The year was 1965. Despite being led by the previous autumn’s SEC coach of the year, second-season skipper Vince Dooley, the Georgia Bulldogs were picked to finish near the bottom of the league due to the difficulty of their schedule and the loss of 14 lettermen from the previous year’s Sun Bowl championship squad.
The Red and Black’s personnel losses continued even after graduation, as several returning players were dinged up, slowed down, and just plain sidelined. Senior quarterback Preston Ridlehuber twisted his knee. Junior defensive left guard Jimmy Cooley was forced to wear rubber protective padding on his broken hand. Senior defensive left halfback Joe Burson, sophomore offensive right tackle Edgar Chandler, and senior defensive right tackle Vance Evans were taken out of the lineup by injuries. Attrition among the linebackers caused sophomore Tommy Lawhorne to move into a starting role mere days before the season opener . . . and those were just the ones whose aches and pains caught up with them before homecoming.
Nevertheless, the ailing Bulldogs managed to overcome their bumps and bruises well enough to get off to what was perhaps the fastest start in Georgia football history. Unranked Georgia hosted the fifth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide for a televised contest in Athens to begin the campaign. The home team trailed the defending national champions, 17-10, late in the game, despite second-team All-SEC defensive left tackle George Patton’s 55-yard interception return for a touchdown.
On third down, junior quarterback Kirby Moore completed a ten-yard pass to senior right end Pat Hodgson, who pitched the ball back to streaking senior tailback Bob Taylor. The play (which is shown on the Sanford Stadium scoreboard every Saturday to this very day) went down the visitors’ sideline for a 73-yard touchdown, and a subsequent two-point conversion from Moore to Hodgson gave the ‘Dawgs a stunning 18-17 victory. Alabama dropped from the top ten, although the Associated Press’s unprecedented decision to hold the final poll vote after the bowl games allowed the 9-1-1 Orange Bowl champion Crimson Tide to claim the No. 1 ranking in the postseason balloting.
Next up for the Classic City Canines was a home date with the Vanderbilt Commodores, who had opened the autumn by tying Gator Bowl-bound Georgia Tech. Vandy appeared on the verge of earning another draw with the score deadlocked, 10-10, but the Bulldogs went out in front when junior defensive right guard Dickie Phillips ran back a pick for the go-ahead TD to pace a 24-10 Red and Black win. Among the fans on hand for the tilt with Vanderbilt was a seventh grader from Union Point, Ga., named Tony Barnhart, who was attending his first college football game before going on to become "Mr. College Football" as an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter and ESPN commentator.
Georgia climbed to No. 10 in the AP poll as the Athenians prepared to visit Ann Arbor for an intersectional showdown with the defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion Michigan Wolverines, who were ranked No. 5 by the UPI. It was the first road game for the 1965 Bulldogs and the Classic City Canines’ last regular-season road game outside the South for the next 43 years.
Already the nicks and scrapes were taking their toll---The Red and Black declared in a pregame headline: "Wolverines Play Host To Crippled Bulldogs"---and it appeared that the Georgians’ growing sick list had caught up with them at last when the Maize and Blue led their guests 7-6 in the Big House with Sports Illustrated on hand to cover the event. Nevertheless, sparked by three field goals (including a 44-yarder) from junior placekicker Bobby Etter, the ‘Dawgs managed to claim a 15-7 victory over the Wolverines. The oddsmakers had predicted an eight-point margin . . . for Michigan.
Bedlam erupted in Athens when the news of Georgia’s victory reached the Peach State. Students took to the streets in an impromptu parade. One of the cars that jammed the thoroughfares of the Classic City contained 24 passengers, some of whom hung from the trunk, were splayed across the hood, or clung to the fenders. Such a large assemblage greeted the victorious Bulldogs upon their return from Ann Arbor that defensive coordinator Erk Russell described the scene as "the biggest crowd and the biggest traffic jam in the history of Athens."
Vince Dooley put the triumph in context when he said, "To go up there and invade the north and come back a winner was the greatest thing for a lot of people. It was as if we had had a chance to go to Gettysburg again." Among the many fans who shared that sentiment undoubtedly was Bill Jordan, a Quitman, Ga., native but a University of Michigan student. Jordan carried a Confederate battle flag with him into the stadium and unfurled it during the game.
Georgia vaulted into the top five in both major polls as the ‘Dawgs prepared to host the Clemson Tigers for their homecoming game. Although October 9 was an early date for the alumni to return to campus, the Red and Black were not scheduled to play another contest between the hedges until November 13, so the Orange and Purple were slated to be the Bulldogs’ homecoming opponent for the first time in 36 series meetings between the ancient rivals.
The official capacity of Sanford Stadium in 1965 was 43,621, but, because bleachers were brought in to accommodate an overflow crowd, somewhere between 45,000 and 46,000 souls were present in the arena, while additional fans viewed the contest as best they could from the railroad trestle, the bridge, and the banks beside the stadium. The weather was warm enough for Clemson’s costumed sideline mascot to remove his tiger headgear, the atmosphere was joyful enough for a beach ball to be spotted bounding back and forth in the student section, and the occasion was festive enough for multiple corsages to be spotted in the stands.
The Tigers’ senior halfback, Hugh "Motor" Mauldin, broke two tackles on a ten-yard touchdown run, but senior placekicker Frank Pearce’s point after try went awry because of a stiff wind, so Clemson led, 6-0, with 7:13 remaining in the first quarter. The Tigers kicked off and the Bulldogs responded to Clemson’s 65-yard touchdown drive with a 74-yard scoring march of their own. After Ridlehuber went off-tackle for a first down at the visitors’ 41 yard line and Taylor tacked on a seven-yard pickup, the ‘Dawgs decided it was time to gamble with a little razzle-dazzle.
Ridlehuber took the snap and pitched the football to Taylor, who was moving to his left behind sophomore fullback Ronnie Jenkins. The Clemson defenders shifted to their right to follow the flow of the play. Hodgson, who was lined up tight on the right edge of the line, headed straight upfield on the side opposite the apparent direction of the play, unnoticed by the South Carolinians whose attentions were elsewhere.
Taylor then surprised his pursuers by pitching the pigskin back to the quarterback. Ridlehuber swung to his right and threw a 34-yard touchdown strike to Hodgson, who was open in the end zone. With 2:46 left in the opening period, the score was tied. It remained that way when Etter, who had connected on 22 straight extra point attempts, missed the conversion for the first time in his collegiate career to preserve the 6-6 deadlock.
The scoreboard stayed that way into the second stanza, at the start of which junior punter Don Barfield’s kick for Clemson was downed at the home team’s one yard line. The poor field position compelled Georgia to punt on third down, giving the Jungaleers custody at the Bulldog 42 and leading ultimately to a 35-yard field goal. Although nearly ten minutes were left in the half, the contest went to intermission with the unranked Tigers holding a 9-6 lead on the top-five Bulldogs. Yet another comeback would be required.
All proceeded according to plan at the break. The five members of the homecoming court were presented, all "looking very nervous, very beautiful and very Southern", according to the Journal-Constitution’s Kim Chapin. The Georgia seniors paraded around the field wearing planter’s hats, carrying canes, and bearing a banner reading "Dooley for President". The Redcoat Band performed selections from "The Sound of Music". The students eagerly anticipated that evening’s Interfraternity Council concert at the Coliseum, when Dionne Warwick would sing, Bill Cosby would perform his comedy routine, and the homecoming queen would be crowned.
On the football field, all proceeded according to plan after the break, as well, despite one more scare being put into the Red and Black by an opponent that proved feisty indeed. However, the ‘Dawgs did not assert their dominance immediately, as the injury bug continued to bite the Bulldogs. Moore had been hurt in the second period when a hit from Clemson’s Ted Katana had sent the Georgia quarterback sprawling.
After a penalty and an incomplete pass, Barfield was sent in to punt for the Jungaleers and Cooley was sent in as a substitute for Kenny Whiddon, who had come out with a hurt ankle. Cooley had not played in the first half against the Tigers, nor had he taken the field the week before against the Wolverines, on account of the injury to his extremity he had sustained in the contest with the Commodores. Georgia, however, had gone after two previous Barfield punts, and, with the ball being snapped from the Clemson 38 yard line, it seemed an opportune time to go after another one.
Cooley burst through the middle and got his bad hand on the ball. The oval struck the protective rubber cover on the defensive guard’s forearm and bounded over Barfield’s head. Phillips, right tackle Jiggy Smaha, and right end Larry Kohn all went after the bouncing ball. Kohn, a sophomore from Greenville, S.C., scooped up the loose football at the one yard line and rolled into the end zone for a touchdown. Etter’s extra point was good to make it 13-9 in favor of the Red and Black some four minutes into the second half.
Clemson received the ensuing kickoff, was penalized on the return, and had to kick the ball away. Starting from the Tiger 46, Ridlehuber guided the ‘Dawgs on another scoring drive with Jenkins, Taylor, and backup tailback Randy Wheeler never going outside the ends in the course of the march. Once a measurement had determined that the Georgians had a first down at the three yard line, Jenkins plunged into the line on a wedge play to cover the last of the ground and break the plane of the goal line. Etter drove home the point after to give the Athenians a 20-9 advantage.
On the home team’s final possession, Georgia received a Jungaleer punt and advanced from the Athenians’ 39 yard line to the South Carolinians’ 20 yard line. Etter lined up for a three-point attempt with six seconds remaining and he drilled the 37-yarder to stake the Bulldogs to a 23-9 lead with a lone tick left on the scoreboard.
That last second was an eventful one, as Georgia’s unsuccessful onside kick gave the Country Gentlemen custody of the football at the home team’s 41 yard line. The Tigers went to the air and a defensive pass interference penalty at the Bulldog 12 allowed Clemson to run one more play. Junior split end Wayne Bell was open in the end zone and the ball came his way. The initial indication was a touchdown, but the officials determined that the pass had touched the ground before being brought in by the receiver, so the final margin stood at 14 points.
Georgia senior defensive right halfback Doug McFalls was added to the injury list in the immediate aftermath of the Clemson encounter. The broken jaw he suffered against the Tigers further depleted the Bulldog secondary as the Red and Black prepared to face the Florida St. Seminoles in a night game on the road. The Tribe sported the best passing attack the ‘Dawgs had yet faced. "I don’t know how many more people we can stand to lose," said a worried Coach Dooley after the victory over the Country Gentlemen. "Injuries are really cutting us down."
Although the Athenians held a lead heading into the fourth quarter in Tallahassee, the mounting ailments finally took their inevitable toll. Added to the list of the wounded were Kirby Moore with a broken nose and Bob Taylor with a broken leg. Fifth-ranked Georgia fell to FSU by a 10-3 score. Taylor was carried from the team plane on a stretcher when the Bulldogs returned home.
The litany of bumps, bruises, and breaks proved too much to overcome. No. 10 Georgia dropped a 28-10 decision to the Kentucky Wildcats in a night game in Lexington and fell from the rankings altogether. After escaping Chapel Hill with a win in a 47-35 shootout against the North Carolina Tar Heels, the Red and Black headed to Jacksonville for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, only to have quarterback Steve Spurrier complete a 32-yard touchdown pass in the final minute to send the ‘Dawgs down to a 14-10 defeat.
The heartbreaker against the Sugar Bowl-bound Florida Gators was replicated one week later against another orange-and-blue-clad conference rival. Georgia trailed the Auburn Tigers by two late in the game, but the Bulldogs were driving, only to fumble the football away at the Plainsmen’s one yard line with a minute to go. Auburn held on for the 21-19 win and went to the Liberty Bowl. With the Red and Black now facing the prospect of a .500 finish following a 4-0 start, Coach Russell came up with a way to fire up the Bulldogs for the season finale against the Ramblin’ Wreck.
Erk took the abbreviation for the Georgia Tech Athletic Association and rearranged the letters so that "GTAA" became "GATA". When in mixed company, the bald Bulldog defensive coordinator explained that the new shorthand stood for "get after their anatomy", although Coach Russell found a way to express the sentiment more graphically and with fewer syllables when addressing his players.
The ‘Dawgs went to Atlanta and beat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets by a double-digit margin to finish 6-4, well below the heights to which they had aspired after continuing their undefeated season against Clemson. While a Sun Bowl bid was extended, Georgia declined the invitation because the game was not scheduled to be televised and the Red and Black therefore could not afford the trip to El Paso.
The rejected postseason opportunity would prove not to be Coach Dooley’s last opportunity that autumn to venture forth to what one day would be Big 12 country. Oklahoma’s initial attempt to replace Bud Wilkinson had ended in failure, as Gomer Jones had produced a two-year ledger of 9-11-1 in Norman. The Sooners were in the market for a new head coach in December 1965 and they set their sights on Vince Dooley. An offer was made and Georgia had to raise the stakes in order to retain the young skipper’s services. Among the plums tossed Coach Dooley’s way was an assistant athletic directorship that would place him in charge of decisions concerning the football program, an authority he would retain until the end of his tenure as Joel Eaves’s successor four decades later.
A new contract and a new title assured that Vince Dooley would be back in Athens in 1966. Though excessive injuries had soured a promising campaign in Coach Dooley’s second season at the helm, the Bulldogs would go on to win a Southeastern Conference championship the following fall.