Sixty years ago in Knoxville, Tenn., Georgia won a basketball game and something good happened.
The Bulldogs’ Zippy Morocco, who will be honored at halftime of the Tennessee game today at Stegeman Coliseum, scored 38 points and led his team to a pulsating 87-86 victory.
There was more good news. With his offensive magic, Morocco broke the Southeastern Conference scoring record for the season with 590 points, breaking the record of Kentucky’s Cliff Hagan. A two-sport star for the Bulldogs (he was a football halfback on scholarship), Zippy often electrified crowds when he became a full-time player in 1953.
A fine football player with punt-returning expertise without peer — a 90-yard return versus Furman between the hedges in 1950 and 65 yards against Texas A&M in the 1950 Presidential Cup are examples of his ability to make tacklers miss and go the distance — Zippy had opportunities to play pro basketball (Lakers) and football (Eagles and Montreal Alouettes), but military duty cut short his professional aspirations. Following his service, he tried high school coaching briefly and later operated a restaurant and bar. Ultimately, he settled on a real estate career in his adopted hometown, where you still see him at the Varsity, his favorite restaurant since enrolling at Georgia in 1948.
In our society, Zippy Morocco stories were commonplace, dating back to the times when immigrants like his father and mother made their way to America for the better life — although there were many times when the good life was not so good. Just recently he recalled that he and his brother slept in a double bed in the same room with his parents while his four sisters shared the other bedroom with two double beds. A couple of boarders slept in the living room — you can imagine there was always a line at the bathroom, which was downstairs in an unfinished basement.
Youngstown, Ohio, offered job opportunities if you wanted to work in the steel mills. Zippy’s father signed on and didn’t complain. He went to work to support his family, but his son, Georgia’s first basketball All-American, wanted no part of the steel industry, which is why he was eager to sign the scholarship offer from Wallace Butts. He knew he would have a roof over his head and three meals a day to play a game. “Those are the kinds of things,” he smiled, “that people from the old country never took for granted. My parents never thought that I would get a college education and they sure didn’t think I would get one for free.”
Youngstown sent to Athens three of its immigrant offspring who were to make All-America — Zippy in basketball and George Poschner and Frank Sinkwich in football. “They still revere Sinkwich back in Youngstown,” Zippy said.
As remarkable as his 38 points were in Knoxville six decades ago, there was a reaching out on Zippy’s behalf by the Volunteers, which is a reminder that rival teams should make an effort to expunge the hate factor we hear about so often.
Gus Manning, the Tennessee publicist at the time, called, among others, Furman Bisher, then the sports editor of the Atlanta Constitution, to trumpet Zippy’s outstanding play. “I just wanted to tell you that that performance he put on was the greatest that’s ever been seen on a Tennessee court,” Manning said. When is the last time you heard of one team’s drumbeater promoting another team’s player? Bisher was taken by the call and wrote a column, but it didn’t end there.
A day later, Emmett Lowery, the Tennessee basketball coach sat down and wrote Zippy a letter, which began, “Although we hated losing the ball game last night, the team and myself, as well as the fans of Knoxville, all admired your outstanding performance. I don’t believe I have ever seen a finer individual performance that you put on here last night.”
Zippy was a two-handed set shot artist with an alacritous ebb and flow on the court — which is what led to his nickname as a youngster. It is good to see Zippy honored in his sundown years, an accomplished basketball player who was the best of his time.