I am thankful for Dan Magill. I have written this sentence into every Thanksgiving column I’ve penned for as long as my memory serves me. I meant in every time.
What can I say about Daniel Hamilton Magill Jr. that hasn’t been said already? What can I add to the accolades that have been pronounced by those who knew him better and whose fame is far more widespread than mine?
Probably nothing, but that, of course, will not prevent me from adding my words of tribute to the hundreds of thousands of words that have been shared since we lost this great man on Aug. 23, just one week before his beloved Bulldogs were to take the field for a brand new season.
Every community in the state has a Mr. Bulldog — a person whose allegiance to the red and black is so ingrained that they are associated with the University of Georgia in the minds of all who know them. All those people are imposters, for there has only been one person truly worthy of that title and “if your blood runs red and black,” as Brook Whitmire is wont to say, your life has been touched by the inimitable Dan Magill, whether you are aware of it or not.
I am not writing Coach Magill’s obituary, so I will not cite his long list of achievements, a list of achievements that would surpass those of a dozen lesser men. I will, however, try to share a few of the reflections I had when I got the text, during church Sunday morning, that he had passed away.
For one thing, the world is a sadder place this week, because one of the most colorful human beings in God’s creation is no longer amongst us. I loved Coach Magill’s penchant for giving people nicknames. The “Bootin’ Teuton,” for kicker Peter Rajecki, might be my all time favorite. The “Greek Streak,” for my friend Jimmy Poulas, is a close second. Coach Magill referred to me as the “Pride of Porterdale.” I hope I can live up to that moniker.
Dan Magill loved Athens, as we all know, and the University of Georgia and his family and tennis and the United States of America. And he loved people. He dearly loved people and people loved him back. The hours I have sat across the desk from him at the College Tennis Hall of Fame at the complex that bears his name are some of the happiest hours of my life. He was always animated and excited and never lacked for just one more story to tell.
He could cuss more colorfully than anyone I have ever met.
I wonder if someone thought to check behind his autographed picture of Anna Kournikova when Coach got unable to keep office hours every day.
My favorite quote about Dan Magill is that “he hates Georgia Tech so much he won’t put mustard on a hotdog.” He always referred to them as “the enemy.” I will never forget Georgia’s 51-7 crushing of Georgia Tech in 2002. After the last Georgia touchdown, UGA radio commentator Neil “Hondo” Williamson famously said, “Somewhere in this stadium I know that Dan Magill is pleading, ‘Come on boys! I know we can score just one more touchdown.’”
Knowing Dan Magill kept me from having to use Google regarding all things Athens and UGA. It was just as easy and much more fun end enlightening to just call him up and ask. Google “Foley Field” for example and you’ll find out about Frank Foley and a fair-to-middlin’ college baseball facility. Call Dan Magill and you’d learn all about Frank Foley and get to hear stories about Big Jim Whatley and Buck Belue and, eventually, the great Ty Cobb.
Georgia swim coach Jack Bauerle, who is the best there has ever been at what he does, respected Dan so much that he named his son Magill. Dorsey Hill, who is a real person, had a 50-year relationship with the great man and told me that he respected him as much as anyone he has ever met. I can’t imagine what kind of week Jeff Dantzler has had — but I think I need Jeff’s number now.
During our aforementioned visits at the Tennis Hall of Fame, many of which took place early on Saturday mornings when Georgia was playing Between the Hedges, I would always steer our conversations to baseball, just so I could get Coach Magill into an argument over the relative merits of Babe Ruth, my favorite player, and Ty Cobb, whom Coach Magill knew well. He had a picture of the two of them together, so it wasn’t hard to drive the conversation away from fighting the Japanese in World War II — a favorite topic — and toward the Ruth-Cobb debate.
The last time I went to visit Dan Magill, at his assisted living facility, I stayed just a few minutes and didn’t think that he had any idea who I was. The conversation was generic — about how he felt and when he might be going home. When I felt like I needed to go to keep from tiring him out, I said goodbye and told him that I loved him. He grabbed my sleeve and pulled me closer and whispered in my ear, “Babe Ruth couldn’t carry Ty Cobb’s jock strap.”
I am thankful for the life of Dan Magill. He wasn’t just a damn good Bulldog — he was the only Bulldog.