Friend of the blog and UGA Athletics History Specialist Jason Hasty was inspired by this week’s Playpen to email his list of Georgia “what ifs” that I had to share with you, with his permission. It’s remarkable.
– What if Georgia beats Virginia in Charlottesville in 1920? Georgia was without several talented players because Virginia had a rule disallowing the participation of freshmen, so we played a strong UVA team to a 0-0 tie. A win would have meant our second ever undefeated season and a probable trip to the Rose Bowl to take on Ohio State. With even one field goal that day, could our unbeaten, untied, undisputed national championship team have happened sixty years earlier than it historically did?
The other ‘what if’ from that game is that it marked the change from the ‘Wildcats’ mascot to the ‘Bulldogs’. If we had beaten Virginia and gone on to win a title, could the ‘Wildcats’ have stuck? Could that 0-0 tie have prevented us from being the Georgia Wildcats to this day?
– What if ‘Von’ Gammon had not been killed during the Georgia-Virginia game in 1897? The ’97 team brought back most of the undefeated 1896 team and added ‘Tich’ Tichoner, who had starred at quarterback for Auburn in the previous two seasons. We opened up ’97 with strong wins over Clemson and Tech and were favored going up against a Viriginia team that was one of the strongest in the South at that time. Had Gammon not been killed, would a win over Virginia solidified Georgia’s status as one of the premier Southern powers? Would it have prevented Georgia football’s 12-year long slide into irrelevancy on campus that was only ended with the arrival of Alex Cunningham and Bob McWhorter? With a powerful Georgia program ruling the South, would Alabama have arisen as the premier program that it became? It should also be mentioned that quarterback was Gammon’s natural position. With Tichoner on the team, Gammon slid over to fullback, which flipped over to a linebacker spot on defense. It was in that position that he went in to tackle the UVA ball carrier and met his untimely end.
– If Steadman Sanford had not taken over the direction of Georgia athletics and put us on the path to rebuilding our programs and modernizing our facilities, what would all of Georgia sports look like today? Would be be closer to the mid-tier programs than the top?
– What if the Georgia-Georgia Tech game not been played on a muddy (suspiciously muddy, some at the time said) Grant Field on December 3, 1927? Georgia had the more talented team, but was lighter and faster than Tech so our backs got bogged down in the mud. A Georgia win on a drier field would have sent us to the Rose Bowl instead of a much weaker Pitt team. Could we have won our first national title with a win over Stanford and our old coach Pop Warner?
This loss also gave urgency to building a modern football facility to replace old Sanford Field. What would our stadium situation be today if we had waited even a couple of years to finance and build a bigger facility? Would we have then had to wait through the Depression and then WWII to build a new stadium? Would a stadium built in the late ’40s or ’50s be where Sanford Stadium is today or would it be on the outskirts of Athens? What would our gameday experience be like today if Grant Field had been a little less muddy in December 1927?
– What if our program not broken up for World War II? Charley Trippi starring for a team seasoned during ’42 and led by Wally Butts at his coaching peak could have solidified a dynasty during the 1940s. Could they have added another SEC — or even national — title? Could Trippi have won the Heisman?
– What if the media had not been locked into naming the winner of the 1946 Notre Dame-Army game national champion? An error filled and ugly 0-0 tie broke the narrative that those were the two best teams in the country, and the end of the year saw Georgia, which had played a very tough schedule, standing as the only unbeaten, untied team in the country and Charley Trippi as the best individual player in college football. If the media were more open to naming a team other than Notre Dame or Army national champions, and especially if the AP poll had been issued after the bowl games were played instead of after the last week of the regular season, could ’46 have been our first national championship won on the field instead of claimed retroactively? And, again, could Trippi have won the Heisman he deserved so richly for his outstanding season (and overall career)?
– What if Dan Magill had decided to stick with journalism in Atlanta and not come back to Athens in 1949? There are very few irreplaceable people in the history of any institution, but one could argue that Magill was, for many years, irreplaceable here. Georgia’s status as a historical tennis power and the spiritual home of college tennis wouldn’t have happened, for sure.
Along that line, what if we had not hired Auburn basketball coach Joel Eaves as Athletic Director and charged him with bringing the program back to solvency and relevancy? Eaves might be one of the most underrated figures in the history of our program and the choice to bring him in stabilized our program in a way that it hadn’t been for over a decade. The most obvious point is that without Eaves here, Coach Dooley would certainly have gone to work for Frank Broyles at Arkansas instead of coming here in 1964.
– A one point loss to Miami in 1966 denied Coach Dooley his first undefeated season. A win over Miami would have left two undefeated teams in the SEC at the end of the regular season, Georgia and Alabama. Presuming that we weren’t matched up in the Sugar Bowl and that we both won our bowl games (as we both did, historically), could Georgia and Alabama have split a national title instead of seeing Michigan State and Notre Dame split the title after their 10-10 tie? A national title for Dooley in his third season would have put him firmly in the top echelon of young coaches during the 1960s. Presuming that 1980 played out as it did historically, what would our perception of the program be now with that shared national title alongside the claimed ’42 title and the undisputed 1980 title?
– Much like the loss to Miami in ’66, what if Georgia had beaten Pat Sullivan and Auburn in ’71? A win over Auburn would have left Georgia and Alabama as unbeaten co-SEC champions. Would Georgia have played Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl for the national title? Even with a loss to Nebraska, how would that have changed the national perception of Georgia after a couple of middling years? Would that momentum propelled us to a stronger program during the ’70s?
Answers to these are welcomed in the comments section. It’s a pretty amazing history our program has.