The Georgia Bulldogs have had a special and successful season in 2012, despite the unfortunate fact that the Red and Black fell just short of claiming the Southeastern Conference crown and, consequently, narrowly missed out on the opportunity to play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for the national championship. While we await the Capital One Bowl against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on New Year’s Day, we are left to ponder this team’s place in Georgia lore. So far, we have looked at 1912 and 1931, and we now turn our attention to another great Bulldog team that failed to capture either a conference or a national title.
The year was 1941. It was the third of Wally Butts’s 22 seasons as the head coach in the Classic City; that lengthy tenure would end in 1960, the year of Mark Richt’s birth, when the “Little Round Man” departed the Sanford Stadium sideline as the winningest skipper in the Athenians’ gridiron history. Following a losing record in his first season and a 5-4-1 campaign in his second, Coach Butts had a breakthrough year in 1941, guiding the Red and Black to a 9-1-1 record and the first bowl berth in school history in the wake of six straight seasons of either five or six victories.
The Bulldogs opened the autumn against Mercer in Macon for the Athenians’ 22nd and final series meeting between the original Peach State gridiron rivals before the Bears disbanded their program. Georgia improved to 22-0 all-time against the Baptists, and, in the process, the Classic City Canines notched their largest margin of victory ever against Coach Butts’s alma mater (and still the third-largest in school history), winning 81-0.
One week later, the Bulldogs played their first home outing of the fall, welcoming the South Carolina Gamecocks between the hedges for just the second night game ever played in Athens. The Garnet and Black were coached by Rex Enright, who had been Georgia’s backfield coach before taking over in Columbia in 1938, and the South Carolinians had upset the North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill to start the season. Though the Palmetto State Poultry were expected to pose a challenge to the Classic City Canines, Georgia built up a comfortable 27-6 lead.
Late in the game, junior halfback Frank Sinkwich ripped off a long run before being forced out of bounds. Gamecock end Steve Nowak, who earlier in the game had delivered a forearm to Sinkwich’s jaw, piled on the Georgia player, striking his jaw in the same spot with his knee. South Carolina was penalized for unnecessary roughness, the Bulldogs got the ball at the one yard line, the the home team scored immediately to make the final margin 34-6. The win was Georgia’s tenth straight over South Carolina, a feat that has been equalled (in the 1960s and ‘70s) but never surpassed.
Though Sinkwich defended the Gamecocks from accusations of dirty play and revealed that Coach Enright subsequently sent him a written apology for Nowak’s late hit out of bounds, the Red and Black discontinued their series with the Garnet and Black as a result of the controversy. Georgia and South Carolina would not meet again on the gridiron for another 17 years after the incident, from which Sinkwich emerged with a broken jaw that required his teeth to be wired together and prevented him from eating solid foods.
At first, it was uncertain whether Sinkwich would be able to play the following week against the Mississippi Rebels. Ole Miss was led by former Georgia coach Harry Mehre, who had compiled a 26-7 record since arriving in Oxford in 1938, and the Rebs had beaten the Bulldogs by two touchdowns in the first series meeting between the two teams the year before. Wearing a metal chinstrap made by an Athens machine shop and needing the trainer to come onto the field with pliers to tighten up the wires when they came loose, Sinkwich nevertheless guided the Red and Black back from an early 14-0 deficit. After Lamar “Racehorse” Davis went the distance on a 45-yard reverse, Sinkwich completed a pass to one end, George Poschner, whose lateral to the other end, Van Davis, accounted for the tying touchdown. The game ended in a deadlock, 14-14. Ole Miss would conclude the campaign ranked 17th in the final sportswriters’ poll.
After carding a 7-3 road win at Columbia---the Ivy League Lions in New York, not the site of Williams-Brice Stadium---Georgia fell to the Alabama Crimson Tide, 27-14, in Birmingham. The Tide’s head coach, Frank Thomas, had been the Bulldogs’ backfield coach immediately before Rex Enright held that post in Athens, and Coach Thomas would guide that year’s Alabama squad to its first nine-win season since 1937, its first bowl win since 1934, and an Associated Press top 20 final ranking.
The Red and Black rebounded with a 7-0 win over the Auburn Tigers in Columbus, but it took 60 minutes and then some for the Bulldogs to secure the victory. On the contest’s final play, as the final second ticked away, Frank Sinkwich dropped back and unleashed a 65-yard pass to Racehorse Davis for the touchdown that broke a scoreless tie. Off to Jacksonville Georgia went, and Sinkwich led his team to a 19-3 victory over the Florida Gators by scampering 22 yards for a touchdown, kicking a field goal, and diving into the end zone from the one for another score.
A week later, the Athenians administered a 47-6 thrashing to Centre College, which would have to wait nearly six decades before at long last exacting its revenge on the University of Georgia. Following a 35-0 win over Dartmouth, the Bulldogs headed to Atlanta to square off with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Though Sinkwich led the NCAA with 1,103 rushing yards that autumn, it was his performance as a passer that led the Red and Black to victory over the Ramblin’ Wreck. The junior standout completed three touchdown passes to three different receivers in the 21-0 Georgia win as the Athenians amassed 544 yards of total offense to set a series standard that would stand until Herschel Walker was wearing silver britches.
The Bulldogs’ 8-1-1 regular season earned them a postseason trip to Miami, where Sinkwich set five individual Orange Bowl records while accounting for 382 of Georgia’s 499 yards. He led the team in passing, led the team in rushing, and was responsible for four scores, a 43-yard touchdown run on a draw play and three TD passes, two of which covered 60 or more yards apiece. After the Red and Black built up a 40-7 third-quarter lead on the TCU Horned Frogs, Coach Butts called off the ‘Dawgs and cruised to the 40-26 win. Georgia finished with a No. 14 final ranking in the AP poll, despite the fact that only five of the teams ranked above the Bulldogs attended bowl games.