- Steve Hummer The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The play has been perfectly preserved for 35 years. It lies perpetually in state, a symbol refusing burial, fascinating and a little disturbing at the same time. It is the Lenin’s Tomb of the Bulldog Nation.
For to remember the time Buck Belue threw to Lindsay Scott in the waning moments to beat Florida and save a national championship season for Georgia is to also remember how long it has been since the Bulldogs have done anything as remotely Homeric.
One score and 15 years it has been. And no one or nothing to date has challenged that single 93-yard completion for primacy in the hearts and minds of Bulldogs fans. That is not necessarily a great thing.
The Scott part of the quotient, receiver Lindsay Scott, can scarcely believe his highlight has stood unchallenged since 1980.
“In my mind, I expected Georgia to win a couple more since that time,” he says now. “Easier said than done, but a lot of great players come through that program, and it’s just weird that 1980 was the only year we won it all.”
There that play — emblematic of that season — always is, hallowed and revered, daring the present to live up to its example. And the now is always found wanting.
An entire book has been written centering on that one play — one play, not a game, not season. In another, “Dooley’s Playbook: The 34 Most Memorable Plays in Georgia Football History,” the former coach makes clear that there is Belue-to-Scott, then there are 33 others.
“I had it as No. 1, and probably 98 percent of the Georgia people would agree to that,” Vince Dooley said. “Not only did it win that game, it continued on to the undefeated, undisputed national championship. Which never would have happened if that one play had never happened.”
What is there left to say about “Left 76,” the playbook name given Belue-to-Scott, as we file past and visit it once more to mark its 35th birthday? (The actual date is Nov. 8, but it is traditionally observed whenever Georgia is about the meet Florida near the banks of the St. John’s River).
Perhaps this one time you don’t begin with Buck Belue or Lindsay Scott. You dig down to the foundation and find that one, big, unheralded fellow on the line who made this play go.
Nat Hudson has an out-sized smile to match his frame, and he uses it when he says, “I made Buck a hero. If you don’t remember anything else, you remember Buck to Lindsay.”
To begin the 1980 season, Hudson was moved from guard to right tackle to better utilize his combination of size and footwork. One of the first African-American offensive linemen at Georgia, he was popular across the whole of the Bulldogs locker room.
Belue tells the story dating to the camp preceding the ’80 season, as the upperclassman watched while a freshman running back named Herschel Walker struggled to complete a distance fitness run.
“You look up and there goes Nat Hudson, who had jogged out there and met (Walker) at the last lap, jogging him around the rest of the track on the final lap. Saying, ‘C’mon we’re going to help you finish this thing right here,’” Belue remembered.
“He’s a protector,” Scott said.
Georgia was in dire need of protection that long-ago day in Jacksonville. It seemed to all the world that the Bulldogs were headed for a fall against the Gators. Any good piece of legend requires the elements of despair and imminent demise, and Georgia had that in surplus in 1980.
With unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Georgia trailing 21-20, a Florida punt pinned the Bulldogs back to their own 8-yard line with 1:35 left to play. Georgia lost a yard on first down, Belue threw an incompletion on second down. On third-and-11, Georgia called Left 76, with the idea of getting a first down, keeping the drive alive, maybe giving its strong-legged kicker, Rex Robinson a field-goal shot.
As Belue play-faked to Walker and dropped back into the end zone, Florida defensive end Mike Clark stunted to the middle and was bearing down on the quarterback. Seemingly out of nowhere, Hudson came across to intercept Clark and bump him out of the play.
“The whole season was like that,” Hudson said, “we had to make things happen. At that particular time, it was my moment to do something.
“We were like a first-aid kit. Whatever we needed we got out of that kit, and it worked for us.”
“He picked up the stunt beautifully,” Belue said, “and physically man-handled the guy.”
Reprieved by Hudson’s block, Belue scrambled out of the end zone and, with a linebacker now coming forward to meet him, pointed upfield to a spot in the Gators’ prevent zone where he wanted Scott to settle.
“Before the snap, I knew where the ball was going,” Belue said. “It was going to Lindsay. We had some other receivers out on the play, but, gosh, this was now or never, so you just believed the ball had to go to the right guy at the right time. And the right guy was Lindsay in that situation.”
Now, it wasn’t easy being a receiver in Georgia’s run-based, Herschel-led offense. Just the night before this game, quarterback and receiver discussed those frustrations, and it was Belue telling his guy, “It might be tomorrow you make the play.”
Of the receiver corps, Scott said, “We were like hungry dogs out there because you weren’t going to get (the ball) but every now and then.
“All receivers think we’re open all the time, and we think if you get us the ball we can make a difference. I always thought that way. Just get me the ball, and I’ll make something happen. Maybe not 93 yards, but we can keep the chains moving.”
Scott pulled the ball in at the Georgia 25 and spun upfield, angling toward the Bulldogs’ sideline. He seemed to catch the Gators secondary flat-footed; and it has long been Dooley’s theory that Florida already had relaxed, savoring its victory before it was served. One defender near Scott lost his footing for just a half beat. That’s all it took.
No one was going to run down Scott once he got up to speed. Although it seemed that his coach was going to try, as Dooley excitedly began sprinting on the sideline as Scott streaked past. “I tell people I out-ran him for 10 yards,” he said.
Up in the radio booth, the growling bard of Georgia football, Larry Munson, made his classic call: “Buck back, third down on the eight. In trouble, he got a block behind him. Gotta throw on the run. Complete to the 25. To the 30. Lindsay Scott 35, 40. Lindsay Scott 45, 50, 45, 40 … Run Lindsay, 25, 20, 15, 10, 5, Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott! Lindsay Scott!”
Those poor souls who had left the stadium earlier, certain that the Georgia championship dream was dead, done in, no less, by its most loathsome rival, had missed the resurrection. Although none would ever admit it in the future.
All heaven broke out in the end zone. And if you stay with the replay long enough, you’ll see one big Bulldog eventually running into the pile, tipping it over.
“I looked and there was Lindsay running. From that point I knew I had to get to that other side of the field,” Hudson said.
The echoes of the play have followed all of its authors for more than three decades. Even if that moment is frozen forever young, those who made it have moved on down life’s road.
Dooley is long retired, tending his garden in Athens. Hudson is in his 25th year working wood control for International Paper in Rome, married with two grown children. Belue has been an ultimate survivor in a fickle business, more than 15 years doing afternoon sports-talk radio with 680 The Fan in Atlanta. His three children range in age from 8 to 11.
Photos: The Georgia-Florida series
Scott lives in Valdosta, doing some speaking, playing ample golf and doting on his teenage daughter. Football fame gives no one a pass on tragedy. Along with his wife, Ronda, he deals with the murder of his 22-year-old stepson, Clay Cross, shot last year in a South Georgia club. The couple has campaigned against what they claim to be the local corruption that allowed the unlicensed club to exist. Three suspects in the murder still await trail.
“We try to stay busy and we do things as a family — try to celebrate Clay in the best way possible,” Scott said. “Obviously it’s something that’s there, and it’s something that eventually we hope to get behind us.”
Well in the background of all their lives is the play that will follow them all the way to the end. It has doggedly trailed them around the world — Belue remembers once being asked about his pass to Scott while on vacation in Belize.
The play is handed down like a pocket watch from generation to generation. Recently during a visit to Atlanta’s College Football Hall of Fame, Belue’s two boys were recreating Munson’s gravelly call, urging Lindsay to run, in one interactive exhibit. “That was a prideful moment there,” Belue remembered.
They could take the attitude of a musician grown weary of playing his greatest hit. They could roll their eyes, slump their shoulders, sigh and grudgingly go through the motions of telling the old story again. But none do.
“It will never come to that,” Belue said. “What most people have is some sort of story that relates to (the play), and I’ve heard some good ones. People just want to tell you what they were doing at the time — so, that’s been fun to hear that.”
AJC rewind: The late Lewis Grizzard from 1980
“I’m a Georgia guy. I live in Georgia. People live and die with the Dogs. That play always comes up. I don’t dread it; I embrace it,” Scott said.
That said, none of them would mind having a little company in their lonely championship wing of the Bulldogs’ big-play vault.
When asked about the everlasting nature of Belue-to-Scott, the blocker who quietly made it happen touches on the frustrations of every red-and-black wearing partisan.
“Until they do it again (win a title), that should be the only thing that comes up,” Hudson said. “You got to do what the old fellas did. This is the example; this is what we want.”