Game of Century plus magic memories

Marvin Westwestwords

What we have coming Saturday is another Game of the Century, No. 1 Georgia versus No. 2 Tennessee, largest thing in the football world and maybe outer space.

Both teams are 8-0 but, alas, there are three flaws. The Bulldogs, defending national champions, are on Easy Street, favored by more than a touchdown. The game is in Athens. Georgia coach Kirby Smart is already famous.

High blood pressure is a new experience for the Volunteers. Georgia went through something similar last season.

Do watch closely. Hendon Hooker and his very fast friends might be equalizers. Maybe. Perhaps. Conceivable.

Tennessee-Georgia is not a traditional Southeastern Conference spotlight matchup. This is only the 52nd meeting, nothing like Tennessee-Kentucky (118) or Tennessee-Alabama (106 counting one Tide penalty forfeit).

Tennessee and Vanderbilt have played 115 times but without the bright lights.

Tennessee and Georgia skipped a decade, 1926 to 1936, played twice and didn’t play again until 1968. Why? General Robert R. Neyland didn’t like the route from Knoxville to Athens and didn’t like lodging and dining facilities – assuming everybody arrived alive.

Neyland was strong enough to tell the SEC what was what.

When the two schools did play, they often exceeded the standard quota of memorable minutes. The 1968 game, the resumption of combat, proved historic because of Lester McClain, John Ward, Tartan Turf and eight points after time expired.

Lester was the first African-American Volunteer. He was a conversation piece but no problem. Talented athlete. Class act. Warm greeting from fans. Two favorable stories by me.

That Saturday was Ward’s football debut. Vol Network listeners may not have realized he was a legend-to-be.

The green carpet got hot. The University of Tennessee covered Shields-Watkins Field with fake grass and didn’t bother to tell Georgia. When athletics director Joel Eaves and coach Vince Dooley finally found out, all hell broke loose. They threatened to stay home.

Dooley said: “We want the University of Tennessee to know that we do not like the way they went about their dealings with us, and it certainly makes the relationship between the two schools very poor.”

Keep in mind there hadn’t been a football relationship for three decades.

ABC-TV’s Chris Schenkel talked and talked about the controversy and moved on to McClain. This was before sensitivity training. The announcer said McClain was “the first Negro football player on a varsity team in the SEC.”

That was an error of fact but nobody was counting.

The Bulldogs had the game “won” at 17-9 with 2:41 remaining – until they didn’t. Quarterback Bubba Wyche delivered a couple of miracles and moved the Vols from the wrong end of the field. A sack looked like the knockout.

It wasn’t. Bubba got up, dusted off the chips of plastic and rubber and fired a pass toward Gary Kreis as the clock ticked down to :00.

Touchdown!

After that, Bubba connected with Ken DeLong for the 2-point conversion.

Tennessee thought 17-17 was a victory. Georgia knew it was a defeat.

Unforgettable 2: Fullback Curt Watson rushed for a then-school record 197 yards in the muck and mire of an all-day rain. Between the hedges was his personal 1969 playpen. Tennessee won 17-3.

The Sept. 6, 1980, game provided double memories: “Mr. Bates, I’m Herschel Walker” and Georgia radio announcer Larry Munson forgot who and where he was.

“He’s running all over people!” Munson exclaimed. “My God Almighty, he ran right through the safety. They had him dead-away. Herschel Walker went 16 yards! He drove right over that orange shirt. My God, a freshman!”

Georgia church people made a fuss but Herschel did run over Bill Bates on his way to his first college touchdown. Walker says there is more to the story.

“Bill was off-balance. He was trying to break down, get in his stance to make a tackle. I had a full head of steam. Bill Bates was a great football player.”

Georgia won, 16-15. Walker and Bates became teammates with the Dallas Cowboys. I’m not sure Bill ever claimed close friendship but he would vote for Herschel if he was registered in Georgia.

Never let us forget 2016 and the unbelievable fourth quarter.

Before that, Tennessee was in a hole, 17-0. After three quarters, the Vols still trailed 24-14. Josh Dobbs threw to Alvin Kamara to make it close.

Tennessee stopped a punt inside the 5. Derek Barnett sacked Jacob Eason and forced a fumble. Corey Vereen recovered for a go-ahead touchdown with 2:56 left.

Malik Foreman ended Georgia’s possession with a nifty interception but the Bulldogs’ defense held for one last shot – a 47-yard touchdown pass to Riley Ridley with 10 seconds left.

Evan Berry returned the kickoff past the 50. Dobbs dropped back and threw the football about as far as he could, an official Hail Mary. Jauan Jennings rose above a quorum of Georgia defenders, caught it, calmly reaffirmed that he was in the end zone and noticed that time had expired.

Tennessee 35, Georgia 31.

It is possible whatever happens Saturday won’t top that.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is [email protected]

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