While the Bulldog Nation rightfully exults over possibility of a national championship, I have been talking to the man that delivered the last one in 1980, Vincent Joseph Dooley.
In addition to being a College Hall of Fame football coach, the winningest football coach in UGA history with 201 victories, including six SEC championships and a national championship, Vince Dooley is also an avid historian. He got his master’s degree at Auburn and currently serves as chairman of the board of curators of the Georgia Historical Society.
Therefore, our conversation was not just about the much-anticipated clash between No. 2 Oklahoma and the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, but also about his latest book, “The Legion’s Fighting Bulldog,” a collaboration between the coach and Samuel Norman Thomas Jr., curator of the T.R.R. Cobb House in Athens.
Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb was a Southern statesman and Confederate soldier who formed Georgia’s Legion Cavalry at the beginning of the War Between the States and was killed in the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862.
“The Legion’s Fighting Bulldog” is a compendium of correspondence between William Gaston Delony, a lieutenant colonel in Cobb’s Legion and his beloved wife, Rosa. Delony was a well-to-do attorney in his hometown of Athens, as well as a devoted husband and father. There are 167 letters between them, talking about everything from mundane household matters to experiences on the battlefield and his opinion of some of his commanders, i.e., “I am tired of being ordered around by jackasses.”
There are also some very intimate moments between the two. One reviewer said you feel at times like you are invading their privacy.
Delony’s bravery in battle earned him the sobriquet “a courageous bulldog,” from Gen. Wade Hampton and, thus, the title of the book. Will Delony was later mortally wounded in Virginia in 1863. His brave feats also brought him to the attention of Dooley.
“Kent Masterson Brown, an attorney and historian in Lexington, Kentucky, wrote a wonderful book on the retreat from Gettysburg,” Dooley said, “and mentioned Delony, who had been slashed several times in a cavalry charge and wounded. He was placed in a 17-mile long ambulance train along with about 7,000 other survivors. They were being harassed by Union troops and found themselves trying to cross a swollen Potomac River and the real possibility of being wiped out before they could.”
Instead, Dooley said, the injured Delony climbed out of his ambulance, rounded up 200 able-bodied comrades still able to fight and guarded the ambulance train until survivors could get across the river.
Dooley quipped, “When I read that, I said ‘I like this guy.’”
That led to five years of research, compilation and writing with curator Thomas. The result is a hit book. (The first edition sold out and a second edition is due on the bookshelves this week.)
I asked the coach/historian about the current effort of some groups to destroy all vestiges of Confederate history.
“Unfortunately, it is the extremes on both ends that get all the attention,” he said. “They see things very myopically. I expect the day to come when reasonable people in the middle will sit down and work through the issues.”
Of course, this Bulldog couldn’t let the conversation end without some discussion of football and his reaction to the success of this year’s Bulldog team.
He said, “You can’t help but love this team and the job the coaches have done. Also, the fact that four guys who could have gone to the pros came back for their senior year has made a great impact physically and spiritually.”
Both Dooley and wife, Barbara, will be in attendance at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, hoping the Dawgs will be coming back to Atlanta the following week to play for the national championship.
As we were about to hang up, I told him about a couple of yakkers on a sports radio show. One was marveling that Coach Kirby Smart has brought a different brand of football to Georgia. Not really, said the other. He is simply doing what Dooley did in his heyday.
Dooley chuckled at the observation and said, “Well, we did run the ball some back then and we played some pretty good defense.”
Did they ever. In addition to being a historian, prolific author and master gardener among other talents, don’t forget that Dooley was a helluva football coach, too. Will Delony would have loved this guy.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; via his website, dickyarbrough.com; or www.facebook.com/dickyarb.