Loran Smith - 06/19/09
Bulldogs lost great friend in Luke Lassiter

With the passing of time the incumbents change, and those who market the head football coach's television show at Georgia today are probably not aware of the contribution that Luke Lassiter made to the show when Vince Dooley was the Bulldog coach.

A warm friendship developed between the two men years ago, and it led to the Cotton States Insurance Company, at a critical juncture, becoming the principal sponsor of the show.

As president of Cotton States, Lassiter developed an affinity for sports advertising and worked to maximize ancillary options. There was a Cotton States sign on the outfield fence, left center, in the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. A lot of balls sailed over the sign, and, invariably, Braves announcer Ernie Johnson would describe the home run by saying that the ball flew out of the park "over the Cotton States sign." Or he might explain that a ball hit into the left center field gap was "up against the Cotton States sign."

Vince appreciated Luke's support, and a mutual admiration society was developed between them, which was beneficial to both parties. Luke was not only a substantial sponsor of the coach's television show, he was a loyal alumnus who couldn't get enough of Athens and the Bulldogs.

He chartered buses for games and became a ticket broker for countless Georgia friends. He bought dozens of season tickets and would then treat his customers, staff and fellow Bulldog aficionados to an outing between the hedges.

What he did for Vince Dooley was to sponsor the coach's hour-long show in the early days of Turner Broadcasting when it was commonly referred to as "Channel 17." Ted Turner was eager to carry the show, which Dooley felt was important for recruiting and promoting Bulldog football, but it was the early days of cable television and many sponsors were reluctant. Lassiter was willing to take a risk with Vince and Ted, and the decision paid off for all parties.

Luke was a volunteer recruiter and an active alumnus who saw Cotton States' rise to prominence in the '60s and '70s. He oversaw remarkable growth at Cotton States (from a mere $1,500 originally into a multi million dollar company) and considered sports sponsorships central to his marketing goals. Any agent with an impressive sales portfolio often was a beneficiary of an invitation to ride to Athens with Luke on one of his many bus charters.

When he wasn't busy with the company and the Bulldogs, you would find Luke in his garden. He produced an abundance of vegetables each year, sharing with his friends and neighbors.

A native of Covington, Luke grew up when agriculture in Georgia was king. He understood the challenge that farmers experienced and was always compatible philosophically with the agribusiness interests in the state.

Cotton States was a company formed for the purpose of aiding farmers. Luke was keenly aware of that, but he also appreciated the urban growth when he came along and expanded the company's reach.

He applied the same passion to running Cotton States that he had for the Bulldogs, which is why he experienced, in part, such great success.

"Luke was a wonderful friend of the Bulldogs," said Dooley. "We could always count on Luke when we needed him."

Loran Smith is co-host of the University of Georgia Bulldogs Tailgate Show and sideline color announcer. He is editor of the football game programs and has written several books on the Bulldogs and the Masters.