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Loran Smith: Hollywood has tough task in creating movie about legendary Erk Russell

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Loran Smith: Hollywood has tough task in creating movie about legendary Erk Russell
Loran Smith

Surely you have heard that Hollywood is going to produce a movie on the life of Erskine Russell, the onetime Bulldog assistant head coach who brought about instant success at Georgia Southern.

The Bulldogs family loved Erk and so did Georgia Southern aficionados.

You often hear about the importance of people skills when it comes to communication and relationships. Nobody could teach Erk’s style. I never sat down with him or anyone in his family and explored his background to see if there were a fountain from which this great man’s personality, warmth, love and axioms sprang. Who influenced his big-hearted, empathetic, and genial personality?

First of all, everybody who ever knew him was drawn to his great sense of humor. Players, opponents, fans, friends. Strangers. He never lost the common touch. He was inventive and creative. He could find something clever about any subject or anybody, but he was never demeaning or underhanded.

If you hang around the sports beat, you get to know a lot of interesting people. You hear things and you are exposed to little nuggets of gossip. Yet there are but a few people you come to know really well. Although Erk was everybody’s friend, those who really knew him quickly recognized that, for all the tenacity and aggressiveness with which his teams played, he, their leader, was a tender-hearted man.

Yet, he had a macho image. Baldheaded, broad-shouldered and cigar-puffing, he had a penchant for the most casual of dress — shorts, sneakers and a tight-fitting T-shirt over his Charles Atlas build. He looked the part of the enforcer. Many coaches fell for it. One was Bud Carson, who was the head coach at Georgia Tech, Georgia’s arch rival.

In January 1972, Carson had just been fired at Georgia Tech. I boarded a flight to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., for the American Football Coaches Association meetings at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood.

Bud was riding first class, but the flight attendant, who was a Georgia graduate, let me move up to the seat beside Bud. We had a pleasant conversation about many things, although Bud, sorely disappointed with the way things had soured for him at Tech, lamented his ending and how it was handled.

During the course of the conversation, he made a comment that was startling.

“What I needed at Tech was somebody like Georgia has in Erk Russell, somebody who can forearm them in place when they get out of line.”

With that, I countered with, “Bud you just don’t understand. Those kids play for Erk because they love him.”

This was evidence that there were many who saw Erk’s image as one of the enforcer but did not know the real story.

I’ve seen Erk leading the cheers in the locker room, I’ve seen him crying after the agony of defeat.

But the most enduring image is him with a half-lit stogie, pontificating about a subject of mutual interest or emitting a rejoinder to something said — breaking up those within his midst, often howling with laughter.

One night at some function when he knew he was going to be called on to speak, I saw him scribble out notes with a ball-point pen on the white table cloth where he was sitting. He explained how good the Georgia running game would be that coming fall. “We are,” he chuckled as he spoke, “going to call our offense the Georgia Power Company. Our snap count is going to be, ‘Rate Hike.’”

There has never been a more spontaneous or off-the-cuff speaker.

He poked fun at himself. His self-flagellation was done with great effect, but make no mistake about it — he was the consummate competitor. He had enormous pride but functioned without ego.

A selfless man who was a players’ advocate, Erk was a leader in the platoon sergeant tradition — one whose men would die for him because they knew he would die for them. That was the way his players saw him.

His salty humor enabled him to relate to his players, though he was never profane. He castigated opponents with a flair that bespoke competitive tradition, never anything underhanded or demeaning.

You think Hollywood can capture this man’s personality?

You would hope, but I have to ask: Who the hell can play Erk Russell?

Not even George C. Scott could pull that off.

Blog: UGA men picked fifth in the SEC, Mann 2nd-team All-SEC (with...

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A season after exceeding expectations, Georgia is picked to finish fifth in Southeastern Conference men’s basketball for the 2014-15 campaign. Loran Smith: Hollywood... Full Story

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