Georgia Football: The 1969 Sugar Bowl and three stars from the game

The Vince Dooley era of Georgia football had a storybook beginning with the Bulldogs winning two SEC Championships by his fifth season in Athens. The Bulldogs played in the Sugar Bowl after winning the second conference title.

Just meeting my earliest Georgia football heroes is special enough. Meeting them in church is better still. Getting in front of a room to tell stories about a writing hero I never met but who knew each of them will be an all-time thrill.

A little backstory in a column that will be almost entirely backstory. The 1969 Sugar Bowl between Georgia football and Arkansas was the first one Vince Dooley attended as head coach and only the second he ever attended.

His first was in 1947 when Vince was 14 years old and got permission and $1 from his father to go from Mobile, Ala. to New Orleans, La. for the game. Even in 1947, a buck would not get anyone in, so the poor young kid listened outside as the Wally Butts coached No. 3 and undefeated Bulldogs beat the No. 9 North Carolina Tarheels 20-10 in Tulane Stadium.

Young Vince told a concerned policeman outside the stadium that he vowed to return, and he did. But it took him 22 years and a whole lotta growing up to get him back there.

Undefeated No. 4 Georgia with a record of 8-0-2 played the 9-1 No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks coached by the legendary Frank Broyles.

Forget what you know about the modern era Arkansas coaching merry-go-round that has included the likes of Bobby Petrino. Broyles led the Razorbacks to a whole lot of wins from 1958-to-1976.

The Georgia football players from that game with whom I have become vaguely acquainted are wide receiver Charley Whittemore, defensive lineman Steve Greer and offensive lineman Tommy Lyons.

Until Whittemore arrived, Georgia football had never fielded a full-time receiver of any kind. Running backs might be moved to the outside line and such or catch balls out of the backfield. Whittemore was built more like a tight end and made clutch possession catches like one, yet he was called a wide receiver.

Vince Dooley calls Steve Greer the best pound-for-pound athlete he ever coached. At 180 to 200 lbs., as a defensive lineman, he could go around bigger opposing offensive linemen, and yes, sometimes through them. Often taunted early in games for his size, that taunting usually ended by the end of the first quarter.

Offensive lineman Tommy Lyons played six seasons and started 43 consecutive games with the Denver Broncos, putting himself through medical school while doing so. An accomplished pianist, he was even a guest conductor for the Denver Symphony Orchestra during his NFL days.

As an OB/GYN physician, Lyons once saved the life of a Lewis Grizzard friend who invited me to that Athens sunday school class. Jokes about a gynecologist saving a guy’s life are endless and unrelated to football, so that is all I will reveal here.

Georgia football was a touchdown favorite in a game you can still see in its entirety or by highlights on YouTube. The Bulldogs arrived in New Orleans two days before the Razorbacks, often jokingly cited as the reason Georgia lost by losing the turnover battle in a big way. That will lose you a game every time, and the sharper Razorbacks upset Georgia 16-2.

Regarding the early New Orleans arrival as the reason for the loss, I will not name names here because all are still living and still friends. Plus, I might teach a sunday school class where these guys could gang up on me even though any one of them can still squash me like a grape by himself despite my age advantage.

I am told certain players who ignored the curfew and had too many adult beverages did the same every game, home or away. Even in the likes of the then less than festive backwoods of Starkville, Miss.

A certain Georgia defensive back who was an interception machine in college and the NFL joked that he swore he saw five footballs coming at him when he turned around on a pass he normally would have picked off.

Next: 30 greatest players of the Mark Richt era

I only hope these people remain 10 feet away from each other, wash their hands often for at least 30 seconds and have enough toilet paper to last until I can meet them again in May.

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