It’s 1981 and sitting in the elegant office of Gulfstream CEO Allen Paulson were Georgia Southern College President Dale Lick and GSC Athletic Director Bucky Wagner. It would be Paulson who would turn Lick’s dream into reality of bringing football back to the college through a requested investment of one million dollars!
Paulson admits to Lick and Wagner “Folks in Savannah want me to invest in rebuilding our recreation facilities! Give me some time to think on these things and call me Monday.” Monday finds Lick headed for Atlanta. No cell phones in those days.
“So I pull over in the pouring rain and make the call in a leaking phone booth,” Lick said. “When he came on the line Paulson declared ‘Mr. President the vote went your way. I’ve got a check ready to help bring football back to your school.’”
M.C. Anderson, a contractor of mighty force building overpasses on interstates, pledged $250,000 to dig the hole. His twin daughters were attending Georgia Southern College, which I am certain helped in Anderson’s offer.
Sen. Glenn Bryant of Hinesville provided a ton to put in lights. Morris Lupton, our local friend who started the empire of Time Savers, committed $10,000 and a $1, 000 worth of tickets. Lupton did this prior to the Erk Russell saga. That guy had guts, but never backed up from believing in the dream.
The Dirty Dozen, that tough community group, was headed by Bruce Yawn, whom Erk called early and asked, “Bruce is this for real?” To which Yawn replied in the positive, adding, “Coach, you need to think about coming on down here. We need you.” How prophetic Yawn’s offer was.
Si Waters and Ronnie Pope would meet me in their parking lot every other morning to get the latest on Erk’s coming. I remember well Erk’s calling Bucky and Lick about the equity in his home. Dale asked how much. Lick called me and said we need some money.
The next morning, I shared the news with Si and Ronnie, to which replied Waters, “Is his home equity the only thing standing in our way?”
I replied in the affirmative. Waters said, “Come on, Pope, let’s go talk to Jack.”
Jack Wilson was at that time president of the Sea Island Bank. That afternoon, Waters called me and said, “Mandes, you tell Mr. Lick to tell Erk we got the check cut.”
And then there’s Bucky. Still, at this moment, I don’t think it is declaratively clear. Bucky Wagner, when told by Lick to have a stadium ready by 1984, did it. Wagner did it. Our Eagles 30 years ago this fall jogged into Our House! Added to that was the fine and classy Lupton Building. There is the story of Erk’s calling his coaching buddies at Tech, Auburn, Alabama to send him worn-out practice uniforms. There is Sammy Johnson giving coach his large inventory of weights, along with that free “cold one” every afternoon.
A mobile home for Erk’s office was given by Donna and Robert Mallard.
“Hell, its plush, but what worries me,” said the coach, “it’s on wheels, and I don’t want to look up one day and we are passing through Pembroke!”
The ardent dedication of Erk’s secretary Sue Colson, who should be in the Eagle Hall of Fame. Roger Inman who took to Eagle Field like a daddy with a newborn babe.
He had my trust. That’s why on Wednesday preceding that forthcoming life-changing Friday night, I called Roger and said, “Build me a paneled blue-and-white set with a big eagle and don’t ask me why.”
Roger’s set still lives in pictures capturing that unbelievable moment on a Saturday morning in May. Si Waters furniture truck, on the road for away games, carrying Eagle football equipment!
Dale Wesley Lick moving across his eight years and eight months in laboring every day toward rightful goals of university status and a standalone doctorate and football!
Yes, Erk. The icon of getting it with blood running across his forehead. Seventeen years at Georgia bringing him a national following. He was truly loved by UGA. Bringing together the family one Sunday afternoon — Jean; their boys, Jay and Rusty; and Erk — saying, “What do you all think?” Jean says simply, “Erk! Wherever you go, I’m right there.” The boys added, “Dad, you’ve got our support all the way!”
That night, I feel certain, the dream of jet planes, bowl appearances — especially Georgia’s national championship Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day 1981 — filled his mind. But then, he reached down and pulled up his bucket list and, what was missing? His own program!