The extremely eventful summer of Jake Fromm, Georgia folk hero


We think of Jake Fromm the way some of us of aging years thought of Chip Hilton, the difference being that Chip Hilton didn’t exist. He was the creation in a series of books by Clair Bee, a famous basketball coach turned writer. 

The 23-book series – I’ve read every installment, though not lately – traced Chip’s journey from three-sport star at Valley Falls High School to three-sport star at State U. His teammates had nicknames like Soapy and Biggie and  Fireball. The titles were catchy/corny: “Fence Busters”, “Triple-Threat Trouble” and, best of all, “Comeback Cagers.” Spoiler alert: Chip’s team won the NCAA title at the end of that one, the winning basket coming on an inbounds pass that was thrown, on purpose, by Soapy off the backboard. 

(Digression No. 1: Bee was a killer when it came to arcane plays and rules. State once lost a big game on a one-point safety. Believe it or not, there is such a thing.) 

(Digression No. 2: The final installment of Bee’s series is “Hungry Hurler,” which made me think less of baseball than gastroenterology.) 

William Jacob Fromm, by way of contrast, is a real person, although sometimes you’d swear he’d been made up. He pitched and hit home runs for a Warner Robins team that graced the Little League World Series. He was a big-time quarterback at Houston County High. He committed to Alabama but signed with Georgia, which he led to the national championship game against – small world – Alabama. 

(Digression No. 3: Were Fromm a fictional character, he’d have thrown the winning touchdown pass in OT. As it was, another freshman – Tua Tagovailoa, who committed to Bama after Fromm recanted – did that deed. Real life stinks.) 

Fromm led Georgia on its fantastic journey as a raw freshman, having replaced the injured Wally Pipp – er, Jacob Eason – on the season’s third series. From the start, Fromm looked born for the job. Except for the part about him killing a bar when he was only 3 -- that has always sounded sketchy -- he’s as good as advertised.

Another difference between Chip and Jake: Apart from playing ball, Chip didn’t spend much time outdoors. He worked at State Drug. (His girlfriend, Mitzi Savrill, was the cashier.) Jake, however, loves nature. Unclear is whether nature loves him back. 

Twice this summer, Fromm has been injured in water-related incidents. The first came when he got a fishing hook stuck in his leg. The barb, as Edward Aschoff related for ESPN, was not his. It belonged to his buddy Jordan Rowe, whose attempts to land a bass proved overzealous. 

(Digression No. 4: Were Bee telling the tale, Rowe would be known as Fishy.) 

Now Fromm has broken his left hand in what is being called “a freak boating accident.” As Chip Towers of DawgNation reports, Fromm was a passenger in a boat on Lake Burton when a water skier fell and the handle of the recoiling tow rope struck the quarterback’s left mitt. That is, you’d have to say, freaky. Then again, most accidents are. 

As fate would have it, Fromm’s broken hand is the one that matters less. He’s said to have resumed throwing footballs. Probably he should restrict this throwing to Georgia’s famous indoor facility. Bad things happen when he ventures outside. Is there no drugstore in Athens that needs a summer employee? 

(Digression No. 5: This is only the second-most-famous fracture involving a Georgia Bulldog. During a Saturday scrimmage before the 1982 season, Herschel Walker broke his thumb. The late, great AJC sports editor Van McKenzie tore up his Sunday section and scrambled all reporters. The result – Van conjured up a double truck, meaning adjoining full pages, of thumb coverage – became a source of awe in the industry. “They did this on deadline? Unbelievable.”) 

(Digression No. 6: Van commissioned a drawing of a hand with a heavily bandaged thumb to run across the double truck. That was the cherry on top.)

(Digression No. 7: Six months later, Van hired this correspondent. It was his one mistake. But I’d seen the amazing double truck, and I really wanted to work here.) 

(Digression No. 8: The finest moment of Vince Dooley’s distinguished career involved Herschel’s thumb. Dooley had insisted there was no way his tailback would play in the opener against Clemson, the reigning national champ, on Labor Day night. In the second quarter, Herschel entered the game. (Yeah, Vince’s finest moment involved a fib.) With Sanford Stadium going nuts and Clemson’s splendid defenders locked onto No. 34, John Lastinger faked a handoff to you-know-who and gave the ball to Tron Jackson, known as Elec-Tron, on a reverse. It would have been a 41-yard touchdown, not to mention the slickest play ever, if Georgia hadn’t been flagged for holding.) 

Apologies for all these asides. Apologies also for making much ado over what seems not very much. Fromm is apparently OK, unless he decides to walk his dog. (No idea if he has one, but wouldn’t it be great if he did and it was – as happened within the Dooley household – named Herschel?) To borrow from a movie title that became a silly Braves ad campaign, young Jake is having one crazy summer. He needs to step lightly and, above all, not to try scuba diving. 

Then again, Georgia does have the hotshot freshman Justin Fields, whom Clair Bee might dub Justin Case.


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