Sports Legend: Both Sides Of The Ball
UGA’s Herbert legrande St. john was a four-time All-SEC selection
The old hit song “60 Minute Man” could have been written for Herbert Legrande St. John, a 5-8, 200-pound guard on the University of Georgia football team in the 1940s.
He played offense and defense. His crisp blocking opened holes for the likes of Charley Trippi and Rabbit Smith, and his sure tackling kept enemy ball carriers out of the Georgia end zone. Georgia’s 11-0 record in 1946 made the Dogs national champions.
St. John was so valuable that his coach, the late James Wallace Butts, rarely took him out of the game.
He was selected to the All-SEC team four consecutive years (1944-47) – the only Georgia football player to be honored four times. As a junior, he was All-American. He played in both the Blue-Gray and North-South All-Star games.
As successful as he was as a player, he was almost as successful as a football coach.
Perry High School in middle Georgia was noted more for its basketball teams than its football teams – that is until St. John took over as head football coach.
In 14 years at the school (1954-1968), he posted a 95-50 record. He was named “Region Coach of The Year” six times.
The old Perry High stadium is now the “Herb St. John Stadium.”
Five years ago St. John was inducted into Georgia’s “Circle of Honor,” where he joined two other members of the 1946 team – quarterback John Rauch and the immortal Trippi.
These three were not called “The Three Musketeers,” but they could have been. It was the first time three members of the same team were so honored.
Said teammate Jack Bush of St. John, “He was the smartest lineman I ever saw. He was quick to diagnose the opposition’s plays. Most of the time the foes ran to the other side of the line.
“We made our share of mistakes and when we did he quietly pointed them out. I don’t recall him criticizing anyone.”
Ironically, Herb was born in Perry, Fla., not Perry, Ga. His family moved to Jacksonville when he was seven years old, and soon thereafter he touched his first “football,” if you can call it that. It was a pickup game and the football was an empty PET Milk can.
By the time he entered Jacksonville’s Andrew Jackson High School, baseball was on his mind, not football. His heroes were Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey and the New York Yankees. His friends – Bush, Kirby Smith and future Georgia All-American Mike Castronis – convinced him football was his game. “If you can play with a tin can,” Castronis told him, “you can play with a pigskin.”
St. John went out for football and made the Jackson-ville/All-City and Florida All-State teams. He brought down the house with his blocking and tackling, and he brought down college coaches from Duke, Florida, Georgia and Auburn.
At the urging of Bush and Castronis, who were already playing at Georgia, St. John picked the Bull-dogs.
During his first scrimmage at UGA, he suffered a shoulder injury, but it never stopped him from staying in the game.
He earned his undergraduate and masters degrees at Georgia and played four years with the pros, two at Chicago and two with the old Brooklyn team.
His greatest football thrill was when the Alabama Crimson Tide came to Sanford Stadium in 1946 for the battle of the undefeated. One of the big questions was could the Dogs stop the unstoppable Harry Gilmer, one of the leading passers in the country. The Dogs stopped Gil-mer with St. John, a fifth man in the Alabama backfield. He sacked Gilmer almost every time he touched the ball.
St. John is 84 years old now and living in Perry, Ga. He has survived prostate and bladder cancer and spends most of his days fishing.
He married his childhood sweetheart, Barbara Landeau.
“Marrying Barbara was the happiest day of my life,” he says.
The St. Johns have two children, Herb Jr. and Judy St. John Kinney.
Although he no longer goes to Athens for the Georgia games, Herb and his son enjoy watching the games on TV together – except, of course, when the Dogs play the Yellow Jackets. Then they sit on opposite sides of the room.
Herb Jr. is a graduate of Georgia Tech.