SMITH COLUMN: Fred Barber, the multi-faceted
Published 10:30 am Saturday, May 27, 2023
This is a flashback to the times of Fred Barber, Georgia’s classic fullback of yesteryear, one who could have originated the time-honored football term, “Hardnosed.”
A native of Bainbridge, he grew up with equal helpings of emotional capital for the outdoors and Friday Night Lights. In his day, if you were a running back, you did what running backs did back then. You took the handoff and ran over people. Run over enough and you find yourself in the end zone.
In his precocious days, Fred thrived on competition, but he aspired for more than fulfillment on the gridiron. He expected to make a name for himself in the classroom. He graduated from UGA on time with a degree in history in 1965 and a year later he had a B. A. in chemistry, conferred as well.
That was not enough. He had long aspired to become a pharmacist and that came about three years later, making him a Triple Dawg no less. Now he needed a job.
For a hunter-fisherman-pharmaceutical aficionado, where else would he want to be than in deep South Georgia which led him to Blackshear where he has lived since.
Fred celebrated his 80th birthday recently, but I missed the big celebration, owing to a previous out-of-town commitment. I would have enjoyed showing up to sing his praises, not just as an excellent running back, but a serious student, a loyal Georgian, and a Damn Good Dawg.
I would have enjoyed reminiscing with him about the Sun Bowl at El Paso, Dec. 26, 1964. The Bulldogs had not been to a bowl game since the Orange Bowl in 1960. Most of the players had never flown on an airliner. Not many had ever been to the state of Texas, but to be in the international border city of El Paso, hearing about the lore of Juarez on the other side of the Rio Grande was an unforgettable experience.
Texas Tech was a team with one of the premier players in the country, punter-halfback Donny Anderson. He would later be drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the first round in 1965.
I see Anderson from time to time when I am in Dallas, and he looks like he could still play today. It is the same with Fred Barber.
In the 2nd quarter, Fred ran a flat route to the right and was wide open for quarterback Preston Ridlehuber’s short pass.
He turned up field for 52 yards, looking like a locomotive headed for a mountain pass. There was no chance the defense would catch him. It was a thundering, Lone-Ranger-Aboard-Silver gallop, but about the eight-yard line, Fred suddenly pulled up limping. He had pulled a muscle. The good news is that the Bulldogs drove in to score the only touchdown of the game, winning 7-0.
In Vince Dooley’s first bowl game, there was a lot of hype which was brought about by the “Serendipity Dawgs,” that won seven games. Many fans drove the 1,487 miles from Athens to El Paso. (1,416 miles from Atlanta).
Throughout South Georgia, Fred Barber’s legend is intact — from Friday night lights to pharmacist to outdoorsman. When he showed up in Blackshear in 1972 in a pickup truck, naturally, with his two bird dogs, Tom Cotton and Lard beside him, naturally, and hung out his shingle, he noticed that to enter Pearce County you had to cross a creek or river. He almost broke out into song, “Home Sweet Home.”
The good life, with a little enterprise and energy, is often at our fingertips. Fred Barber worked seven days a week, most of his life. He would open his pharmacy before and after church in order for the sanctuary folk’s convenience.
His days off were spent in the woods, fields and streams, but he also took in duck hunting trips to Arkansas and hunted dove in South America.
In deer season, he could bring down a 12-point buck and field dress it in a matter of minutes.
Not sure who Ed Dodd had in mind when he created the comic strip character Mark Trail many years ago, but there is no question — if he had come along a few years earlier, Fred would have been perfect for the part. I enjoyed watching Fred Barber run the football, and I have enjoyed a few quail hunting trips with him over the years.
He was the consummate fullback in the old full house backfield formation, and he was the consummate outdoorsman.