SMITH COLUMN: Kirby Moore

Published 10:30 am Friday, September 16, 2022

Kirby Moore, as a Bulldog quarterback, had a career somewhat akin to that of Stetson Bennett. Kirby came along when prospects were not rated. He had talent, but most of all his mental acuity was his hallmark. He was athletic with remarkable quickness, which meant that his feet took him where his arm wouldn’t.  Having said that, however, a statistical review of his career in Athens confirms that he produced a plethora of big plays in the passing game that is head turning. Most of all, he was the initiator of the famous flea flicker play of 1965 when his pass to Pat Hodgson was subsequently lateraled to Bob Taylor for a 73-yard pass completion that upset Alabama, the defending national champion, 18-17.

Three pieces of lore regarding that consequential high moment in Georgia football history:

4 It would not have been such a high moment if Kirby Moore had not completed a two-point conversion pass, another of his praiseworthy pass completions, to Hodgson on the very next play to win the game.

4  NBC covered the game, the first live broadcast of a football game in Athens. Former Oklahoma Bud Wilkinson was the color analyst and had moved down to the field to interview the winning coach. Vince Dooley called time out, huddled with his brother, Bill, his offensive coordinator, to decide on which pass play to call and then went over to Wilkinson and calmly said, as if it were a coffee club setting, “We are going for two.” Caught up in the excitement of the game and the precociousness of the young Bulldog coaching staff, Wilkinson exclaimed, “We’ve got to.”

4  With a little more than a minute left to play, Alabama had time to move into field goal position to win the game, but Erk Russell’s defense would not be denied.

At one time, Kirby’s 92-yard pass to Randy Wheeler versus Auburn for a touchdown in 1965 was the longest TD pass in history. Today, it ranks No. 5 all time.

As mentioned at the outset, Kirby made plays and won games with his feet. One of his most spectacular runs came between-the-hedges against South Carolina in 1967. He sprinted off left tackle for 87 yards for a touchdown, leading Georgia to a 21-0 victory over the Gamecocks.

A funny thing happened on that play and Kirby remembers well what took place. “The Carolina players had gotten help from their coaches in scouting us and started calling out our plays as we lined up. We don’t know how they got tipped off, but they seemed to know what we were going to do.

“On the play I scored on, when I got under center with plans to hand off to our fullback Ronnie Jenkins, the defensive players started yelling, “Jenkins off tackle.” Linebackers are always doing things like that, but that was the play I had called. I considered calling time out but figured Ronnie could bull his way for three or four yards even if they knew where he was going.  When Ronnie heard them, I think he figured he would need to get up a head of steam. He was supposed to counter first, but he was so intent on adding extra effort, he forgot to counter.

“When I turned to hand off the ball to him, he wasn’t there. What do you do in a case like that? You take off and start running. Fortunately, there was room to run. Suddenly, I was in the clear with nothing but green grass ahead.” The rest of the story is that Kirby sprinted 87 yards to the Gamecock end zone. 

There have only been two rushing plays for a touchdown longer than Kirby’s in 1967: Tim Worley against Florida in 1985 and Johnny Griffith against Furman in 1946. 

Both Worley and Griffith ran for 89-yard scores. A responsible and disciplined type, Kirby was a good student. Following graduation, he became a lawyer. He became a member of the University of Georgia Athletic Board and was active in alumni affairs, serving as President of the UGA Alumni Society.

“I have had a great life, playing football for the University of Georgia, and then enjoying a productive career in Macon where I have had the good fortune to get to know so many wonderful alumni of UGA. You just can’t beat those warm and engaging friendships. If you travel this state and say, “Go Dawgs,” you will get a generous response. That is something to appreciate.”