Happy Fourth of July!
On this day of celebrating our great country's independence, although maybe more appropriate to post on Veteran’s or Memorial Day, I thought it would be somewhat fitting to mention a "patriotic" facet of the celebrated UGA football program—an aspect that unfortunately is often ignored, although it perhaps should be part of Bulldogs history. Specifically, a particular, special aspect of this association has hardly even been acknowledged before in Georgia football lore—only a mere mention in a simple, photo-heavy book from a dozen years ago, at least from what I could find. Not even the autobiography of one of the two Bulldogs involved refers to the historical connection. A co-author of the autobiography informed me that the association simply “wasn't mentioned” by the UGA football legend during their “hours and hours of interviews.”
The particular phase of UGA football I'm speaking of began during the late summer of 1943 when 25 Georgia players, five assistant coaches, and one trainer were assigned to the U.S. Armed Forces to serve our country during World War II. Not all of them would return home alive. The UGA football "connection" I speak of his how a number of these Bulldogs would ironically cross paths again on the gridiron, or connect for the first time, by way of the military bases they were stationed.
During World War II, the U.S. military and colleges joined forces, fielding top-level football teams consisting of active duty military personnel, which played against college, professional, and/or other military squads. Many former Georgia players and coaches, some of which would return to the University following WWII, were members of service teams for the 1943, 1944, and/or the 1945 season. Still, and as indicated, this connection involving UGA football has been essentially neglected.
While Georgia's football program became depleted upon the U.S. military and college teams joining forces, other college teams flourished. The V-12 officer training programs of WWII allowed schools hosting the programs, like Notre Dame, Michigan, Purdue, Duke, and Georgia Tech, to collect players from other schools, essentially creating pooled all-star teams. For example, players from Georgia's 1942 national championship team, Jack Bush and Garland "Bulldog" Williams, were whisked away from Athens and reunited in Durham, N.C., at Duke University, where they played together for the 8-1 and 7th-ranked Blue Devils of 1943.
One of my favorite accounts of the reuniting of Bulldogs via the military was when Georgia's Leo Costa (1940-1942), the school's first great placekicker, led Jackson (Miss.) Air Force Base as its head coach to a 10-0 victory over Ole Miss in Oxford. The Rebels, on the other hand, were head coached by the reputable Harry Mehre—Georgia's head man from 1928 through 1937. Also from 1944, there's the story of short-lived-Bulldog George Young, who was a standout on the Bulldogs' freshman team of 1942. But, he never played on the UGA varsity, yet would eventually be a member of the Cleveland Browns for eight seasons. Young played for the renowned Great Lakes NTS squad of '44, whose victories included wins over Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and a 12-10 decision over the Third Air Force Gremlins, led by a former Georgia teammate of his—the acclaimed Charley Trippi.
Even though the war in Europe ended in May 1945, and against Japan in August 1945, many Bulldogs played on service teams for the 1945 season—or, at least part of it, as was the case for one of the greatest Bulldog football players of all time.
After one varsity season at Georgia, the legendary Trippi starred for the Gremlins in 1943 and 1944. After facing only the Miami Naval Training Center squad and the Personnel Distribution Command team to begin the 1945 season, Trippi was released by the U.S. War Department in mid-October by request of Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell on a "surplus and hardship" basis. Bulldog enthusiasts everywhere rejoiced that Trippi would be returning to play in Athens—everywhere, that is, except likely in Tampa, where the Gremlins were stationed and coached by Bulldog-immortal Vernon "Catfish" Smith (1929-1931). Notably, that same season, the 75th Infantry Division team consisted of assistant coach Gene Ellenson, who had started for the Bulldogs in 1942 at a tackle position opposite of the aforementioned "Bulldog" Williams, and head coach Forrest "Spec" Towns, whose name probably rings a bell since UGA's track and field facility is named in his honor. But, it gets even more intriguing...
Going back to the mysterious, yet likely most noteworthy association or connection concerning Bulldogs and military football, one of the UGA legends I'm referring to is Heisman-winner Frank Sinkwich, who entered the Marine Corps soon after receiving his coveted trophy and Georgia won the Rose Bowl. After getting a medical discharge, "Fireball Frankie" began his NFL career by earning first-team All-NFL honors with the Detroit Lions in 1943, and was then named MVP of the entire league in 1944. Returning to war, Sinkwich served with the Army Air Corps, playing football for the Second Air Force Superbombers in 1945. It was during that year on October 14 or, ironically, the day after Trippi was discharged by the U.S. War Department, that a 25-year-old Sinkwich—a former Bulldog—and a 23-year-old "Bulldog to be" more than 20 years later would remarkably cross paths in Colorado Springs when the Superbombers hosted the El Toro Marines of California.
Featuring end Lafayette King, a little-used freshman on Georgia's varsity in 1942, but one who caught two touchdown passes totaling more than 100 yards for the Bulldogs that season, the Marines were routing the Superbombers during the third quarter when Sinkwich was badly hurt, tearing cartilage in his knee. And, our mystery "Bulldog to be" was there to witness the unfortunate injury, broadcasting the great Sinkwich getting carried off hurt during what is believed to be the first-ever play-by-play radio broadcast for the future Bulldog.
Sinkwich missed the remainder of the 1945 season, and although he would return to the NFL, he played in just 15 combined games with New York and Baltimore before retiring after the 1947 season. Sinkwich would later indicate that the knee injury he suffered in Colorado Springs in 1945—one requiring two operations—was undoubtedly the reason for his short-lived professional football career.
Connecting with Sinkwich, so to speak, the other Bulldog legend was also able to find work—as you can see from the image below—while serving in our military. Although Second Air Force football consisting of college standouts ended with the 1945 season, the young broadcaster was soon hired to call the Sun Bowl in El Paso, broadcasting for the Associated Broadcasting System (ABS) on January 1, 1946. The ABS Network and its 23 affiliates would fold less than four months later. Nevertheless, as we're all aware, the eventual-Bulldog dignitary was certainly able to continue his broadcasting career.
In mid-October of 1945, during what should be a memorable phase of the Georgia football program and perhaps not one overlooked by the program itself, the career of a legendary Bulldog, Frank Sinkwich, unfortunately essentially ended, while the career of a legendary Bulldog-to-be, Larry Munson, was just beginning.