College football has spawned some notable players who loved competition, but also appreciated the game for its inherent values, its heritage and the fact that winning with honor was the way football should be played.
Nobody was more of a doting advocate of college football played the old fashioned way – prospering from that envious tradeoff of playing a game and becoming the beneficiary of a free education – than Art Demmas, Vanderbilt letterman (‘51-‘56), who spent his sundown years as the Southern Regional Coordinator for the National Football Foundation. Along the way he became a highly regarded umpire in the National Football League, officiating four Super Bowl games.
The officers and board of directors of the University of Georgia chapter of the NFF considered Demmas a valuable friend and enjoyed hearing his stories about NFL officiating with humorous vignettes about well known players and coaches. A loyal friend of the University of Georgia chapter, the nation’s No. 1 chapter for many years, Demmas gloried in coming to Athens for the chapter’s annual shrimp cookout and golf outing at the Athens Country Club. He became a welcomed fixture in Athens.
The Foundation has never had a greater goodwill ambassador than Demmas who learned football under Art Guepe, lettering for the Commodores 1953-55. His successful post graduate life in the brokerage business was accented by his work as a college and NFL official and volunteering for college football activities, his alma mater and his community.
A native of St. Louis, Demmas, who died recently, was proud of his Greek heritage. If he invited you to his home for dinner, you became the beneficiary of his wife Nancy’s expertise in the kitchen. Dinner was a feast with a fine Greek flavor.
Nancy, who had Georgia roots, delighted in entertaining Art’s friends from his multiplicity of affiliations. There were a lot of friends always passing through Nashville, but Nancy never tired of hosting and entertaining.
While Nashville has always been a laid back city, it also is electric with an accent on tradition. Music City is historical and alluring. Now major league, Nashville has a small-town feel. Art was well known and highly regarded in Nashville because of his accomplishments and his integrity.
It was always fun to see him at work as an NFL official on Sunday afternoon. At kickoff, he became engrossed in his on-the-field assignment. He enjoyed being part of the action, but never wanted to be the show. All he wanted was for the show to go on without any distractions or faux pas. That is why he became one of the league’s most decorated officials.
Art enjoyed a good story and was an entertaining raconteur himself. Before dinner he would often take out an old video tape and plug it into the VCR machine.
There was a funny, but poignant message contained in the video. Someone had taped the officials coming into the stadium, highlighting the engaging and pleasant pre-game banter between the coaches and the men in stripes. Coaches would kibitz with the officials, everybody smiling and laughing. A coach would ask an official about a family member in an old home-week environment.
When the game started, it became a different scene. There were epithets and intense yelling and screaming. Suddenly the coaches were insulting, threatening barracudas.
The heat of battle transformed them from nice guys on the lawn to near life-threatening advocates on the field. Or so it seemed as the video graphically exposed.
One of Art’s premier episodes had to do with Bill Parcells, who became a friend of Art’s when Parcells coached at Vandy. In a close NFL game, late in the fourth quarter, the Giants, one of the three teams with whom Parcells was a head coach, needed a critical first down in order to run out the clock.
With a nice gain by a running back, it appeared that the Giants might have made the first down. The official spotting the ball did not have the best angle for marking forward progress. Art, however, was in perfect position, so he goes over and moves the ball back a yard which brought the first down opportunity in question.
Parcells and his assistants began to howl! The most vocal was Parcells himself, appealing to the official who first marked the ball.
“He can’t do that!” was among the nice things Parcells screamed.
The argument and the yelling became rigidly intense until Demmas walked over to Parcells and said, “Okay, coach that’s enough.”
Parcells, who knew that an unsportsmanlike penalty could be next, calmed down and said to his assistants.
“Would you believe that S.O.B. was my tennis partner, which I coached at Vanderbilt?
Football has lost a wonderful gentleman and friend with the passing of Art Demmas.
Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.