When Anthony Arnold’s eligibility expired following the Sugar Bowl, New Year’s Day, 1981, he had lettered four years, was a member of a national championship team, and had the emotional benefits of growing up in a college town and playing for the hometown team — the University of Georgia Bulldogs. It was if he had written the script.
Arnold had experienced the fulfilling rewards of college football in his hometown, a rich and rewarding journey. Now what was he to do? As gifted as he was as a college receiver, he was not quite the fit for the NFL, and his college laurels alone would not sustain him when it came to gainful income and supporting a family.
The good life in his view, however, could continue. He knew what it was like to live in Athens and immediately decided that there would be no change in address. He wanted to extend life in his hometown with good days and good memories. Eventually, he landed a job with Nakanishi, a company that manufactures ball and bearing containers for the automotive industry.
Amp, his nickname since his playground days, works in sales for Nakanishi and often travels throughout the Midwest in his job. In the summer of 2012, he spent time in Japan. “It was fun seeing another culture first hand,” Arnold says. “I enjoyed visiting the temples and the museums. It is quite different from Athens.” One of his hobbies is collecting Japanese fans. What about the language? “When I go to a Japanese steakhouse,” he smiles, “I can read the menu, but that is about it.”
Travel in the upper Midwest is often where his job takes him. Amp enjoys trying to find a big-league ball park to take in a baseball game. An all-around athlete at Cedar Shoals, Amp enjoys big-league baseball. Most of all, he enjoys college football, but there will always be an affection for basketball. He has worked as a high school game official since 1992. It is not uncommon for him to spend a week in Michigan or Illinois and then get home in time to referee high-school basketball games on the weekend. “Officiating keeps me close to the game,” he says, “and it keeps me from getting stressed.”
The truth of the matter is that basketball was his favorite game growing up. This kid was good, too. He made all-state for Cedar, playing on a team that had five players who posted averages in double figures. Amp recalls his average was over 20 points per game, which had the college scouts looking his way. One interested coach in particular was George Raveling of Washington State. Raveling liked the way Amp handled the ball and, of course, recognized that the Jaguars point guard had exceptional scoring talent.
Often during his officiating schedule, Amp will bump into a Georgia fan who will corner him and recall the 1978 Georgia Tech game in Athens, when the Bulldogs came from behind to win 29-28 in dramatic fashion. If you had to pick a hero, you would likely single out Amp, although freshman quarterback Buck Belue and Scott Woerner, the defensive back and punt returner, would surely get enthusiastic votes. Then there was David Archer, who is usually the forgotten man in the scintillating game story.
Here’s how it unfolded.
Georgia Tech, getting off to a blazing start, was up 20-0 midway through the second quarter. Included in the Jacket’s offensive thrust was an onside kick that led to points. The Bulldogs kept doggedly fighting back, and early in the third quarter, Scott Woerner returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown to move the Bulldogs out front 21-20. Euphoria lasted only a few brief minutes, however, as Georgia Tech’s Drew Hill returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Georgia Tech then was successful with a two-point conversation attempt and regained the lead 28-21. Deflation didn’t last long on the Georgia sideline. The team wanted victory and wanted it badly. The Bulldogs, in workmanlike fashion, regrouped and began a drive with 5:52 left in the game from the Georgia 16-yard-line — a daunting task, but the Dogs were up for the challenge.
Buck Belue, an inexperienced freshman, was sent into the game and was about to win the hearts of the Bulldog nation. On a rollout — on fourth down, no less — he was being pressured by the hard-charging Georgia Tech defense. The outlook was grim.
Arnold has this recall of the play. “Buck ran out of room, and the defensive back, who kept his eyes on Buck, moved up to provide run support. I turned upfield, and at the last second Buck saw me and threw the ball.”
Buck’s instinctive reaction and Amp’s cogent move to bring separation from the defense were impeccably timed. The pass was on target to a wide-open Arnold. The result was a 42-yard touchdown. The overflowing Sanford Stadium crowd went wild, as the crowd sensed that Georgia’s Vince Dooley, with 2:24 left on the clock, would attempt a two-point conversion. Georgia initially called for a pass to Mark Hodge. The Georgia Tech defense swarmed the Bulldog tight end, which resulted in several yellow flags being thrown on the field, obvious to one and all, pass interference. On the sideline, Dooley, who always made good decisions in these situations, thought the percentage call from a yard and a half out was to send tailback Willie McClendon over the top, Georgia’s bread-and-butter goal-line play. It was known as the lead play. Bill Pace, the offensive coordinator, preferred to fake to Willie on the lead play and have Buck to run an option off the lead fake. There was a brief discussion as the clock ticked away, when suddenly, to avoid a delay of game penalty, Pace rushed the call to the sideline for the option with Arnold lined up in the backfield as power back. Arnold scored untouched on the play around left end, to put Georgia out front 29-28. But therein lies an intriguing story.
In deciding which play to run, technology figured in the decision. Pace, who had been the head coach at Vanderbilt and had coached at Georgia Tech as an assistant in 1973, was worried that Tech would expect the dive over the top with McClendon, which would be have been a correct guess 95 percent of the time. The two-way communication system didn’t allow for open conversation as it is today. When you pushed the button on the headset connection to speak, it shut out all other conversational input. As time ticked away and Dooley was trying to call for the tailback over the top, Pace gave instructions to Charley Whittemore, the coach who signaled the plays to the quarterback, to run the lead option. Time essentially ran out before the head coach had an opportunity to dictate his preference.
In reality, Pace’s clairvoyance was right on target, but a funny thing happened on the way to the two-point conversion. Jimmy Womack, the fullback, actually ran the wrong way, failing to provide blocking assistance for the quarterback. The Georgia Tech corner back, expecting the lead play, crashed down hard on Belue and almost made the tackle, but he did not hit Buck cleanly. Buck, poised and alert, flicked the ball out to Arnold as he was being rushed by the cornerback. The young quarterback’s presence and poise under pressure were remarkable.
The game, however, was not over. There was plenty of time left on the clock. Georgia Tech could win it with a field goal. The Yellow Jackets moved across midfield and had Bulldog partisans anxiously concerned and on the edge of their seats. At that point, freshman defensive back David Archer intercepted a Mike Kelley pass at the Georgia 27-yard-line with 1:01 remaining in the game. Georgia ran out the clock.
Now euphoria burst forth without any lapses or hesitations. It was one of the most dramatic victories in Bulldog history. The chapel bell was ringing in the distance. Glory, Glory, to old Georgia!
After the game, I had a conversation with the smiling Amp, who always seemed to have a cheerful, perpetual grin on his face. When I asked him about the touchdown catch, Amp, with his signature grin, offered this simple but succinct assessment: “When I saw Buck was in trouble, I turned upfield. Buck pulled up and threw a perfect pass to me. All I had to do was catch it and cruise.”