In 1976, the Pittsburgh Panthers won the national title. But, to do so, they had to beat a really scrappy SEC champion Georgia Bulldog team.
I’ve been watching football long enough to know that Cinderella just about always loses in the final game. If you are a betting man, always bet against Cinderella because in the bowl games to end the season talent nearly always overcomes the surprise opponent.
Make no mistake about it, the Pittsburgh Panthers were talented. In 1976, Pitt’s Tony Dorsett became the all time NCAA rushing leader and won the Heisman Trophy. He was the #2 overall pick in the draft by the Dallas Cowboys and after winning the college national championship in 1976, Dorsett and the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl in the 1977 season.
Dorsett went on to become one of the top Running Backs in the history of the NFL. As good as Dorsett was, the team had some unsung heroes like Quarterback Matt Cavanaugh and Wide Receiver Gordon Jones.
The Georgia Bulldogs were the surprise team of the year. Long time Georgia coach Vince Dooley had a shaved head in the Sugar Bowl because he was making good on a promise he had made to his team during the season. He promised he would shave his head if they won the SEC.
They won the SEC, so he was wearing a hat to cover that bald head.
The SEC in those days was nothing like the conference of today. Alabama was a power in the 1970s just as they are now but the rest of the league was not there yet mostly. For instance, Florida had never even won an SEC championship at this time. The rest of the reason is not for this post and involves crossing certain barriers that weren’t yet crossed so much. Another day, another post.
Vince Dooley had to have seen the writing on the wall, because he would play for another national championship in a few short years with Herschel Walker in 1980, and the make up of that team was much different.
Erk Russell was probably the best Georgia Defensive Coordinator of all time and the Junkyard dog defense was his creation. Russell was one of the all time great coaches and after leaving Georgia took Georgia Southern a brand new program to 3 national titles. He is another blog in himself, but he was the brains behind the Junkyard Dawg defense and even gave them the name himself.
In Erk Russell’s own words, “By our own definition, a Junkyard Dog is a dog completely dedicated to his task, that of defending his goal line. Further, he is very often a reject (from the offense) or the runt of the litter. Nobody wants him, and he is hungry. We had three walk-ons, four QBs, and three
running backs in our original Junkyard Dog starting cast, which averaged 208 pounds across the front. In short, a Junkyard Dog is one who must stretch and strain all of his potential just to survive. Then he can think about being good.”
Russell started the Junkyard Dawgs after a dismal 1974 season and the Junkyard Dawgs would have 27 shutouts over the years.
In 1975, the Bulldogs with their new Junkyard Dawg defense went 9-3.
In 1976, they were 10-1 going into the Sugar Bowl and facing a heavy favorite 11-0 Pittsburgh Panther team.
Georgia beat traditional power, Alabama, 21-0 that season. The Junkyard Dawgs would completely shut down the Crimson Tide offense.
But, they lost to 5-6 Ole Miss 21-17.
They did beat rivals Clemson, 41-0. They also beat long time rival Florida in Jacksonville, 41-27. The Bulldogs beat a surprisingly good Kentucky team, 31-7 and they beat Auburn, 28-0.
In spite of the loss to Ole Miss, they still won the SEC and played Pitt in the Sugar Bowl for the national title.
The Junkyard dawgs were a feisty bunch, and very quick. But, they were also extremely small even for those days.
Their biggest player was Defensive Tackle Ronnie Swoopes who was 6-3, 245. ‘Ronnie and the Runts’ was what ABC commentator Ara Parseghian called them.
The other tackle, Jeff Sanders, at 6-3, 220 was even a munchkin by those days standards. Today, he would have to find another position to play.
Defensive Ends were even smaller with 205 pound Dicky Clark, and 215 pound Lawrence Craft and the LBers were similar. Jeff Lewis was 6-2, 210, Jim Griffith was 6-0, 205 and Ben Zambiasi was 6-1, 205. Lewis was a great student with a 3.89 GPA and Zambiasi was an all time great in the CFL and came to Georgia as a Fullback. Griffith was a former walk-on.
Ben Zambiasi was the first Georgia Bulldog LB to make 1st team All-American.
They were tiny but they were quick.
CB was Bobby Thompson 5-11, 185.
The Rover Back was Bill Krug 6-1, 205, and the Safety was Mark Mitchell who was also really small at 5-9, 170.
The other CB was Johnny Henderson 6-0, 185. Most of the Junkyard Dawgs were from the South, but Bobby Thompson was from Pennsylvania and Bill Krug was from Maryland.
The Junkyard Dawgs played their hearts out in the Sugar Bowl against Pitt. But, in the end, Pitt had too much speed and talent and won going away, 27-3.
Vince Dooley and Erk Russell would get their national championship in 1980 when Herschel Walker came along and Russell left after the 1980 season to start up a new football program at Georgia Southern.
Vince Dooley’s coaching record at Georgia was a very impressive 201- 77- 10. He coached at Georgia for 25 years and that was his only head coaching job.
The Junkyard Dawgs were just a brief part of Georgia Bulldog football history.
But, they were fun to watch.