We lost another college football legend this year, Coach Vince Dooley. He and my Dad inspired my love for University of Georgia football. They are both gone now, but my love of Georgia football lives on. My Dad felt Coach Dooley could do no wrong. He was his biggest fan and defended his every coaching decision. Through osmosis I developed the same love and support for Coach Dooley and University of Georgia football. I became my Dad. The wisdom from Dad was, if you loved the Dawgs don’t spend your time criticizing the coaches and players. A fan is an extension of the team. You don’t do any good by constantly complaining. You only help the competition. While there was no social media back then, Dooley did have his distractors. In my eyes though he could do no wrong. My childhood dream was to play quarterback on a UGA team coached by this extraordinary man.
While my Dad and I did not personally know Coach Dooley, we loved and respected him as a coach, athletic director and loyal supporter of the University of Georgia. A lot has been said and written about his Hall of Fame career. Those articles are available with a quick Google search. Not a lot has been said about the impact he had on folks like my Dad and I. The loyal fans and the next generation of Dawgs. This is a personal memory of Coach Dooley’s impact on a kid from Grayson Georgia.
When he was named head coach at UGA in 1963, I was seven years old. I was just old enough to begin to understand how important UGA football was to the Britt family. The talk was about the hiring of this young 31 year old coach. Was he experienced enough or good enough to hold what many consider the most important job in the state? To a seven year old kid he looked plenty old enough to do the job. But as I got a little older, ten years old to be exact, I began to understand how big this job was.
As a kid I did not know a lot about what was going on outside my little world of Grayson Georgia, but I always knew who and when the Dogs were playing. I might not know who the governor or lieutenant governor was, but I dang sure knew who was the head football coach at the University of Georgia. I also knew the impact his performance had on my families weekly life. I observed my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins live and died on Dooley’s Dogs performance. Win and life was unbelievably good. Lose and work, school and family was unbearable until Wednesday. On Wednesday everyone seemed to let go of the lose. We started anticipating the next game knowing that our football life and our emotional well being was closely tied to the performance of this young coach.
If we were playing an away game I would walk across the yard to my Mamaw’s house wishing I was at the game with my Dad. It seems I could never find a radio at our house and it was a given Mamaw would have the game on. I would hear coach Dooley’s pre-game comments. He would always talk about how good our opponent was and my fears of a butt kicking would get magnified by his every word. Then legendary voice of the Dogs, Larry Munson would give his comments which would have me believing the completion was ten times better than what Coach described. The odds of winning always seemed insurmountable. The only chance of winning was for some miracle to transpire. Then to make matters worse at kickoff Munson would do his “get the picture” and describe how bad the weather was and how loud the home crowd had become. His description of the game conditions made me feel no team could win in this God forsaken southern city. In my little boys mind the opponent was too good, the weather and crowd were so bad we would probably never score. We might not get a play off with out jumping off sides or fumbling the snap. Then when things seemed impossible my child like enthusiasm would kick in and I began to believe that Dooley and his Dawgs would find away. As they kicked off, I would sit on the edge of my seat and live or die on every play. Sure enough more times than not when the final seconds ticked off the clock, Dooley’s Dogs were victorious. The world was in balance. I had a spring in my step and could hardly wait for Sunday and the opportunity to watch The Vince Dooley Show and see and hear from the coach who engineered this miraculous win. On Monday morning I could wear my Georgia sweatshirt to school with my chest bowed and my head held high. I could say my prayers and be thankful for Dooley and his Dawgs!
One of the things as a young boy I learned from Coach Dooley – when you play Georgia you better buckle up your chin strap. His teams would bring maximum effort and would play their hearts out to the final whistle. I leaned from watching his teams and listening to his conversations to believe in the power of team. Have confidence in yourself and your teammates, but never under estimate any opponent. Strive to give your best effort. These lessons helped me win a lot of back yard football games, and be a part of a high school team that won a sub region championship. The young coach who defied the odds helped me believe an undersized player with average speed could play the game I loved.
While I was not big enough or talented enough to live my dream and play for Coach Dooley. That dream led me on a life long search for the keys to winning in sports and in life. Coach Dooley If you can read or hear my words, thank you for lighting that fire and fueling it by your example. I am sure there are many other kids who were never good enough to play for you, but their lives were better because of you.
At your memorial service I was reminded of the impact your life had on so many people who played for you and worked for you. But most of all I was reminded of my Dad. How he was your biggest fan and how much fun we had watching Dooley’s Dogs. How, as a little kid, I was in awe of your players and coaches. How they inspired me to love a game that teaches so many lessons that served me well through out my life. For those great memories and valuable life lessons, I will be forever grateful. Coach Dooley, while you are in heaven, please say hello to my Dad and his family. I know they would be honored to spend some time with you. Y’all were all dang good people and dang good Dawgs! Thanks for all you did to make a positive impact on my life and so many others!