Wiedmer: Dooleys are couple, parents of the year

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Close by the great Georgia football coach stood his wife, all decked out in Tennessee orange for Saturday night's Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club fundraiser.

For 50 years Vince and Barbara Dooley have been married, and for the vast majority of those their wardrobes were dominated by Bulldog red and black, occasionally highlighted by silver.

But then youngest child Derek had to go and accept the UT football job in January. Having always been Mom's favorite - "The older kids still don't like Derek," Vince grinned - Barbara saw little choice but to support her baby and his new employer. She even wore an orange feathered boa to the Big Orange Caravan stop in Atlanta a few months back.

But Dad didn't coach the Bulldogs for 25 years and serve as their athletic director for 25 more (10 of them overlapping) without developing more than a slight aversion to the Vols' primary color.

So even though he and Barbara agreed to be the featured speakers for the Sunrise Sunset Gala at the Museum Center, he couldn't bring himself to follow her fashion statement, opting for a charcoal gray suit, white shirt and red-and-black striped tie.

"Will you see me in orange?" responded Dooley to a reporter's question. "Not in the state of Georgia. But there might be a rare occasion in Knoxville, or at a game. I got a nice tie that somebody sent me that's got a lot of white and a little orange."

Oh, how times have changed in the Dooley's Athens, Ga., home. Just a few years ago - Derek then an LSU assistant under Nick Saban - the youngest Dooley tried mightily to convince his mother to yell for the Tigers against UGA.

"But she finally let him know that the credit card was thicker than blood," Vince laughed.

Now Mom wears the color of choice whenever she's in the company of the Big Orange Nation and Dad is at least considering following his bride's lead.

"I never thought I'd say it's great to be in Vols country," said Dooley. "But in light of all that's happened, we're delighted to be here."

No more than the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club was delighted to have them. Thanks to the Dooley's presence at both the dinner and an earlier cocktail party, the gala raised nearly $50,000 for cancer research, the local Habitat for Humanity group and Cleveland's Angel Flight chapter.

(In a side note that has to delight area Alabama fans, an art print of Bear Bryant signed by the late legendary coach fetched $1,500 at an auction following the dinner while an official UT game jersey autographed by Peyton Manning brought just $400, proving yet again that nobody beats the Bear in SEC country.)

Yet the Dooleys were clearly the stars of the show.

There was Vince describing a conversation between then-Notre Dame president Theodore Hesburgh and Barbara on the eve of the 1980 national championship game between the Fighting Irish and Georgia.

"Barbara made a joke about Notre Dame having an in with God because of all the Catholics, to which Father Hesburgh replied, 'My God doesn't have time for football games,'" recalled Vince. "So Barbara said, 'That's good because mine does.'"

History, of course, shows a Bulldog victory.

There was Barbara touchingly recalling her bout with breast cancer five years ago.

"I'd always wondered what it would be like to be a blonde," said the brunette Mrs. Dooley. "So I got a blonde wig, a red wig, a spiked black wig with some red tips and another black wig I nicknamed Elvira. Vince got so he'd call and ask, 'So what are you wearing tonight?' If I said blonde or red he'd be right home. If it was Spike or Elvira he might be awhile."

It didn't take long for Vince to answer the question on the minds of most Big Orange and Bulldog fans regarding whom he'll root for when the Vols visit UGA on Oct. 9.

"I'm going to be in my den watching the game on television, quietly pulling for my son," he said.

Clearly, blood is now thicker than credit cards in Vince and Barbara's house.