Sports

June 4, 2013

Loran Smith: Hunnicutt had memorable game vs. Jackets

LaGRANGE — Pat Hunnicutt looks pretty much the same as he did in 1964, when he was a senior defensive back at the University of Georgia and playing on Vince Dooley’s first team. He was always lean and fit with a defensive back’s premier assets — quickness, agility and a penchant for being in the right place at the right time.

At 5 feet, 9 inches and 163 pounds, he was not an imposing figure even in his era, when they didn’t grow defensive backs to the proportions of today’s game. Hunnicutt got by on guile, heart, quickness and an insight into the game.

He had grown up a coach’s son, which gave him perspective. He understood what offenses were up to, and with his natural competitive instincts, he was certainly worth a scholarship. It didn’t hurt that his father, Oliver Hunnicutt, had played at Georgia under Coach Wallace Butts and was a coach of legend at LaGrange High School, where he won a state championship with one Dusty Mills, a quarterback who was smaller than his own son.

Johnny Griffith, who succeeded Butts in 1961, enjoyed a close relationship with the LaGrange coach and signed Pat in 1961, when players still had to line up on both sides of the ball. Pat was imbued with defensive adroitness, but where do you put a 163-pound back on offense?

That was the way it was for Pat when he matriculated in Athens. It was about to be a time of significant change as the rules were transitioning to specialization, but that didn’t happen quickly enough for Hunnicutt.

As a coach’s son, he understood things are neither simplistic nor do they come easy. Hunnicutt came to Georgia with more on his mind than playing time. He was appreciative of his scholarship and he enjoyed being part of the Sanford Stadium excitement on Saturday afternoon.

All along he planned to play football and pursue a degree in dentistry. The classroom was important to him, and he was like a precocious child, advanced beyond his years. Education in his day was as important as playing football. He could make the crisp tackle on game day, but he was not one-dimensional.

His father’s teams were known to play the game as it was meant to be played. You can sometimes “out-tough” your opponent. Fulfillment came when you gave all you had during the game and then found your way to class the next week with a desire to become an accomplished student.

The highlight of his time with the Bulldogs came in the final regular-season game of his career against Georgia’s most intense rival, Georgia Tech. It was a hard-fought game that played out like an arm wrestling match, with neither side gaining the advantage.

After a fumble recovery, Georgia scored on a 22-yard drive in the third quarter. In the final quarter, the Yellow Jackets began a drive that would have given the visitors a scoring opportunity — which, coupled with a two-point conversion, would have brought about victory.

At the Georgia 44-yard line, Tech fullback Jeff Davis, whose father had played at Georgia, came off tackle and was met head on by the Bulldogs’ safety. Putting his shoulder right on the ball with all the force he could muster in his 163-pound body, Hunnicutt’s blow separated the ball from the fullback. Linebacker Leroy Dukes recovered.

Georgia, after causing another Tech fumble in the next series, soon was celebrating a 7-0 victory.

Those are memories Dr. Pat Hunnicutt savored for years as he practiced dentistry in his hometown, making friends and supporting civic and cultural causes with the same commitment and fervor with which he played football.

Life has thrown him a dastardly curve in his retirement years, however.

Pat was diagnosed last year with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. While he knows his challenge, he does not mope about, finding time to function with an upbeat attitude and enjoying family and friends.

And his teammates reach out to him, giving him reason to smile.

“My teammates made a difference in life when I was at Georgia," he said, "and they are making a difference now.”

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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