football

Opinion: They Would Want Them to Count**

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Glimpses of the 1943 and 1944 Georgia-Georgia Tech games... They look like "true" teams/games to me.

When I started following Georgia football as a young child in the early 1980s, I felt more sorry for Georgia Tech than actually disliking the Wramblin' Wreck. "Hate," even if it’s “clean” and “old-fashioned,” was and is such a strong word and, in my mind at the time, was more reserved for the likes of Clemson, Auburn, and maybe Florida. However, my feelings of pity were instantly altered in 1984 when I witnessed an underdog Georgia Tech team come into Athens and soundly defeat the Bulldogs. The next day, on the cover of the sports section of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tech head coach Bill Curry was pictured loving on John Dewberry, a transfer from Georgia two years earlier. Worse, Dewberry, the winning quarterback of the Yellow Jackets, was pictured having torn off a piece of our beloved hedges.

I decided then—32 years ago—Tech’s exhibition of disrespect would not be accepted by me. No longer did I feel sorry for our in-state rival, and never would I side with the Jackets on any issue. However in time, I became of an opinion of which I am not proud, nor would most of the Bulldog Nation support.

Most Georgia and Tech football fans are familiar with this controversy and the pair of asterisks that have made it renowned. If you're not familiar with the dispute, I'm sure you'll hear about it this Saturday when watching the 111th, or 109th, meeting between Georgia and Georgia Tech; the game's television broadcast mentions it annually without fail.

The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets cannot agree on how many times they've faced one another in football. Georgia defends a 65-38-5 advantage; Georgia Tech claims a 40-65-5 disadvantage. The disagreement lies with the games played between the teams in 1943 and 1944—both blowout victories for the Yellow Jackets by a combined 92-0 score. Georgia Tech recognizes the two games, while Georgia does not consider them in the series results.

By the start of the 1943 football season, World War II was raging. Because of the war, graduation, and injuries, every one of the Bulldogs' lettermen from the 1942 national championship squad was lost. Of the 38 "men" on Georgia's 1943 roster, all but eight were only 16 or 17 years old and too young for the war's draft. The few remaining players of 18 years and older were only members of the team because they could not meet the military's physical standards. Many football programs around the country were in the same predicament as Georgia, prompting a good number of schools to cancel their '43 football campaigns. Only a day before the Bulldogs' season opener against Presbyterian, Coach Wally Butts asked his boys if they too wanted to cancel their season. They refused, joining only three other SEC schools of the conference's 12 members which decided to field a football team.

"So we'll play football as long as 11 men are available to put a team on the field," Butts said.

Like Georgia, rival Georgia Tech was one of the four participating schools in the SEC. However, unlike the Bulldogs, the Yellow Jackets were prospering from the war. As was the case with a few other schools, Georgia Tech benefited from an on-campus Navy V-12 Program, whereby any student who signed up for the program could remain in school and continue playing athletics. In addition, Tech had a Navy flight school which drew students, including football players, from other universities. In 1943, not only did the Yellow Jackets return most of their team from the year before but, reportedly, Tech's squad was also joined by the captains of Alabama and Vanderbilt, and other players from various schools. This gave the Jackets an overwhelming advantage over the teams on their schedule, especially Georgia, and it was evident on the gridiron with a 48-0 victory in 1943 and a 44-0 win in 1944 over the Bulldogs.

Soon after in 1948, Georgia hired the man who would become “The Greatest Bulldog of Them All,” the late, great Dan Magill. Then the publicity director of athletics, Magill informed Coach Butts that the 1943 and 1944 games would no longer be counted in the series record between Georgia and Tech. In the school's football records, Magill placed asterisks next to the two Bulldog losses because "those were not true Georgia Tech teams," Magill personally told me and countless others for decades.

"There's no question about it, there's no way they are true Georgia-Georgia Tech games," Magill said. "There's no question about that. [Georgia] had a freshman team."

Alas, and I say this with the utmost respect, and for what it’s worth, I totally disagree with the decision made by likely the most legendary and iconic figure in UGA athletics history, and admittedly side with who Coach Magill referred to as the “Eternal Enemy.”

Let me add, before his passing, I personally knew Coach Magill quite well, beginning when I asked him, and he kindly accepted, to write the foreword to my second book. We had several long conversations regarding—what else—Georgia football history. In fact, we once even discussed the disregarded 1943 and 1944 game results between the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets. I fully respected his opinion on the subject, and he seemingly respected mine.

With that being said, that freshman squad for Georgia in 1943 was actually a pretty good team, reaching as high as No. 20 nationally in the AP Poll. Entering the Georgia Tech game the following year, the Bulldogs were recognized as only a slight underdog; some local bookies even placed even odds on the game. More so, I have a feeling if Georgia would have been victorious in one or both of the '43 and '44 contests, the games would be recognized today in the series results and there would be no asterisks. Both the NCAA and SEC acknowledge the two games as losses for the Bulldogs. And, actually Georgia also recognizes the losses in its yearly results and all-time record—curiously, just not in the series results.

Soon after the beginning of the controversy, few stood by Magill on his stance or took his asterisks seriously. Three years following his decision, the Athens Banner-Herald recognized the '43 and '44 games, announcing the 1951 Georgia-Georgia Tech contest as the "46th Annual Battle," not the 44th. Magill's statement during the late-1950s of "Henceforth our records will refer to those 1943 and 1944 games as Georgia versus the "Georgia Tech Navy" was countered by sportswriter Furman Bisher with the following:

“That being the case, Louisiana State, Wake Forest and Daniel Field, three other teams that defeated Georgia those two years, are expected to be notified in due time that their victories have been revoked.” Good point.

Let me add, although Georgia basically had an all-freshman team during those two seasons, while Georgia Tech was supported by a Navy program and a few players from other schools, remember, Coach Butts had asked his young team if they wanted to participate, and they agreed to play the '43 season, which included a game against Georgia Tech. They consented to do so with knowledge of the circumstances and what the consequences might be.

"I asked [the 1943 team] frankly if they wanted to pay the price in defeats they'll have to take," Butts said.

Considering there were actually very few "bona fide" college football squads during the 1943 and 1944 campaigns, should all of the remaining "non-true" programs revoke their results from the two seasons? If the Bulldogs were not a "true" team in '43 and '44, should they discount the 13 combined victories they achieved those years?

In its early years, Georgia played several athletic clubs featuring former college players and even a preparatory school or two—all of these games are recognized in UGA football's yearly and series results, although they do not seem to be "true" opposition by definition. Against Georgia Tech in 1907, Georgia featured at least four "ringers," or former collegiate or professional players from the North, who were paid for their services. Because of this illegal action, the Red and Black's head coach would eventually be banned forever from coaching in the South. The result of the game, a 10-6 Georgia loss, is acknowledged in UGA's yearly and series results. Prior to that, during the first Georgia-Georgia Tech football game of 1893, the Red and Black played a professionally paid trainer at halfback, while three of Tech's five touchdowns were scored by a 28-year-old doctor in the U.S. Army. In addition, the umpire of the game, who made several controversial calls in favor of Georgia Tech, was the brother of Tech's trainer. This 28-6 Georgia Tech victory is also recognized by Georgia. Finally, the reason why Florida doesn’t recognize its loss to Georgia in 1904 is because the school was located in Lake City, not Gainesville, at the time. However, as Coach Magill once said,“That’s where Florida was back then. We can’t help it if they got run out of [Lake City].”

Well, as far as the team makeup of the Bulldogs and Jackets in 1943 and 1944, that’s who Georgia (and Georgia Tech) was back then—right?

In more support of identifying the 1943 and 1944 as true games, I believe author Bill Cromartie might have put it best in his book on the Georgia-Georgia Tech football rivalry, Clean Old-Fashioned Hate:

“If the games are not official, then the University [of Georgia] boys who got their teeth kicked in (so to speak), played the games for nothing. They would, most likely, want them to count.” An even better point.

During the time of Coach Magill's 1948 ruling, unlike when I was growing up, no Georgia football fan felt sympathy for Georgia Tech, just hate. I suspect part of the decision by "Dangerous Dan," as Bisher tagged him in 1957, was because of such dislike for Georgia's chief rival of the time.

Nevertheless, Magill's judgement and asterisks will likely forever remain in the UGA football record books, whether I, the Yellow Jacket faithful, or anyone else likes it or not. Personally, despite my stance, I have and can certainly continue to live with the Bulldogs having two less losses to the Jackets, especially if (and, God forbid), as was the case when Magill made his determination, Georgia football was to ever falter, while the “Eternal Enemy” prospered.

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