David Allen was a fine defensive back as a Tennessee undergraduate who prepared for a life after football that would have him returning to his hometown of Athens to practice medicine.
In his three varsity years, the Volunteers posted a 31-5 record that included three bowl trips. All the while, he spent as much time at the library as a pre-med student as he did on the practice field. As a sophomore in 1970, he was coached by Buddy Bennett, a Jesup native who led his 1954 high school team to the state championship. If, by chance, you are not aware, Buddy was the grandfather of Stetson Bennett, the unlikely hero who helped his Georgia team to the national championship last January.
Allen, a highly regarded urologist, had grown up a Georgia fan and says, “I never lost my affection for the Bulldogs. In fact, after we played our games, I would immediately seek out the score of the Georgia game, which caused my teammates to needle me constantly.”
There were Tennessee ties on the maternal side of his family, but the paternal side was all UGA. He was related to Heyward Allen, captain of Georgia’s first bowl team and a very successful businessman. You can still buy a car in Athens from the dealership which bears his name.
David was a YMCA star under the legendary Cobern Kelley which meant that he played in “Y” games at Sanford Stadium, pre-game on home game Saturdays when he was growing up. His older brother, Ed, signed with Georgia and was a letterman on the 1968 SEC championship team and later became a successful Athens lawyer. Further, his stepfather, Bill Simpson, was the longtime director of public relations for the University of Georgia. Simpson, also a one-time member of the radio broadcast crew in the Ed Thilenius era, was the public address announcer for Sanford Stadium for more than 20 years.
Perhaps, David’s high school years were the toughest of his career since the mantra of his high school coach, Weyman Sellers, a Wallace Butts disciple, was to scrimmage until you were totally expended. Then scrimmage some more. That made Sellers a kindred spirit with Buddy Bennett.
With that red and black background, you would have figured David for college life between the hedges. He says, resignedly, “I needed to get away. I needed to grow up.”
He always appreciated Vince Dooley “being big” about his decision and remembers an interesting circumstance the one time during his career that Tennessee played Georgia, which was in Athens in 1972. The Volunteers won 14-0.
He made a textbook tackle near the Georgia bench ending up at the feet of Erk Russell. The Bulldog defensive coordinator helped him up and said, “That was a nice lick, David. Go get you another one.” He remembers that happenstance sentimentally. “Like everybody else, I loved Erk and that sideline reaction of his was something I’ll always appreciate. He and Coach Dooley had a lot of class.”
As a starting defensive back for three years with Tennessee, David was a member of an extraordinary group. His sophomore year, the Volunteers created 57 turnovers: 36 interceptions and 21 fumbles recovered — still NCAA and SEC records. In those years, 11 games were the norm (bowl games did not figure in stats) which means that to come up with 36 interceptions in one season, there was an average interception rate of 3.27 per game.
That is a record that will likely stand forever if you think about it, even with today’s 12 games seasons and a minimum of three playoff games for the better teams. Postseason game statistics are now included in seasonal stats.
“Coach Bennett would get ticked off if you didn’t go for the ball and make interceptions,” David says. He remembers one game when he made what he thought was a good play and broke up a potential pass reception. When he got to the sideline, a manager handed him the phone. He was expecting Buddy to say something like, “nice job,” but, instead, his coach barked, “You should have intercepted that one.”
When Stetson Bennett showed up in Athens and his name began to be banded about, I got a call from David, who wanted to know more about Stetson. He quickly deduced that the Georgia quarterback had to be related to his college coach.
Today as a fan, David sings the praises of Stet IV, Georgia’s national championship quarterback, and knows how proud his late grandfather would be to have been on hand last fall.
“I’m a big fan of Stetson, who is a very capable quarterback,” David says. “I will be retiring in June and want to catch up with Stetson and tell him how much respect I have for him. Maybe we could share stories about his grandfather. Buddy Bennett was a fine fundament football coach, and I am happy I survived. No boot camp could compare with his preseason drills.”