Larry Morris, the great Georgia Tech and National Football League linebacker who died last month, was the father of Kayanne Staub, wife of Eagle Ranch director Eddie Staub.
He also is remembered by members of the 1950 Gainesville High School football team that lost to Morris’ Decatur team 40-6. Decatur once was Gainesville’s biggest rival.
Harry Wing, a member of that GHS team, ordinarily a running back, had to play center that season because of the lack of players. Only one senior was on the team. Decatur was ahead by 30 points at halftime, and Wing had taken a beating against Morris, its middle linebacker.
As Wing recalls, “Larry came up to me before the first play of the second half, put his two hands on my sides and said, ‘Let’s take it easy this half.’ Those were the sweetest words I had ever heard.”
He was a classy guy, Wing said. He couldn’t say as much for the rest of his team, who came out in view of the Red Elephants before the game only in their game pants and peed on the City Park goal posts.
Morris had a great career at Tech and in the pros with stints with the Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Bears and finally the Atlanta Falcons. He accumulated all sorts of honors during those years and ended up in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Small for a center, Wing still won the blocking trophy for the team in 1950. He was destined for greater things, too, after that disastrous 1950 season with Gainesville. The Elephants didn’t score a touchdown that year till the fourth game, ironically against Decatur. They scored only 13 points through the first six games. But things turned around, and they won three of the last four, including a 19-7 win over another big rival, Athens, ending its 27-game winning streak.
Gainesville’s 1951 season was altogether different. The speedy Wing was able to play his natural position in the backfield, and this time the opponents scored only three touchdowns through the first eight games. The Red Elephants lost their last two regular season games, but won the region championship with two victories and fell to Newnan by five points in the North Georgia championship.
Former Georgia quarterback Johnny Rauch had seen Wing play and contacted Florida coach Bob Woodruff to come watch him. Though Woodruff said he didn’t need any backs, just big, beefy linemen, he still came to the Georgia High School All-Stars game in which Wing was playing. Wing ran a punt back 102 yards for a touchdown. After the game, Woodruff offered him a scholarship to Florida.
Wing became a safety at Florida, played on special teams and occasionally running back. As a freshman, he played in Florida’s first winning season (8-3) in 16 years and in the Gators’ first-ever bowl game, the Gator Bowl, in which they beat Tulsa. That was 60 years ago.
It was on a running play in his sophomore year against LSU when he was tackled and injured a knee, ending his career. He still wears a knee brace today.
Gainesville almost had a golf course a couple of blocks from downtown. In 1919, 60 golf club members raised $6,000 to start building a course. One of the sites being considered was around North Bradford and Simmons streets two blocks from the downtown square. H.H. Dean would have donated the property.
But members decided to buy 100 acres from Georgia Power and Railroad Co. at $15 per acre at the end of Riverside Drive, what is now Post 7 American Legion property.
After World War II ended, the United States continued to test nuclear bombs, having succeeded in bringing Japan to its knees and the end of the war with two of them.
One of those tests was at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean during the summer of 1946. Of 200 people allowed to witness the detonation of the bomb, five were from Gainesville: Mike Johnson of the New York Sun, Jamie Pope of the Louisville Courier, and service members A.R. Truslow, George Reese and Ernest Levine. All were Gainesville High School graduates.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.