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UGA football: Andy Johnson showed what becomes a legend most
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UGA football: Andy Johnson showed what becomes a legend most

UGA football: Andy Johnson showed what becomes a legend most

UGA football: Andy Johnson showed what becomes a legend most

Georgia-Andy Johnson-best running quarterback-modest legend

The emotional outpouring from Bulldog Nation this week in response to the passing of Andy Johnson provided a stark contrast to the cool, modest demeanor of Georgia football’s most low-key legend.

Andy Johnson wanted to play for the Dawgs from childhood. (University of Georgia/courtesy)

Athens native Johnson, a classmate of mine from seventh  grade on, starred in both football and baseball at UGA, and was, in the estimation of many — including Vince Dooley  — the Dawgs’ best running quarterback ever.

Drafted by the Atlanta Braves, he also could have had a Major League Baseball career, but chose instead to play as a running back for the New England Patriots (the first of 11 Bulldogs that team has drafted), spending nine years in the NFL and another in the USFL.

Longtime Atlanta sportscaster Bill Hartman, another Classic City native, said this week in a Facebook discussion that “ Andy was the best athlete ever to come out of Athens, and that covers a lot of ground.” I agree with Hartman; Johnson was the best all-around athlete I’ve ever seen.

Andy, no doubt, would have been embarrassed by such a statement. A quiet, gentle man — the quintessential “nice guy” — he was modest to a fault. As my brother Tim noted, Andy “ really could have been the face of UGA football, if he had wanted it,” but he never sought the limelight.

His Bulldog heroics most notably included leading the Dawgs to a last-minute victory over Georgia Tech in a nationally televised game on Thanksgiving night in 1971.

Trailing Tech 24-21, Georgia got the ball at its own 35-yard line with 1:29 on the clock. In one of the most memorable drives I’ve ever seen, Andy led them downfield. Known primarily as a running quarterback, he got the comeback started with a 22-yard scamper, but it was the four passes he completed on that drive that made the difference, especially a clutch fourth-down throw to Mike Greene that gave the Dogs a first down at the Tech 25 with 48 seconds remaining. After another pass to Jimmy Shirer got the Dogs down to the 1, Jimmy Poulos went over the top to score with only 14 seconds left on the clock. Georgia won, 28-24.

Former UGA quarterback Andy Johnson was a constant breakaway threat as a runner. (AJC file)

Another Johnson touchdown — one that beat favored Tennessee in Knoxville in 1973 — also resulted in one of the earliest of those unforgettable radio calls by Larry Munson. Late in the game, with the Vols ahead, Andy faked a handoff, the ball bounced off the turf back into his hands, and he ran in for the winning score. Shouted Munson: “Andy Johnson touchdown! Andy Johnson touchdown! … My God Georgia beat Tennessee in Knoxville!”

For Athens folks, a last-minute comeback led by Johnson was nothing new. In the fall of 1969, when the Athens High Trojans met the mighty Valdosta Wildcats in the state AAA championship — then the top classification in Georgia high school football — Andy ran the ball 70 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half. Later, as the clock ticked down in the fourth quarter, Valdosta was still ahead  26-18 , but Johnson led the Trojans down the field, throwing for a TD and completing another pass for a 2-point conversion to tie up the game as time ran out. In those days, ties were acceptable, so Athens and Valdosta ruled as co-champions that year.

Ironically, two of the folks I heard from this week mourning Andy were a couple of former Bulldog quarterbacks who grew up on the other side of that Athens-Valdosta rivalry.

Said Valdosta native Buck Belue in a reply to my tweet about Johnson’s death: “ Andy was not only the best athlete Athens produced, [but] probably the best athlete to ever play at UGA.”

And, chimed in John Lastinger: He single-handedly tied VHS in [the] State Title game. I cried then. Cried today! He was such a great guy! DGD.”

Johnson lettered in four sports in high school, including basketball. (Athens High School 1970 yearbook)

Andy, who lettered in football, basketball, baseball and track at Athens High, was a high school All-America selection. Charlie Hayslett, who covered Johnson and the Trojans for the Athens Daily News, recalled: “ You only had to see him once to know he was one of those rare, one-in-a-zillion athletes.” 

In his 2005 book written with Tony Barnhart — Dooley: My 40 Years at Georgia,” — the legendary UGA coach said Andy “ was one of the best athletes I have ever seen. … I remember watching him play one time in high school. He turned to make alateral pitch, but the back had gone the wrong way. The ball sailed loose and [Andy] outran the entire defense to recover it near the sideline. And the defense was already going full speed! It was an impossible play, but he made it.”

Andy, whose uncles, Walter and Harold Maguire, played for UGA, started playing football at age 6 in the same Cobern Kelley-led Athens YMCA football program that produced Fran Tarkenton and Jake Scott. He turned heads from the start, and also was a baseball prodigy in Little League.

Helen Castronis’ dad, Mike, was on the UGA coaching staff and recruited Andy for the Bulldogs. “We took Andy to McWhorter Hall for lunch every Sunday,” she recalled.

It probably wasn’t necessary. There really never was any question where he would play his college ball. As Andy told Loran Smith for his 1989 book Dooley’s Dawgs, “I always wanted to be part of the Georgia tradition, dating back to the time when I scored a touchdown between the hedges for the Athens YMCA [in a pregame scrimmage] and the Redcoat Band played a Bulldog fight song or two after I crossed the goal line.”

But, as fellow Athens native Owen Scott recalled this week: “ Andy was more than just a great athlete, he was an amazing person. … He never displayed the kind of ego that some highly gifted stars develop.”

Said Bill Bryant, who worked with me on the Athens High newspaper: “ Andy was one of the nicest guys any of us has known. To have that much talent and good looks, it took a special person not to be consumed with himself. He was one cool guy who never tried to be. Secretly, I think we all wanted to be Andy. He really had it all: an abundance of natural ability, good looks, an unassuming style.”

Ben Anderson, one of Andy’s high school basketball teammates, said he was “awed by Andy’s seemingly effortless athleticism.”

Recalled another Athens native, Bill Berryman: “I first realized that Andy was truly gifted when our group of Y boys lined up for a wind sprint for fourth or fifth grade football practice. … By the time most of us reached yard 15, Andy was at 25.   His lead only grew, and we were in awe. … But Andy was gifted in another way, too — genuine and self-effacing, he was the epitome of sportsmanship, from the sandlot to the NFL.”

Johnson was an early athletic prodigy in the Athens YMCA and Little League. (Courtesy of Jessica Jordan)

Despite his stardom — he was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1996 — Andy always had time for others. Said classmate Saye Sutton: “His countenance was gentle, kind and attentive. You knew he was listening to you and always learning something new about everyone he encountered.”

Or, as my buddy Charles Isbell put it: “H is easy-going personality and his warmness and friendliness to everyone” was pretty much his normal demeanor.”

“He was also the most humble person I’ve ever known,” said former Bulldog football player Dave Williams.

Betz Lowery, who was three years behind us at Athens High, said she had a “huge crush” on Andy back then, but never got to meet him until she attended a UGA lettermen’s banquet a few years ago. “ I tried not to gush when I told him that I had a crush on him since I was 14. He shook my hand and was so gracious and thanked me for telling him that. I also told him I was thrilled to meet him. He then gave my hand a kiss before saying goodbye.”

Another classmate of Johnson’s, Dan Pelletier, summed it up: “ Amazing how everyone’s memories of Andy are so positive. He truly was loved and admired by all he met.”

MiMi DuBose Gudenrath dated Andy when they were juniors at Athens High. She reminisced this week: “I always contended we broke up because his mother didn’t like me. We used to joke about it. About a year ago, I got a text from Andy with an attachment; it was the prom picture of us at the Junior-Senior. He found it as he was cleaning out his mom’s house after her death.”

Andy and MiMi at the 1969 Athens High Junior-Senior. (Courtesy of MiMi DuBose Gudenrath

Added Andy in the text: “See, I told you my mom liked you; she kept our picture!”

My own experiences with Andy after college were mainly limited to chatting at our class reunions, held every five years. After I started doing the Junkyard Blawg, I saw him at a reunion when the Dawgs were in a bit of a down period, and he gently chided me, “You’ve been kind of hard on them lately.”

It’s fair to criticize the coaches, Andy said, but he urged me always to remember “there’s nobody in that stadium who wants Georgia to win more than the players do.”

I knew Andy had been battling illness for at least a decade, but, when I saw him at our most recent reunion, in the fall of 2015, his gaunt appearance surprised me.

We chatted about Georgia football, as we usually did, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I might never see him again.

So, before we parted, I told him how special he was, how much he’d meant to all of us, and how he’d have been one of my all-time favorite Bulldogs, even if we hadn’t gone to school together.

He smiled broadly, took my hand, and, in that quiet way of his, said, “You’re so kind.”

This week, after word came of Andy’s death, it meant a lot to me that I took that opportunity to tell him how we all felt about him.

It was a privilege to know him.

The post UGA football: Andy Johnson showed what becomes a legend most appeared first on DawgNation.

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  • RUTLEDGE, Ga. — Driving East out of Atlanta, keep going on until there’s no evidence of civilization, exit onto Newborn Road and head south into the middle of nowhere. Turn left onto Centenniel Road, drive about a mile, then hang a right onto the gravel road known as Keencheefoonee. Proceed through the wooden gate, turn left at the horse stables pull into a dirt parking lot. Then walk downhill along an asphalt path through a shady white oak forest and emerge into sunlight and arrive at the happiest place on Earth. No, you’re not at Disney World. This place is better. You’ve arrived at Camp Twin Lakes, which for this one day at least is known as Camp Sunshine. Georgia coach Kirby Smart puts his arms around linemen Kendall Baker and Lamont Gaillard as the Bulldogs listen to a presentation by a nurse at the infirmary at Lake Twin Lakes on Wednesday. (Chip Towers/DawgNation) Longtime Georgia Bulldogs’ fans know the drill. UGA’s football team has been making this trek an hour and change south of Athens annually for most of the last 35 years. Vince Dooley, along with wife Barbara, was appointed to the Camp Twin Lakes board of directors in 1983 and the Bulldogs have been making a midsummer visit here every year since (well, every year accept for those under coach Jim Donnan, according to camp administrators). For the unenlightened, Camp Twin Lakes is a retreat in which children with cancer and their families can get away to enjoy outdoor recreational activities for the summer. It has air-conditioned cabins for “glamping,” swimming pools, lakes, a farm (complete with miniature cows and alpacas), sports playing fields, a zipline, a gymnasium and much more. All of the available activities are retrofitted to accommodate children battling different forms of cancer. And, of course, there’s an infirmary to attend to any children who might get sick — or just scrape a knee raising their buddy on one of the many trails snaking the expansive property. It’s here that one sees a whole different side of Georgia coach Kirby Smart. He completely drops his guard and relaxes. He back-slaps and jokes with his players. He peels off at the sight of any of the campers or there families. During the hour-long tour, he seems to know somebody personally at every corner and stops to chat, falling behind the tour and then double-timing it catch back up. The familiarity is because Smart has been coming to Camp Twin Lakes a very long time. He first started coming when his older brother Karl was diagnosed with leukemia in the 1990s. His brother has long since been well, but Kirby has kept coming. He came when he was an assistant coach at Valdosta State and when he was the Miami Dolphins and Alabama. “It’s convenient because I have a lake home that’s 30-45 minutes from here (on Lake Oconee),” Smart said Wednesday. “So through the years, when I was with the Dolphins or Alabama, I’d stop by. A couple of those years Karl was still here as a counselor, so being able to stop in here to see him and everybody was good. Now that he’s head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, he brings his whole team with him, including wife Mary Beth, twins Julia and Weston and little Andrew. Wednesday they had a good time posing with a cardboard cut-out of Kirby and Karl on display in the camp’s courtyard. Andrew kept asking everybody when the dodge-ball game would start, and was front and center and in the middle of everything when it did. “He needs to get smacked around a little bit,” Smart said with a chuckle. “He’s a little too brave for his own good out there. The players are scared to bean him because they know he’s mine.” “Nobody’s like Kirby,” said Mo Thrash, one of the original founders of Camp Sunshine who serves as the Bulldogs’ tour guide and taskmaster each year. “He’s come every year since he’s been out of college. He’d always call me and say, ‘Mo, can I come to camp?’ He show up, spend an hour, hour-and-a-half with me walking around the camp saying hey to kids. No press, nobody around, just being himself. Then he’d leave. He did it every year. Then he became Georgia’s head coach. He’s just very special.” Wednesday was the first of two trips that the Bulldogs will make to Camp Sunshine. In all, Smart said about 70 players signed up to participate. About the other half will come next Wednesday. The first group seemed to include a lot of freshmen and first-year players. Notre Dame transfer Jay Hayes, wearing his new number 97 Georgia jersey, was front-and-center for many of the activities. So was long and tall true freshman Tommy Bush, until they went to alpaca pin. The nearly 6-foot-6 tall receiver, wearing the No. 12, eased to the back of the pack when the group was asked to pet the odd-looking creatures. The many interactions with the campers and staff were entertaining to observe. The players were split into two groups and toured opposite ends of the complex. When being shown the cabins where the campers stay, the girls of Cabin 10 came pouring out and high-fived every player. “Oh my  God, they’re all so tall,” one of the young teens shouted. The residents are not all Georgia fans, either. At the intersection of two paths, a young man named William yelled, “go Gators.” To that the jersey-wearing group responded with a collective, “boo!”, then just laughed it off. In the cafeteria, Smart made a beeline to a young man wearing Alabama gear, including a crimson-and-white cast on his right leg. Colton, who’s 14, said he first met Smart when he was an assistant for the Crimson Tide. “Now he tries to talk me into being a Georgia fan, but he knows I won’t convert,” Colton said. Thrash showed the team the lake and pointed to the zipline and ropes course far across on the other side. “What’s the weight capacity on that?” Smart asked loud enough for everyone to hear. “We’ve got some people here we think can break it “Be sure to keep Fernando off it,” he added, referring to support staffer and former Georgia and NFL offensive lineman Fernando Velasco. At the heart of it all, though, is a serious message. “You guys are heroes to these kids; you’re heroes to me,” Thrash said when he huddled up the team at the outset of the tour. “So go in here, look around the place, see what we do, say hello to the kids, get to know them a little bit and have a good time.” Said Smart: “I want them to appreciated what they have. You look at some of these kids and see how they have to struggle and go through things. Some of them are well now and they come back because they’re the hope for so many other kids who are going through what they did.” For the team, it was a well-earned reprieve. They’ve been working out and doing conditioning every morning for the last two weeks. That includes Wednesday when the players signed up for the trip had to report to the Butts-Mehre football complex at 5:30 a.m. “I don’t know if everybody slept the whole way down because I was asleep as soon as the bus pulled out,” junior tight end Isaac Nauta said. Participants range from players like Nauta and senior center Lamont Gaillard, who have been every year since they arrived on campus, to junior running back Elijah Holyfield, who was making his first trip Wednesday. “My freshman and sophomore years I was kind of trying to do too much,” Holyfield said. “Finally I said I’ve got to go this year because everybody was talking about how much fun it is. I knew I had to do it before I left Georgia and I loved it, so I’ll be back next week as well.” It was especially re-energizing for the freshmen, who have known nothing but regimen and brutal intensity since they arrived on campus May 31. “I think they can finally see that there’s a human side to everybody and you can go out and have fun,” Smart quipped. Camp Sunshine unique to the University of Georgia. Located 51 miles east of downtown Atlanta, the camp is located in the heart of Bulldog Country. No other teams make the pilgrimage to the East Georgia outback. Just the Bulldogs. “It’s only a Georgia thing,” Thrash said. “We’d love for other teams to come in. But it’s always special when the Georgia Bulldogs come in. They’re part of Camp Sunshine.” A happy place indeed. The post Camp Sunshine is strictly a Bulldogs’ thing, and something Kirby Smart loves appeared first on DawgNation.
  • TORONTO (AP) - The better J.A. Happ pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays, the better the chance he finishes the season with another team. Happ pitched a season-high 8 1/3 innings to win his fifth straight decision, Kendrys Morales hit a two-run home run and the Blue Jays beat the Atlanta Braves 5-4 Wednesday for Toronto's seventh win in eight home games. Happ (9-3) allowed four runs and six hits, walked none and struck out eight. The veteran left-hander is the first big league pitcher to record four starts this season with at least eight strikeouts and no walks. 'He's got good life on his fastball,' Atlanta's Nick Markakis said. 'He's always been a thorn in the side.' With Toronto well behind in both the AL East and the wild card standings, Happ could be a candidate for a midseason trade to a contender. 'I know he's in demand and I can see why,' Toronto manager John Gibbons said. 'If we were on the other end of it, I'd want him, too.' Happ is in the final season of a three-year, $36 million contract. 'I signed to play here and try to help this team get to the playoffs,' Happ said. 'I know there may be rumors out there, but I like it here and my focus is here.' Happ improved 4-0 with a 2.72 ERA in nine career starts against the Braves. 'We knew going in it was going to be a tough ride,' Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. Happ had retired 18 of 19 before Freddie Freeman and Markakis hit back-to-back singles with one out in the ninth. Ryan Tepera came on and gave up an RBI single to Kurt Suzuki, struck out Charlie Culberson, then allowed an RBI single to Ender Inciarte, putting the tying run at second. Tepera finished it by getting Johan Camargo to fly out, earning his fifth save in eight opportunities Morales, who turned 35 Wednesday, went 2 for 3 and scored twice. He homered in the first, walked and scored in the fourth, singled in the fifth, and flied out in the eighth. Suzuki and Peter Bourjos hit solo home runs for the Braves, who lost for the second time in eight games. Atlanta began the day with an NL-best record of 43-29. Braves right-hander Anibal Sanchez (3-1) allowed four runs and five hits in five innings. 'It wasn't bad, wasn't great,' Snitker said. 'He kept us in the game, gave us a chance.' Sanchez is 0-2 with a 9.19 ERA in his past three starts against the Blue Jays. After Morales hit a two-out drive off Sanchez, his sixth homer of the season, Suzuki connected in the second, his eighth, and Bourjos tied it in the third with his first homer of the season. Toronto broke the deadlock in the fourth when Randal Grichuk hit an RBI double and Aledmys Diaz followed with a sacrifice fly. Blue Jays infielder Yangervis Solarte made it 5-2 with a two-out RBI single off A.J. Minter in the seventh. WALK THIS WAY Blue Jays C Russell Martin has walked at least once in eight straight games, matching a career-long stretch. Martin, who walked twice Wednesday, also walked in eight straight in 2013. BIRTHDAY BLASTS Morales has four home runs and eight RBIs in eight career games on his birthday. THRIVING WITH FIVE Toronto is 28-1 when scoring five or more runs. TRAINER'S ROOM Braves: Markakis started at designated hitter, the first time this season he hasn't played one of the corner outfield spots. Blue Jays: RHP Marcus Stroman (shoulder) will be activated off the disabled list to start at the Angels on Saturday, Gibbons said. Stroman is 0-5 with a 7.71 ERA in seven starts. ... 3B Josh Donaldson (left calf) left the team Wednesday and will continue working out at Toronto's spring training facility in Florida. Donaldson will not begin a rehab assignment until he is able to run the bases at full speed. UP NEXT Braves: Atlanta is off Thursday before opening a three-game home series against Baltimore on Friday. LHP Sean Newcomb (8-2, 2.70 ERA) starts for the Braves. Newcomb has won eight of his past nine decisions. The Orioles have not named a starter. Blue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez (3-5, 4.35) starts the opener of a four-game series against the Angels. Sanchez is 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA in three June starts. LHP Tyler Skaggs (6-4, 2.81) starts for Los Angeles. ___ More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball
  • Georgia may get one more win from its incredible Rose Bowl victory over Oklahoma in Pasadena, Calif. on New Year’s Day. Georgia’s epic comeback 54-48 win in double-overtime win over Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy-winner and eventual first-overall pick Baker Mayfield is one of the three nominees for Best Game at the annual sports awards. The other two nominees are the wild World Series Game 5 between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers and the 2018 Winter Olympics Women’s Hockey Gold Medal Game between the United States and Canada. Georgia trailed Oklahoma by 17 points before an end-of-half and Rose Bowl record 55-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship brought the Bulldogs within an even two touchdowns. They looked like a different team in the second half, putting all kinds of pressure on Mayfield while Nick Chubb and Sony Michel wore down and gashed the Sooners’ defense. A late fumble from Michel that was returned for a touchdown almost made the comeback all for naught, but Jake Fromm led the Bulldogs down the field in the final minutes, converting a third down pass to Terry Godwin near the red zone before Chubb scored again to send the game to overtime. The teams traded field goals in the first overtime, and then Lorenzo Carter used every bit of his long arms to block OU’s attempt in double overtime. Then, on the second play of Georgia’s possession, Sony Michel took the direct snap to the left and found himself wide open into the end zone, and the Rose party was on. It’s arguable the best Rose Bowl ever but definitely can go no lower than second. Vince Young defeating USC for the national championship has to receive its due. But it’s a tough argument that this ESPY should go anywhere other than Athens. You can view all of the award nominees and vote on them here. The post Georgia’s epic Rose Bowl win nominated for ESPY Award for Best Game appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Georgia football is the No. 1 topic every day on DawgNation Daily — the daily podcast for Georgia Bulldogs fans. Catch up on everything happening with UGA athletics with host Brandon Adams and the cast of DawgNation experts as they break down the latest Georgia football recruiting news and discuss UGA coach Kirby Smart’s quest to keep the Bulldogs on top of the SEC. On episode No. 725 (June 20, 2018) of the podcast, Georgia fans can hear a discussion about Georgia freshman quarterback Justin Fields. Georgia football podcast: Despite loads of attention, Justin Fields might be underrated Beginning of the show: Georgia incoming freshman quarterback Justin Fields is among the most talked about players in the country, but based on one recent evaluation he might still be underrated. I’ll talk on today’s show about how Fields’ presence impacts how UGA’s quarterback situation should be viewed. 12-minute mark: I share audio of DawgNation recruiting insider Jeff Sentell’s list of the top 2019 defensive line priorities for UGA. 15-minute mark: SEC Country’s Mike Johnson joins the show. Some of the topics covered include… Mike’s thoughts on Fields Reaction to 4-star offensive tackle Xavier Truss’ commitment An assessment of the pressure on UGA defensive line coach Tray Scott to pull together an elite collection of defensive linemen for the 2019 class And an opinion about current UGA commits taking visits to other schools 30-minute mark: I take a look at some other SEC headlines including Les Miles being asked about the LSU athletic director’s job, a preview of 5-star cornerback Derek Stingley’s commitment announcement scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, and a challenge from ESPN to some former top recruits to finally live up to the hype this season. 35-minute mark: I share another Dawg Day Q&A. End of show: I update the Gator Hater Countdown. For the Tuesday (June 19) show, click here. For the video version of the Wednesday show, click here. For older episodes of DawgNation Daily, click here. The post Georgia football podcast: Despite loads of attention, Justin Fields might be underrated appeared first on DawgNation.