Loran Smith’s Sports Column: Orange Bowl Memories

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2023

My college years included the fall football season of 1959, when

serendipity graced the University of Georgia campus again as it had almost

two decades earlier.

With the remarkable coaching accomplishments of Kirby

Smart—making him the most successful coach in UGA history, especially

with the balance of his career unfinished—one can only imagine the

magnitude of what Wallace Butts had going in the early days of World War

II.

The first bowl game, the Orange Bowl skirmish with Texas Christian

in 1942, was followed up with a successful bout with UCLA in the Rose

Bowl one year later. No telling what “The Little Round Man” might have

pulled off had it not been for the “Good War” coming about.

Then there were the Herschel years, a singular highlight of the Vince

Dooley era—three consecutive SEC titles and the national championship of

1980.

Butts in the 40’s, Dooley in the 80’s and Kirby here and now

represent the three greatest eras in Georgia football history. The current

 

senior class on the UGA campus, those graduating in June, will have seen

their alma mater lose only four games during their time on campus.

A victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl would mean that they

will have witnessed 50 victories which would have been more had it not

been for the COVID year of 2020 when the Bulldogs posted an 8-2 record.

Winning and winning championships is the Kirby Smart self-imposed

mantra.

You always remember what took place during your own campus time

as a favorite if not THE favorite. As much as I appreciated the Herschel

years and the back-to-back championships from the Smart attack of 2021

and 2022, I have the fondest memories of the 1959 season.

 

Coach Wallace Butts, the toast of the collegiate game in the forties

when his pass-oriented offenses dominated the SEC, had fallen on hard

times in the fifties. He didn’t recruit as well, and he had difficulty defeating

his cross-state rival, Georgia Tech.

When Theron Sapp’s one yard touchdown plunge broke the drought

in 1957, the worm turned and turned dramatically. Since that time, the

Bulldogs have dominated the series with their archrival, 49-18.

 

Butts’ rebound in 1959 was heartwarming throughout the state of

Georgia as the legion of Dawg fans were anxious to pay tribute to the

Bulldogs in every one of the 159 counties—from Raburn Gap to Hahira;

Tybee Light, to Lookout Mountain.

The favorites to win the SEC were LSU, Ole Miss and Auburn. LSU,

the defending national champion, eliminated Ole Miss with Billy Cannon’s

historic punt return on Halloween night in Baton Rouge. The next week in

Knoxville, Cannon’s effort to keep the Tigers undefeated failed as the the

home team stopped Cannon on a two-point conversion attempt which

eliminated LSU from the title chase.

When the Bulldogs, led by Fran Tarkenton, upset Auburn in one of

the classic all-time games between the hedges, Georgia became the

surprise SEC champions.

Those were heady days. Athens became intoxicated, euphoric, and

emotionally out of control. It continued right on through the Orange Bowl

where two Tarkenton touchdown passes to the late Bill McKenny and the

late Aaron Box took the measure of Missouri 14-0.

I have never seen the state so receptive to a championship team as it

was following the Orange Bowl. Butts was back and so were All-Americans

 

Fran Tarkenton and Pat Dye—for the 1960 season. Season ticket sales

were over the top, at least for the times.

Dan Magill, the sports information director, Bulldog Club Secretary,

and tennis coach was at this all-time best, organizing celebrations and

tributes across the state. In conjunction with the Touchdown Club of

Athens, Magill came with a coronation party that celebrated Georgia’s

noteworthy success with a “hard times are over” theme.

It was short lived, however. In the spring of 60, line coach J. B.

Whitworth, whose leadership had a monumental impact on the team’s

attitude and performance, died of a heart attack in the spring as a

snowstorm hit Athens.

 

The Bulldogs posted a 6-4 record in 1969 but defeated Tech 7-6 in

Athens with Dye’s big-play playmaking the difference. Moving to defensive

end where his speed and quickness were impactful, he blocked a Tech field

goal attempt and an extra point attempt which turned out to be the margin

of victory.

 

Butts’ last four years were bittersweet. The ‘57 team won only three

games and the ’58 team four, but his teams defeated Tech each year to

perpetuate a four-game streak.

 

The highlight was the Orange Bowl invitation. The team flew from

Atlanta to Miami, the first airplane ride for many of the players. Florida

Highway A1A was overrun with cars, featuring Georgia license plates.

Some fans drove down U. S. 441 so they could visit Silver Springs, a big

tourist attraction in those days, to see the famous herpetologist, Ross Allen,

milk rattlesnakes. Everybody enjoyed Miami Beach and tourists flocked to

hotels such as the Eden Rock and Fontianbleau just to see all that luxury.

The Georgia players were amazed at the jai alai competition, the

“fastest game ever played,” its promoters said. There was horseracing

and restaurants with extravagant menu prices and pretty, white beaches.

Tarkenton led the Dogs to victory, and you would have thought that

Athens was the center of the universe had you walked into the downtown

Varsity for a couple of chili dogs and a frosted orange for the next six

months.