David Hale tells the story behind that iconic photograph.
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO know who authored the first inept head-butt in coaching history, but it’s safe to say it was former Georgia defensive coordinator Erk Russell, who set the standard by which all modern mishaps should be judged.
Throughout the 1970s, Russell had a pregame tradition with his defensive linemen in which players huddled around the coach in what he called “the bull ring.” Russell would point to a lineman — the bull — who would then charge the coach. Russell would mash his bald scalp into the player’s chest and shoulder pads, lifting the player into the air with his arms. From outside the huddle, it looked violent, but Russell had his technique down and no harm was done — until the Dawgs’ 1979 game against South Carolina.
That day, Georgia was down a few linemen due to injuries, so Russell had one of his linebackers, Robert Goodwin, move to D-end. Goodwin had seen the pregame ritual before, but like most people who had witnessed the spectacle, he thought Russell delivered a genuine head-butt. So, when they all lined up in the bull ring, Russell called out Goodwin’s name, and the bull charged.
“Robert comes flying in, thinking he’s head-butting,” said Frank Ros, one of Georgia’s star defenders at the time. “He comes in and lowers his head and wham!”
Worse yet, Goodwin’s facemask had been hastily attached to his helmet moments earlier, leaving the tip of a screw jutting out from the front. The screw dug into the top of Russell’s head and opened a gruesome, two-inch gash.
“Blood just started pouring down,” Ros said.
Russell wasn’t fazed. He wiped the blood from his head and began swiping it across his players’ jerseys before a team trainer finally intervened, sticking a butterfly bandage across the laceration.
The resulting photo of Russell, streaks of blood running down his forehead, a swab of blood staining his white polo shirt and a bandage affixed to his bald scalp, now stands as an iconic reminder of the coach’s ferocity, even if those who played for Russell knew he was hardly the madman the image evokes.
Of course, there’s a punchline to the story.
The next day, players showed up for a Sunday film review and weightlifting, and a few began razzing Russell about the injury.
“I guess you won’t be head-butting this week,” one player joked.
No, Russell said. His head-butting days were officially over.
“I got home last night,” Ros remembered Russell explaining, “and my wife said if I ever came home looking like that again, she was going to divorce me.”