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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Catching Up With... Vince Dooley

In the pantheon of great SEC rivalries, Georgia and Alabama doesn't exactly rank up there with the most passionate, but it wasn't always that way. During Vince Dooley's tenure as the Bulldogs' head coach, he had his share of memorable showdowns with Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide.

I talked to him this week about some of his best memories of playing Alabama, his thoughts on this year's Bulldogs and his feelings following the retirement of legendary Georgia broadcaster Larry Munson.

David Hale: Last year's game at Alabama was certainly a big one for the Bulldogs, but it has been a while since those two teams have faced off in a game as big as the one they'll play this Saturday. Looking back throughout your career though, there were plenty of big games. Do you still look at it as being an important rivalry?

Vice Dooley: If we played just like we started playing Tennessee every year, which we did for a long time, it would be a big, big rivalry. But because of what happened a long time ago, when Alabama and Georgia played each other regularly, they were a big rival. You go back to Harry Gilmer and Charlie Trippi, that was big. Those games were big in Georgia's history and Alabama's history. But then we went to that rotating schedule and Alabama and Georgia were not traditional rivals, it's caused what we have now. We play every four years, but it would be a big rival if we played every year.

DH: What are your favorite memories of playing Alabama?

VD: The good memories, we upset Alabama in my second year. They were national champions the year before, they went on and became national champions that year. But we beat them in the first game in really a big upset. There were three big plays in that game that will be featured in a book that will be coming out in about three weeks that I just finished called "The Dooley Playbook: 34 of Georgia's Most Memorable Plays." It just so happened that in that particular game, there were three of them. One was George Patton, and All-American tackle, intercepting a ball and running about 55 yards for a touchdown. It was Kirby Moore to Pat Hodgson to Bob Taylor, about a 74-yard touchdown in the last minute, and then a two-point play that won the game. We called it a flea-flicker at the time, it's better called the hook-and-curl. So that one and we beat Alabama here in '76 when we were in the top 10 and Alabama was in the top 10. That was the last big game where the two teams were ranked as highly as they're ranked now.

DH: What do you remember most from that '76 game?

VD: It's the biggest celebration that ever took place in Georgia football history. Regardless of what you've had here since that time, there was no celebration like '76. They close Milledge Ave. No cars went up and down the street for the whole night.

DH: Obviously when you and Bear Bryant faced off, it was two of the great SEC coaches of all time on the sidelines. Do you think people might say the same thing years from now about Nick Saban and Mark Richt?

VD: There are a lot of great coaches. More great coaches than you've ever had, more great players than you've ever had. So this is big.

DH: Georgia is just getting back from a long trip out to Arizona State. That's a big departure from what they've done for the past, almost 50 years. What do you think of playing more games outside of the Southeast region?

VD: Second year we went to Michigan in Ann Arbor, beat Michigan in Ann Arbor. Michigan had gone to the Rose Bowl the year before, so that was one of the great big wins in Georgia football history. It used to be that Georgia would go and play money games. We quit doing that after I got here. We brought people here as money games instead of us going across the country. Georgia used to do that in order to collect big money, but we quit doing that.

The whole thing is the 12th game. The 12th game has now allowed us to do that, which is what we had planned to do anyway to get intersectional rivals. I think it's great not for, you can call it marketing or whatever you want to call it, but that's what we had planned to do anyway. We never could do it with 11 games, but the 12th game was put in allowed us to do that.

DH: Obviously this year's Georgia team has generated a lot of excitement. How does that compare to what you experienced in 1980 when the Bulldogs won the national title?

VD: I don't think with the anticipation, it wasn't like this. There was a lot of excitement about the team, but nothing to the extent of the excitement about this team.

DH: The other big comparison that always comes up between this team and the 1980 team is between the two running backs. Do you think comparing Knowshon Moreno to Herschel Walker is fair?

VD: I think (Moreno) brings the excitement to the game and to the Georgia people that Herschel did, but they are entirely different kind of backs. Moreno can do so many more things in a lot of ways than what Herschel could do. But Herschel could do a few things that Moreno would never be able to do.

DH: What about personality-wise? Is Knowshon similar to Herschel in that respect?

VD: He's more expressive outwardly than Herschel was, but it had the same effect on the crowd. It was just in a different way, they were different styles."

DH: The big news this week has been about the retirement of longtime announcer Larry Munson. What were your thoughts when you heard Larry was stepping down?

VD: I was surprised. I thought that he would finish the year and be able to pass the torch at the end of the year. But I thought he would be smart enough to realize that he was not at his best, and a guy like him wants to be at his best, have the pride to be at his best, and so I think he wisely decided it was time to step aside now, for him and for the program.

DH: Do you have any favorite memories of working with Larry or any calls that really stand out in your mind?

VD: Munson, of course, has turned out to be a folk hero. In that book, I've quoted Larry several times about plays, and a lot of those plays came from because they were memorable plays that brought out the best in Munson. The end-around pass, Appleby to Washington, the flea-flicker, Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott, you've got the championship, the third championship we cinched in a row and he said, "Look at the sugar falling from the sky." The '78 team, the Wonderdogs when we had these games that all of them were so close and he said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." All those things were brought about because of tight games that went down to the wire, like the Tennessee game from Coach Richt's first year. And Munson produced. If he was out there calling a game where we were ahead 48-0, Munson wouldn't be so unusual.

DH: Sort of a magical blend of circumstance and personality?

VD: When you combine the two, that's what you got.

DH: Do you have any predictions for Saturday's game? It seems like it will be a throwback sort of game to the old days of the SEC.

VD: I think it will be one of those games that will go down to the wire. Both those teams are very, very good. Both teams have experienced quarterbacks and that will allow the game to be very tight. The good ones are always that way. It's like last week with Auburn and LSU. It's what's up front that counts.

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