Sports Legends: Gridiron General
Like his namesake, the Bulldogs’ George Patton was a true leader
Tuscumbia, Ala., is famous for being the birthplace of two legends – the late author and lecturer Helen Keller, and two-time All-American tackle for the Georgia Bulldogs, George Edward Patton.
Although Patton had established himself as an All-State quarterback by throwing 14 touchdown passes his senior year at Deshler High School, it was another Deshler player, Vance Evans, who brought recruiter Spec Towns and the late UGA coach Johnny Griffith to Tuscumbia. Coach Griffith signed them both.
At 6’ 3”, 210 lbs., Patton spent his freshman year at Georgia as a quarterback for the Bullpups. But he was so versatile that he could play any position – and sometimes did.
When Vince Dooley arrived as the new head coach and saw his first game scrimmage, Patton the quarterback became Patton the tackle. On defense he was pounding opposition runners with regularity.
“Coach asked me about the position switch,” he said. “I told him it didn’t matter to me. I just wanted a job.”
On the first play of his career against the University of Alabama, Patton the tackle decked the great Joe Namath for an eight-yard loss. It was an omen of things to come. He spent the next two seasons chasing quarterbacks, fighting off blocks, intercepting passes and receiving passes on tackle eligible plays.
“He kept us fired up,” said Bill Stanfill, his All-American teammate. “He was like a coach on the field. He could diagnose plays. He was at the right place at the right time.”
Said Coach Dooley, “He was one of the finest college football players I ever saw.”
Patton comes from a football playing family. His oldest brother, Jim, played on Alabama’s 1961 national champion team and another brother, Houston, was a starter at Ole Miss.
Like the general for whom he was named, as good as Patton was as a player, he was even better as a leader. He was captain of the 1966 Georgia team, which won the Southeast-ern Conference crown and lost only one game by one point on an 11-game schedule. The ’66 Bulldogs finished fourth in the Asso-ciated Press’s final poll of the year.
Stanfill remembers Patton’s leadership. “He was always encouraging us. He was the first man in the huddle and the first to get to the line of scrimmage.”
Patton won all the honors. Besides his two-time All-American selection, he was three times All-SEC and winner of the Jenkins and Whitworth awards, symbolic of Georgia’s finest lineman.
Although it had been three years since he played quarterback, Coach Dooley put him in the 1966 Cotton Bowl as a quarterback for one series of plays. He ran the ball only once but gained 14 yards to help lead the Bulldogs to a 24-9 victory over Southern Methodist University.
Patton is a member of the state of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. If you look at the ceiling in the Butts-Mehre Building on the University of Georgia campus, you will see his name on the coveted Circle of Honor.
Patton’s most memorable moment on the gridiron was intercepting a pass and running 56 yards for a touchdown against defending national champion Alabama, a play that led the Bulldogs to a stunning 18-17 victory.
Today Patton is 65 years old and retired after a 27-year career with the John Harland Co. He lives in Lilburn and gets to the golf course three times a week.
The toughest time of his life, he says, was the loss of his wife of 34 years, Nancy. Patton has one son, George, Jr. and three grandchildren, Carter, Bryant and Mary Wade. George, Jr. was a soccer and tennis player of note at Brookwood High School.
Patton had a brief career with the Atlanta Falcons and had this to say about the difference between college and professional football: “In college there is a lot of togetherness, but in the pros you have many players who play for themselves.”
His advice to a prep star on picking out a college: “Always remember the classroom comes first. If I did not have that degree [business administration] I probably would not have gotten in the door of John Harland.”