex-players sitting around a studio shooting the bull about the glory days. This film is about still-vibrant men who, collectively, crafted the finest season in Georgia Football history and their stories from each game, and in some cases, singular moments that we - the fan - remember from either witnessing in person, on television or through the radio. These guys are all great story tellers...and do they have a story to tell.

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