This ‘n’ that

Published 6:34 pm Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A good book will often reveal vignettes, which are not necessarily connected with the main story. On a trip to Northern Ireland, recently, I read a book about the “troubles” of the past in which 3,500 people lost their lives before peace came about: “Say Nothing,” is written by Patrick Radden Keef. 

In Keefe’s book, there is a sidebar about racing pigeons, one of the first animals to be domesticated by humans, more than 5,000 years ago. Racing pigeons are monogamous and fiercely protective of their offspring. A pigeon, Keefe wrote, builds endurance the same way a human athlete does, flying progressive longer distances. 

Pigeons always wander but their natural instinct is to fly back to the place where they were born. There is something heart-warming about all this.

If you are a sports fan, surely you remember Jack Whitaker, the CBS announcer who died recently. Jack was a versatile announcer who lived to be 95 and always made people appreciate that he evoked class and was a gentleman. Jack was never demeaning or rude — just an introspective and insightful sportscaster. Whitaker covered many sports but was best known for his essays on horseracing and football. You always saw Jack at the Kentucky Derby. While he majored on the NFL, he once covered an opening season game between Clemson and Georgia between the hedges. He was taken by the campus traditions, particularly the scene at Sanford Stadium. “There is no Lumpkin Street in the NFL,” he said. 

This week will be one of the most exciting weeks in college football and the greatest intersectional game in University of Georgia history since Sanford Stadium was dedicated on Oct. 12, 1929, when Yale, the scourge of the East came to Athens to play Georgia between the infant hedges. That game will be remembered for many reasons, chief among them being that on that day, Georgia dedicated a stadium that was one of the biggest in the country and for sure the prettiest.

While Georgia and Notre Dame do not have a playing history, there are ties that date back. In the twenties, the Notre Box formation was the rage of football just like the Spread Formation is today. If you wanted your team to employ the Notre Dame Box, what better way to accomplish that mission than to hire a former Notre Dame player to coach your team. 

In the twenties, the University of Georgia had been moderately successful in football, but played its games at the foot of Lumpkin Street in a baseball stadium that was inadequate for football, which was becoming more and more popular.

Baseball was the big sport early on and brought in the revenue that sustained the athletic program. The stadium was known as Sanford Field and old photos show a wooden grandstand with the field lined off for playing a football game. 

UGA had brought a Notre Damer, Harry Mehre, to Athens as an assistant, and he soon took over as head coach. Mehre coached the famous ’29 team, which defeated Yale 15-0 as it dedicated Sanford Stadium on Oct. 12, 1929. Mehre was a colorful raconteur who became a football columnist after coaching at Georgia and Ole Miss. Several years ago, he called me over for a conversation in Georgia’s old press Box at Sanford Stadium.

Isn’t it nice, he said that they remember the old coach. Listen, you hear them calling out, “Coach Mehre, Coach Mehre.” It took me a couple of minutes to catch on. Then I heard the Coca Cola carrier boys shouting out, “Cokes here, Cokes here.”