Today, AllOnGeorgia releases the sixth installment of “You Tell Me, MP” featuring legendary Glynn County-based sports writer Murray Poole. In this weekly summer series, current AOG writer Kevin Price will ask Poole a series of questions and the longtime Brunswick News sports editor and 2016 Glynn County Sports Hall of Fame inductee will answer them. Price’s goal is to capture the opinions, thoughts and especially the memories that Poole has from yesteryear in local athletics. This week, the county’s unofficial sports historian answers a mixed bag of questions starting with two on Herschel Walker.
You got to go on an impromptu trip to Knoxville in 1980 to see Herschel Walker’s first game at Georgia against Tennessee and of course it turned out to be a special moment in UGA football history. Talk about how that trip took place for you and what you remember about that night and covering that game.
That was a weekend I’ll never forget. It all started on Friday night at Lanier Field when Brunswick High and Glynn Academy were kicking off the1980 football season in the first of their two meetings that season. As I walked up the steps to the press box, Glynn County schools athletic director Frank Inman greeted me at the door. He told me he and several other Georgia fans were flying to Knoxville the next day to take in the Bulldogs’ season opener against Tennessee, that they had an extra seat on the plane and would I like to go? Of course, it took me only one second to accept Inman’s offer.
After all, I had witnessed Herschel Walker’s final high school game at Johnson County and now here was my chance to also cover Herschel’s coming out party in a Georgia uniform. Next step for me, however, was to maneuver press credentials from the University of Tennessee and in this business, this is something you always have to request well ahead of the game itself … certainly not the night before or the day of the game itself. But through the help of my longtime friend, UGA sports information director Claude Felton, I was able to quickly arrange the press box seat at the Volunteers’ famous Neyland Stadium.
Of course, the Bulldawg Nation knows what unfolded that evening up on the hill in Knoxville. All during the game’s first half I think everyone’s eyes were focused on Herschel on the sidelines, wondering when Vince Dooley was going to send him into the game or, indeed, if No. 34 was going to play in this first game at all? After all, during preseason camp, Dooley had downplayed Walker’s potential and running ability. But when the Vols began dominating the Bulldogs from the outset and Georgia fell into a 15-2 hole, Dooley could wait no longer.
Herschel Walker trotted onto the field and the rest is glorified Red and Black history, Herschel running over future Dallas Cowboy Bill Bates on a 16-yard touchdown run, Larry Munson screaming up in the press box, “My God, a freshman!” and Walker then scoring another touchdown later to lead the Bulldogs to a stirring 16-15 victory over UT …. which would be the first step toward Georgia’s journey to the 1980 national championship.
Murray, as you mentioned, you also saw Herschel’s last high school game. Talk about that night and his incredible performance.
All during the fall of 1979, I along with all other UGA football fans had followed the amazing recruiting saga of Herschel Junior Walker. Remember, we didn’t have the Internet in those days so everything you heard was strictly through the grapevine and you didn’t know then what actually was truth and what were rumors.
Georgia play-by-play man Larry Munson had a five-minute morning radio show in those days that ran on the local station and during the recruiting time of Herschel, the nation’s No. 1-rated high school player, Munson would throw out tidbits each morning with something like, “Did you hear what happened on a lonely road near Wrightsville last night?” Then, Munson would add about such-and-such recruiter nearly getting a commitment from Walker, etc.
All along though, the thing we did know was that Herschel had pretty much dwindled his college choices to three schools … Georgia, Clemson and the University of Southern California. Well, with the local high school football season long since ended here, I was determined to see Herschel Walker in person at least once before he capped his record-breaking prep career.
Thus, accompanied by my then 9-year-old son, Jeffrey, I set out for Wrightsville and the Class A state championship game against an Atlanta team called Feldwood, which no longer is in existence. We didn’t go in the small Johnson County press box that night but rather, simply mingled in with the crowd on the Johnson County sidelines and behind the Trojans’ bench. I will always remember the huge banner the Feldwood fans draped across the entire front of the visiting stands. It simply said, “Herschel Who?”
Didn’t take them long to find out who Walker was — and he wore No. 43 in high school — as the then 218-pound Herschel, on his first carry, swept around right end, cut back across the field and went 65 yards for a touchdown. With Georgia assistant coach Mike Cavan along with the top recruiters from Clemson and Southern Cal standing down in the end zone, Herschel Walker would run for 320 yards and 5 touchdowns as Johnson County blew out these Atlanta visitors 35-17.
And oh yeah, he never left the field on defense that night either, making one crushing hit after another from his linebacker position. I knew at that moment I was viewing a future Heisman Trophy winner!
You also had the great honor of interviewing your boyhood idol Mickey Mantle when he was visiting the Golden Isles once. You had a picture of that interview hanging on the wall at the newspaper for years. Talk about how that came about and the thrill that was for you.
Talk about a stroke of pure luck, this was it! As I recall, it was in the late 1970s when I and then Brunswick News photographer Mickey Harrison were covering an event at Sea Palms Golf Resort on St. Simons Island.
I knew it was something important because I was wearing a suit and tie that day and I never wore a full suit in my daily duties as sports editor of The News. Well, when we were in the main clubhouse area, either the head golf pro or one of the administrative guys told us, “Mickey Mantle is here today.” What, I thought, the one ballplayer — in any sport — that I idolized as a teenager was in the building with myself and Mickey Harrison at that very moment!
But indeed the Mick was there and I found him sitting in a booth, by himself, near the dining area. When I approached Mantle, he had a very stern look on his face and said, “Who told you I was here?” Having followed the New York Yankee hall of fame centerfielder nearly his entire playing career from 1951-68, I knew all about how Mantle could be rather standoffish away from the playing field so I was thinking this hoped-for interview might go nowhere fast.
But as I took my seat in the booth across from Mickey Mantle and he discovered I knew the details of almost every tape-measure home run he ever hit (with the two primary ones being his 565-foot blast in 1953 in Washington from the right side of the plate and his mammoth homer, batting lefty, in 1963 in Yankee Stadium that struck the right field facade above the third deck — “hardest ball I ever hit” — and came within inches of being the first fair ball to leave the old stadium, he really mellowed down and gave me all the material I needed for a very good column the next day in The News.
And I was also fortunate that Mickey Harrison was right there with me, taking two pictures of me talking with Mantle that still hang on my wall today.
You also had a Tuesday “Payday” ritual that you followed for years while working at the Brunswick News. You got me started on that as well when I started and of course the tradition kind of evolved after that. If you don’t mind, tell us about that weekly tradition.
LOL! This one is hardly in the ball park with those first three questions and you know as much about this as I do, since you were involved.
But each Tuesday on payday when you, Bud Ellis and I were all writing sports for The News, we would have our Tuesday lunch schedule, when we would head out for different restaurants in the Golden Isles. It started at the famous Willie’s Weenie Wagon where, come to think of it, I was going to every Tuesday before you and Bud joined the newspaper. Seemed like you and Bud would always defer to my age and let me choose the eating joint each week. And I would try to make the choice a good one since it was the only day of the week we got together for lunch. But try as we may, we couldn’t get away from sports during those lunch excursions because we always seemed to run into somebody that had a question about the Dawgs, Braves or local high school teams. But again I think I planned those sports guys lunch trips well and as my wife still tells me all the time today, I’ve got to have a schedule for everything!
Murray, speaking of food, you’ve obviously covered a lot of college football games around the SEC. Most every school serves a pregame meal and halftime snacks in press box. Who has the best “spread” in the league?
Boy, this is a difficult one! I recall South Carolina’s press box, years past, having quite the buffet before the game. I mean, the Gamecock hosts had all kind of vegetables, meats, desserts, the whole works.
And not in the SEC, but I also remember Clemson having quite the food spread for the media when Georgia traveled to Death Valley. But I think every school now does a good job with their press box pregame meals. Auburn’s has been really good lately, with the variety they have, and UGA really does a good job at all the Bulldog home games we attend, with always a big salad bar to start off then a main course meal with dessert to follow.
Of course, the big bowl games go a step further with all the food they put out on game day. The meal at the Rose Bowl this past January was extra special, but I guess my favorite bowl ever for a pre-game meal was the Outback in Tampa. They always feed you a full-size steak dinner, complete with bloomin’ onion and all the trimmings. I always told people as a sports writer we didn’t make a whole lot of money but, boy, did we get to eat good!
In the days before pay per view, big time boxing matches used to be shown on closed circuit television and you used to go to a local National Guard Armory and watch these matches. Which ones do you remember watching and what was the atmosphere like for one of these much-anticipated bouts.
I’ve been fortunate to cover two national championship football games involving Georgia, a Super Bowl featuring the Atlanta Falcons vs. the Denver Broncos and a World Series between the Braves and the team I grew up following, the New York Yankees, but I don’t think any of them beat the excitement and anticipation that some of those championship fights of the late 1960s, ’70s and ’80s had.
I guess my favorite one was attending the closed circuit telecast of the first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight match on March 8, 1971, at the Ritz Theater in downtown Brunswick. This was a special screening by invitation only so I felt very fortunate to be able to see this fight. Since the Brunswick News office was just a couple of buildings down Newcastle Street from the Ritz, I recall myself, along with the editors of the newspaper, walking to the theater for the big fight.
Dubbed the “Fight of the Century” between Ali, who was 31-0 as a fighter, and Frazier, also unbeaten at 26-0, there had been so much buildup for this boxing match what with the former Cassius Clay’s continual boasting and all about what he was going to do to “Smokin” Joe Frazier, it was surreal to see these guys walk out in front of you live on the big screen in the theater. And the fight lived up to all its billing with Frazier handing Muhammad Ali his first defeat ever inside the ring with a 15-round unanimous decision. It was an 11th-round left hook by Frazier that sent Ali to the canvas and propelled Smokin’ Joe on to the win.
But, Ali would get sweet revenge on Joe in their remaining two fights as back in New York’s Madison Square Garden again in January of 1974, “The Greatest” beat Frazier in a 12-round unanimous decision and then, in their third fight which was the “Thrilla in Manila” in October of 1975 in the Philippines, Muhammad Ali whipped Joe Frazier again with a 14th round TKO … in a fight Frazier didn’t want the referee to stop.
Another great closed-circuit match I loved was the World Welterweight championship match between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns in 1981. I remember that fight was truly a great one and the Savannah National Guard Armory was really rocking that night when Sugar Ray and Hearns went at each other for 14 rounds before Leonard’s pummeling of Hearns gave Sugar Ray the title. The two would meet again in 1989, this time Hearns fighting Leonard to a draw.