You know football season is near when your blog starts getting more Erin Andrews searches. Yes, ESPN College GameDay returns to Atlanta on Sept. 5, 2009, and college and NFL openers are at hand.
Nostalgia is one of the fun parts of sports, and so it is with me. I’ve been lucky to have seen in person or been a part of covering some exciting football games over the years, in the Southeast and in Southern California. So time to clean out the memory banks.
And a couple of related trivia items: what prominent running back played his first and last college games against Georgia? Also, one of these games featured two starting quarterbacks who played at Alabama.
— Super Bowl XXII (Redskins-Broncos), San Diego, 1988: It was the first NFL title game ever played in the city, and it featured some offensive fireworks. Denver scored on the game’s first play from scrimmage, on a John Elway TD pass to Ricky Nattiel covering 56 yards. However, there was no indication of the offensive earthquake that was coming. In the second quarter, Washington put up 35 points, led by QB Doug Williams, RB Tim Smith and WR Ricky Sanders. The final score of 42-10 marked the second straight Super Bowl meltdown for the Dan Reeves-coached Broncos. I was part of the editing team at the San Diego Union that was dealing with the Redskins’ pinball-machine-like onslaught.
— Falcons 17, Rams 6; Atlanta, 1977: All eyes were on former New York Jets star Joe Namath, in his first season with Los Angeles. But Atlanta, under new coach Leeman Bennett, engineered an upset behind QB Scott Hunter, who stepped in when Steve Bartkowski suffered a preseason injury. Namath was 15-of-30, 141 yards, 1 TD and 0 interceptions on the day. I saw him wearing a rather large icepack on his famously injured knee in the locker room afterward. He would play in only three more games that season, his last in the NFL.
— Georgia 10, Florida 7, Jacksonville, 1975: The “outdoor cocktail party” was in full form for this one. Both teams were contending for the SEC title, and at this point, the Gators had never won one. Rain the night before left the field soggy, negating the Gators’ huge advantage in speed. The Bulldogs, who had made a habit of using trick plays during the year, had only shown a tight end reverse through three quarters, which the Gators stopped. But with two minutes to play, tight end Richard Appleby planted his foot on the reverse and threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Gene Washington in one of the most stunning plays in this game’s history. Georgia stopped Florida on downs to save the win. I was watching from the stands.
— Pitt 7, Georgia 7, Athens, 1973: The Panthers were no ordinary opening-game fodder. First-year coach Johnny Majors, the former Tennessee star, had a freshman running back named Tony Dorsett (calling himself DOR-sett then) to throw at the Bulldogs. In fact, it was Georgia tying Pitt, as the Panthers drove for a touchdown on their opening possession. I was in the stands when …
— Pitt 24, Georgia 3, Sugar Bowl, New Orleans, 1977: Georgia had won the SEC behind QBs Ray Goff and Matt Robinson and the Junkyard Dog defense. A 21-0 rout of Alabama during the season told of the team’s strength. But the Panthers showed why they deserved the national title as Dorsett closed out his college career by rushing for 202 yards. And Majors left Pitt after the season to coach his alma mater. I was part of the press corps in New Orleans then. May that city regain that luster.
(Re the other part of the trivia question: you may already know that Namath and Hunter are both former Crimson Tide QBs.)