April 4, 2008

The End of the Alumni G-Day Game

Forgive Preston Jones if he doesn't exude warm and fuzzy thoughts when the topic of alumni games comes up. It was 1989 when
[tm]Georgia[/tm] officials revived a concept from five years earlier and fielded an alumni squad to challenge the varsity on G-Day. Jones was a redshirt freshman looking to make his mark on a program that was transitioning from legendary Coach
Vince Dooley's watch to that of new coach Ray Goff.

Heading into
1989, the Bulldogs were tasked with rebuilding an offense that lost the running tandem of
Tim Worley and Keith Henderson to the NFL. What's more, with top returning backs
Rodney Hampton and Alphonso Ellis injured, the '89 G-Day classic was shaping up to be a display of
[tm]Georgia[/tm]'s passing game. While that was good news for Jones, his thrill would be short-lived. One of the lowlights in a 29-0 varsity beat down of the over-the-hill gang was a devastating hit that nearly cost the quarterback his entire season.

"They don't hit the quarterbacks now, but they did back then," says Jones. "That was Coach Goff's first year, and he didn't have control. It kind of got out of hand. They let 14 guys on the field at one point. I don't remember who hit me, but it was two or three at once and I got my hand caught behind me."

Instead of breaking his fall, Jones broke his wrist. Even though it happened on the last day of spring practice, Jones felt the effects of the injury through the summer and on into the regular season.

"It really set me back, too, because I had a cast up to my shoulder for 12 weeks," he says. "I had it on until right before the start of two-a-days."

Before the injury, Jones looked to be in the hunt that fall with
Greg Talley, for the right to succeed Wayne Johnson as the Bulldogs' starting signal-caller. Instead, Jones wound up playing sparingly in 11 games that season at a less than optimal level.

"Come to find out, it (wrist) never really healed," Jones says. I played that whole season with it broken."

Jones' mediocre condition mirrored that of the team, which finished the '89 season at 6-6. But while rougher waters were still ahead for the Bulldogs, one of Jones' finest moments was yet to come.

[tm]Georgia[/tm] opened the '90 season with an 18-13 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge, followed by a nail-biting 18-17 win over Southern Miss at home the following week. It looked like more heartbreak for the Bulldogs the following week against Alabama when Jones got the call.

The Tide led, 16-6 when Jones replaced Talley with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
[tm]Georgia[/tm] promptly drove down and scored, with Garrison Hearst doing the honors, to make it 16-12. The touchdown came on a critical play in which Jones had checked off at line of scrimmage. The Dawgs then converted a two-point conversion on a tailback pass to the tight end to make it 16-14.

With renewed gusto,
[tm]Georgia[/tm]'s defense got the ball back and moments later, John Kasay kicked a field goal that made the difference in a 17-16 win. It was
[tm]Georgia[/tm]'s first win over [tm]Alabama[/tm] in Athens since 1976, and one of the lone bright spots in a season that saw the Dawgs go 4-7, their first losing campaign in 13 years.

"It was definitely one of my most memorable games, especially considering the caliber of
[tm]Alabama[/tm], and to come back from behind like we did," says Jones.

Jones and Talley both finished their Georgia careers as backups to record-setting gunslinger
Eric Zeier, though Jones went on to play professionally. At 6'4" and 215 pounds, Jones offered the prototypical size pro scouts looked for in a quarterback.

Jones spent two seasons with the
Philadelphia Eagles, followed by a season with the Atlanta Falcons, before heading overseas. He passed for 1,649 yards and 12 touchdowns with the
London Monarchs of NFL Europe in 1996. The following season, he suffered a career-ending knee injury.

These days, Jones is back in his hometown of Anderson, South Carolina, serving as President of Grand South Bank. He remains close to football, having served as play-by-play announcer for the past six years at this alma mater of Hanna High School. His color announcer is former South Carolina quarterback Blake Williamson. Jones says those duties, combined with family responsibilities, limit his trips back to Athens.

"Before I had kids, I went to four or five games a year, but now it's more like two or three times a year," he says.

Jones has three children: a seven-year-old girl and two boys, ages five and two. So far, none have shown Jones' aptitude for football, though he says his five-year-old, who plays tee ball, does have "a pretty good arm."

A self-professed "dyed-in-the-wool Bulldog," Jones emphasizes his passion for the University of Georgia and says if he had it to do all over again, he'd still play for the Bulldogs. He can't help but wonder, though, what alternate twist of reality fate might have offered him.

"Five years of playing pro ball after not playing my last two-and-a-half years in college," he pauses, "I just wish
[tm]Georgia[/tm] people and myself could have seen what I could have done."

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