Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Countdown 2010: 31 Days to Go

31: Vernon “Catfish” Smith, End #13 (1929 – 1931)

The Georgia Bulldogs have had many great player nicknames during the 120 years they have been playing football. Names like “Red” Maddox and “Chick” Shiver to “Meat Cleaver” Weaver and “Pulpwood” Smith hold a special place in the hearts of Georgia fans. Another player with memorable nickname is Vernon “Catfish” Smith. The story of Smith’s nickname dates back to his high school days in Macon. Vernon won a 25-cent bet with a friend that he would bite the head off a catfish and the name stuck. During his first season with the varsity in 1929, Smith made an immediate impact in one of the most historically significant games in Georgia history.

The University of Georgia opened its new football field, Sanford Stadium, by hosting Yale in the fall of 1929. Georgia celebrated its new field by defeating Yale, 15-0. Vernon “Catfish” Smith, then a sophomore, accounted for all 15 of the Georgia points in the game. He recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown, scored on a touchdown pass, kicked an extra point, and recorded a safety. Here is some great footage from that historic day:

For the season, “Catfish” led Georgia in scoring with 32 points. He was the only Georgia player named to the All-Southern Conference team that year. During his junior season in 1930, Smith was once again named to the all-conference team. He caught 2 touchdown passes and converted 9 extra points.

Senior year for Vernon “Catfish” Smith would be highlighted by his great play against big opponents. When Georgia played Yale again, their coach (Mal Stevens) criticized Smith saying that he had not made a tackle in the two previous games against Yale. This enraged Smith, who promised to make a big hit against Yale’s star back. He kept his promise and made another big defensive play (a 26 yard loss) as Georgia recorded a 26-7 victory. Later in the season against Vanderbilt, a touchdown reception and safety by Smith put up all of Georgia’s points. He added an interception to stop a Vandy drive and Georgia won the contest, 9-0. For the season, he totaled 24 points on 1 touchdown, 16 extra points and a safety. He was named a consensus All-American and was a member of the All-Southern Conference team for the third consecutive season.

During his brilliant career at Georgia, “Catfish” scored 7 touchdowns, converted 34 extra points, and scored 2 safeties. This gave him a career total of 77 points scored. He also played on the basketball and baseball teams during his years in Athens. Smith would later return to Georgia as a coach in both football and baseball. He was inducted into the Georgia sports Hall of Fame in 1966 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

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