Loran Smith and I have a lot in common. We both love the inimitable Dan Magill, for instance. We both married way, way up. We both know what it is like to battle cancer and we both have great appreciation for the folks at M.D. Anderson who helped Loran and are helping me wage that battle. Both of us have talked ourselves out of speeding tickets in Porterdale. And we are both standing on our heads with anticipation over the coming college football season.
Of course that's about where the comparisons stop because he is the world-famous Loran Smith and I am the linthead from Newton County that a few people in the North Georgia Piedmont read and listen to each week.
I have always told Deborah Dietzler, the Texas A&M Aggie who has served as executive director of the UGA Alumni Society since 1997, that she has the best job in the country. She travels all over this nation and the world promoting the University of Georgia. After further consideration I have determined that Deb has only the second-best job in the country because Loran gets to travel all over the world, too -- being Loran Smith.
I caught up with Loran this week, by phone, and we had a nice conversation about his past, present and future. Naturally he was on the run. He was leaving Athens when we began our conversation and I think he was on I-20, headed for the Atlanta airport when we said our goodbyes. I don't think he got pulled over for speeding while we talked, but he did fade out around Walnut Grove for a few minutes so I can't say for sure.
Loran matriculated from Wrightsville in 1956. He came on a track scholarship and ran the low hurdles and the mile relay, but his best event was always the mile run. "I couldn't outrun many but I could outlast a few," he told me with a chuckle. He obviously outlasted more than a few because he set a record in the mile that lasted as long as the old track did. He tried to convince me that his track coach, Forrest "Spec" Towns -- who won a gold medal in the 110 meter low hurdles in front of Adolph Hitler in 1936 -- was a warm and caring man below his infamous gruff exterior, but I still have my doubts.
Loran met his bride of 60 years, the former Myrna Warren of the Newton County Warrens, when they were both undergrads at UGA. That is why Loran found himself being pursued by the Porterdale police late one Saturday night -- or early one Sunday morning. He was racing back to Athens for a Sunday morning job. Even then he obviously had a glib tongue because he got away with a warning.
I got stopped by the Porterdale police multiple times, because I lived there and had a heavy foot. I never got a ticket because all the cops knew my parents and knew we couldn't afford to pay a fine.
After graduating from Georgia, Loran served his nation in the Coast Guard. Upon discharge he returned to Athens, thanks to Coach Magill, and worked in the sports information department. One of his jobs was to edit the football program. The other was to do whatever Coach told him to do. He worked in real estate in Atlanta for a few years and considered taking administrative jobs with the Dallas Cowboys and the Sugar Bowl and even Florida State University -- before Bobby Bowden arrived -- but decided his heart was and always would be in Athens.
He came back to the Classic City as the Dooley era was beginning and has made himself an integral part of Georgia athletics ever since. He began working with the radio broadcast and looking for ways to expand the operation. He and Coach Dooley started the first postgame locker room show anywhere and Loran was responsible for expanding the pre-game tailgate show.
In 1974, Loran became a permanent part of Bulldog lore when he became the sideline reporter during the game. There is not a Southern football fan alive who doesn't know the key phrase Larry Munson, legendary voice immortal of the Georgia Bulldogs, used when he threw the open mic down to the field. "Whatta ya got, Loran?"
Loran admitted that he still hears that phrase wherever he goes. Hahira, Salt Lake City, Montana -- where Loran goes, that phrase goes. "I was at the British Open this summer," he laughed, and heard one of the ESPN guys holler "Whatta ya got, Loran," as I was leaving the press box. I just laughed and waved."
About the coming season? "We are undefeated right now," this with a chuckle, "but, of course, so is everyone else. If the line of scrimmage jells and one or two of those running backs rises to the top -- it could be a special year."
Indeed, and Loran Smith, the man who ties the past to the present for Georgia football, is pretty special himself.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.