ATHENS — It was, on one hand, simply a row of steps between sections 125 and 126 in the southeast…
A home farewell for Vince Dooley
"All I thought about was Clemson," he said. "That was all that was on my mind that day."
Today's 12:30 p.m. Southeastern Conference game against Kentucky will be Dooley's last game in the stadium as athletic director, and he insists the same thing is true.
"I absolutely have not (thought about it being my last game), but I have been reminded of that so much that I'm going to have to start thinking about it I guess," he said. "The game is more important, much more important."
Some people would argue that.
Dooley's impending departure - his contract will run out on June 30, 2004 - has been a source of rancor among Georgia fans since UGA president Michael Adams decided in June not to extend Dooley's contract. Some fans are planning to wear black to today's game in mourning of Dooley's finale.
Dooley will remain on the university payroll until at least 2005, serving as a consultant, and he tried to focus on that this week when asked about the occasion.
"I mean I'm coming back here, in a different capacity, obviously, but I'm coming back," he said.
Almost every opposing SEC school on Georgia's schedule this season has done something during the game to honor Dooley's last game against their team, but Dooley vetoed a similar tribute today.
"(The other schools) were nice to ask me, and it would have been not nice to say no, but I can control it here," he said. "I'm still the athletic director, and I said no."
Said Georgia defensive coordinator Rodney Garner: "It's hard to believe they won't do something anyway. I'm sure they probably will."
Garner, who is the football coach with the most time at Georgia, praised Dooley this week for his hands-off approach to the football program.
"You hear war stories (at other schools)," Garner said, "but he is not a guy who butts in. He's very supportive. If you want advice, you have to ask him for it."
Dooley has plenty of experience on which to draw. He won 201 games in 25 seasons as the Bulldogs' coach, including 112 in Sanford Stadium.
"There has to be a flood of emotions and memories," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "Gosh, I don't know, it just doesn't seem right."
Georgia quarterback David Greene, who was born the year Dooley won his final SEC Championship (1982), said the Bulldogs would love to send Dooley off with one final victory.
"This is the guy who's really built this," Greene said. "He's meant so much to Georgia for so many years. We'd like to send him out on a good note."
According to Dooley, Georgia's players shouldn't give the occasion a second thought. He won't, he said.
"I won't even think about it, I'll do what comes naturally," he said. "I'll go to the locker room after the game, hopefully to congratulate Coach Richt, but I'll be there either way."
Sanford Stadium held 43,621 fans the first day Dooley coached there and only that many because an expansion of 7,621 had just been completed. Today, he will sit in his suite beside the press box and look at a facility that holds 92,058 thanks to six expansions he has overseen since that time.
"It's a very special point of pride to me," he said. "It's a magnificent place. I think each time we've added to the stadium has been a good feeling. I can't imagine any place better. I really can't." THE HIGHLIGHTS Five of Dooley's greatest days in Sanford Stadium
Nov. 28, 1964, Georgia 7, Georgia Tech 0: Dooley snapped a three-game losing streak against the Jackets, who at the time led the overall series 27-26. When Dooley retired, Georgia led the series 45-33.
Sept. 18, 1965, Georgia 18, Alabama 17: The Bulldogs beat an Alabama team that was coming off an 8-0 SEC Championship season in the season-opener. It was the only league game the Tide lost on the way to another conference crown.
Oct. 8, 1966, Georgia 9, Ole Miss 3: Dooley wins his first matchup against Ole Miss coach John Vaught and goes on to his first SEC Championship. The Bulldogs were 6-0 in the league that year, tying 6-0 Alabama for the crown.
Oct. 2, 1976, Georgia 21, Alabama 0: The tracks that at the time overlooked the stadium were packed to watch Georgia hand Alabama its first conference loss since 1972. "It was a tremendous celebration," Dooley said. It was one of only two SEC games Alabama lost from 1973-1979.
Sept. 20, 1980, Georgia 20, Clemson 16: The Bulldogs avenged a loss from a year earlier on the way to an undefeated season and the national title. Dooley's six SEC title teams never lost a game in Sanford Stadium.
Five of Dooley's worst days in Sanford Stadium
Nov. 30, 1974, Georgia Tech 34, Georgia 14: "Rain that turned into sheets of ice that turned into hail that turned into a blizzard. Plus we were getting the heck beat out of us," Dooley said. "That's as bad as it gets."
Oct. 22, 1977, Kentucky 33, Georgia 0: The Wildcats march through Athens on the way to a 6-0 conference record. England's Prince Charles watches the game from the stadium.
Nov. 3, 1979, Virginia 31, Georgia 0: Dogs get blown out in first meeting of teams in 72 years. Dooley finally gets chance to avenge loss in next-to-last season, winning 30-22 in 1987 in Athens.
Dec. 1, 1984, Georgia Tech 35, Georgia 18: Georgia whipped by Jackets team that won just six games that year. It was one of Dooley's three home losses to Georgia Tech.
Nov. 14, 1987, Auburn 27, Georgia 11: The Tigers, then the dominant team in the league, leave a bitter taste in Dooley's final home game against his former school. Dooley was 1-5 in his last six against Auburn.
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