Unfortunately, this format changed when the NCAA permitted first-year participants to play at the varsity level in 1972. Still, the affair endured for 20 more years before scholarship and participation levels were reduced to such a degree that neither side could field a team.
The game was on radio each year, and the late, great Larry Munson did the play-by-play several times. Every dime went to benefit the Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. Millions of dollars were raised over the six decades. It was truly a Turkey Day tradition that helped thousands of children during its long run.
The Georgia Bullpups played the Georgia Tech Baby Jackets each Thanksgiving and the competition was fierce. The series ended up with the bad guys (GT) holding a one-win margin over the good guys (UGA). However, on Thanksgiving Day for all those many years, there really were no losers. Everyone who came in contact with the most highly attended sub-varsity contest in the nation was a winner because all sacrificed time and money to help support others in need.
As a child, I spent nearly every Thanksgiving in attendance. It was a part of the Russells’ tradition to make the two-hour trip (two lane roads then) from Athens to historic Grant Field to watch the game. I also had the privilege to participate in the contest in 1977.
Playing football on Thursday was very secondary to what occurred on Wednesday, however. All the Georgia and Tech athletes had the honor of visiting Scottish Rite the day before the big clash. Needless to say, we were all humbled by the tremendous courage of the children and families we met. We laughed as we signed autographs and cut up with the kids, and then cried as we left the hospital because our hearts had been so touched. We played harder the next day than we had ever had because we knew the importance of the mission. Through the years, all the Pups and Baby Jackets encountered a genuine Thanksgiving experience.
Another cool Thanksgiving happening for me as a child was eating dinner with at least 200 folks every year. After returning from the freshman game at Georgia Tech, we proceeded to the athletic dormitory’s cafeteria, where we feasted with the entire UGA football family, including players, coaches, spouses and kids. My mom never baked a turkey while living in Athens. She was happy, which made everyone happy.
After supper, all were graced with the arrival of Santa Claus (AKA: Coach Erk Russell). Santa distributed all sorts of gag gifts to players and coaches alike, which had all of the attendees in stitches. Because the real Dawgs-vs.-Jackets game was only two days away, the evening closed with all singing the chorus, “Glory, Glory, Glory to old Georgia and the heck with Georgia Tech.” (We really said “heck” back in those days.)
This brings us to Thanksgiving 2011. My oldest, almost 29-year-old daughter sent my wife and me an interesting centerpiece for our table this year. It consisted of a bunch of rose bush stems with only thorns; no flowers or leaves; just briers.
Traditionally when we refer to the things that make us thankful, we tend to delete the perceived bad stuff and list only good items. However, what if adversity grants us the opportunity to improve and grow? What if troubles make us better human beings? Should we not be thankful for the so called ugliness too? The prickly stems represent the unattractive component of a circumstance that has hopefully made us more capable of doing what is right and good in any situation.
It is easy to find appreciation in the blooms. but let us also try to find Thanksgiving in the barbs because we all know that without the thorns we cannot have roses.
Jay Russell is a member of LaGrange Writers Group.