Athens, Ga.—Vince Dooley, Georgia’s Hall of Fame football coach, turned 85 years young on Monday. It was going to be a busy week.
Between tending to his beautiful flower garden, promoting his latest book and taking in an Atlanta Braves game on a splendid Labor Day night, there needed to be a brief stop at Foley Field, home of the Georgia baseball team.
Yes, there is a story here.
On Saturday, Georgia’s football team will visit Notre Dame for the first time in history. To help celebrate the occasion, the Chicago Cubs have asked Dooley, who was Georgia’s head coach from 1964-1988, to throw out the first pitch in Friday night’s game with the Brewers. [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Dooley, who was known for exhaustive preparation as a coach, is not going take the mound at Wrigley Field without some practice.
“It’s a long way from the mound to home plate. I have a newfound appreciation for pitchers,” said Dooley, who won 201 games, six SEC championships, and one national championship in 25 years as the head coach of the Bulldogs.
His 1980 team, led by freshman superstar Herschel Walker, beat Notre Dame 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. It is the only previous meeting between the two teams. Notre Dame will return the game in Athens in 2019.
To say that the Georgia people are excited about this game would be a vast understatement. The school’s allotment of tickets from Notre Dame—about 8,000—was long ago snatched up by the biggest of the Big Dawg boosters. Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity told me he could have easily sold 25,000 tickets. Notre Dame officials told me it has been one of the toughest tickets in a long, long time. Thousands of Georgia fans will invade South Bend without tickets because, as bucket list, experiences go, this is a pretty big one.
“There are a lot of people who are going without tickets because they just want to say they were there,” said Dooley. “Our fans love to travel and go to places they have never been before. It’s going to be a great night.”
Dooley grew up in Mobile, Ala. (also the home of Hank Aaron) and was educated in Catholic schools. Like many boys of that time, Dooley dreamed of going to Notre Dame. He landed at Auburn where he was the quarterback on the football team and the point guard on the basketball team.
Dooley’s basketball coach at Auburn, Joel Eaves, became Georgia’s athletic director in 1963. That December he named Dooley, the 31-year-old freshman team coach at Auburn, as Georgia’s new head football coach. He became the school’s athletic director in 1979 and would remain in that position until 2004. All total, Dooley worked at Georgia for 41 years.
When the match-up was set between Georgia and Notre Dame in 1980, Dooley heard from some of the nuns who had taught him in Mobile.
“They wanted four tickets to the game and I managed to get them,” said Dooley. “I gave them to the nuns and asked if they were pulling for Georgia. They said ‘Oh, No! We HAVE to pull for Notre Dame.”
As for Saturday’s game Frank Ros, the captain of the 1980 national championship team, has put together a viewing party on the big screen of Georgia’s new $30 million indoor practice facility. A total of 45 lettermen from the team and their families have signed up to be there.
“Our team has stayed close,” said Ros, a former executive with the Coca-Cola Company. “I just can’t believe it’s been 37 years since we played Notre Dame. Time really goes by fast.
“I just hope we beat them again.”
Georgia is a 6 ½ point underdog on Saturday night against the Fighting Irish.