Originally created 06/27/04

Loyalty like Dooley's is rare in these times



Forty years is lifetime. For some professionally, for others literally.

On Sept. 26, 1964, Vincent Joseph Dooley won his first football game as Georgia's rookie head coach - 7-0 over Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. Three days later, I was born.

Those two entirely unrelated events should not seem remarkable to anyone else, much less relevant. But for me, it throws Dooley's 40-year service at the University of Georgia into astonishing clarity.

Who, these days, does anything for 40 years - especially in the world of sports? Moreover, who works in the same place decade after decade after decade after decade, until it's time to grudgingly retire to continued background service?

Consider this: The man who will succeed Dooley, Damon Evans, wasn't even born until six years after Dooley arrived in Athens, Ga.

Former athletic director Joel Eaves hired Dooley in December 1963 to a contract worth $12,500 a year - comfortably above the American median annual salary of $5,500 but just a couple thousand more than current university president Michael Adams needed to throw his son's law school graduation party last year.

Want some more perspective?

Since the day Dooley was hired by Georgia, the World Trade Center in New York was planned, built, destroyed and memorialized.

Three months before Dooley's Bulldogs played their first game, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in South Africa. He wasn't released until Ray Goff was Georgia's head coach.

The year 1964 was extraordinary for racial equality, as the Civil Rights Act passed after a nearly three-month Senate filibuster, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize and Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win an Academy Award for best actor.

In the same season as Dooley's Dawgs debuted, so did The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Rolling Stones in the United States, the G.I. Joe action figure and the revolutionary Ford Mustang (with a $2,368 suggested sticker price). You could fill the tank with gas that cost an average 30 cents per gallon.

Other notable 1964 debuts included Mary Poppins and Dr. Strangelove at the cinema; Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway; Another World and As the World Turns on daytime television; the Pink Panther cartoon series; and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as a TV Christmas staple.

While Arnold Palmer was winning his fourth and final Masters Tournament in 1964, the young Dooley was leading his first Bulldogs team through spring drills.

The Polo Grounds was demolished while Shea Stadium opened. Fireball Roberts died in a car crash, and Rocky Marciano died in a plane crash.

Muhammad Ali shed the name Cassius Clay and upset Sonny Liston to win the world heavyweight boxing title.

The Khrushchev era ended in the Soviet Union, the U.S. Catholic Church abandoned Latin, Canada adopted the Maple Leaf flag and a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin was fired on by North Vietnam, drawing America into a war that divided the nation.

That was the world 40 years ago when an obscure 31-year-old Auburn graduate arrived in Athens with the directive to rebuild a football program that had posted three successive losing seasons.

Dooley did better than that. In his first season he made the Bulldogs winners.

By his third year they were Southeastern Conference champions. In Dooley's 17th season, and second as athletic director, Georgia rode a tank named Herschel Walker to a national championship that remains the crowning achievement in the school's sports history.

After 25 years, Dooley left the sideline with 201 victories, six SEC titles, 20 bowl appearances and a reputation as one of college football's heavyweights. He remained as athletic director, guiding an athletics program that has produced 19 national championships.

Since Dooley arrived, Sanford Stadium has expanded outside the hedges from a capacity of 43,621 in 1964 to 92,746 in 2004 - the fifth largest football stadium in the nation.

It can be argued that this, as much as anything, is Dooley's legacy.

Through it all, his loyalty to the institution that hired him might be the most astonishing feature of his career. He's stayed at Georgia through four generations of students and athletes.

In an era when athletes are transient through free agency and coaches are as insecure as their seasonal records, Dooley has remained through thick and thin. He was tempted by coaching offers from Oklahoma and his alma mater, Auburn. He considered political aspirations as governor or U.S. senator.

But he stayed at Georgia, where he arrived with two children and a pregnant wife to no fanfare at a Holiday Inn with no electricity on an icy December night in 1963.

His 40-year presence in Athens easily invokes a variation on the climactic scene in Field of Dreams:

"The one constant through all the years has been Dooley. Georgia has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But Dooley has marked the time. ... He reminds us of all that was once good, and that could be again."

Some of the world has improved in 40 years, some has regressed, some sadly seems unchanged. But from The Beatles to Britney Spears, Vietnam to Iraq, all-white rosters to substantially black, Palmer to Tiger, Eaves to Evans, Dooley has been here through it all.

Forty years is indeed a lifetime, and Dooley's has been a life well spent at Georgia.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.