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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Catching Up With... Bill Stanfill

It's been a little while, but I haven't forgotten about the "Catching Up With..." series. You can read the first one I did last month with Ray Gant HERE , and I'll definitely post these more frequently in the future.

Bill Stanfill is a Georgia boy through and through. He grew up in Cairo, played at Georgia and now lives in Albany. In between, he earned All-America honors as a defensive tackle for the Bulldogs, won two SEC titles, starred with the Miami Dolphins in the NFL, played on the only team in NFL history to go an entire season undefeated and won two Super Bowls.

Stanfill is now a member of the college football hall of fame, and he still follows the Bulldogs closely. I chatted with him recently about his thoughts on Georgia's high hopes for the season, his reaction to the Dawgs' on-field celebration against Florida last year and whether or not he would be in attendance for a UGA national-championship.

Here's the interview...

David Hale: You won a lot of games at Georgia, and you played on a team that had a perfect season with the Dolphins. The year after that, you won another Super Bowl. Is it harder to play when you have lofty expectations because of success the previous year?

Bill Stanfill: At Georgia in 1966, we had one defeat. We were a close-knit bunch, and we only lost one game that year by a point. Then the next year, we probably had the best talent in 1967, but we lost four games.

In 1971, we beat the Colts in the AFC championship game and went on to play Dallas in New Orleans for the Super Bowl and were thoroughly embarrassed. I think we got beat 24-3. But we used that defeat as a motivating factor in our preparation for the upcoming '72 season, into training camp and into the regular season. We looked at it one game at a time, just focused on that. We prepared to play both mentally and physically. We did suffer a major setback at a key position when (Bob) Greise, our quarterback, went down with a broken leg in the fifth game against San Diego.

The old man, Earl Morrall, came on and led us the rest of the way, and wound up beating the Skins in the Super Bowl in LA in a game that should have been the only shutout in Super Bowl history, but our little kicker -- and I say kicker, not a football player -- didn't want to get hit and throws the ball up in the air. They ran under it and took it in for a touchdown. So instead of us going up 17-0 in the 17-0 season, we were up 14-7. Then as we came through together as a team, even though we lost two games in '73, we were a much stronger team and beat the Vikings in that Super Bowl.

DH: Do you remember what it was like when you finally lost a game after that long undefeated run with the Dolphins?

BS: It was in Oakland, I think it was the second or third game of the 1973 season. It was an empty feeling. Success breeds success.

DH: Compared to what Georgia is getting now in terms of attention, what was the media coverage like back then?

BS: There wasn't a lot of media as we know it today. No Internet or anything. We just had our local guys down there that we were close to, and we had our little TV stations, and that was way before ESPN or any of that stuff.

DH: What do you think of all the hype surrounding this year's Georgia team?

BS: The way they finished last year, they deserve it. They don't need to be having their heads stuck in magazines all the time, but need to focus on the task at hand and prepare yourself, not only physically, but mentally, to win each game. And to break it down further than that, to win each play. You can't take a play off.

DH: How closely have you followed the Bulldogs?

BS: I don't get up to games, but I follow them on TV.

DH: You were obviously on some great defensive units there. What do you think of this year's D?

BS: They've got a lot of returning starters. When they get completely healthy I think the linebackers are good, but once again, injuries have stretched it thin. You can't afford to have too many more injury-wise.

DH: How much do preseason injuries hurt a team? Is the preseason stuff all that important?

BS: In the NFL they want to get rid of (preseason games). You're not playing any less games, you're adding to the regular season. And I'd just assume play a game that counted than an exhibition game when you're taking a shot at getting hurt. Back when I played, the starters didn't take time off. We played at least a half if not three quarters of the game.

DH: So you'd be OK without all the preseason work?

BS: Nobody enjoys, especially scrimmages, hitting up on your buddies. You want to hit an opponent when it's for real. I never enjoyed any practice I attended.

DH: You've won championships in your career and been a part of some great teams. Do you see this year's Georgia team as a championship-level team?

BS: I think so, even with the schedule they've got, and it's tough. They've got some tough away games. I watched a little of the (South) Carolina game and for them to throw that many interceptions and they beat (NC State) 34-0. Georgia's got to go over there and that will be the first big road test. I don't know anything about Arizona State, but to go out there with a long flight and to play in a situation where you've never been before. Then they come back home to Alabama and Tennessee, then go to LSU and always that one game -- that was my most favorite game every year was playing Florida in Jacksonville.

DH: What's your favorite memory of those Georgia-Florida rivalry games?

BS: We beat (Steve) Spurrier when they were undefeated the year he won the Heisman in '66. I'll always remember that game. I wasn't supposed to play in that game. I had a neck injury, but I miraculously felt better before the game. I wound up playing and had a pretty fair game and kept Stevie on his butt most of the afternoon.

DH: Florida certainly got some revenge for those beatings throughout the 1990s, but Georgia managed to win a big one last year. Of course, the thing everyone seems to remember was the on-field celebration after the Bulldogs' first touchdown. What did you think of that?

BS: I really wasn't that crazy about it to tell you the truth. Florida was my biggest rival, and we lost to them one time by one point. Never lost to Auburn, never lost to Tech. But if you've got to come up with gimmicks such as that -- and I call it a gimmick -- to get revved up to play the Gators, you're recruiting the wrong kind of athlete. I was offered a scholarship to Florida, and I very politely but firmly told them I had no interest whatsoever in going to Gainesville.

DH: Having gone from being a top college player and going on to an extremely successful NFL career, I'm sure you're aware of what it takes to succeed at the next level. Do you see anyone from this year's Georgia team as likely to become a star in the NFL?

BS: Well, right now you don't know. Certainly everybody knows what kind of a ballplayer Moreno and Stafford are on the offensive side of the ball. If Moreno breaks out and has a big year, he'll probably go. Depending on how Georgia does, whether or not they win the conference or the national championship it could possibly be the deciding factor on whether Stafford enters the draft early or not.

DH: So if Georgia does make it to the national championship game this year, will you be going?

BS: No. That's during duck-hunting season.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice. Just one add from an old dude who remembers the Dolphins perfect season: it's Earl Morrall, not Morrow.