Georgia has produced many greats
by Jeff Dantzler
Georgia’s football legacy and history is one of the most storied in the country. Decades and decades of great players have come through Athens and left lasting legacies of Bulldog pride. Many of the best of the best have gone on to play in the National Football League. Georgia is one of the top country’s top schools at producing NFL talent, an obvious plus when it comes to recruiting the next crop of potential standouts. A select few of those NFL performers have gone on to distinguished pro careers. Two former Bulldogs have received the ultimate honor – induction into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Charley Trippi was called by both Jim Thorpe, voted America’s best athlete of the first half of the 20th century, and legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson the best football player they ever saw. Trippi teamed with fellow Bulldog legend Frank Sinkwich to lead Georgia to the 1942 national and Southeastern Conference championship. When he returned from World War II, Trippi emerged as the country’s best player. He won the Maxwell Award in 1946, finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Army’s “Mr. Outside” Glen Davis, whose teammate “Mr. Inside” Doc Blanchard won the award the year prior. The consensus was that Trippi was the far superior player. But most of the voters were from the north and there was the unique storyline of an Army player winning two straight seasons. Trippi led the Bulldogs to a perfect 11-0 season in 1946, winning every game by at least 10 points. Army and Notre Dame played to a famous 0-0 tie and the Bulldogs missed out on the national championship. Northern bias at work again. Georgia was voted No. 1 in the Williamson Poll.
A sensational runner, strong-armed accurate passer, menacing safety and thunder-footed punter, Trippi was also a magnificent baseball player. His .464 batting average in 1946 is the Georgia single-season record. The New York Yankees reportedly offered the independent Atlanta Crackers farm team $100,000 for Trippi’s contract in 1947. He was projected by the Pinstripe Management as the hallowed centerfield successor to “Joltin’” Joe DiMaggio, “The Yankee Clipper.” New York so coveted Trippi, they were even going to let him play football once the baseball season was over.
But Trippi wanted to play football only professionally. He was the first overall pick in the NFL Draft and as a rookie led the Chicago Cardinals to the NFL Championship. When the Arizona Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl in February of 2009, it was the franchise’s first trip to a championship game since Trippi’s rookie season and he received a great deal of national attention, being both the best player from that team and one of the NFL’s oldest living hall of famers.
When comprising a list of Georgia’s All-Time NFL team, based solely on their accomplishments in the pro’s, Trippi is certainly at the top of the list. Sinkwich most likely would have been there too, had his NFL career not been cut short by injury.
Georgia’s other NFL Hall of Fame player is “The Peerless Pilot,” Fran Tarkenton. The Athens native had an outstanding career at Georgia, highlighted by his legendary game-winning touchdown pass to Bill Herron to beat Auburn in 1959, sending the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship.
Tarkenton enjoyed a record-setting NFL career, primarily with Minnesota. He led the Vikings to three NFC Championships and a trio of Super Bowls, while compiling one of the most impressive statistical ledgers of any passer in pro football annals. A renowned scrambler and play-maker, Tarkenton retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yardage.
While several former Bulldogs, like former NFL and Super Bowl MVP Terrell Davis, Georgia’s iconic player Herschel Walker, or soon to be Miami Dolphins “Ring of Honor” inductees, Bulldogs greats Bill Stanfill and Jake Scott, could receive consideration, three active alumni certainly seem Canton bound.
Hines Ward, Champ Bailey and Richard Seymour all have been elite NFL players for a decade or longer.
Pittsburgh’s all-time leading receiver and a Super Bowl MVP, Ward is an all-time Steeler great, beloved for the physical nature of his supremely talented game. The great Steeler teams that won four Super Bowls in six years between the seasons of 1974-79 featured a pair of iconic pass-catchers in John Stallworth and Lynn Swann. Ward has been better and broken their records. He’s been one of the NFL’s best receivers since coming on as a rookie in 1998, been a vital part of a pair of Super Bowl championships, and is hands-down the most feared blocking wide-out in the league.
Bailey has quite simply been the NFL’s best cornerback of the 2000s. He was named to the All-Decade team, the greatest individual honor short of the Hall of Fame a player can get. A rookie in 1999, it took very little time for Bailey to establish himself as one of the league’s best. He’s been an All-Pro and Pro Bowler in almost every season of his stellar career, while over the past decade-plus, annually ranking amongst the two or three best players at his position in the league. Bailey is a lock-down corner in pass coverage and one of the textbook sure-tacklers in the NFL. Champ Bailey is arguably the Denver Broncos greatest defensive player ever.
Both Ward and Bailey are near locks for the Hall of Fame.
Richard Seymour should also be on his way to Canton.
A vital part of all four of the Patriots Super Bowl appearances and their three championships of the 2000s, Seymour was New England’s best defensive lineman, and like Bailey, a member of the All-Decade team. He was traded before the 2009 campaign to the Oakland Raiders for a first round draft pick. But Seymour will forever be linked to those phenomenal Patriot teams that won three super bowls in the four year period of 2001-2004. New England and the Dallas Cowboys, who won a trio of Vince Lombardi trophies between 1992 and 1995, are the only franchises to accomplish that feat of winning three Super Bowls in a four year stretch.
He deserves it on his merits as one of the NFL’s best defensive linemen of the past decade and there’s no question that because of New England’s amazing success, Patriot greats will receive extra consideration. Off of that defense, Tedy Bruschi is a good bet to get in, and a lot of his tackles came because Seymour was tying up two or three blockers.
That will be a glorious honor for Georgia when this tremendous trio gets in. Even though his amazing career was cut short due to injury, Davis is deserving. Walker for some reason gets knocked because of the blockbuster trade that sent him from Dallas to Minnesota, helping ignite that great Cowboys run of the 1990s. But that wasn’t his fault. And Herschel’s numbers when it comes to rushing, total yardage and those USFL totals certainly warrant induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So wouldn’t that be something to have five Bulldogs go in over the next decade or so.
As mentioned above, Stanfill and Scott are both soon to be inducted into the Miami Dolphins ring of honor (look for Bulldawg Illustrated’s coverage from the event in the Tech issue). These two Georgia greats teamed up as part of that supremely talented “No Name Defense” that helped the Dolphins to back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 1972 and ’73. Both were multiple time Pro Bowl and All Pro selections and certainly go down as two of the all-time greats for the proud Dolphins franchise.
Scott was the MVP of Super Bowl VII, as the Dolphins wrapped up the lone undefeated season in the NFL’s modern era. With Scott, Davis and Ward, Georgia is the only school that has had three separate players win Super Bowl MVP honors.
For Charley Trippi and Fran Tarkenton, there are more Bulldogs on their way to Canton.
And here’s some red and black hoping that A.J. Green and Justin Houston wait until 2012 before starting their very promising pro careers.