It is called the Georgia football team, but that is ridiculous. Georgia has about 10 good football players in the entire school, and half of them are on the coaching staff. The Bulldogs are small and not very fast, but neither do they have much of a passing attack. They are the kind of people who, with their hair dripping wet, cannot get their parts straight. When they tie their ties, the thin ends are longer than the fat ends. They have a linebacker named Jiggy Ephram Smaha. How can you figure a team with a guy named Jiggy Ephram Smaha? They have another linebacker, Thomas Walter Lawhorne Jr., who has a straight A-plus average in premed. That is how much sense Georgia makes—except when it whomps you. Georgia whomped Alabama. It also whomped Vanderbilt and last weekend in Ann Arbor it whomped Michigan 15-7. You have to believe that Georgia knows what it is doing.
Preston Ridlehuber, the Georgia quarterback, is one of those who has trouble getting his part right. Harry Mehre, the old ex-Georgia coach who, as "football analyst," now appears regularly in The Atlanta Journal, loves Ridlehuber. Why not? Ridlehuber runs like a Citation—and he is color-blind. When he passes, he throws to any color jersey, just as long as it seems to contain a receiver. Ridlehuber, whose friends call him Preston for short, walked out into the middle of that breathtaking Michigan Stadium on Friday to have an early look at the place where his team would compliantly lose by eight or more points, and somebody said, "It really gets you, doesn't it, Preston? The tradition and all." "Shoot," said Preston, "we played in big stadiums befoah. We played in the Sun Bowl. We played in the Gatah Bowl."
The Georgia football coach is named Vince Dooley and he, like Ridlehuber, is almost unbelievable. He is only 33 years old. He is an intellectual. He smokes a pipe. When he goes to bed at night he reads Civil War history and his dreams are uncomplicated by the X's and O's of more believable coaches. His master's thesis (The United States Senator James Thomas Heflin and the Democratic Party Revolt in Alabama
) has been called the equivalent of a doctoral dissertation. On an office wall where you might expect to see Frankie Sinkwich or Charley Trippi gripping a football he has world maps. Dooley has three small children and a vivacious wife named Barbara, who also has a master's degree. Barbara keeps close enough to the action to shoot down a young coach's ego when it tends to fly too high. While driving to the beach one beautiful day last summer, Vince could not help but reflect on his marvelous first season as head coach. Expected to lose most of his games, he won six, lost three, tied one and upset Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl. "Barbara," Vince asked, "do you know how many good coaches there are in the South right now?" "No, honey," Barbara said, "but I do know there's one less than you think there is."
The probability, however, is that Vince Dooley is about to become a great coach before his time. Georgia is back on top—or near it—and this accomplishment is Dooley's miracle. He is a splendid organizer, already a tough enough recruiter to beat Georgia Tech to the state's best high school players. He is enough of the ex-marine to be dispassionately demanding of his players, enough of the natural leader to be inspiring ( Georgia football coaches now do calisthenics with the team). When Dooley played quarterback at Auburn, Jim Tatum of Maryland called him the "greatest competitor I have ever seen." Dooley has made competitors out of the Bulldogs. But, best of all, says Joel Eaves, the Georgia athletic director, "Dooley does not panic." After the last few trying years in Athens, Ga., this is considered a rare quality.
What Dooley's unorthodoxy means in terms of profit and loss at Georgia is that he and his staff have converted a depressing example of mediocrity—before the Michigan game Dooley termed his players "absolutely the worst I've ever been associated with from the standpoint of talent"—into a soaringly dedicated team. Dooley could denigrate the Bulldogs openly because he knew they would not believe a word of what he said and they would go out and play like maniacs and wind up carrying him (their calm and beloved detractor) off the field triumphantly on their shoulders. If ever there were people born to be loved they are Vince Dooley and his wretched bunch.
Naturally, they are not all bad. Preston Ridlehuber, for example, is much like Jimmy Sidle, the skinny ex-Auburn star, when he runs the football—slipping into little crevices like a crab, running off from his interference, scrambling free from a pass-rush. Ridlehuber has been known to run 82 yards just to get himself a touchdown. Pat Hodgson, the end who caught the pass that beat Alabama, is genuine material, Tackle George Pat-ton is an outrageously strong defensive player and Bob Taylor gets to and through a hole as quickly as any halfback in the country despite, or because of, a disconcerting habit of taking the hand-off on his hip, thus giving one the impression he is going to leave the ball behind him.
" Michigan probably has more respect for us than we deserve," said Dooley on Friday. He was standing in the empty stadium, shivering a little in the chilly, gray afternoon because he had not thought to bring a long-sleeved shirt to wear under his blue blazer. "We could get beaten badly," he said. "We could be humiliated."
Michigan did not take Georgia lightly. On that same day Rick Vidmer, the hypochondriac who plays quarterback for Michigan, explored a chart the coaches had prepared on Georgia. Hung on the field-house wall, the chart bore mug shots of the Georgia players and a turgid exhortation: WE HAVE NOT BEGUN TO PLAY OUR TYPE OF GAME—HIT HIT. GO GO GO. BE READY. THIS IS IT. Vidmer wears glasses for his nearsightedness, arch supports for his flat feet and keeps a dehumidifier with a blinking red light going full tilt in his room to mollify his asthma. He hounds roommate Don Bailey about open windows, and he makes Bailey dust. But he is a fine quarterback, and his infirmities have a way of vanishing on Saturday afternoons. "They hit," he said of Georgia, squinting and blinking at the chart. "You can see it in the movies. They really come at you. But the big thing is, they take advantage of your mistakes, and we're big on mistakes. Even beating North Carolina and California we've given up the ball 11 times already on fumbles and interceptions."
There is, of course, no way of coaching fumbles, but Head Coach Bump Elliott was doubly concerned because in the heat Georgia demonstrated as much vigor in the fourth quarter against Alabama as it had in the first, while Michigan had wilted badly at North Carolina when the heat became a factor.
In a general search for incentives, Bob Hollway, Elliott's defensive coach, made inflammatory references at meetings to the Big Ten-Southeastern Conference rivalry. (Teams from the two most powerful leagues in college football seldom meet, but the SEC, formed in 1933, holds a 9-7 edge over Big Ten schools.) Hollway suggested that it would be un-American to give Georgia a touchdown. " Michigan has never—never—lost to a SEC team [in three previous games], and it better not start now." "Call 'em Rebs, call 'em Bulldogs, call 'em suckers," warned The Michigan Daily, "but don't call Georgia just an old, sweet song."