Familiarity breeds contempt. Or it doesn’t.
Enter Vincent Joseph Dooley.
He was my boyhood hero. He came to Athens in 1964 to become the head football coach at UGA. I was 12 — prime time for worshipping athletic heroes. Coach Dooley took my beloved Bulldogs from the depths of despair— 3 wins, 3 wins, and 4 wins over the three years preceding his arrival — to a 7-3-1 season and a win over All America Donny Anderson and the Texas Tech Red Raiders in his inaugural campaign. Georgia beat Florida that year. First time in five tries. Georgia beat Georgia Tech that year. First time in four tries. Instant nirvana Between the Hedges.
Two years later Dooley’s Dogs would win the SEC title for the first time since 1959 — a seven-year drought. The 1966 championship season included wins over Florida, Auburn and a third straight win over the Enemy from North Avenue. Georgia would go on to defeat SMU in the Cotton Bowl and finish fourth in the land.
Vince Dooley would continue to coach my beloved Georgia Bulldogs for another 22 seasons — 25 in all. His teams would win 201 games against only 77 losses with 10 ties. His teams would win the Southeastern Conference — where it just means more — six times, including three in a row from 1980-82. In 1980 the Dogs were the “undisputed and untied, undefeated and undenied champions of college football.” Yes, the inimitable Dan Magill coined that phrase.
Vince Dooley brought Georgia to a sustained position of national prominence in college football they hadn’t enjoyed since Wally Butts was the coach during and just after World War II, and when he decided it was time to step down as head football coach, he remained as athletics director for 15 more years, building Georgia into one of the top all-around programs in the nation. He always led with grace, dignity, integrity and honor.
I admired Vince Dooley from afar for a long, long time and appreciated his efforts on behalf of my alma mater. And then I got to know him on a much more personal level. The adage referenced at the top of my column to the contrary, the more I got to know Vince Dooley, the more my respect for the man grew.
Over the past five years Vince and I have traveled together across most of Europe. Sometimes our mutual friend, Gary Hill, joined us. Sometimes our wives, Barbara and Lisa, have been along — making life on the road quite interesting. But we have spent many days, traveled thousands of miles and visited remarkable historical sites, such as Hitler’s Wolf Lair and the horrible death camp at Auschwitz all alone — just the two of us.
You learn an awful lot about a man when you travel with him in close quarters over a long period of time. 24/7 is a lot of time to spend together. It could be easy to grow weary of a companion and to have his faults and annoyances easily exposed.
Except not with Vince Dooley. He is the same person day after day after day. He is a gentleman, through and through — polite to each and every person he encounters, no matter the capacity. He is a brilliant conversationalist, and one of the most well-rounded and intelligent people I know. He loves to talk about three things primarily — his family, flowers and history. He doesn’t talk about football much, unless prompted, but can call upon his near eidetic memory to regale an audience of one or of hundreds with story after story of players and games and seasons past.
Vince always beats me to breakfast in the morning, sets a strong and steady pace all day and after I turn in, stays up late into the night reading and learning about what we had seen that day or would see on the morrow.
And he never stops being an ambassador for the University of Georgia. He is recognized all over the world. We have had people stop us from Normandy to Warsaw to Amman, Jordon, and he is always happy to pose for pictures, sign an autograph, hug a neck and give a “Go Dawgs” to everyone he meets.
All that to say that Vince Dooley is truly the most remarkable man I have ever spent time with. He continues to represent our institution with warmth and grace and to bring glory to old Georgia. And it is way past time his accomplishments and contributions were recognized in a proper and permanent way.
Sept. 4 Coach Dooley will turn 87 years old. Sept 21 Georgia will host Notre Dame in Sanford Stadium. Yeah, that Notre Dame. Sugar Bowl. New Orleans, La. Jan. 1, 1981. Georgia 17. Irish 10.
That needs to be the first game played on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium. We don’t need to wait any longer. It needs to be done now. Not posthumously in another generation.
Get behind this. Please. We can make it happen. Who do you tell that you support this idea? I asked Greg McGarity that question. He said, “Tell me.” He’s a man of his word and means what he says, so tell him. His e-mail is email@example.com.
Wouldn’t hurt to tell UGA President Jere Morehead, either. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heck, tell the governor. 404-656-1776.
Tell them all, and let’s get this done.
Darrell Huckaby is an author in Rockdale County. Email him at email@example.com.