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Never met a stranger: Conversing with Coach Dooley (not about football)

By T.W. Burger

First, a disclaimer: I have never enjoyed football, or any other kind of team sport, for that matter. It stems from growing up in Athens, GA, home of the University of Georgia and the Bulldogs football (or baseball, basketball, or swimming or for all I know marbles) team and having to live and work in that town during football weekends. 

Any looniness that held true on regular football weekends took quantum leaps on homecoming weekend. 

There was not anything to do about it but to go out of town on those weekends. 

The plus side was that anywhere else was peaceful because everybody in the southeastern United States was (1) in Athens that weekend and (2) drunk out of their minds. 

The downside was that rarely did my assorted jobs allow me to have the weekend off, especially during my time as an ambulance attendant. 

There is no force in the universe more combative, aggressive and rude as a UGA fan after the Bulldogs have lost a homecoming game. 

God himself locks up His house and turns off the lights when that happens. 

The good news is that during Vince Dooley’s tenure as head coach of the football team and, later, UGA athletic director, losing did not happen all that often. 

According to a statement put out, I think by the university sports department, "Dooley built a powerhouse program that won 201 games, one national championship and six SEC titles. Dooley was head coach from 1964 to 1988 and served as athletic director from 1979 to 2004. Dooley died Friday at age 90.” 

I grew up in Athens, and Vince Dooley was a godlike figure there. I met him a couple of times at functions because of my involvement with a local magazine, but never actually interacted with him. 

Until a few years ago. 

I had a long talk with him in Americus Ga., of all places. We were both part of a now-defunct branch of the UGA library administration called The Visitors’ Bureau, I think. 

After a luncheon program about Gen. George Armstrong Custer of Little Bighorn fame, Dooley and I talked about history for 45 minutes, with no mention of football. 

Turns out, the coach earned his master's degree in History in 1963, just before coming to Georgia as a coach. 

It was a real conversation about things that matter. It totally ruined several preconceptions on my part. And that is a good thing.

T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.

He has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a freelance writer and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.

He is the author of "The Year of the Moon Goose."

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