Leo Costa: a face only a specialist could love via grfx.cstv.com
The University of Georgia lost a dear friend and an athletic legend last weekend. However, other than a moving tribute from Loran Smith in the Athens Banner-Herald, Leo Costa's passing went almost unnoticed. I didn't even know of Costa's death until I browsed DogBytes Online on Friday to catch up on news that I missed after a hectic week at work. In the interest of paying proper tribute to this UGA gridiron immortal, let me tell you why you should care about Leo Costa.
It has been discussed on Dawg Sports how Georgia fans take having excellent kickers for granted. Remember back in 2012 when Marshall Morgan had some freshman jitters? We were driven to record levels of pre-kick fingernail biting and rituals for the place-kicking gods each time Morgan lined up to kick simply because the Dawgs have had automatic placekickers since time immemorial. Well, Leo Costa was, as Smith notes, "Georgia's first elite placekicker."
Leo Costa was born and raised in Athens, starring in a few sports at old Athens High. Dan Magill shares an unforgettable story about one of Costa's more forgettable moments on the hardwood in Dan Magill's Bull-Doggerel. What Magill describes as "Costa's Last Stand" involves an unexpected substitution off the bench, and a bit of a wardrobe malfunction. I will leave the storytelling to Coach Magill (seriously, if you don't own this book, you should), but in short, basketball was clearly not Costa's calling; football sure was.
Costa played on four Georgia football teams from 1939 to 1942. He scored a point in every game in which the Bulldogs played from 1940-42 (remember, UGA had a freshman team back then). Among those games was the 1943 Rose Bowl, in which Georgia capped a 10-1 season by beating UCLA 9-0 on New Year's Day in Pasadena. Scoring a point in every game in one's varsity career was a college football record, and still stands as a remarkable accomplishment for which Costa should forever be remembered.
Georgia blocks a punt in the 1943 Rose Bowl Classic via latimesphoto.files.wordpress.com
The 1939 class holds a special place in Georgia football history. These recruits arrived on campus the same year as now-legendary football coach Wallace Butts. The 1939 freshman squad, the "point-a-minute Bullpups," would eventually leave UGA in 1942 as one of the University's most decorated and accomplished football teams.
Despite being widely regarded as one of the best coaches in UGA football history, Coach Butts did not get off to the best start, going 10-10-1 in his first two seasons as Georgia's head football coach. Thanks to young men like Leo Costa, the 1941 team would clinch the Dawgs' first bowl berth, a 40-26 thumping of Texas Christian in the Orange Bowl. The 1942 team went 10-1-0, clinching
a share of the 1942 national championship.
Perhaps the only tragedy of Costa's illustrious career as a decorated specialist is that he had to play on the same team as superstar Frank Sinkwich, the 1942 Heisman Trophy winner who received the lion's share of the spotlight. Also don't forget about that freshman on the 1942, Charley Trippi, who knew a thing or two about playing ball, too. Although his teammates' fires might have burned brighter, Leo Costa earned his place in college football history and deserves credit for doing so.
Leo Costa was not the first pure specialist in Georgia history; he was a reserve center and back for the teams on which he played. Leo Costa was UGA's first great placekicker, the man to whom credit goes for the University's outstanding tradition of kickers who nowadays can only focus on one task. Before Blair Walsh, Billy Bennett, John Kasay, Kevin Butler and Durward Pennington (among countless others), we had Leo Costa.
No stranger to his alma mater via uga.edu
After exhausting his football eligibility, Costa remained dedicated to the University and its athletics program. He often attended football games with his wife Carolyn, and was never shy to take a walk around the beautiful UGA campus with the woman he loved. Costa was interviewed back in 2008 about playing for Coach Butts and his memories from the 1943 trip to California, among other things.
The world was forced to bid farewell to Leo Costa last Sunday, but his memory will forever live on in the annals of Georgia football history. Thank you, Mr. Costa. Rest in peace.