SMITH COLUMN: Remembering Nat Dye

Published 12:17 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2024

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BLYTHE – This rural community of 744 hardworking folks has long been anchored amid farming and agribusiness interests along with hunting and fishing pursuits — dating back to colonial times.  

It is 10 miles southwest of Ft. Eisenhower, but you won’t hear that from the locals who refer to the military base as Ft. Gordon. The government and the media can be politically correct, but the down-home citizens here shall not be moved even though Dwight David Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States was a member of the famed Augusta National Golf Club, a half hour’s drive away.

They train birddogs in Waynesboro, 24 miles to the east, better than any place on earth — some birddogs with such remarkable noses that they would point a sign with “Bob White,” lettered on it and nailed to a pine tree.

Perhaps, Blythe is best known as the home of the Dye boys — three brothers who played football at Richmond Academy before choosing the University of Georgia to further their football careers and education.

Wayne, Nat, and Pat grew up on a farm in these parts, the sons of a taskmaster father who never spared the rod, and often used it to extreme to make men out of his boys. No football coach had to get the indefatigable Dye brothers in shape. Their farm chores had them game ready the first day of fall practice.

Wayne, the oldest was also the smallest but no man ever had more fight in a 5-10, 185-pound frame. Nat, the middle brother, was the biggest at 6-3, 215. He was always big for his age, and while he never received all-star recognition, like the youngest, Pat, his reputation as a gentle giant could be misleading — never challenge or corner him. There would be considerable risk if you made that decision.

Nat, along with Theron Sapp, were named captains in the pre-season of 1958 when the Bulldogs went 4-6, perhaps the best losing team in the country. They finished the season on a high note, however, defeating Georgia Tech between the hedges, 16-3, a second straight victory over their in-state rival.

With Athens being the hometown of his mother, Nell, Nat (and his brothers) spent considerable time in Athens with their cousins in the Fain Slaughter family.

That made it something of a slam dunk when Wayne and Nat had to decide where they were going to enroll in college. They never considered another campus and considered it a badge of honor to play for Wallace Butts. Pat, however, was the best athlete of the trio. He was the beneficiary of “small guard” recruiting by teams like Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech.    Georgia had fallen on hard times, and Pat did not like that. He seriously considered his options. 

It was not a slam dunk decision with him, but familial influence and long-standing ties with Georgia and Athens won out in the end, and he would, with quarterback Fran Tarkenton, lead the Bulldogs back to Glory in what turned out to be Butts’ last hurrah.

In early 1959, Nat decided he would play professionally in the Canadian League, casting his lot with the Edmonton Eskimos with whom he played six seasons. He finished his pro football career with Saskatchewan following one season of competition. 

One day in Augusta, we sat and reminisced about his life and career.  He believed that he could have played in the National Football League but was attracted to the adventure that Canada offered.

“I was married, and Adelaide was up for it. We found those people up there to be much like Southerners. They were very hospitable and hosted us constantly.  In the off season, they would find us high-paying jobs, which did not require a lot of hours.  It was just too cold year-round, and we soon were back home in Georgia once the season ended in Canada.”

Nat, and his brothers, grew up hunting and fishing at every opportunity. He found the outdoor options in Canada as good as one could want — everything from duck, geese, and deer to great trout fishing along with walleye and Northern Pike. When Nat retired and returned home to Georgia, he lived briefly in Blakely, then worked for Georgia Crown Distributing Company in Augusta where he became a golfing advocate and a youth league coach for his children and grandchildren. He maintained a passion for Georgia football although he switched loyalties for the dozen years when Pat was the head coach at Auburn where he won four SEC championships.

As Nat was laid to rest in the cemetery adjoining the Blythe Baptist Church, a light rain began to fall, which was in keeping with the forthcoming planting season. Farmers are gearing up to start another crop, a routine which was a staple of Nat’s youth.  He was good at farming, hunting, fishing, and football.

Those pursuits, along with Adelaide, his high school sweetheart, were the loves of a life well lived.