SMITH COLUMN: The Pre-Season

Published 9:30 am Thursday, August 10, 2023

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The hot weather reminds us that it is always hot in August when collegiate football players report. Yesteryear, however, it wasn’t as hot as it is today.

Years back, college players reported a month later. They returned on Labor Day weekend after spending the summer in manual labor jobs that helped get them in shape for football in those days before air conditioning became standard.  It also kept them out of trouble.

If you were employed in construction work and then worked out after “quittin time,” that Spartan lifestyle meant you were compatible with an early to bed, early to rise routine.

Today, players spend all summer running, lifting weights and are in peak condition when reporting day comes about. Except for timing and integration of the new faces in the lineup, teams could play a game a week after fall practice begins.

The pre-season practices are a defense against heat stroke in that they have spent time outdoors all summer, becoming acclimated to the high temperatures which they will play in on Labor Day weekend.

Fifty years ago, players were reporting on the weekend of the first game of today.  Return to campus Labor Day weekend and play three weekends later.  

The season began extending in the seventies. First it was eleven games, then twelve. The pre-season naturally began earlier. Instead of getting underway on the first of September, suddenly the start date was early August.

While Georgia’s pre-season status did not make national headlines as it does today, the beginning of the new season was a community highlight in laid-back Athens.

When the players dressed out in their bright red jerseys and sparkling silver britches at Sanford Stadium, it was an emotional boon to the entire community. Dan Magill, the publicity maestro, made sure that the pretty Georgia cheerleaders were on hand for photo-ops. Sonny Seiler always brought Uga, the famous mascot.

He had feature photos of all the upperclassmen made with those pretty faces, Uga and the head coach which were then sent to the hometown papers across the state. In most cases, the photos were accompanied by a feature story about the players. The man knew how to promote, certainly for the times.

He was good at what he did because he had a seasoned talent for words and ideas. Most of all, he was driven to promote his beloved alma mater.  Magill grew up in Athens, his father was editor of the old Athens Banner, and no Georgia man loved the University of Georgia like Magill.

A multi-faceted genius with undying passion for all things red and black, he was an out-front drumbeater who would give the writers of his day story lines and angles which enhanced positive coverage. While he sought to provide material which would bring about positive headlines, he was never reluctant to challenge a writer who took negative shots at the Bulldogs.

Jim Minter, who became editor of the Journal-Constitution, was a former sportswriter. He was a Georgia graduate who managed the sports section for many years during the great newspaper era of the fifties and sixties.

Minter, now a nonagenarian living in Fayette County, remembers Magill, greatly bothered by a negative sports story in the early fifties, calling him with a terse comment. “Jim, if captain Bobby Garrard were to drop dead of a heart attack today, the headline in the Atlanta papers would read, ‘Garrard quits Georgia team.’”

After the picture day frolic in Sanford Stadium, the writers, and a broadcaster or two, including the golden throat, Ed Thilenius, would repair to Magill’s side yard on Woodlawn Ave. in Five Points for beer and Poss’ barbecue.  The cagey Magill would also invite key campus luminaries and staffers along with certain UGA faculty.  Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi, the celebrated running backs, the mayor, and any local celebrities about town.

One summer, I called Mayor Upshaw Bentley and asked if the creek that trickled past Magill’s property could be named for the Bulldog hero. The mayor responded positively. He brought a proclamation to the picture day barbecue. It established that said creek was to be “Magill Creek” in perpetuity. Magill was greatly pleased.

A few days ago, I rode by Magill’s old homestead, stopped, and gave a salute to Magill Creek and the man who gave of himself more than any who has come UGA’s way.  Talk about a Damn Good Dawg! He was the original.