Looking Ahead While Looking Back: Georgia's SEC-Title Clincher, 1959

I'm back! Thanks to overwhelming support and intriguing suggestions from the Dawg Sports community, I have decided to continue my series with a special postseason edition.

Without further ado, I present you with Georgia's most monumental SEC-championship clincher, the 1959 battle with Auburn.



Saturday, November 14, 1959

Sanford Stadium, Athens, GA

Georgia: 14, Auburn: 13

Picked to finish ninth in the Southeastern Conference, the 1959 Georgia Bulldogs were a resilient group whose athleticism, courage and, of course, luck, carried them to the top of the final conference standings. The conference crown was clinched with a nail-biting victory over Auburn Between the Hedges.

Going into the 1959 showdown, the Tigers enjoyed a six-game winning streak over the Bulldogs. Auburn entered this game bound and determined to keep their hated rivals from clinching the league title.

The game was a defensive battle from the onset, but Auburn was able to cash in on two field goals from fullback/kicker Ed Dyas for a 6-0 lead at the half. Things took a turn for the best when Georgia punter Bobby Walden booted a ball to the Auburn 2. The energized Georgia defense held the Tigers on the ensuing drive and it was the visitors' turn to punt.

The Auburn punt landed in the capable hands of Georgia safety Charley Britt, who scored a touchdown on a 39-yard return. The Bulldogs now led 7-6.


You may already be familiar with Charley Britt via

Britt made a bit of a blunder on a later Bulldog punt. Shortly after he backed into Walden's kick, the opportunistic Tigers recovered the ball at the Georgia 1-yard line. Auburn scored and retook the lead at 13-7.

Things looked bleak, but the stubborn Dawgs weren't ready to call it a season just yet. With less than three minutes remaining in the contest, Georgia DE Bill Herron forced a fumble by Auburn QB Bryant Harvard, which was recovered by UGA lineman Pat Dye at the Auburn 35.


Pat Dye would later go on to coach Auburn, but we'll ignore that for now via

With only 2:30 remaining, Georgia's star QB Fran Tarkenton went to work. He found Don Soberdash on passes of 16 and 9 yards, putting the Bulldogs inside the Auburn 10. But the stingy Tiger defense forced fourth down with 13 yards to go. Refusing to accept an Auburn 13-7 victory, Tarkenton called for a huddle and drew up one last play in the turf.

The ball was snapped, Tarkenton rolled out to his right and found Herron, headed in the opposite direction, for the game-winning touchdown pass on a diagonal toss across the field. Sanford Stadium went so ballistic that a spectator suffered a heart attack as Georgia lined up to attempt the game-winning extra point. Kicker Durward Pennington's kick gave Georgia a 14-13 victory and the 1959 SEC championship.


All you need is one via

The comeback brought with it an abundance of national recognition to UGA, a number eight ranking and priority status on the lists of five major bowl committees. As you likely already know, Georgia went to the 1960 Orange Bowl and defeated the Missouri Tigers.


Tarkenton scrambling against Auburn in the 1959 game via

I have to give the game ball to Fran Tarkenton, whose late-game heroics catapulted the Bulldogs to the victory. Tarkenton played at old Athens High and chose hometown UGA as his destination to play college ball. In his remarkable junior campaign in 1959, this son of a Pentecostal mininster led the SEC in passing completions and set a conference record for completion percentage. This was good enough to land Fran All-SEC quarterback honors for the season.

Tarkenton is still recognized as one of the all-time great Bulldog signal callers, but is nationally known as one of the best NFL QBs of all time, as well.

The Minnesota Vikings selected Fran in the third round of the 1961 NFL Draft. On September 17 of that year, Tarkenton, only 21 at the time, shocked the Chicago Bears with 250 yards and four touchdowns in the Vikings' debut game in the League, a 37-13 victory over the favored Bears. He is still the only player in NFL history to throw for four TDs in his first game in the League.


Tarkenton with the Vikings via

Fran's constant squabbling with Minnesota coach Norm Van Brocklin over the former's tendency to scramble (some of Fran's nicknames were "The Mad Scrambler," "Frantic Fran" and "Scramblin' Fran") resulted in a change of scenery for the signal caller. Tarkenton was traded to the New York Giants in 1967 and played there for five seasons. In 1969, he directed a 1959-style comeback against his former team. The Giants edged the Vikings 24-23 after trailing 23-10 early in the fourth quarter.


#10 under center for the New York Giants via

In 1972, Tarkenton was traded back to Minnesota, where he took the Vikings to three Super Bowls, but lost each time. For his efforts, #10 was named NFL MVP and an All-Pro QB in 1975. He was second-team All-Pro in 1973 and All-NFC in 1972 and 1976. He was second-team All-NFC in 1970 and 1974. In all, Tarkenton was selected to nine Pro Bowls.

In 18 NFL seasons, Tarkenton completed 3,686 passes for 47,003 yards. He threw for 342 touchdowns and 266 interceptions. His career passing yards rank sixth all time, while his career passing touchdowns rank fourth. Despite never winning a Super Bowl, Tarkenton won six playoff games and in 1999 was named number 59 on The Sporting News list of the 100 greatest football players to ever suit up.


Fran was never a stranger to magazine covers via

Tarkenton has been inducted into numerous Halls of Fame: the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (1977), the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1986), the College Football Hall of Fame (1987), and the Athens Athletic Hall of Fame (2000).

After retiring from football, Fran appeared on the television show That's Incredible!, worked on Monday Night Football and even once hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live.


Calling a game for Monday Night Football via

Tarkenton is quite the writer. To date, he has published two autobiographies, No Time for Losing and Tarkenton, as well as a chronicle of the 1969 New York Giants season entitled Broken Promises: The Education of a Quarterback. He tried his hand at fiction in 1986 with a novel entitled Murder at the Super Bowl, a mystery about a football coach killed prior to his team taking the field in the big game. Fran has also written a plethora of self-help books and is a pioneer in computer software. Tarkenton Software remains a successful program generator company to this day. His website is a leading small business consulting website. Fran has put most of his time lately into Tarkenton Financial, an annuity marketing firm.


Problems with leadership? See what Fran has to say via

Fran Tarkenton, now 73, lives in Atlanta with his second wife Linda, a former Eastern Airlines flight attendant. He has four children and ten grandchildren. The Tarkentons like to spend time at their mountain home on Lake Burton and play golf at the nearby country club in Rabun County. They are also known to frequent Pebble Beach.

Tarkenton is still an active follower and observer of college and professional football and he has never been one to remain too far from the microphone. In 2009, he slammed Brett Favre's indecision on whether to come out of retirement to play for the Vikings. In early 2011, he shared his razor-sharp criticisms of the current state of the UGA football program and of Coach Richt. Though I didn't (and still don't) share these sentiments, he is Fran Tarkenton. He has earned the right to say whatever he wants about Georgia football, divisive as his comments might have been.


Fran sharing his thoughts on football from his trophy room via

For more from Tarkenton, tune into Sirius XM. He began hosting his own call-in radio show in February of last year. You may also keep up with him via his website.

Although Tarkenton is the MVP of this particular game, the 1959 Georgia Bulldogs were a special group of young men who would be loved just as much today as they were in the late '50s. As early as spring practice, this team was determined to prove its many doubters wrong. Coaches boldly challenged the players to meet their individual weight and running goals, the latter being told, "On the first day of September... any man who reports overweight, any man who reports and can't meet his time chart, will not be issued a uniform." Each and every member of the team earned a uniform in September.

Coach Wally Butts, blown away by his team's dedication to offseason drills and conditioning, proclaimed that there had "never been a better conditioned Georgia team" when the season began in September.

The 1959 Bulldogs believed in themselves and their coach from the beginning. When reporters asked how far the team would go that season, one player was quoted as saying, "All the way to the top." When asked for his line of reasoning, he simply answered, "We have the ability and the spirit to win. Furthermore, we want to make Coach Butts happy. We want to win the title and put him back on top."

Those from outside the Georgia lines took notice after the 1959 season. Pat Dye was named an All-American. Dye, Tarkenton, end Jimmy Vickers, guard Billy Roland, Walden and Britt were all selected to at least one all-SEC team.

Halfback Bobby Towns led the SEC in receiving that year, Pennington set a new conference record for accuracy with 16/18 on kick attempts and Tarkenton established a new conference accuracy record with a completion percentage of over 60%.

In Tarkenton's words, this squad was distinguished by its sense of unity, "Previously, we had a lot of individual players. This year we had a team. It was a simple case of 11 men on the field working together for the same purpose."

Let's hope that same attitude permeates the mindset of 2013 Dawgs as they seek to prove doubters wrong and bring home a bit of glory themselves.

Please join me in raising a paw to Fran Tarkenton and the 1959 Bulldogs for delivering the best conference clincher in Georgia history.

What are some of your favorite conference-clinching wins or championship games from years' past? Some of my personal favorites are Coach Butts's first SEC title in 1942, Coach Vince Dooley's first in 1966, when sugar fell out of the sky in 1982 and the 2005 SEC Championship Game.

I intend to conclude my series once and for all with Georgia's best bowl game. Stay tuned.

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