THE BALD EAGLE COMETH

THE BALD EAGLE COMETH

On a cool, cloudy, windy Saturday Halloween night in Dublin, nearly thirty five years ago, gremlins and goblins were scurrying about the town.  Over at the Shamrock Bowl, a congregation of eagles was gathering - not two-winged eagles, but two-legged eagles, some dressed in blue and the others outfitted in white uniforms.  Their new leader, known to some as “The Bald Eagle,” was eager to see his fledgling eaglets prepare for their first flight. Many Dubliners were familiar with him.  They had seen him on the sidelines between the hedges in Athens for more than a decade and a half.  They knew this Junkyard Dog, with scarcely a visible follicle on his shiny, scarred head, as Coach Russell, or simply, “Erk.”

In the latter years of the 1970s, Georgia Southern President Dale  Lick (left) envisioned having a football team at Georgia Southern College in Statesboro, some 70 airline miles east of Dublin.  Lick stopped by the Sir Shop in Dublin one day to ask Mike Cummings who was the best person to  coach the new team.  Lick asked Cummings, a Southern alumni, about Erk Russell. Cummings certainly knew of  the venerable bulldog and the stories he had
heard from his friends, especially former Dublin High and Georgia lineman, Ronnie Rogers, “who would go through a wall for Erk.”   Everywhere Lick went, Russell was the consensus choice - if he could be hired.

Despite faculty opposition, Lick’s dream came true when  he shocked the Georgia Bulldog world by hiring the pugnacious, animated and revered defensive coach of the reigning national champion Georgia Bulldogs.

Cummings was sitting with Bush Perry at a Dublin Rotary Club meeting when he had the idea of hosting a game here in Dublin to benefit the football program just as word of Russell’s hiring was leaking out to the press and football fans around the state.

Coach Russell asked for and received a more than adequate squad of volunteers,  lead by Billy Hobbs, Mike Cummings and Hal Ward, who led the “Middle Georgia Work for Erk Committee.” The committee offered the 8,000 seat Shamrock Bowl as the venue for the game. Russell wanted to get a good look at his upcoming team before starting to play a club schedule in 1982.

“We hired some men from Dexter to cook barbecue plates, which we sold for $25.00 along with a ticket to the game,” Cummings recalled.  “The people in Statesboro were upset that Dublin was the first city to host a game,” Mike added.

Hobbs’ Sporting Goods owner, Billy Hobbs, was himself an ol’ Georgia Southern man and baseball star. Hobbs (left) cemented his lifelong ties to Georgia Southern when he married Mary Henderson, daughter of former Georgia Southern President, Zach S. Henderson.  In fact, most of Hobbs’ entire family were graduates of Georgia Southern.







Cummings, (left) who attended Southern in the early 1970s, has been a life long supporter of the college for more than four decades.  In 2009, Mike was awarded the Eagles’ Distinguished Service Award by the Southern Conference.  Earlier this year in 2016, Cummings, who has served as President of the Athletic Foundation from 2005-2009, President of the Alumni Association, and headed the Dublin and Laurens County Eagle Booster Club, was inducted as a booster into the Georgia Southern Athletics Hall of Fame.

            The food and fun began at 5:30 with Coach Russell speaking to the group at 6:30. To liven up the party and pump up the crowd, Atlanta Constitution humorist and columnist, Lewis Grizzard, stood on the fifty-yard line and through a bull horn told stories of Erk Russell and his  new and other favorite Georgia college football team.

Russell thanked the team’s supporters and thanked his dear friend and loyal booster Grizzard, although Russell commented, “Of course, I don’t believe everything he says.”  Russell also thanked College President Dale Lick and other officials for their support in making football a reality at Georgia Southern after a 40-year hiatus.

Not only did Russell (left fall 1981) want to take a look at the ninety-four or so Eagle hopefuls, he saw the event as not only a fan base building event, but as a recruiting tool to entice some of Middle Georgia’s best athletes to consider a career at Georgia Southern.  Recent Dublin Irish players Frank Hobbs and Dan Foy wanted to play for the Eagles, but Russell encouraged only freshman and sophomores to try out  in those early trial days.  However, Bill Woodard, a center for the 1980 Dublin Irish, saw a lot of action that night as well as former East Laurens star athlete, Al Spivey.

  A decent crowd of 2,000 fans descended upon the Shamrock Bowl that evening to catch a glimpse of history in the making - the first intra-squad, game-like scrimmage of the Georgia Southern Eagles.   The East Laurens High School Band of Gold performed musical selections for the game that evening, while the coaching staff of Dublin High kept up the field operations during the game. Little did anyone in the crowd that night, including the team’s staunchest and most loyal supporters, ever dream of the remarkable record the Eagles would make before the decade was out.

The kickoff was set for 7:30.  The white team jumped out of the gate early with a 3-yd. quarterback sneak by Rob Allen, a 51-yd scoring pass from Allen to Wade Britt and a 2-yd. run by Bill Parr, along with three extra points by kicker Matheny to jump to a seemingly unsurmountable 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.  Rob Toole, kicking for the blue team, punched a 24-yd. field goal through the uprights just before the end of the half.

William Carwell stretched the white team’s lead to 28-3 with a 7-yd. run in the 3rd stanza.  Jay Powers scored on a recovered fumble return of 15 yards and snagged a TD pass from Terry Mock for 52 yards to bring the final score to 28 to 17 .

After the game, Russell and several of his closest friends retired to Estes’ bar on East Madison Street for a post game party.

After all of the ticket sales and donations were tallied, Cummings and Hobbs traveled to Statesboro to present to Dr. Lick and Coach Russell a $10,000.00 check for the school’s scholarship fund.

After two years of playing a club team schedule, Georgia Southern entered NCAA competition in 1984.  The following year, the Eagles defeated Furman to win the national championship.    In only the team’s third year, the Eagles defeated Arkansas State to win back to back national championship titles in 1986.

In Russell’s final season in 1989, the Eagles defeated Stephen F. Austin in Statesboro to capture their third championship five seasons.  Former Dublin Irish star, Taz Dixon, (left) who played on both the ’86 and ’89 championship teams, intercepted an opponent’s pass 30 yards from the goal line with time running out.  Georgia Southern kicked a field goal to break the 34-34 tie and win the game before a deliriously wild home crowd.







Dixon, who played along side another Irish star, John Wilson, (left) was named as an All-American and went on to coach a Tift County High School team, which included current Eagle head coach, Tyson Summers.  Among the local athletes who played at Georgia Southern were Brian Wilcher and Kentrellis Showers. An Eagle and CFL legend, Tracy Ham, coached at Trinity High School in Dublin for a season.

Just think.

        The legend of the six-time, national champion Georgia Southern Eagles first took flight into that Halloween right here in Dublin at the Shamrock Bowl 35 years ago in 1981.

1st and 3rd photos courtesy of Mike Cummings and Frank Hobbs. 

Comments

lynhobbs said…
I was at that game at the shamrock bowl in 1981. Little did I know then that I would meet my mate for life a few weeks later, marry him, be a part of this great family of hobbs' and Hendersons and make Dublin my home of 18and a half years! So thankful!