Already on the spot, and knowing it and used to it after three years as Butts's unsuccessful successor, is Griffith. He is a likable man, is eager to please and has enjoyed the support of people who count; but he will be the sacrifice if Georgia has its third straight losing season. Most of the residual bitterness from the Butts faction is directed at him, unfairly but unceasingly. Clegg Stark, the 65-year-old Negro equipment man who has been at Georgia for 50 years, came to him and shook his hand the day before the game and said, "Coach, you've got the toughest job in America. Tougher even than the President."
That afternoon Griffith drove a visitor across the campus, pointing out the building projects and the landmarks with the pride of a man who owned it all. "I love it here," he said quietly. "The school is great—the people, the town. It's been home for eight years. We built a Georgian colonial on two acres we pumped out of the swamp, and the family is really crazy about it. But if things don't work out I'll know it, and I'll be ready for whatever happens. That's coaching. I thought of quitting when all this came up last March, but I said to myself, 'No, that's the easy way.' I'm not going to get used to taking the easy way."
Later, at The Athens Country Club, he ate what he said was his first enjoyable meal in a month. "I may look relaxed on the outside, but inside I'm biting my nails." Did he sleep well? "Yes, sure," he said. He dug in his pocket to produce two red pills. "Thanks to my friends."
It was predicted in a Jacksonville paper that the Georgia players would not even report to practice for Griffith this fall, but they did, in excellent condition to a man, and he took them to a secluded YMCA camp on a lake 72 miles north of Athens in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There, in two weeks, he effected a remarkable change in squad morale. "We didn't talk about the trial or anything—just about football and Alabama, and we worked," said the captain, Billy Knowles, a halfback. "We didn't even go to the movies one night when we had the chance. We were all out to show somebody."
Griffith came back refreshed and was even able to endure five straight days of country-fried steak, English peas and banana pudding at Athens civic club luncheons. But he was pleased because not once had the "incident" been brought up. "They're gonna give him a chance," said one writer, "—his last."
Bear Bryant and the Alabama team arrived in Athens the day before the game. In the news that morning was a story about a bear that had tangled with a speeding sports car on a Michigan highway. "The car," said the story, "was wrecked." Bryant was not responsible for this object lesson, being occupied at the time by an assortment of pills he had carried along to fight a heavy cold and by sportswriters who wanted to talk about things he did not. "Indelicacy." he grumbled. "This game is no different than any other first game to me, except I'm less confident than usual." Someone said that if he got the chance, Bryant would run up the highest score in Southeastern Conference history, his own special kind of vengeance, but he told Mehre "in strict confidence" that he would be delighted if Alabama beat Georgia by one point.
Georgia's head cheerleader, Linda Jo Clements, watched Alabama work out on Friday and whispered to a friend: "They don't look so big to me." She smiled. "I just love to be optimistic." Linda Jo said spirit had been hard to come by at Georgia lately, but that she was helping lead a conspiracy to bring some back. Publicist Magill, who triples as tennis coach and Bulldog Club secretary and grows luscious grapes in his spare time, pursuing the same goal, quickly called for "the biggest welcome the Big Red team has ever had when it comes on the field Saturday."
The welcome was big, all right, and reasonably unanimous. It was especially welcoming—and loud—when Georgia recovered an Alabama fumble on the first series of plays and punched off 26 yards as though it were nothing to get on the scoreboard first. After that, until the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs played defense in the best tradition of bulldogs and just about held their own. But Quarterback Joe Namath caught a Georgia sideback following the wrong man and tied the score with a 47-yard touchdown pass down the middle, and a field goal put Alabama ahead at half time, 10-7. In the third quarter Mike Fracchia, running strong again after a year's absence for knee surgery, powered five yards to score. The rest was easier, and Bryant substituted freely, apparently with no intention of running up points.
Unfortunate dupe of the go-ahead field goal and the clinching touchdown was the Georgia punter, Pete Dunson, described by The Athens Banner-Herald as "a student until he came out for the team at the start of fall practice." Ex-student Dunson fumbled a center snap to give Alabama the opportunity for its field goal and then sliced a punt 14 yards to set up Fracchia's touchdown.
"I suspect Georgia will use a little of the I formation, with a shift, since everybody's trying it now," suspected Bryant before the game. Griffith had planned to use the maneuver, but he was scared off by an SEC official who watched the shift in practice and expressed the fear that it would get Georgia nothing but a motion penalty. It did not when Griffith finally ordered the shift used in the fourth quarter, but by then no surprises could have helped Georgia.