Wednesday, Vincent Joseph Dooley of Mobile, Ala., celebrated his 87th trip around the sun. Saturday the whole state of Georgia and the entire Georgia Bulldog Nation pays long overdue homage to the man who took a football program that had fallen on hard times and not only returned it to its Glory Days but exceeded those days and built a program of such pride and permanence after 25 years as football coach and a combined 40 years as head coach and athletic director that the entire state of Georgia is still reaping the benefits today. The playing field between the hallowed hedges inside Sanford Stadium will forevermore be known as Dooley Field. This birthday gift and this honor were long, long, long overdue.
Much has been said and written about the political maneuvering required to overcome the pettiness that had prevented this honor from being previously bestowed. Doesn’t matter now. Gov. Brian Kemp righted that wrong and corrected the oversight, and all of Georgia’s people said, Amen.
Much has been written about Dooley, the coach. His record speaks for itself. There are a few coaches in SEC annals that accomplished more, but very few. And none have done it with more class and grace and none have done it while adding more to the prestige of their university.
A lot of it has been written by me.
I have meant every word I wrote. I’m just glad I have lived long enough to see this honor, championed by so many, come to fruition. I’m even more glad that Coach Dooley did. Posthumously is a poor way to have to honor someone.
Since we’ve all covered the records and the accolades and everything that could be said has been said, I’d like to share one or three of my favorite Dooley memories. Like when I was a kid, maybe 12 years old, and would hurry home from church each Sunday to watch the highlights of the previous day’s game on "The Vince Dooley Show." My favorite part of the show was the scouting report on the next week’s opponent. Nobody could bad mouth like Vince Dooley. He would look right into the television camera with a straight face and claim that VPI had the greatest long snapper in the country. Once he claimed three weeks in a row that Georgia was going to face the “best passer ever to play in Sanford Stadium.”
I remember when we lost to Wake Forest and he missed the team bus back to the locker rooms and he said, “and all those Georgia people passed me on the road and nobody offered me a ride.” That was the game where we barely missed an extraordinarily long field goal on the last play of the game that would have averted the loss and he deadpanned afterward, “We almost upset Wake Forest today.”
I remember, of course, his adage that when you passed the ball three things could happen and two of them were bad, and I remember him winning, year in and year out, by running the ball, being disciplined, playing defense and having a sound kicking game.
He was a great football coach. A former player said this week that he might have been an even better athletics director. I know for a fact that he’s an even finer person. I’m proud to call him my friend, and I am proud that my grandchildren’s grandchildren will watch football games played on Dooley Field.
And I’m glad that his wife, Barbara, will have a very happy birthday Sunday. It’s a really special one.