In his office space within LeConte Hall, where the University of Georgia keeps its history department, Luke Manget maintains the typically eclectic collection of the academic.
A map of the Appalachian Trail spills down one wing of his cubicle.
The shelves over his desk nearly sag from the weight of books whose mere titles are exhausting to read, titles that suggest a forced march through sucking mud awaits between the covers. “The Making of the English Working Class.” “Gendered Strife and Confusion.” “The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism.” “The Southern Highlander and his Homeland.”
All somebody else’s history. No sign of Manget’s own contribution to the lore of Southern football, a work which may be titled: “The Day I Kicked the Bulldogs Where it Hurt the Most.”
Today, Manget, 32, is working on his doctorate at Georgia, living in family housing with his wife and three children, an earnest teaching assistant who is helping young Bulldogs ferret out the lessons of American history from the end of the Civil War forward.
Fourteen years ago he was a freshman placekicker at a school down the road in Atlanta, the Georgia Institute of Technology, who made a game-winning 38-yard field goal in overtime that beat Georgia 51-48. The goalposts were toppled and the Yellow Jackets people partied into the night, celebrating one of their last halcyon moments in this series (they are 2-11 since).
The so-called “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” between Georgia and Georgia Tech — which plays out again Saturday — has spawned all kinds of convoluted relationships between the feuding neighbors. But here is one of the most incongruous yet. A former Jackets player — a certified Georgia-slayer, no less — going over to the other side to get his Ph.D., parceling his loyalties between the school that put him on the field and the one that is turning him into a man of letters.
For this delicate position, there is a dress code.
“I have been able to avoid buying anything with a 'G' on it so far,” Manget said. “I think I only have one red shirt. I still haven’t crossed that line.”
Still in the Tech record books as the team’s all-time leading scorer, Manget is deep, deep undercover, his true identity known to few. It’s not like he advertises his past, especially this time of year when the bad blood really starts to boil.
One of the department professors said he recognized the name when Manget applied for the doctorate program in 2011, and to this day jokes (perhaps) that he tried to blackball him. One of his fellow teaching assistants, an office-mate, tells him that his 1999 kick was responsible for one of the darkest moments of his young Bulldog-centric life. Otherwise, a kicker, with his normal dimensions and easygoing demeanor, can blend in pretty easily, a stealth Jacket.
All these years later, Manget can vividly recall details of the overtime kick that won the day at Grant Field. He remembers the coaches hustling him onto the field on third down, George O’Leary slapping him so hard on the helmet that his ears still rang as he lined up the attempt. He can still see the Bulldogs’ Kendrell Bell — “six foot off the ground, it seemed,” Manget said — blocking the kick, sending the ball straight up into the air like a cheap bottle rocket. Manget thought that his chance had passed, but Tech had recovered the ball behind the line of scrimmage, and by rule had another crack at the kick — the very scenario O’Leary had accounted for.
“I thought this is in the bag,” Manget recalled. “(The second chance) took the edge off a little bit.”
Making it had an effect certainly upon those in attendance, turning the home crowd into a swarming mob. It also profoundly moved the kicker. Fed up with demands of football, wanting to put a little more carefree into his college experience, Manget seriously pondered quitting after his freshman season.
“(That kick) changed my attitude a little bit,” he said. “It made me realize that there was an importance to what I was doing.”
A prolific kicking career was saved. But when he was cut early in his first NFL training camp by New Orleans, Manget decided not to become one of those gypsy specialists bouncing from team to team. He began a real life, got married, had kids, found jobs that didn’t involve a holder — small-town newspaper guy turned teacher in western North Carolina. Toe has not met leather for many a year now.
When Manget decided to go down the path of advanced book-learning, to feed his interest in Appalachian history, Georgia just had more of what he was looking for. The collection of folksy Southern historians at Georgia greatly outnumber those at Tech.
About the only mildly seditious thing a former Tech player says about his current situation is: “I love Athens, love the town, love the campus. The school’s great, the history program’s great, they do well by their graduate students.”
That said, beating Georgia still would inflate him greatly, saying he is more swept up in the rivalry now than even when he was playing in it.
“I would forget all the other losses during a season if we could beat Georgia, and I think most Tech people would agree with that. Beating them has become this unattainable goal that people really want.”
And should it happen, should perhaps another freshman Tech kicker — Harrison Butker this time — make a turning-point field goal, Manget promises he will be suitably restrained. He’ll make no big deal of it around his current campus, not even giving the students in the History 2112 class he helps teach a point of extra credit to salve their wounds.