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by | Columnist

Long overdue, Scott's Hall election comes in due time


In life and in football, a healthy dose of time heals most wounds. And one of college football's most significant wounds was healed on Tuesday when Georgia's Jake Scott was named to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Scott's credentials to be in the Hall of Fame were never in doubt. In just two years (1967-68) as a safety at Georgia, Scott intercepted 16 passes, which is still the school record. In 1968 Scott had 10 interceptions in a time when folks in the SEC weren't throwing the ball very much. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a single game against Kentucky, an SEC record that still stands. He returned 35 punts for 440 yards, including this 90-yarder for a touchdown against Tennessee.

In Miami, Jake Scott was 'the best player we had on defense,' according to a former Georgia and Dolphins teammate. (US Presswire)  
In Miami, Jake Scott was 'the best player we had on defense,' according to a former Georgia and Dolphins teammate. (US Presswire)  
Mike Cavan was the quarterback on Georgia's 1968 team, which won the SEC championship. As an assistant coach for Vince Dooley, he was the lead recruiter for Herschel Walker, the Bulldogs' 1982 Heisman Trophy winner.

"You know how I feel about Herschel. Nobody did more for Georgia than Herschel [33-3 record, three SEC championships, one national championship]," said Cavan, who now works in the school's development office. "But Jake Scott! Good Lord. He was just the best football player I've ever seen."

Dooley, who won 201 games and six SEC championships at Georgia (1964-88), has always drawn an important distinction between Walker and Scott. Walker was the whole package of talent, work ethic, and productivity on the field.

"But when you're talking about sheer talent -- a gifted all-around athlete who just loved to play the game -- the best player we had was Jake Scott," Dooley said.

Scott went on to a brilliant NFL career. In six years with the Miami Dolphins he made the Pro Bowl five times and played in three Super Bowls. He was the Super Bowl MVP when the Miami Dolphins went 17-0 in 1972.

"We had lot of great players on that [1972] team who knew how to play the game," said Bill Stanfill, a teammate at Georgia in 1968 who was also an All-Pro with the Dolphins. "But the best football player we had on defense was Jake Scott."

So why did it take 43 years after his last college football game for Jake Scott to finally make it into the Hall of Fame? Pride was involved and so was the necessary time to heal some wounds.

Scott was the freest of the free spirits. Reflecting the times, he chafed under the structure of college life and team sports. He made A's in the courses that interested him and flunked the ones that didn't. Curfew was just a suggestion to Scott. There is a campus legend -- one he has never refuted -- that Scott rode his motorcycle up a ramp and over the top of Georgia's basketball arena, a feat that would have scared Evel Knievel to death.

But Jake Scott loved two things: He loved to be with his friends, to whom he was extremely loyal. And the boy just flat out loved to play football.

"If it had to do with football, there was never a problem. It was all the other stuff where Jake got into trouble," said Dooley.

Dooley finally got fed up and suspended Scott before the 1968 season. But Dooley met with his seniors, led by Billy Payne, who would later bring the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta and today is the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club.

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"Coach Dooley left it up to us," Payne told me in an interview several years ago. "It was our team so we got to decide what would happen to Jake."

Said one teammate, who asked to remain anonymous: "We decided that Jake was a pain in the ass but we needed him to win the championship."

They were right. Georgia won the SEC championship and Scott was voted the league's Most Valuable Player. But in the process of winning a championship, Georgia lost Jake Scott. Here is what happened.

Georgia was undefeated (with ties to Tennessee and Houston) and needed to beat Auburn on Nov. 16 to clinch the SEC championship. This was before the day when the SEC champ was tied to the Sugar Bowl. The Orange Bowl contacted Dooley and offered a bid if the Bulldogs could beat Auburn.

The players wanted to go to the Orange Bowl. In fact, Scott went to Dooley's office with a basket of oranges and informed his coach that the players wanted to go to Miami. Even Dooley's wife, Barbara, wanted to go to the Orange Bowl, where the Bulldogs had not played since 1959, Fran Tarkenton's junior season.

What the players didn't know was that the Sugar Bowl had also called Dooley and offered him a bid -- win or lose against Auburn. Thinking that a bird in the hand was the way to go, Dooley accepted the Sugar Bowl bid before the Auburn game. Georgia beat Auburn 17-3 and the players thought they were going to the Orange Bowl. Then Dooley had to inform the players that he had already committed to the Sugar Bowl and felt honor-bound to keep that commitment.

Dooley still regrets the decision.

"Things were done differently back then because [Alabama's] Bear Bryant basically controlled the bowl system and you had to make the best deal you could get," said Dooley. "I shouldn't have made that commitment. I should have waited and discussed it with the team. My hope was that as the players grew older they understood."

As they grew older, most of the Georgia players eventually accepted Dooley's position but not Scott, who saw it as a breach of trust. With one season of eligibility left and with the NFL not an option, he bolted to Canada and played professional football in 1969. The Dolphins signed him a year later.

When his playing days were over, Scott became a recluse in Hawaii. He rarely spoke to the press. The best thing ever written about Scott was this piece from Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2006. Over the years it was made clear to Scott that the support was there to get him into the College Football Hall of Fame. But he had to promise that he would attend the induction banquet in New York. The answer, delivered through friends and teammates, was always the same: "No thanks. Not interested."

"If you know Jake, that was not a surprise," said Cavan. "Leaving Hawaii to go put on a tux and go to a dinner in New York was the LAST thing he would want to do."

The cold relationship between Scott and college football has finally thawed over the past few years. Teammates told him that it was time. Other Georgia people have reached out to Scott and convinced him that the award would honor his teammates (Stanfill is the only other player from the 1968 team in the HOF).

He finally agreed. So on Dec. 6, in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Jake Scott, who turns 66 years old on July 20, will become the 12th Georgia player to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

On Tuesday, when the official announcement was made in New York, I tried to reach Scott in Hawaii. I learned he was on a fishing boat well out of cell phone range. There is no doubt in my mind that at that moment, when the world was again looking for him, Jake Scott was exactly where he wanted to be.

Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.

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