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Throwback ‘Dawg Day: How “Mr. Bulldog” Turned The State Red & Black

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It may come as a surprise to those whose formative years of Bulldog fandom took place since 1980, but there was a time when Georgia was truly a state divided.

For much of the 20th century the University of Georgia battled tooth and nail with the Georgia Institute of Technology for supremacy in the hearts and minds of the state’s residents. And to a great extent that pitched battle was mirrored in the college football recruiting process and eventually on the field of play. Tech won a national title in 1928, but over the next six seasons would sport an 0-5-1 record against the Bulldogs.

The rivalry stayed largely tit-for-tat over the next few years until a longtime Tech assistant, Bobby Dodd, took over the reins in 1945. Dodd built Yellow Jacket football into a national contender, and won five out of seven games in the series between 1946 and 1952. Morale among the faithful slipped, so did attendance in Sanford Stadium. The Techies appeared on the verge of becoming the flagship football program of the Empire State of the South.

This infuriated all true Bulldog fans. And it infuriated no one more than the truest Bulldog of them all, one Daniel Hamilton Magill, Jr. Magill was born and raised in Athens (reputedly the first baby born at the new Athens General Hospital in 1925), attended the University (graduating with a degree in Journalism), and competed in both intercollegiate swimming and tennis. After a stint at the Atlanta Journal Magill returned to Athens in 1949 to serve as the school’s sports information director. He was charged among other duties with doing everything possible to turn the tide of the Georgia/Georgia Tech rivalry.

Magill was an astute promoter. He knew that Georgia Tech was the chosen school for many in the growing city of Atlanta who’d never set foot in a classroom on North Avenue. But he also knew that approximately 155 of Georgia’s 159 counties were peopled with teachers, farmers, lawyers, journalists, shopkeepers, doctors, bankers, bakers, parking attendants and public officials who had attended college in Athens. Magill was fond of saying that Georgia Bulldogs were “the majority party” in the state.

Magill set about concocting a plan to leverage this advantage. What he came up with in 1953 was sheer genius: local “Bulldog Clubs.” Part social club, part Roman citizen legion, Magill’s plan was to set up meetings of UGA alumni and supporters in every town across the state to amplify the sports information department’s efforts and create buzz.

Magill, whose paternal grandfather had run the Hartwell newspaper and whose maternal grandfather published the Athens Herald, first contacted the publishers and editors of most every newspaper in the state. A clear majority were like him graduates of the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism, and they were uniquely positioned to spread the word of the new clubs. He also worked the phones and drove all over the state, from Donaldsonville to Dillard, Fort Frederica to Fort Oglethorpe, finding the right leaders to start each new club.

Magill would later recall, “[W]e had to organize three in a day sometime, in a small town at a breakfast meeting, or a larger town a luncheon meeting, a big town would be a night meeting, and in the big cities we’d have six or seven counties all belonging to the same club. It took several years but we finally were organized, and we’d start every meeting, “Fellow Georgia Bulldogs, Chosen People, Members of the Great Majority Party of this Empire State of the South.”

The Bulldog Clubs served several critical functions. First, they made the University of Georgia not just an alma mater, but a lifelong support network. Bulldog Clubs sponsored monthly meetings, scholarships to UGA and charity events in their communities. Members networked and socialized. For those running for office or looking to get ahead in business, becoming active in the local Bulldog Club became as natural as joining the Rotary Club.

The Bulldog Clubs also gave alumni and supporters a more personal stake in the University, both academically and athletically. Magill organized visits from officials and coaches for Bulldog Club meetings and events. Eventually coaches would make an annual pilgrimage across the state to visit many of the clubs.

The effect of this was that many of the otherwise unaffiliated in the Peach State became Bulldog fans. Bulldog Club members also served as a critical amateur scouting network in the days before college football recruiting became a business unto itself. There’s no counting the number of promising football players who found their way to Athens for a first visit thanks to the folks at the local Bulldog Club. Did some also get a new pair of cleats and some free meals? Did their mothers get a new washing machine? Who’s to say? Statutes of limitation exist for a reason.

By the 1970s Magill’s little clubs had become institutions in some communities, with second and even third generation members. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Magill began his plan to put a Georgia Bulldog Club in every county of the state during “the Drought”, the eight game win streak that’s the longest Tech ever enjoyed in the rivalry. But since 1953 the Jackets haven’t won more than three in a row in the series. The Dawgs are 48-20 before that year. They’d been only 22-21-5 before. That, friends, is what I call a watershed.

Dan Magill’s contributions to the University of Georgia are numerous and incalculable. A two sport letterman. Bat boy for the baseball team. He served as an assistant football coach under Harry Mehre. Of course he was a national champion tennis coach, some would say the progenitor of southern collegiate tennis. One of the most respected sports information directors of his generation.

But it’s no stretch at all to say that “we run this state” in no small part because Magill nurtured an acorn into a mighty oak. Without his efforts to establish Bulldog Clubs from Brunswick to Blairsville we could be living in a state plastered with garish old gold decorations. I’m thankful for a lot of things on this day. But Ole Dan is high on the list. The best of the Damn Good Dawgs. Until later…

Go ‘Dawgs!!!