Dooley's final home game

Vince Dooley

ATHENS — It was, on one hand, simply a row of steps between sections 125 and 126 in the southeast corner of Sanford Stadium.

But for Vince Dooley, it was a gauntlet.

With 5:34 remaining in the game, applause and cheering emerged from the top of those sections at the sight of Dooley making his way down to the field for the final minutes of what would be a 30-10 win by Georgia over Kentucky.

Sections of the south and east side of the stadium rose and cheered and applauded as Dooley shook hands and patted backs, accepting and giving thanks to fans who wanted to say farewell.

It took awhile.

"Last week at the Auburn game, that was spontaneous," he said of the same scenario when he left his box to head toward the field, another ovation rising up throughout a fuller stadium. "This was spontaneous. I thought that I could get on down, say hello to a few people as I went by."

He thought wrong.

"It just wasn't possible," he said, his eyes a little red. "Great moment, very special, the outpouring of support. The only thing that I regret is that I couldn't respond to the requests of everybody. I would have never gotten down.

"If I didn't have somewhere to go, I would've just stayed there and spent the whole time."

Saturday was Dooley's final home game as athletics director. President Michael Adams is sticking to an agreement between the two that would end Dooley's days in the position at the end of June. Last June, Adams denied Dooley's request for four, and then two, more years in the position.

The decision sparked outrage among Georgia fans toward Adams and increasingly affection for Dooley, some of which manifested itself Saturday.

Dooley finally reached the bottom of the stadium and emerged through a gate onto the field, hedges to his left and right. But he stayed there, out of the way, with cameras galore focused on him. He signed footballs and placards and ticket stubs and hats.

Of course, the priority was to stop signing or talking and watch each play.

"It's a football game," he said. "That's what was important."

Then the student section began the first part of the chant — "Vince" with the south side answering — "Dooley."

It had to be pointed out to the venerable Bulldog that it was almost as if the crowd was honoring him on the field in a way it couldn't in 1988, his last season.

"I hadn't thought about that," he said. "I hadn't made the decision (to retire as coach) until after the (Georgia) Tech game."

Dooley spoke briefly to the current batch of Bulldogs after the win.

He was given one of three game balls, the other two going to kicker Billy Bennett and longtime team physician, Dr. Gerald Thomas.

Said Bennett: "That's good company to be in."

He spoke not of this final home football week, but of the future. The very near future.

The next game.

"I said, as an old coach, 'Enjoy tonight, but the first thing Sunday morning, start thinking - and even tonight - that you're getting ready to do something that no georgia team has even done in 40-something years," he said, noting that the non-conference game against Tech has an impact on the SEC East championship race. "'And that is your biggest rival, the last rival, Georgia Tech, and the conference championship could be resting on that game. It's never happened in the last 40 years. but it's gonna happen Saturday.'

"So I guess the old coach came out in me."

Senior defensive tackle Ken Veal agreed.

"He talked about the importance of the game," said Veal, who was born the year of Georgia's national championship in 1980. "The coaching is still in him."

Dooley's immediate postgame goal was to get home and watch son Derek and LSU — where he's an assistant — take on Ole Miss for the SEC West title. And perhaps he'll reminisce about Saturday's finale, a day in which he requested no fanfare.

"It was obvious it was different to our supporters," he said. "For that, I'm very appreciative of the outpouring of respect and I think in some cases love. At least i feel a few of 'em were out there feeling that way.

"That was a little more emotion in that respect than I had anticipated. i'm deeply grateful, deeply grateful for that."

Saturday, Georgia fans returned the gratitude.

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