Before former Georgia quarterback David Greene regaled his audience with stories of past Southeastern Conference battles, the Athens Rotary Club paused Wednesday afternoon to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allied Forces stormed the beaches of France during World War II.
Club members watched a short video illustrating a recording of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s D-Day Prayer, sergeant at arms Len Davis recited the poem “I Stand Here Now”, and singer/songwriter Mike Dekle performed his riveting composition “Till They Came Home”.
The club also offered a standing ovation to a pair of their fellow Rotarians who served in World War II – H. Edsel “Ed” Benson (who joked that he “Didn’t get the email about D-Day”) and Thomas Strickland.
And once the room had contemplated one of the most pivotal days in world history, they were solidly entertained by Greene, the Snellville boy who set the stage for Matthew Stafford, D.J. Shockley and Aaron Murray as the first of coach Mark Richt’s iconic UGA quarterbacks.
During his four years between the hedges, Greene set the NCAA record for career victories (42, which was later eclipsed by Texas’ Colt McCoy in 2009) and the SEC mark for career yards (11,270, bettered in 2013 by Murray) and completed 59 percent of his passes for 72 touchdowns.
He led the Bulldogs offense from 2001-04, years when the team won its first SEC title in 30 seasons, captured two SEC Eastern Division crowns and won Sugar, Outback and Capital One bowls.
The still-boyish and ever-humble Greene, who turns 32 later month, admitted that he really didn’t realize he was major-college material while at South Gwinnett High School, especially when the Comets went 0-10 during his sophomore season.
“People ask me, ‘When did you know?’” Greene, now an insurance broker, said. “And I tell them, ‘I didn’t know and neither did my parents or anybody else.’ I knew I was pretty good, but I didn’t think I was head-and-shoulders over anybody else. And after we went 0-10, I wasn’t sure I could win a high-school football game, much less play for Georgia.”
But South Gwinnett fired its coach and lured T. McFerrin out of one of his retirements. He developed the 6-foot-3 Greene into a hot commodity, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As Greene dissected the first big game of his career – the 26-24 victory at Tennessee in the now-legendary “hob-nail boot” affair – many club members were on the edge of their seats, remembering those early Richt years.
Greene also briefly touched on the modern-day recruiting process, which he said “does a disservice” to schools because prospects these days are less inclined toward unconditional love for their alma maters.
“It’s not really a recruit issue. It’s a college football issue,” he said.
The former SEC Freshman of the Year and All-SEC first-teamer even had a little something to say about his professional career, which featured stops in Seattle, New England, Kansas City and Indianapolis.
He recounted a conversation with All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady, who during Greene’s short time with the Patriots was suffering from tendonitis, but wouldn’t take any downtime so as not to become the “next Wally Pipp,” who when he sat out of a game was spelled by Lou Gehrig.
“I think we can all learn from that,” Greene said. “Here’s the greatest quarterback in the world; he’s at the top of his game and he’s crushing every team in the league in 2007. But he prepared and worked like a rookie. He did not want to give anybody the hint of a chance at taking his job.”
An eternal hero in Athens and beyond, Greene is a gracious winner, expressing his gratitude that he’s still remembered.
“I feel fortunate and blessed to have been able to play at Georgia,” Greene said. “I knew it was a big deal and I didn’t know if I was good enough. … I’m grateful for the time I had here and I know that the Dog Nation runs deep and that people still appreciate what you did 10 or 15 years ago.”