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Remembering Former Georgia Greats (Part I)

The recent passing of Kevin McLee prompted a thoughtful reader comment:

We all argue that UGA has one of the best traditions in college football, but a large percentage of us know virtually nothing before Ronald Reagan's presidency (well, his presidential campaign, at least).

So, here's my request, because I don't know who could do this better than you. During some slow period, when you're trying to find material to write on, will you drop us some knowledge?

I did something like this last year, during my series on top individual Bulldog performances, but mcboyt makes a good point that we as denizens of Bulldog Nation would do well to remember our past from time to time, so as to revel in the glory that is Georgia's storied heritage.

Kristin Davis isn't really relevant to this posting, but I owed you a picture of her after yesterday's reference to Rutgers.

Here, then, is a quick look at a few of the greats to have worn the red and black, many of whose names likely do not elicit in the 21st century the universal recognition that their attainments deserved. In no particular order, these are they:

Zeke Bratkowski (1951-1953): Known as "The Pitching Pole" in an era that was as politically incorrect as it was forgettable on the football field, Bratkowski became a varsity player following a period of sustained success during which the Red and Black had attended seven bowl games in a decade. Unfortunately, Georgia posted only a 15-17 ledger during Bratkowski's years as a letterman and the Bulldog quarterback captained the 1953 squad to a dismal 3-8 record. Nevertheless, Bratkowski set several records in his day, retiring as the school's all-time passing leader in career attempts (734), career completions (360), and career yards (4,836). All three of those high water marks would stand for four decades before being eclipsed at last by Eric Zeier.

Tom A. Nash and Ivy M. Shiver (1927): Georgia produced just three all-Americans in the first 35 years of the program's history, but both Bulldog defensive ends on the 1927 national championship-winning "Dream and Wonder Team" earned national honors for their stellar play. Tom Nash, who would later play on three championship teams in a five-year career with the Green Bay Packers, made the Walter Camp all-American squad, and Chick Shiver, who captained both the baseball and football teams that year, was chosen for the Associated Press first team. The 'Dawgs shut out six opponents on the way to allowing the second-fewest points per game (3.5) permitted by any Georgia squad after the First World War. Nash and Shiver, who both went on to professional coaching careers, evidently trained their understudies well, as the two defensive ends immediately after them both were named all-Americans, as well: Herb Maffett in 1930 and Vernon "Catfish" Smith in 1931.

Sadly, Catfish Smith met a tragic end when he was captured and killed by Alabama's national championship-winning fishing team.

Ray Rissmiller and Jim Wilson (1964): In the days before university nepotism policies created problems for the likes of Skip Holtz and Todd Donnan, newly-named Georgia coach Vince Dooley was able to scour the countryside in search of the best offensive line coach in college football and hire him in spite of the fact that the man who fit that description happened to be Coach Dooley's brother, Bill. The former Coach Dooley's faith in the latter Coach Dooley proved well-placed, as the inaugural edition of "Dooley's 'Dawgs" featured standout right tackle Jim Wilson. "Big Jim" made the all-American teams named by the A.P., the N.E.A., F.W.A.A.-Look, Helms, and Sports Extra . . . but he didn't win that year's Jenkins Award, which was given to Georgia's best lineman. That distinction was earned by left tackle Ray Rissmiller, who was selected to the Time and Sporting News all-American squads. Although Vince Dooley described Wilson as "the strongest player I've ever seen," Rissmiller was chosen two rounds earlier than Wilson in the 1965 N.F.L. draft. Perhaps envious of his former teammate's "Big Jim" moniker, Rissmiller would later release a single on G.R.C. Records called "Big Ray."

Frank Herty (1892): Few among the Georgia faithful may be acquainted with his first name, but his last name should evoke more than a few memories. Frank was the cousin of "The Father of Georgia Football," Dr. Charles Herty, who was responsible for bringing the gridiron game to the Classic City. Frank lined up at right halfback on that fateful day, January 30, 1892, when the Red and Black took the field for the first time. At 5'6" and 125 lbs., Frank Herty was the smallest man on the squad, yet he turned out to be the offensive standout of that inaugural outing, leading the future Bulldogs to a 50-0 victory over Mercer, an in-state rival against which Georgia would go 22-0 before the series was discontinued in 1941.

There you have it . . . just a few Georgia greats worthy of being remembered to this day. Over the course of the six weeks remaining between now and football season, I may try to trot out a few more, so stay tuned.

Go 'Dawgs!