This is quite the month for Vince Dooley anniversaries as Georgia's football coach.
Dooley was hired 50 years ago to guide the Bulldogs, and it was 25 years ago when he announced he would be stepping down. Dooley went public with his retirement several days after the 1988 regular season concluded with a 24-3 win over Georgia Tech, and he coached his final game against Michigan State in the Gator Bowl.
"I had been thinking for a couple of years about that possibility and kind of put it aside," Dooley said. "I just felt like 25 years was a good number. We had been fortunate to win a couple hundred games, so I just felt like it was the best time for me and the best time for Georgia."
Georgia will play in a Gator Bowl for the first time since Dooley's finale when the No. 23 Bulldogs (8-4) face Nebraska (8-4) on New Year's Day.
The 1988 win over Georgia Tech was the 200th of Dooley's career, which made him the ninth coach in NCAA history to achieve that milestone. He also became the third active coach with the feat, joining Michigan's Bo Schembechler and Penn State's Joe Paterno.
Dooley forbid his players from soaking him after the victory over the Yellow Jackets, and he did not want the Gator Bowl to be dominated by talk of his retirement. Georgia and Michigan State took 8-3 records into the game, with the Spartans having topped Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl the season before.
"What I tried to do was get the team to focus on Michigan State as opposed to focusing on me in my last game," Dooley said.
The focus was there for the Bulldogs, who jumped out to a 17-0 lead over the Spartans midway through the second quarter behind two touchdown passes from Wayne Johnson to tailback Rodney Hampton. Michigan State then started answering Georgia's productivity with receiver Andre Rison, who had touchdown receptions of 4, 55 and 50 yards, the third of which pulled the Spartans to within 34-27 with 3:49 remaining.
Georgia held on for a 34-27 win, surviving Rison's nine receptions for 252 yards and three scores. Johnson completed 15 of 27 passes for a career-high 227 yards and three touchdowns for the Bulldogs, with Hampton adding 109 on the ground.
"We had actually thrown the ball a lot against Tech," Dooley said. "Johnson was a good passer, and I needed to use him more to open up the offense. We were getting crowded pretty hard at the line of scrimmage, so the game plan was to throw the ball a lot."
Current Georgia coach Mark Richt said Sunday night as the Gator Bowl pairing was finalized that he hoped Dooley -- who he still refers to as "my boss" -- would make the trip to Jacksonville. Dooley said he got an invitation from the athletic department right away, and that he and wife Barbara quickly accepted.
Dooley's final game as an Auburn player took place in the 1953 Gator Bowl, and he coached against his younger brother, Bill, in the 1971 Gator Bowl, when the Bulldogs topped North Carolina 7-3. Then there were all those early November matchups against Florida, in which Dooley had a 17-7-1 record.
"I've got good memories of Jacksonville from a personal standpoint," he said.
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