Jason Deal mug

Jason Deal

It has been a long time coming. 

The field at Sanford Stadium now bears the name of the Dawgs’ legendary football coach and all around good guy, Vince Dooley. 

It’s long overdue, but at least the decision makers about such things finally got it right. 

I’m glad Coach Dooley, now 87, was able to see this day.

I had an offer for tickets to be there live and in person Saturday to witness the ceremony, but the Dawgs finish second to God and I have to follow His leading first. 

If you have had amnesia or been under a rock for the past five decades, you may not know just what Vince Dooley means to the Dawg faithful. 

He was the head football coach at the University of Georgia from 1964-1988 and was athletic director from 1979-2004. 

During his 25-year coaching career at UGA, he compiled a 201–77–10 record. His teams won six Southeastern Conference titles and the 1980 national championship.

The last part of the previous sentence is majorly important.

A few years ago, I was taking in a game at Sanford. A young man and his Dad were also enjoying a Saturday in Athens.

Our seats were right in front of Coach Dooley’s box, but the young man had no idea who he was. 

That’s right, Coach Vince Dooley his own self was looking over my shoulder during the game. He waved at me. Of course, he was behind plexiglass in his private box, but that’s not a big deal.

His Dad told the young man about the most famous Dawg. I jumped in and explained to the lad that when you say Coach Dooley’s name, it is synonymous not only with championship, but with honor and class. I also explained to the fellow that Coach Dooley could probably be Governor today if he wanted to. Better yet, I might just write in his name for President of the United States in 2020. He will do a much better job than the current occupant of the office and certainly better than any of the 2,358 people running for the other party’s nomination, but I digress.

The important thing to remember here is National Championship. 

1980 was a long time ago. And, I suppose, it was actually early 1981 before the Dawgs could officially claim the National Championship title in that sweet, old, long ago. 

I was all of about six years old and was in the first grade at Fourth District Elementary School in Appling County. 

Vincent J. Dooley was the coach, Lindsay Scott had made the run. Buck Belue was the QB. Herschel Walker was a freshman.

The late, great, Larry Munson was calling the Dawgs national champions on the radio in the kitchen of the big Haire farm house we once called home. The house is gone now.It was the last time — until the last two years and once in the Mark Richt era — that the Bulldogs were anywhere close to a national championship. 

Vince Dooley shaped my growing up years. 

From the time I was about 12 on, I have been a really big fan. Dooley and his teams of that era made Saturday afternoons in our pecan orchard bearable.

My Uncle Vann would pull his S-10 pick-up alongside the tree we were under and, for a little while, we could via the radio escape the monotony of crawling down rows, picking up pecans.

For that, I will always be thankful to him. I met him once at a book signing in Waycross. He is a fine man.

I don’t think we should just randomly give away prizes and honors and accolades such as naming places after people.

If that’s the case, the best I can hope for is to have an outhouse named after me. 

No, honors and accolades should be given to people who have achieved great things and done it with character, grace and class. 

Vince Dooley is all of those things and this honor is certainly well deserved. 

And now, at long last, it is a reality.

• Jason Deal is a staff writer for The Blackshear Times. Reach him at jdeal@theblacksheartimes.com.

Jason Deal can be reached at jdeal@theblacksheartimes.com or (912) 449-6693.