The quarterback for McGill Catholic High School in Mobile, Ala., grew up hearing Notre Dame football games on the radio at “listening parties,” and imagined himself one day playing for the Fighting Irish.
“That’s where I wanted to go,” Vince Dooley said. “I used to say my prayers at night. I was a big Notre Dame fan early on, but they never recognized my talent down in Mobile.”
The Catholic boy who also played basketball ended up going to Auburn, where he played and later became an assistant coach before he was hired as Georgia’s head coach before the 1964 season.
Long before college football saturated TV in the fall, its heroes came through on radio.
Dooley remembers painting the picture of the games he heard.
There were stars like Harry Gilmer at Alabama, Charley Trippi at Georgia and several from Notre Dame.
“The nuns and priests were all Notre Dame, naturally, and I loved Notre Dame, too,” Dooley said. “Notre Dame was great during that period of time. It was right after the war. They had (Heisman Trophy winners) Johnny Lujack and Angelo “Bert” Bertelli and all of those great guys. There was a fellow named Johnny Lattner that I even played service ball with, who was a Heisman Trophy winner (in 1953).”
In his 17th Georgia season, Dooley’s Bulldogs finished the regular season 11-0 and needed to win the Sugar Bowl to win his first national title.
Standing in the way: Notre Dame.
Dooley will be in South Bend, Ind., Saturday night when Georgia plays its first ever game at Notre Dame, only the second meeting ever between two of college football’s traditional programs and first since that 1981 Sugar Bowl that Dooley and Georgia won 17-10.
Dooley , it turns out, was approached to gauge his interest about becoming Notre Dame’s coach himself by Father Edmund Joyce, a university vice president and longtime central figure in athletics and “very much a leader,” in college football, Dooley said.
“We had a conversation about Notre Dame on a plane coming back one time,” Dooley said. “There was an opening. He asked if I had some interest.”
Dooley thought it was “probably early 80s” when they talked but wasn’t certain if it was before Notre Dame hired high school coach Gerry Faust in 1981 or Lou Holtz in 1985.
Gene Corrigan, the Notre Dame athletic director who hired Holtz from Arkansas, said Thursday it must have been before Faust got the job because he would have known about Dooley’s possible involvement after Faust resigned in November 1985 and Holtz was quickly hired from Minnesota.
“The one thing, I wanted to be sure of was nobody would turn the job down and I knew Lou would take the job,” Corrigan said from his home in Virginia. “I also knew in those days he had to take a hell of a cut in salary because under Father (Theodore) Hesburgh (the university president) and Father Joyce, nobody could make more money than the provost. Lou took a huge cut in salary to take that job. He was willing to do that, but he picked up a lot of money in other ways.”
Dooley didn’t consider Notre Dame for long, it turned out.
“I told him I had just been at Georgia too long,” said Dooley, who retired as coach in 1988 after 25 seasons. “I never did like to get involved in any kind of search. In 25 years there was only two times, one was Oklahoma and the other was Auburn for obvious reasons. Outside of that, I was approached a couple of times. Usually if you have a championship, you get people who want to hire you but I never did want to pursue those things because I thought it was bad to get your name in the paper every time a job opening came.”
Dooley, the College Football Hall of Fame coach, was comfortably settled at Georgia.
“If I had been there just a few years, I probably would have been interested,” he said. “I finished it on the airplane. I didn’t want to flirt with it. I told him how much I appreciated it.”
Dooley has been to South Bend on a few occasions before.
He did some TV work after he retired from coaching. He spoke representing the coaches’ association at a banquet to honor Devine after he retired. He attended ceremonies at the College Football Hall of Fame when it was located there before relocating to Atlanta.
This time, his trip will include throwing out the first pitch at the Cubs game at Wrigley Field in Chicago tonight.
“He’s such a part of the rich tradition here and the history, and obviously the national championship game,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
“We’re honored to have him part of the team and to have him traveling and getting to go watch. It’s exciting for him and (wife) Barbara. I know it will bring back memories of that game many years ago.”
The only other times the teams played the nuns who taught Dooley in grammar school in Mobile got in touch with Dooley before that 1981 Sugar Bowl.
“Oh, we’re so proud of you Vincent,” they said, according to Dooley. “They said can you get us some tickets to the game. I said ‘Oh, yeah.’ I wasn’t going to tell them no.”
They came to pick them up at the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans on the day of the game.
“They all came up and ran up and hugged me,” he said. “I gave them the tickets and when they were going out I said, ‘Don’t forget say a little prayer for the Bulldogs. They said, ‘Oh, no, we’re praying for Notre Dame.’”