A Front-Row Seat with the Sportswriters Who Sat There

Sit down with host Todd Jones and other sportswriters who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced first-hand some of the biggest sports moments in the past 50 years. They’ll share stories behind the stories -- some they’ve only told to each other.

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Tony Barnhart: Going Deep with Mr. College Football

Tony Barnhart: Going Deep with Mr. College Football

Tony Barnhart takes us on a trip through some of his favorite memories covering college football for more than four decades. Mr. College Football tells us about Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Tim Tebow, and other legendary players. He shares insight about coaches Steve Spurrier and Vince Dooley. Tony examines how SEC expansion in the early 1990s led to today’s conference realignment. He recalls the greatest game he ever covered: Texas over USC for the BCS Championship in the Rose Bowl. Hear some college hoops history, too, as Tony recounts North Carolina State’s upset of Phi Slama Jama.

Barnhart will be covering his 46th season of college football in 2022 for newspapers, TV, radio and the internet. He has been with the SEC Network since its launch in 2014, writing columns for SECSports.com and contributing to the network’s studio programming. Tony became known as Mr. College Football during his 25-year tenure at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1984 to 2008. He was the Georgia beat reporter for two years before becoming the paper’s college sports editor in July ’87. Twice a week, he hosted a TV show “Talking Football” from Atlanta on the regional cable network Comcast Sports Southeast. While serving as the Journal-Constitution’s national college football writer, Tony began contributing to ESPN’s coverage of the sport beginning in 1993. He started appearing as a regional beat reporter for that network’s “Halftime Blitz,” and began appearing on “College GameDay” in the ’97 season. Tony joined the CBS Sports’ “College Football Today” in 2004 and regularly contributed to that show until 2013. His career began when he took as job as sports editor at The Union Daily Times in South Carolina days after graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia in 1976. He then covered ACC football and basketball for eight years at the Greensboro News & Record before moving to Atlanta. He has covered 33 national football championships and 23 Final Fours.

Awards and elected offices for Barnhart include:

· 2021 inductee into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame

· 2009 Bert McGrane Award (FWAA Hall of Fame), Football Writers Association of America

· 2008 Edwin Pope Vanguard Media Award, Orange Bowl Association

· 2007 Fred Russell Contribution to Sports Writing Award, All-American Football Foundation

· 2006 Jake Wade Award, College Sports Information Directors of America

· 2006 Alumni Achievement Award, Delta Tau Delta fraternity

· 2006 President, United States Basketball Writers Association

· 2001-06 Honors Court, National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame

· 2002 Furman Bisher Award for media excellence, Atlanta Sports Council

· 1999 Sports Writer of the Year, National Sports Casters and Sports Writers Association

· 1998 President, Football Writers Association of America

Barnhart is screenwriter of “The Southern Game,” a documentary on College football in the South. He is author of the following books:

· “Southern Fried Football: The History, Passion, and Glory”

· “Dooley: My Forty Years at Georgia”

· “What it Means to Be a Bulldog: Vince Dooley, Mark Richt, and Georgia’s Greatest Players”

· “From Herschel to a Hob-nailed Boot: The Life and Times of Larry Munson”

· “Always a Bulldog: Players, Coaches, and Fans Share Their Passion for Georgia Football

Follow Tony on Twitter: @MrCFB

Tony Barnhart edited transcript

[00:00:02.470] - Todd

Tony, it's great to talk with you again. Welcome to Press Box Access.

[00:00:05.640] - Tony B

Well, thanks, Todd. I always love talking about the business and how the business has changed, and so I'm looking forward to this.

[00:00:13.790] - Todd

Good, good. I'm glad you to join us. Now, I know we could talk for days, but I'll try not to keep you too long because I know the SEC bat phone could ring at any moment, especially if Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher put on the gloves again. My Lord, have you ever seen anything.

[00:00:31.110] - Tony B

Like that that's easy? The answer is no. I can't tell you how many times I was asked in the post fight, Tony, have you ever seen anything like it? I've been doing this a long time, and no, I've never seen anything like it. I've seen coaches do press conference and sort of elude something that's going on to infer that something's going on, maybe suggest that something is going on. But I've never seen a coach to carry on the WWE analogy come off the top rope the way that Jimbo Fischer did. And it's funny, I said, man, he was running hot. And somebody said, oh, you should have seen him the night before. If you thought he was running hot, then you should have heard it. No, never seen anything quite like it.

[00:02:41.030] - Todd

Well, Nick and Jimbo, I mean, I think those two boys have more than a failure to communicate. And while you've been communicating to College football fans for nearly half a century, that's why you're known far and wide as Mr. College Football. I love that title. By the way, have you ever signed your name like that?

[00:02:57.830] - Tony B

Sometimes when I'm signing autographs or doing books and stuff like that, I'll sign Mr. Cfb because that's my Twitter. That's my Twitter handle. But the thing about it is it on your mortgage. They wouldn't give me a mortgage on that name. No, it's an interesting story. I can't take any credit for that whatsoever. When the AJC I was with The Atlanta Journal Constitution for 25 years, and towards the end of my time there, they began really ramping up their online presence. And the guy running the online the sports part of the online operation came to me and said, hey, Tony, we want you to do a blog. And I said, great, what's a blog? And they explained it to me. I said, oh, you want me to write something to get people online arguing amongst themselves? He said, that's exactly what it's going to be. I said, okay, all right, that'll be fine. Oh, by the way, back to Progressive, and we're going to give it a title. We're going to call it Mr. College Football. And I said his name was Scott. I said, Scott. That sounds kind of cheesy to me. He said, yeah, it is, but cheesy works on the Internet.

[00:04:10.810] - Tony B

You'll find out. And so first time I wrote the blog, they put Mr. College Football and been that way ever since.

[00:04:18.830] - Todd

Well, it's certainly appropriate title for you, by the way, I've never been called Mr. Except for the authorities, Mr. Jones. But you certainly are in authorities on College football. This 22 season is your 47th, is that right? Covering College football?

[00:04:37.070] - Tony B

I believe it's 46. Yes, 46.

[00:04:40.240] - Todd

All right. Covering the game for newspapers, TV, Internet and radio. You've been with the SEC Network since it launched in 2014 as a writer and in studio. Prior to that, you're at CBS, ESPN, and like you mentioned, 25 years at The Atlanta Constitution Journal. What have you loved about covering College football all of these years?

[00:05:02.150] - Tony B

The great thing about that, I went to my first game when I was twelve years old, something like that. And it was just how the place felt, obviously. I grew up 30 minutes from the University of Georgia in Athens and went with a group and just the sights and the sounds and the colors and the pretty girls and the bands and the teams and the pretty girls. Did I mentioned the pretty girls? Yeah.

[00:05:28.650] - Todd

Pretty girls, no. Yes, that's right.

[00:05:31.220] - Tony B

It was just special and it's been that way ever since. I never thought I'd be able to make my living in the sport, but fortunately, I've managed to squeak out a living doing it. And it's just fun. It's special. I've covered pro football and all the pro sports, and they're great, some of the greatest athletes in the world. But you don't get the feel. You don't feel the way you feel, particularly when football season starts in my part of the world, Todd, you spend enough time down here as soon as Memorial Day is over, basically as soon as July 4 is over, people are stopping me in the grocery store, said, man, when is it going to get here? I mean, they people build their lives around College football, and I don't think you could say that about the other sports. They're all great. But there's just something special about College football.

[00:06:25.790] - Todd

Do you have a favorite memory, something a special feel moment as a journalist during all those years?

[00:06:33.290] - Tony B

One comes quickly to mine. It was the last BCS National Championship game at the Roseball, and we looked around and I think Malcolm Moran, our good friend Malcolm Moran, figured this out, that there were only seven people who had covered every one of the BCS Championship games, going back to what's that 14 or whatever it was, 1214. And Malcolm figured out there were seven of us who covered all twelve of those games or 14 of those games. And so before probably about an hour before the Rose ball or before the Championship game, obviously, it was the usual suspects. It was Dennis Dodd and me and Blair Kirkoff and Hoops and Ivan Maizelle and all those guys. And we have a picture of all of us on the Rose Bowl field together. And that was really neat. The other memory that I will throw in that's near and dear to my heart. And this one's, number one, I've got a group of three of my fraternity brothers, and every year we go to the Georgia Florida game in Jacksonville together and play golf and tell lies about our misspent youth. And just to have a grand time, I'll tailgate with them.

[00:08:02.620] - Tony B

Then I go to the press box and do what I have to do. We've done that for well over 30 years. And it's a special time this year with Georgia playing well and in position to win a National Championship. I told myself, boys, if Georgia gets to the National Championship game in Indianapolis, I said, we're going and I'm going to sit in the stands with you rather than go up to the press box. And so I did. And it was absolutely we've got a photo, and I wrote a column about it later on what that was like. But that's memory, number one, not only for the atmosphere, but for I could spend it with my boys. And that was special.

[00:08:44.450] - Todd

I think that shows how personal the game is to people in the south. And you grew up in Georgia. Didn't your hometown have like 1500 people?

[00:08:52.560] - Tony B

Union .1 thousand, 500 people? If you go back today, it's still 1500 people. It was like a lot of small towns in Georgia. The economy was based on the textile mill, and then those jobs got shipped to other places in the world. And Union Point was no different. But it was a fun place to grow up. And again, it's literally 30 minutes drive to Athens to go see games. And I've been a very lucky guy to start from UNIPORT Georgia a long, long time ago and being able to make a living doing what I'm doing.

[00:09:33.290] - Todd

Well, making a living doing what you're doing. But you really wanted to be a high school football coach. Right. Tell us about it.

[00:09:38.640] - Tony B

Well, I played football. I was small.

[00:09:44.450] - Todd

What kind of player were you?

[00:09:45.420] - Tony B

Well, I was going to say I was small, but I compensated by being exceedingly slow. No, I was a very average football player, but I enjoyed the game and I enjoyed watching coaches as they prepared for the game. And I learned a lot about that. And so I started at Georgia Southern and I was going to major in physical education and be a coach. Well, one day I noticed on the bulletin board at the dining hall that the student newspaper was looking for some help, specifically in sports. And so the student newspaper sent me to a basketball game. Georgia Southern did not have football at the time. And I went into the arena and sat down and looked at mid court. There was a seat there that had my name on it, Tony Barnhardt of the George and the George and which was the student newspaper.

[00:11:42.270] - Tony B

So I sat down and I sat there for a while, and then a pretty girl came by and gave me a game program. And I sat there a while longer, and a pretty girl came by and gave me a Coca Cola. And I said, you know what? I might like the sports writing thing.

[00:11:55.840] - Todd

This has got a chip and the seats not bad either, right on the front row.

[00:12:02.750] - Tony B

But I went through that year and saw my name. When I saw my first byline, I just thought that was the coolest thing in the world. And so I gave it some thought and decided to transfer to the University of Georgia, which has an outstanding journalism school, and enrolled in journalism school. And that's how I got started.

[00:12:25.310] - Todd

So you graduated 1976.

[00:15:43.750] - Todd

So the day after you graduate, you start at the Union Daily Times in South Carolina, making 135 a week typing on a portable JC Penney typewriter I should write. And a few months later, you end up in Greensboro, North Carolina, in the heart of ACC basketball country. Now, we're going to talk a lot of College football here, but you've also covered a lot of College basketball. And I just wanted to ask you a little bit about what it was like to be around ACC basketball in the late Seventies and early 80s.

[00:16:14.240] - Tony B

It was an incredible time to follow the ACC because you're talking James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Ralph Sampson, Sam Perkins on and on and on. Great players I will never forget. You just said an example, a 1982 game between North Carolina and Virginia in Chapel Hill at the old Carmichael Auditorium. And I'm looking on that floor, and North Carolina has got James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan on one team, and Virginia's got Ralph Sampson and a bunch of other really good players. And you would never see that today. Ralph Sampson was a junior and came back for his senior year in 83. Those guys never would have hung around. Greensboro. North Carolina is centrally located in the state. So it was a 35 minutes drive to Wake Forest, a 45 minutes drive to Chapel Hill, about an hour to Duke, about an hour to North Carolina State in Raleigh. And so I could hit all four of those schools within about an hour's drive. And it was a really neat time. And a lot of great basketball in North Carolina obviously won the National Championship in 1982. Dean Smith's, first of two the following year was Jim Valvano and NC State.

[00:17:39.850] - Tony B

And that Cinderella story. I was at both of those final fours, as a matter of fact.

[00:17:45.750] - Todd

All right. Well, tell us about I really want to know about that 83 title game when NC State upset Houston out there in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That's one of the iconic moments in College sports history. What was it like as a writer at that event?

[00:18:01.590] - Tony B

It was incredible. My first memory about it goes back to the day before there was a writer for now deceased for the old Riley News and Observer, Colton tutor, who was just a wonderful character, wonderful writer and the media. We were all staying at the Marriott in Albuquerque.

[00:18:26.290] - Todd

Imagine wait a minute. Hold on. Imagine that sports riders were staying at.

[00:18:29.300] - Tony B

A massive shock even then. Well, it's all about Todd. You know, this. It's all about getting the points.

[00:18:35.650] - Todd

You got to get those points.

[00:18:37.630] - Tony B

And so Colton was going around the lobby with all these writers, and he's trying to get somebody, anybody to pick NC State. And nobody will do it because you're talking about North Carolina State playing five Slam Pajama, one of the greatest collections of basketball talent that has ever existed. And there's no way that North Carolina State can win this game. And so he never found anybody picking the state. But I always remember that. And then when the game started. There was this incredible tension in the air, and it was an amazing thing to be a part of. Yeah.

[00:19:17.750] - Todd

Tell us about being inside the arena when you think about the Final Four. Now it's in these giant football stadiums, but this was a basketball arena and made for College basketball, really. And so the atmosphere fit the sport, if not what the event became. So what was it like inside there?

[00:19:35.580] - Tony B

Well, the arena was so small, they couldn't get all the media in there. The media work room was literally outside of the building. They had to put it together over there, but the tension was great. Houston jumps out to an early lead, but what happened was that North Carolina State worn down and Guy Lewis, as somebody famously said, Guy Lewis fell asleep and woke up and thought he was Dean Smith running the four corners. What he had to do is he had to slow it down because NC State didn't slow it down. Nc State ran the ball and Houston looks up and there's ten minutes to go on the game. They've got a little lead, but they're exhausted. So Guy Lewis slowed the game down to get his guys catch a break. And that enabled NC State to sort of hang around and hang around. And the finish was just incredible.

[00:20:34.730] - Todd

Did you think Wittenburg shot had a chance to go?

[00:20:37.240] - Tony B

No. I was sitting there in mid court up a few rows, and you could tell when it left his hand that it wasn't going to get there. But you're sitting there watching and watching, and you see Lorenzo Charles just suddenly come out of nowhere and grab it and put it back. And Todd me being the calm, objective journalist that I am, I jumped up. And when the ball went through and it was obvious what had happened, I said, Son of a gun. Although I didn't say son of a gun, I said something else. They did it. I looked at my watch. I had exactly 25 minutes to make the first deadline, and away we went.

[00:21:18.710] - Todd

Exactly. Did you see Vivano running around the court?

[00:21:21.740] - Tony B

I did. You're watching that whole thing as he said, he's running for somebody to find somebody to hug. Yeah. And the energy, it was just the contrast. It was incredible noise down on NC States then, and the Houston guys were just literally in shock. You can still see the images of guys beating on the floor. You're talking about Akima Lodgewan and Clyde Drexler and Larry Mushau and all these guys. It was just an incredible basketball team. But NC State, to Valvano's credit, he had a veteran team with Wittenburg and Lowe and Thorough Bailey, and they hung in there and found ways to win. That was an incredible team to cover, period. A lot of people don't remember this. Derek Wittenberg broke his foot in December and was out for a long time. And the team just went down, Wittenberg comes back and they still aren't having adjusted. But they finally figured it out. And of course, the National Championship game was the big one, but the one when they beat they had to win the ACC tournament just to get to the NCAA basketball tournament. And they did. And they beat Ralph Sampson in the finals of the tournament and then beat them again in the regional finals.

[00:22:52.850] - Tony B

You talk about a team that was meant to win the National Championship. That was NC State and 83.

[00:22:58.910] - Todd

Well, that was one of those legendary moments that propelled the sport of College basketball. And you're sitting front row when it happened mid court. Okay, let's talk about a ball you can't dribble because you're Mr. College Football, now inducted into the Football Writers Association of America's Hall of Fame in 2009, covered more than 30 National Championship games for football. You moved to The Atlanta Constitution Journal in 1984 as a beat reporter covering Georgia. And you've written several books about Georgia football, including one about Vince Dooley. And I think Vince is a name outside of the south that maybe a lot of folks don't recall, but he was a legendary coach from 1964 to ₩88 a national title in 1980. Can you tell us a little bit about Vince Dooley as a coach and as a person?

[00:23:49.290] - Tony B

Well, my relationship with Vince Duly goes all the way back to 1964 when he took the job at Georgia. He was 31 years old. He was the freshman coach at Auburn, which is where he went to school, and played quarterback at all. He played both football and basketball at Auburn, spent some time in the Marines, came back, was the freshman coach and got hired at the age of 31. By 1964, 65 66, he won his first of six SEC Championships, won 25 years, 201 wins, six SEC Championships and a National Championship with some dude named Herschel Walker at running back. And then when he was done coaching, he became the athletic director and he's won just about every award that is possible in the field of Intercollegiate athletics.

[00:24:48.170] - Todd

What made Julie a special coach for that era?

[00:24:51.650] - Tony B

Incredibly disciplined, incredibly organized. I remember the second year Georgia upset Alabama. Alabama was defending National Champions. They upset Alabama in Athens by running what they call a flea flicker play. They were down 17 to ten. They called it a flea flicker. What it really was was the old hooking lateral where a guy runs down the field, does a hook, catches the ball and then laterals to a trailing back from behind. They had practiced that play. First of all, Vince Duly had some gadget plays, which is something you never heard of back then. And they called it the fleaficker. And I talked to him and I talked to the guys that ran the quarterback who ran the play. He said, we practiced that sucker at least three or four times a week and in practice. It never worked. It never worked. Everybody would drop the ball. And so it had never worked in practice. When they're down 17 to ten events, Duly calls the fleet flicker. And the quarterback told the guy who brought the plane and said, this is no time to be kidding around, dude, what is the plate? He said, no, coach said run the fleet flicker from Kirby Moore to Pat Hodson, who was the tight end, and he caught the ball and later on it back to Bob Taylor, who ran it for a touchdown.

[00:26:19.230] - Tony B

Now it's 17 to 16 and Vince Duly decides he's going to go for two. As a matter of fact, Bud Wilkinson was working for NBC. He said, you got to go for two. I said, okay, so they went for two. And here's the thing. Georgia had a specific two point play to run in that situation, and nobody did that back then. You just ran a play that you thought would work. So they ran a two point conversion play. It worked. And Vince Dooley had his first big upset, beaten Alabama and Bear Bryant 18 to 17.

[00:26:53.330] - Todd

Right. Well, he's running gadget plays and he's right there at the cutting edge of strategy. He's also a guy that I think about. He was a legend, but kind of a legend on a human scale. He seemed like the type of guy that you could get to know as a person, especially in those days. What kind of person was he to deal with as a writer?

[00:27:12.440] - Tony B

Yeah, great, because Vince Dooley is the original Renaissance man. He is a student of history, has visited all the major battles from the Civil War, has written several books about that. He is a master gardener as a horticulturist. He has an incredible flower garden behind his house, and people will stop and ask to look at his gardens. So he is interested in everything. He almost ran for governor and decided not to do it. But he is much more than a football coach. And what's been neat for me is I started following Georgia with that 65 game that I just told you about against Alabama. And Vince Dearly was a hero. And then he later became a friend. And now we're very good friends.

[00:28:10.830] - Todd

That's great. You mentioned Herschel Walker in that great 1980 National Championship team that the Bulldogs had. He was a freshman out here. I think he averaged like 5.9 yards a carry, which is insane when you think about it. Now, that was a couple of years before you got to Atlanta to cover Georgia. But do you remember Walker as a College football player?

[00:28:32.930] - Tony B

Oh, sure. I got back for some games during that National Championship year. Amazing thing about Herschel Walker is when he comes in as a freshman, he had played at the lowest classification level in the state down in Wrightsville, Georgia, and he was so big and strong, he would just run over people, but nobody knew how his skills were going to translate at the College level. Now, everybody thought he was going to be really good. But the fact of the matter is he did not start his first College game. They were not particularly impressed with what he had done in practice, and so he had not played. All of a sudden, Georgia found themselves down 15 to two, and they put Hershey Walker in the game. And then that's when that famous scene of him running over Bill Bates, the former Dallas Cowboy, he runs and scores a touchdown, and he scores another touchdown. Georgia wins the game 16 to 15, and away they go. But what happened the following week? They played Texas A and M. And on just a basic toss suite, he outruns everybody at Texas A and M for 75 yard touchdown.

[00:29:48.710] - Tony B

And Bocbloo, who was a quarterback, told me, he said when we saw that, we said, my goodness, what have we got here? From then on, from the Texas A and M game on, he was a superstar, and he didn't win the Heisman Trophy. Marcus Allen won the Heisman Trophy because he had 2000 yards. But Herschel Walker was the best football player in the country that year.

[00:30:16.690] - Todd

Well, Herschel skipped his senior year, went to the USFL, and he later was with, obviously, the Das Cowboys. And then the big trade to the Vikings. And after the NFL, he was in Bob Sledding. Now he's running for Senate. So when you say Herschel Walker, he means a lot of things to a lot of people, but I always think about what made him so special as a College football player. When you think about that question, what comes to mind?

[00:30:41.420] - Tony B

Nobody had ever seen that combination of speed and power. You see a lot of great power. Hers was 235 240, but we had never seen anybody run that fast carrying that much weight. And it was incurred. And I will never forget, actually, I think I said Marcus Allen won the Heisman Trophy. George Rogers won the Heisman Trophy in 1980, and Georgia and South Carolina played in Athens. And if you ever go back and do a Google search on it, Todd Herschel Walker had like a 70 yard run where he just took the ball and started running down the sidelines. And the South Carolina players would have the angle on him to close the gap and tackle him. But by the time that the South Carolina tackler got there, Herschel was gone. He literally outran the entire defense. It was one of the greatest runs I've ever seen, and it was just remarkable.

[00:31:45.770] - Todd

Okay, you've seen everybody, especially in the south, in the last 50 years in College football. Where does Herschel rank?

[00:31:52.550] - Tony B

I think number one, when people ask me about, particularly about running backs, I think it's Herschel and Beau. And then there's everybody else, a lot of great, great backs and a lot of great, great players, but this guy, well put this way. Georgia struggled the year before in, but they knew they had a senior team coming back, and if they could just find a running back, they would be in pretty good shape, Ben Stewley said. Well, they did find a running back, and Herschel is the best football player I've ever seen. But I'll say this Bo Jackson is a doggone close second.

[00:32:31.530] - Todd

Well, you got to be pretty good at Bo Jackson's number two, and I'm not questioning your authority on that one. I'm just saying that says a lot right there about Herschel. If he's ahead of BoJack, no doubt. Well, Bo and Herschel and those type of players really epitomize the type of talent that's down in the south and just make people mad about the sport. But they've been passionate about College football forever. Down there. You were the national sports editor, College sports editor for the Lantern Constitution Journal beginning in 87. So you started branching out and putting into context this Southern fever. I know I was a senior in College at Kentucky in 1987, and I bring that up because that's when I first really traveled through the south for College football, and it was just eye opening. I mean, I remember being outside the Stadium at LSU and there's a damn Tiger, a live Tiger in a cage, and I'm like, these people are nuts. Why do you think so many people are crazy about College football in the south?

[00:33:32.770] - Tony B

Well, if you want to get historical about it, I've had people tell me that it goes all the way back to the post Civil War era, when the south was still struggling economically, I guess the industrialized north, as they said. But while they couldn't compete with their Northern brothers from an economic standpoint, what they could do is they could play pretty doggone good football. So there was a certain Southern pride in the ability. Well, I'll give you an example. When Georgia won its National Championship in 1980 under events duly with Herschel Walker, that was a big deal. But what was a bigger deal was that Georgia beat Notre Dame to win that National Championship. That was a really big deal. And so I think that has a lot to do with it. Again, there were no pro sports in the south until we got to the College football was basically all they had College football and Kentucky basketball was basically all they had. And so that was important. But, yeah, I think it just goes back to a regional pride. People like the fact that you go to a well, Georgia plays Notre Dame again, 2017 in South Bend, and I'm talking to our good friend John Heisler, who was at Notre Dame at the time.

[00:35:03.230] - Tony B

John is the longtime sports information director and all that. I told John he and I were in a meeting together. I said, now, John understand that Georgia people are coming to see you. He said, well, we've had Nebraska, we've had USC. I said, no, John, you don't understand. You're not going to get just a lot of fans. You're going to get invaded. And that's exactly what happened. Over 40,000 Georgia fans showed up for the 2017 game at Notre Dame. Wow. And it was just an incredible thing. And towards the end of the game, when it was clear that Georgia was going to win, what did the Georgia fans do? Sec. That's what Southern football is all about.

[00:35:56.190] - Todd

Well, the Union sent General Sherman down south and he won the SEC in 1864 and 65 with the wide tackle, six defense and wing T offense. So I can see whatever some upset folks down there, the passion, it is legendary. And if you almost have to see it in person to believe it. So with that said, give us some crazy moments, some anecdotes that you have witnessed covering College football in the south.

[00:36:26.490] - Tony B

Well, there have been a lot of great ones. It's the place that you don't accept. I wasn't there. This is part of one of my favorite stories. Georgia played Florida in Jacksonville. Georgia is ranked number two in the country with Herschel Walker. And Notre Dame, who's number one is playing Georgia Tech in Atlanta. I was still working for the Greensboro, North Carolina newspaper, so I had to be in Tallahassee. I couldn't go to Jacksonville, so I sat in my hotel room and watched it. Since I wasn't covering the team, I could put on my fan hat and pull for Georgia and all that kind of stuff. Stayed at the Econo Lodge in lovely Tallahassee, Florida.

[00:37:18.490] - Todd

You got to get those Econo Lodge.

[00:37:20.210] - Tony B


[00:37:20.900] - Todd

Come on. That might get you free hot water if you get enough points.

[00:37:26.030] - Tony B

Well, what was interesting, I was covering North Carolina ENT for my newspaper, the Greensboro Daily News, and they were playing Florida A and M. And so I couldn't get over to Jacksonville. So I watched it on. And so everybody now knows if you follow Georgia football at all. The incredible Buck balloon. Lindsay Scott touchdown pass. Georgia is down by 121 to 20 with a minute left, third and seven. And they've got the ball at their own seven yard line.

[00:37:58.150] - Todd

The great call run, Lindsey Munson.

[00:37:59.800] - Tony B

Lindsay from Larry Munson. And so the plays run. Lindsay Scott scores a touchdown. I jump up out of my chair in the room and put my fist through a hanging lap and just absolutely destroyed it. Okay, this is great. So I go cover my game. I'm checking out the next day and I said, hey, could I speak to the manager? So while I'm the manager on call, I said, well, in room, whatever it was, I'm afraid I got a little excited watching Georgia Beach, Florida, and I really destroyed a lamp. I'd be happy to pay whatever it costs. And the guy said, he goes, wait a minute, let me get this straight. I said you were pulling against Florida when you broke the lap? I said, Well, Yeah, I was pulling for Georgia, I guess. Florida said, hey, I'm a Florida State fan. You don't owe me anything. So that is one of my favorite stories. It's just an incredible time.. And those are the kind of memories that kind of stick with you. This involves a team in the south, but the best game I ever saw, even better than Georgia, Oklahoma and the Rose Bowl 2017 season, was Texas USC for the National Championship. That is the best football game I've ever seen.

[00:41:14.850] - Todd

What made it the best football game?

[00:41:16.560] - Tony B

Well, look at who's on the field. You got not one, but two Heisman Trophy winners on the field. Texas has got Vince Young and all these so much talent there. And USC is in position to win. They go forward on a fourth down and they don't make it. And you could feel the energy ratchet up in that press box when they were going to give Ben Young one last possession to win the game. It was absolutely incredible.

[00:41:50.650] - Todd

What kind of deadline were you on today? How many minutes? How many minutes did you have the right time?

[00:41:58.440] - Tony B

I think that one as you well know, Todd, from your career, we were doing running. We were doing running. What you do is you do running of the game. You describe everything that's happened and you got two leads, one of Texas wins and one of USC wins, and then you cut and paste and put the right lead on the top and ship. It my first story. I know I got out less than five or six minutes after the game is over. And then you come back and as they say, you do a breakthrough where you get some coherent thought into it, and then you got maybe about another hour to get it done.

[00:42:36.400] - Todd

Yeah. As a writer once said to me, next, when a game like that ended, he said, Great game. Wish I could have seen that's.

[00:42:41.510] - Tony B

Right. Well, I got to share this story. This is the Final Four story. You remember the Final Four. I was sitting there at courtside. Mark Bradley, my colleague from the AJC, was there in the first game. People forget. Everybody remembers Duke beating in the second game. What they don't remember is that Kansas and North Carolina in the first game of the semi final and Dean Smith.

[00:43:12.160] - Todd

And Dean Smith got thrown out, right.

[00:43:13.930] - Tony B

It's tossed by Pete Pave. And it was just an incredible thing that was going on. So I couldn't stick around and watch. I had to go chase that story. Hank Nickel, the supervisor of officials, had to have a Press conference to explain what was going on. I thought Bill Guthridge was going to take out that. Bill Guthridge was Dee Smith's longtime assistant. He's chasing the officials out into the tunnel. He's so mad and all this is going on. I get back to my seat. I got to write this stuff. All of a sudden this game is going we're in the second half. I said, Mark, that's a hell of a game Sunday. Will you tell me what happens? But I did finish in time to get a story in. But it's just crazy stuff like that that you remember.

[00:44:04.410] - Todd

Well, that's what makes College sports so passionate. A lot of times the schools or state universities, they have the name of the state right there on their jerseys. And people can just get wrapped up into the emotion. And it just adds a layer of context to the event, especially when you have a rivalry and you certainly have rivalries in the south and the traditions and the game day when you're writing for that type of passionate fan base, College football in the south, what is it like to write for that audience? What kind of hate mail have you got?

[00:44:38.790] - Tony B

Well, first of all, you better have your facts straight, because if you don't, somebody is going to point that out. The fans down here know not only that they are passionate. That is true, but they're also incredibly knowledgeable. They will talk to you in terms like, my child wasn't born in 1972. My child was born the year that Auburn beat Alabama and punt Bama punt, things like that. And so the fans here are very knowledgeable and they're not very forgiving if they feel like you have slighted their team in any way, and many of them do feel that way because I have heard from them.

[00:45:24.090] - Todd

It's all right. So tell us, what have you heard?

[00:45:28.870] - Tony B

What it usually begins with? You hate filling the blank. I said, no, I don't hate anybody. I wrote the facts, the game as I saw them or what I thought them to be. But people assume if you write something that's not completely positive that you hate their team and you don't, but you're trying to give an objective look as to what you see. But the rivalries down here are just absolutely incredible. First of all, when people ask me about the great rivalries in Southern football, I purposely do not mention Alabama Auburn. And so they'll say, well, what about Alabama Auburn? I said, oh, I thought you wanted to talk about football rivalries. Alabama Auburn is way bigger than a football rivalry. It's Jim Pfeif, who was the longtime voice of Auburn. He's deceased now. He moved to the state of Alabama from Kentucky. And he said, when you move to this state, first of all, if you're born in this state, you're either born Alabama or Auburn. You can't straddle offense. You have to make a decision. You have to pull from one or the other. And he said if you move into the state of Alabama, you have to declare you can't be ambivalent about it.

[00:46:51.260] - Tony B

And Gene Stallings, the former Alabama coach, once said Alabama Auburn is the only game I know that. They talk about it on January 1. They talk about it on Easter, they talk about it on the 4 July. They talk about it on Christmas, and they talk about it on Halloween. They talk about it every single day. And there is nothing else that I've covered that is like Alabama Auburn in terms of the intensity and how it is ingrained into the culture.

[00:47:22.210] - Todd

Is there a particular game that sticks in your mind about it?

[00:47:28.370] - Tony B

Let's see. Obviously, the kick six game will always be one in the memory, the one I remember. We forget that Tommy Tuckerville won six straight games as the Auburn coach against Alabama and him being carried off the field for one of those. But there's just been so many great games. It's just incredible rivalry.

[00:48:00.830] - Todd

Well, you know, it's funny. The rivalries are obviously polarizing, but a lot of times it's the individuals that are polarizing down south. And you get a guy like Steve Spurrier. And I think about like, again, it becomes so personal. Believe me, I live in Ohio. I know about passionate fans for College football, but it almost seems like it's just more personal down there with a guy like a guy like Steve Spurrier. He just knew how to press buttons. Right?

[00:48:30.600] - Tony B

Right. I give you a Steve Spurrier story. Steve Spur, of course, won all those Championships and National Championship as coach of the Florida Gators. But then he went to South Carolina and had an incredible run.

[00:48:45.450] - Todd

Yes, he really did. When you think about it, three straight.

[00:48:47.890] - Tony B

Eleven win seasons, had an incredible four year run. And one thing I've known Coach Berger since he was the head coach at Duke back in the late eighty s. And so occasionally I would just give him a call just to see what he was doing, see if he'd say anything off topic column, hey, throw that.

[00:49:06.980] - Todd

Fishing line out there, right? You never know.

[00:49:09.080] - Tony B

I never know what he's going to say. And so this was about, I don't know, two weeks before the national signing day in February, he was in South Carolina. So I don't think I'll just call him up and see what he has to say. And so I called him up and he said, you know, Tony, we're getting ready to do something here at South Carolina. But I never did. When I was at Florida, I said, what's that, coach? He said, we're going to sign a player from the state of Alabama. He said, When I was at Florida, I never could find out. I never could sign a player from Alabama. It really bothered me. He said, of course, now later on we found out that scholarships that Alabama was given was worth a lot more than our scholarships. And I said, hey, that's pretty good, coach, can I write that? He said, yeah, go ahead and write that. And while I got my chops busted on Twitter, nobody ever said the story was wrong.

[00:50:10.630] - Todd

Right? That's your ultimate defense. Whenever the subject line, your email says, you're an idiot. Y ou R. Yes, first of all, get your facts right. So a guy like Spurrier is polarizing, but even a guy that really didn't, a guy like Tim Tebow, who basically represented good things on the field and off, even he can be polarizing in the south. I don't know if I can recall a character in the last 20 years for certain that just seemed to drive people mad like Tim Tebow.

[00:50:44.810] - Tony B

Yeah. And I never understood it because I have the benefit of getting to know Tim Tebow well on a personal basis. One of the really quality human beings I have ever met in my life, very kind, very patient when fans would come over and mob him for autographs and stuff like that. So I think the reason he was a polarizing figure is they won most of their games when he was the quarterback there. And people do have a tendency to resent losing. So I think that has a lot to do with it. But I never understood the polarization around Tim Tebow and nobody ever gave me what I thought was a good enough explanation.

[00:51:32.170] - Todd

Is there a time around Tebow where you can maybe shed some light on what it was like just to be around that scene even at a hotel or a Stadium where it just seemed like it was almost like masses would just be drawn to him.

[00:51:46.530] - Tony B

He was a rock star because he was a very very talented football player who had a great humanitarian streak in him. His father did a lot of humanitarian work and that just made him he wants a Heisman Trophy as a sophomore and he was really something but I was always impressed when I was around him various functions where he would be so patient with the fans and I've seen him speak, give motivational talks and things of that nature. I guess part of the polarization is people don't believe he's too good to be true. And what I found in my experience is no he's not too good to be true. What you see is what you get.

[00:52:49.110] - Todd

Well I think Tebow to me kind of personifies how the game of College football grew beyond its borders really reflective of the television age that we all live in with sports today. College football as you mentioned had been a regional game and by the way if you ever get a chance listeners, you got to read Southern Fried Football, The History, Passion and Glory of the Great Southern Game written by one Tony Barnhart. That is the book to read about the passion of the Southern football. But it went from a regional game to more of a national game where we are today. And it really kind of started with the SEC expanding I think in the early ninety s and putting in that 1st 92 SEC conference Championship game because after that I think at the time some of the people in the SEC weren't even for that right. Gene Stallings was against us.

[00:53:41.600] - Tony B

Absolutely. I will never forget the SEC meetings down in destiny when Roy Kramer announced to everybody that the SEC was going to expand to twelve teams and then they were going to create a conference Championship game from the two divisions because Roy Kramer being the visionary that he is just a genius found a little known cottesill in the NCAA Bylas where if you had more than ten teams, if you had more than ten teams you could split them up into divisions but the only way you could have a Championship game is to have divisional plays that later changed. So he told the coaches what he was going to do and the coaches walk out of that meeting and they're shaking their heads and I was one of the reporters standing next to G installings when he said we will never win another National Championship in the SEC. That was the spring of 1992. In the fall of 1992 the University of Alabama won the National Championship.

[00:54:52.650] - Todd

His Grimson tide did exactly well. I think Roy Kramer kind of saw the future a bit right let's say what it is. He saw that it could be more of a national type of game, even though the regional passion no question.

[00:55:06.430] - Tony B

No question. And once the conference Championship game got started, everybody else followed suit. The other move that Roy Kramer made that was just as big that put us on the track to a national sports was the creation of the BCS. He wanted to come up with some kind of Championship game where one versus two would play each other, and there were a lot of meetings and a lot of discussions with him about this. I don't know. There was been more energy, expended, fussing and cussing about anything as much as the BCS was.

[00:55:48.090] - Todd

Yeah, right.

[00:55:48.730] - Tony B

The fact of the matter is the BCS, while it guaranteed the top two teams would play and it didn't guarantee that the best two teams would play, it guaranteed that the top two teams would play. And some people did not like it, thought they liked the old system. But the fact of the matter is the BCS is what put us on the path to what we have today, which is a four team playoff that has done very well, and that's going to get even bigger in the future, I believe. But it was Roy Kramer's vision to create the conference Championship game and then the BCS that put us on this current path.

[00:56:28.290] - Todd

Well, I think about it. I covered the first BCS Championship game out in Tempe, Arizona, and I bring it up because I was working for The Columbus Dispatch, and they saw fit to send me there, even though it involved Florida State and Tennessee, because already it was obvious that this had national not it was a National Championship game, but this game, in the context for the sport in the future was going to be much more important. I never would have gone to a Florida State Tennessee game years prior from Ohio, but that really set the stage for moving forward. Everything is starting to become right.

[00:57:09.330] - Tony B

And you knew that the National Championship was going to be decided that night. It wasn't going to be this while all the bowl games are played and the votes come out tomorrow. No, the champion was going to get crowned that night, and The Columbus Dispatch wanted to be part of that because their hope is that Ohio State would be in that game a bunch of times. That's why College football is a national game. And think about this. During the BCS with the BCS formula, people would stay up late at night to watch these games that could ultimately Hawaii is playing at 02:00 in the morning, but the outcome of that game might impact the BCS formula that picked the top two teams.

[00:57:56.170] - Todd

Right. Well, you were a National College writer for The Atlanta Constitution Journal until 2008, and then you struck out on your own. You're working for CBS, ESPN, and like I said, you joined the SEC Network since in 2014, where you still are in writing and on TV and on the radio and everywhere. And I think it all kind of comes full circle, even though it's grown to this national game in terms of perspective, I think it's really neat that you brought up that there you were in February in the stands sitting with your fraternity buddies watching the game. Does that say something to you about what the game means to people, the friendships and the love and the generational interest that you were there with your buddies and not working that way?

[00:58:44.830] - Tony B

It's really a cultural event. And when you go to games, particularly in the south, you'll see a tailgate with three or four generations of people there. It is built into the fabric, particularly of our culture. And as one coach told me, it's not a game. It's a way of life. It's particularly a way of life for the folks down here in the south. And we look forward to the season getting started and people will plan their weddings and plan everything. One of the basic rules that we have down here and this is understood is you do not have a wedding during football season. You just cannot do it because one young lady told me about scheduling her wedding and football season. She said I had no idea. And all of a sudden I looked up and three of my bridesmaids said they can't come, okay? They got season tickets.

[00:59:54.910] - Todd

Well, wait a minute. I got married in Kentucky on a Saturday night in December, and there were people at the reception watching Kentucky play on TV. I do recall that I'm not going to name names.

[01:00:04.150] - Tony B

I'm just saying you do that at your own peril, right?

[01:00:10.650] - Todd

Well, Tony, you're going to be back in press boxes and on the sidelines and in the Studios this fall, nearly 50 years of College football coverage. And I'm so glad that you're going to be there. You're going to be there as a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, which we are enshrined in May of 21. So Congratulations on that. And I do say that Marie, your wife of 44 years, deserves a special shout out because anybody who can be married that long to a sports rider deserves some kind of Christ.

[01:00:39.510] - Tony B

It's amazing. It's absolutely amazing. And I told her one day at breakfast, Cook. Now she's the one that keeps me grounded because she looked at me like Mr. College Football, who are you trying to kid? Okay. I said, Sweetheart, I told her one night, morning, breakfast. I said, in your wildest dreams, did you ever think I'd be able to do all this? He said, well, first of all, honey, you know I loved you, but you are never in my wildest dreams. I mean, come on.

[01:01:10.370] - Todd

All right. Well, Tony, thank you so much for sharing stories from your career. I look forward to seeing you at a College football game soon. Thanks so much.

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