Author Archives: Stan Deaton

The Capacity to Wear Glory With Grace

Like most people who attended the University of Georgia before 1988, I only knew Vince Dooley as one of 80,000+ fans sitting in Sanford Stadium. On football Saturdays, he was the man running up and down on our sidelines, chopping at the air with his fists, frequently grimacing with clenched teeth, or kicking phantom field goals as he urged his team on. Before every game at his weekly press conference, he would downplay the Dogs and their chances, while he always talked about their next opponent as if they were the ’72 Dolphins. You would, occasionally, see him walking across campus, with the most instantly recognizable profile in Georgia. Long before my tenure there and for a few years after, he was always coaching on the Bulldogs sideline, for 25 seasons, until he stepped away voluntarily in 1988, the winningest coach in UGA history.

While I was watching all those games, it never occurred to me that one day Coach Dooley and I would actually become friends. As is well known, Coach was passionate about history, and through the invitation of GHS President and CEO Todd Groce nearly 20 years ago, Coach got involved with the Georgia Historical Society. We invited him to speak at the Georgia Day luncheon, and he killed it, as he always did. Todd asked him to serve on our Board, he accepted, and from that point on he became among the best friends and loyal supporters this institution has ever had. He served on our Board for many years, served as Board chairman from 2016-2018, and was inducted as a Georgia Trustee by GHS and the Office of the Governor in 2011.

This also meant that he was a regular visitor to our Savannah headquarters, and I never missed an opportunity to bust his chops when he was in the building. I well remember the first time I met him.

He had come to the GHS Research Center while preparing for a speech he was giving to the Hibernian Society here in Savannah just before St. Patrick’s Day. Todd called down to my office and asked if I’d like to meet Vince Dooley. I was upstairs before he hung up. Coach greeted me warmly after Todd told him I was a double-Dog and asked what years I was there; 1982 to ’88, I replied. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “those were good years.” Indeed they were. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Every time I saw him, he wanted to talk history, and I wanted to talk football. His recall was incredible. No matter what game I brought up from his long tenure, he could talk about it in detail—the plays he called on this down or that, what it was like coaching against the Bear or Bobby Dodd. The 1965 trip to the Big House at the University of Michigan. The Appleby to Washington stunner in the 1975 GA-Florida game. Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott, 1980. Kevin Butler’s 60-yarder against Clemson, 1984. The first night game at Sanford Stadium, September 6, 1982. And by the way, he often corrected me as to dates if I got my years mixed up. Beyond remembering his own games, Coach was a student of the history of college football nationally and could talk widely of games, players, and coaches from the early decades of the sport.

I’ll never forget the first time his name popped up on my cell phone. I was doing laundry one evening in my garage when my phone rang, and I looked down to see “Vince Dooley.” Needless to say, those calls never went to voice mail: “Hey Coach!” “Stan, Vince Dooley,” he’d say in that inimitable gravelly voice, as though I wouldn’t know who he was otherwise. I cannot for the life of me remember what he wanted in that first call, but I’ll never forget that moment.

Over the years my colleague Laura and I always marveled that we were so fortunate to spend so much time with this living legend. He had us over to his house in Athens, showed us through his beloved gardens, introduced us to family, had dinner with us, signed footballs and books for us, invited us to speak to his book club. When my father died last year, he took the time to send a very moving personal note.

He was a living legend, yes, but through all the time I got to spend with him, the thing I remember most about him was his humility and his kindness to everyone that met him. He was, until January of this year, the only man who ever won a national football championship at Georgia, and until the day he died he was the physical embodiment of the state’s flagship university. He was revered, beloved, and worshipped for those things. Fame doesn’t usually rest easy on anyone’s shoulders, and that could have been an incredibly heavy burden to bear. But Coach Dooley, a United State Marine before he was a legend, embraced all of it and seemed to carry it lightly through all those years.

Naturally, he couldn’t go anywhere in Georgia without being recognized by everybody. It would have driven me crazy, but he loved it. He never got tired of it. He couldn’t eat a meal without it being interrupted several times, but he always patiently signed autographs, shook hands warmly with strangers, smiled for selfies.

I well remember being with him once in Athens, and we stopped at a Subway to eat lunch. The poor guy behind the counter got so nervous taking Coach’s order that he couldn’t function properly. Coach responded instantly, reaching over to shake his hand, introducing himself and making small talk, putting the kid at ease. He left him grinning from ear to ear. This particular living legend was always approachable, engaging, and humble. As was said of Jackie Robinson, so was it true for Vince Dooley: he had the capacity to wear glory with grace.

There won’t ever be another like him. Nothing against Kirby Smart, or any other UGA football coach, past, present, or future. But there won’t ever be another one who spends 25 years coaching at the state’s flagship university, wins like he did, steps down in his late 50s after shaping countless young lives, and then spends the next 30+ years continuing to learn, to teach, to give, to serve, to influence all around him, all while drawing from a seemingly bottomless reservoir of energy, time, talent, and kindness.

Traveling the state, making new friends, taking selfies, shaking hands, signing books, telling stories, spreading goodwill everywhere he went—just by being himself, Coach Dooley made the rest of us feel better and be better, and that’s no easy or common thing.

What I shared with him was not exclusive to me: after his death everyone on social media posted a picture of themselves with Coach Dooley. He certainly won football games that we’ll all remember; in the immortal words of Bud Robertson, oh my goodness yes. But Coach Dooley was so much more than that. There’s an old saying that people won’t remember what you said to them, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.

And therein lies Coach Dooley’s true genius: He made us feel, all of us, that we were his friend, that we were important to him, that he enjoyed our company. What a gift to have and to share, and he did it freely and without hesitation long after most of us would have fled to the hills, and he did it every day until his very final days.

I only knew Vince Dooley as a coach from afar, way up in the student section, and I never played for him. But somehow, through the blessing of working for the Georgia Historical Society, I was lucky enough to get to know this man of incredible accomplishment through the playbook of friendship.

As E.B. White wrote so eloquently, “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.” Thank you, Coach Dooley, and Godspeed.

Major League Sour Grapes

The Philadelphia Phillies are National League champions? The same team that finished in third place in the National League East?

According to Major League Baseball, they are. MLB, in its infinite wisdom, expanded the baseball playoffs this year to three wild card teams in each league, to join the three division champions, up from two wild cards in previous years.

Wild card teams are made up of the three best teams in each league that didn’t win their divisions. It was originally designed when first implemented in 1997 to reward the best second-place team but was then expanded to two and now three in each league. It’s designed to create and prolong fan interest as the season goes along in cities whose teams are not in a division race, and in that regard it’s working.

They are, literally, wild cards, mixed in with the division winners in the playoffs, and, as in poker, they can create chaos and havoc with the established order of the universe. That’s what happened this year.

The Phillies were the 6th and lowest seed in the National League. To get to the World Series, they beat the NL Central Division champion St. Louis Cardinals in a best-of-three series, then beat the NL East champion Atlanta Braves in a best-of-five, then beat the 5-seed San Diego Padres—another wild card team—in the National League Championship Series. The Padres, by the way, finished an astounding 22 games behind the LA Dodgers in the NL West, a very, very distant second place. They then got hot and beat the Dodgers in a short best-of-five series and the regular season was rendered moot.

The problems here are legion. First, as I pointed out in a previous post, baseball’s season is 162 games long, roughly 6 months, the longest of any major North American sport. After 162 games, you know which teams are the best. There aren’t any secrets in MLB. After 162 games, the Phillies finished firmly in third place in the National League East, 14 games out of first place. In other words, not even close to being division champs. As their seeding suggests, they were the 6th best team in the entire league over 6 months.

But they were just good enough to secure that 3rd and final wild-card spot, and they made the playoffs. Then they got hot and beat teams in a short series that were much better than they were in the regular season, and here we are.

And as often happens in the playoffs, teams that weren’t hot during the season can get hot in a short series. Other hot teams suddenly can’t hit or pitch. Some teams’ bats go cold, their pitching misfires, the bullpen melts down. (See Braves, Atlanta.)

Other teams who languished along for 6 months barely winning more than they lost can get into the playoffs now, get hot for three weeks, and win a championship. This has happened for years in pro hockey (the NHL) and basketball (NBA and WNBA), and now it’s happening in Major League Baseball.

No doubt this creates interest in cities like San Diego and Philadelphia, both of which city’s teams were nowhere near first place for most of the season. But it’s also made the regular season irrelevant, it seems to me, as it is in those other leagues. Now you just have to be good enough to grab that 6th seed, and anything can happen, in part because you don’t have to win a best-of-seven series in every round.

Unencumbered by the thought process, here’s what I would suggest to baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred when he calls: the wild card teams should start the playoffs by playing each other—6 vs. 5 in a one-game playoff—with the winner advancing to play the 4-seed in a one-game playoff. (I would make this round a best-of-seven, but that would keep the division winners on ice for too long.) The winner of the wild card tournament then moves on to play the highest-seeded division winner in a best-of-seven. There should be some reward for winning your division, and the road should be extremely hard for a wild card team to get to the World Series. No way should the Championship Series have not one but TWO wild card teams. They didn’t earn an easier path through all those 162 games when they had infinite opportunities to show they belonged. If a wild card team is going to win, it shouldn’t get away with getting hot in a very short series against higher-seeded division winners.

There are those who will say this is sour grapes, that I’m just unhappy that my beloved Braves got beat by a team that finished 14 games behind them in the regular season. That this is a classic case of, if you don’t like the outcome then attack the process. And they’d be absolutely right. The same thing happened in 1997, the first year of the Wild Card, when the second-place Florida Marlins beat the division-winning Braves and eventually won the World Series. What was the point of the regular season if a second-place team was actually champion? The wild card teams have gone on to win the World Series 6 other times in the 25 years since then—the Angels in 2002, the Marlins again in 2003, the Red Sox in 2004, the Cardinals in 2011, the Giants in 2014, and the Nationals most recently in 2019. Those teams were at least the best of the second-place teams.

And I’m well aware that the Braves won just one more game last year than the Phillies did this year. The difference, of course, is that last year’s Braves were NL East division champions, not 3rd-place finishers. Beyond that, though, their stories are remarkably similar—nobody picked the Braves to win anything last year or to get past the mighty Dodgers or the Astros, but they got hot just when they needed to. It all came together in the playoffs, as it has this year for the Phillies. Clearly getting hot for a few weeks is more productive than killing yourself to win a division title that is relatively meaningless in the new baseball universe.

It would be very unsporting of me to say that I hope that the American League champion (and AL West division winning) Houston Astros destroy the third-place Phillies in the World Series that starts on Friday, just to maintain the order of the baseball universe. Very unsporting. So, I’ll just leave it to your imagination as to what I might be wishing for in this series. If the Phillies win, they will indeed be World Series champions, if not the best team in baseball. I’ll leave it at that.

Waiter, I’ll have one order of grapes—and please make them very, very sour.

Dispatches from Off the Deaton Path: Winning the American Revolution

On the anniversary of the American victory at Yorktown, Stan looks back at how the event unfolded and the role of some notable Georgians that led to the British surrender at Yorktown 241 years ago, resulting ultimately in American independence.


Dispatches from Off the Deaton Path: Casimir Pulaski

On the 243rd anniversary of the Siege of Savannah, Dr. Deaton looks at Casimir Pulaski’s role in the American Revolution and legends and uncertainties over Pulaski’s death and remains.

124 Years and Holding

“I was born in a crossfire hurricane,
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain”

            Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”

Hurricane Ian has moved through Florida and is headed northeast, expected to make landfall sometime on Friday afternoon, September 30, just east of here in South Carolina, exact destination unknown. For a while it looked like it was headed straight for us here in Savannah, and with a wobble here or there, it may still. Outside my window the skies are dark, and the trees are already bent low with the winds, which, coming from the north, have also refreshingly brought fall here as well.

As the week progressed, there was the usual range of opinions here about the storm’s impact. Some felt that our area would get nothing more than a typical afternoon summer storm. Others feared a Hurricane Camille redux—she of the nearly-200 mph winds that hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969. DIY and grocery stores have seen the usual panic-buying, and I can personally attest that one local adult beverage retailer was doing business yesterday worthy of St. Patrick’s Day.

Ian is the fourth-strongest hurricane to ever hit Florida’s west coast, and ranks with Charley (2004), Michael (2018), and Andrew (1992) among the most powerful storms in US history.

There have only been four Category 5 hurricanes in US history—winds at 157 mph and beyond—and Ian missed making it five by only 2 mph. Those four are: the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 (storms were not named until 1953, and not for men until 1979), considered the strongest storm ever to hit the US when it made landfall in the Florida Keys on September 2 with wind speeds estimated at 185 mph. It killed 409 people.

The aforementioned Hurricane Camille hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 17, 1969, with sustained winds of 170 mph, killing 250 people. There is a legendary story of a group of revelers that holed up in a Gulf Coast apartment building in Pass Christian, Mississippi, ignoring all evacuation warnings. The apartment building was literally blown away by winds that gusted to 200 mph. The party-goers, according to folklore, were never seen again. Legend or not, the actual devastation was catastrophic.

Hurricane Andrew in 1992 is next, with 165 mph winds that destroyed 50,000 homes in south Florida and killed 23. Andrew’s damage was estimated at $26 billion, the costliest storm ever up to that time, not surpassed till Katrina thirteen years later in 2005. Incidentally, Katrina’s winds at sea reached 175 mph but it hit New Orleans as a Category 3, killing 1,800 and costing $125 billion, reinforcing the maxim that the strongest storms are not necessarily the deadliest.

Finally, you may remember Michael in 2018, which hit the Florida panhandle after rapidly intensifying to wind speeds of 165 mph.

Here in Georgia, Hurricane Matthew skirted our coast without making landfall in October 2016, bringing lots of wind, rain, and storm damage. The last hurricane to make landfall in Georgia was David 43 years ago in 1979 as a Category 1. For those keeping score, we’ve not had a direct hit in Georgia from a major storm—at Category 3 or above—in 124 years, since 1898. For those interested in the history of hurricanes in Georgia, I covered all of this in a 2017 podcast that you can listen to here.

For the record, there’s been only one Hurricane Stan, a Category 1 storm in 2005, and there won’t be another—the name was retired for Atlantic storms that year and replaced by Sean.

Whatever happens this week, there’s bound to be more Ians to come, given the frequency and intensity of recent storms and the wildly fluctuating global weather. Eventually Georgia’s 124-year-old streak is bound to end. Here’s hoping I’ve retired to Scotland by then.

Stay safe.