When I think of University of Georgia athletics, I think of many faces, from present-day visages visible in high definition to dated images placed in their proper chronology by haircuts and uniform styles of a prior era, from grainy monochromatic still photographs to reels of sepia-tinted footage displaying the countenances of the men who wore the red and black before I was a boy. The faces number in the dozens, if not in the hundreds.
When I think of University of Georgia athletics, I think of many names, from those that will echo in Sanford Stadium next Saturday to those that stir only the dimmest and most distant recollections, from the legends whose monikers grace the sides of buildings that stand as monuments to their memories to the emerging stars whose appellations even now are ascending into the firmament as we wonder only how high they can rise. The names number in the hundreds, if not in the thousands.
When I think of University of Georgia athletics, though, I hear only three voices in my head: Lewis Grizzard’s, Larry Munson’s, and Dan Magill’s.
Daniel Hamilton Magill, Jr., who passed away last night at the age of 93, simply embodied University of Georgia athletics. Magill was born in Athens (lore maintains that he was the first baby birthed at Athens Regional Hospital) and began his association with the Bulldogs as a bat boy for the baseball team and the manager of the University tennis courts. As a collegian, he earned varsity letters as a member of the swim and tennis teams and a baccalaureate degree as a student in the Grady College of Journalism. He also found time to serve as a volunteer assistant to Georgia head football coach Harry Mehre.
Magill went on to represent his alma mater as sports information director, founder of the Bulldog Club, and head tennis coach. In that last capacity, he led the Red and Black to a record-setting 706 wins, capturing 13 SEC outdoor crowns, eight SEC indoor titles, and two national championships in a little more than a third of a century. The Georgia tennis complex, which also is home to the ITA Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame, is named for Magill, as were a Sanford Stadium press box, Uga V, and John Isner’s dog. But for stints in the Marine Corps and with the Atlanta Journal in the 1940s, Magill was a lifelong Athenian.
Simply stated, Magill knew personally virtually everyone of significance in University of Georgia athletics history. Magill’s father, the editor of the Athens Banner-Herald, was a close friend of Bob McWhorter, the Bulldogs’ first football All-American. Magill played tennis as a boy on the court at Morton Hodgson’s Prince Avenue home, accompanied Steadman Vincent Sanford on trips to New York City, and walked home with Herman Stegeman along Lumpkin Street after football practice at Sanford Field. Magill knew every University of Georgia president, beginning with David Barrow; every noteworthy Bulldog coach in every sport from Charles Herty, the founder of Red and Black football, forward; and every superlative Georgia athlete starting with John Morris, the catcher for the 1886 Bulldog baseball team. Think about how many of those names now adorn University of Georgia landmarks, then think about the fact that Dan Magill knew them all as human beings, rather than as historical figures. He is our James Boswell, if Boswell had known and written of every significant individual of his era, and not just Samuel Johnson; he is our Edward Gibbon, if Gibbon had been present throughout the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
Dan Magill saw it all, and he remembered it all, dating at least as far back as the day he stood on College Avenue wearing a football uniform and watching the visiting team’s band march from the train station to the Georgian Hotel. Magill was eight years old, and the band was from New Haven, Connecticut. The year was 1929, and Yale was in the Classic City to play its first football game south of the Mason-Dixon line; the visiting Bulldogs were there to help the hometown Bulldogs dedicate their new arena, Sanford Stadium. Tickets cost $3.00 apiece. The governors of nine Southern states were in attendance. The hedges were brand new. Dan Magill was there.
Dan Magill saw it all, and he told it all, becoming the greatest and most knowledgeable raconteur of a fan base full of verbose and learned tellers of tall tales and historical stories. Well into his twilight years, Magill was able to keep rooms full of Bulldog fans spellbound with anecdotes that informed, entertained, and moved all of us who bleed red and black. It is simply the case that no one ever knew more about University of Georgia athletics, or experienced more of it firsthand, than Dan Magill, and we were blessed by his selfless willingness to share that vast storehouse of expertise, his unparalleled talent for doing so, and his presence with us for nearly a century. It is said that journalism is the first draft of history; if Larry Munson was the radio broadcaster who reported it as it happened, and Lewis Grizzard was the newspaper reporter who wrote the story for us to read the next day, Dan Magill was the venerable historian who offered us detail, perspective, nuance, criticism, and context, not from a sterile academic office, but from the sidelines he shared with those other, and lesser, legends.
There are in the heritage of University of Georgia athletics faces other than Dan Magill’s, numbering in the dozens, if not in the hundreds. There are in the history of University of Georgia athletics names other than Dan Magill’s, numbering in the hundreds, if not in the thousands. There never was, though, a voice in---about---the legacy of University of Georgia athletics like Dan Magill’s, and there never will be again.
Next Saturday night, of course, a din will lift above Sanford Stadium, as cheers and cries rise from the stands in a cacophony of support for the Bulldogs. There will be sound, there will be speech, there will be intonation and inflection and maybe even articulation. The trumpet soloist will play, the scoreboard montage will unfold, and the public address announcer will recite his script in the manner to which we all have been accustomed.
There will, however, not be a voice. Dan Magill’s was the last and greatest of the three voices that spoke for University of Georgia athletics, and now that voice has been stilled. Perhaps, one day, new voices will emerge, though they will be but pale echoes of the speaker who was an eyewitness to it all, who was there, who saw it and recalled it and shared it and imbued it with grandeur commensurate to the story’s glory. His is the shadow that covers the path of University of Georgia athletics, the way William Faulkner’s is the shadow cast across the course of Southern literature, and the tales cannot be told in their totality, in their richness, in their sublimity, other than through the voice of Daniel Hamilton Magill, Jr.
One day, maybe, there will be new voices. This, though, is not that day.
Today, there is only silence. God bless you, Dan Magill.
Purchase the print edition of Fighting Like Cats and Dogs (covering 1977 to 2003)
Download the online supplement to Fighting Like Cats and Dogs (covering 1897 to 1976)