April 20, 2023

There’s something special about those Wally’s Boys

             G Day kickoff for the 2023 Georgia Bulldogs was not until 4 on Saturday afternoon. But before 8 that morning, a special group of Dawgs started filling Athens Country Club’s banquet hall.

They are celebrated as “Wally’s Boys,” Bulldogs who strapped on helmets for Coach Wally Butts. The legendary, hardnosed coach growled and cussed to get every ounce of hustle out of them. As one of his 1950s players said, “We loved him, and we hated him.” But these days, love and respect for the “Little Round Man” overpower any long-ago negative emotions.

On that morning, I got there early. I wanted to watch Wally’s Boys—attired in red and black—fill the hall. Most walked in. Some entered with the aid of walkers, canes or wheelchairs. Each was proud to be one of Wally’s Boys.

The first person to stick out his hand was a friend, the ever-dapper Sonny Seiler of Savannah. In the 1950s, Wally Butts “crowned” Sonny and Cecelia’s first English bulldog the Georgia mascot. And the Seiler family have been celebrities in the Bulldog Nation ever since. Uga XI, aka Boom, was “collared” (crowned) at the game.

My presence was by invitation. The architect of the annual event, Loran Smith, asked for help. Five Wally’s Boys were to be recognized with the John Rauch Loyalty Award. Butts called John Rauch, Charley Trippi, Dick McPhee and John Donaldson his best backfield ever. My assignment was to memorialize, in the printed program, the late Chuck Anderson, 1931-2022, who played for Butts in the early 1950s.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Chuck Anderson was born and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. And Chuck kept growing until he reached 6 feet 6 inches tall. His size and athleticism at Jones Valley High School attracted college football scouts from the University of Alabama, Auburn University and the University of Georgia. The big end, who played on both sides of ball, accepted a scholarship from the legendary coach Wally Butts in 1950. Chuck, 90, died in March 2022, but his family said that being one of Wally’s Boys was one of his most prized accomplishments.

“Chuck loved telling of his time in Payne Hall, living with his teammates. He especially loved Coach Quinton Lumpkin and his wife, who lived in the dormitory with the players. Chuck would tell his children and grandchildren, ‘Coach and Mrs. Lumpkin were like our away-from-home parents. They really looked out after us.’

“After graduating from UGA, Chuck served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. In 1954, he married his college sweetheart. The couple moved to her hometown of Jesup, home of a long roster of Georgia Bulldogs, including John Donaldson, Len Hauss and Lindsay Scott.”

Chuck’s daughter, Jan Anderson Davis, received the posthumous award for her father.

Before the program began, I got a chance to chat with Billy Payne, the keynote speaker. Billy was born in Athens while his dad, Porter, was playing for Coach Butts. During my UGA days, Billy was an All-SEC defensive end on two of Vince Dooley’s SEC championship teams and president of the student body.

Billy rose to global prominence when he masterminded Atlanta’s successful bid to bring the 1996 Olympics to Georgia. He later served 12 years as chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, host of the Masters. When Billy was elected to that role, I said, “Billy, I might be your only friend who won’t ask to play the course.” He laughed and said, “Well, you might be right. But plenty of others have.”

Sitting next to Billy, at the head table, was Orlean Castronis, 99, widow of one of Wally’s Boys. Mike Castronis was captain of the 1943 Bulldogs. I met him in 1967 when he taught my PE class.

I repeat, 99 years old.

I was early Saturday morning, but Mrs. Castronis beat me there.

Yep, there’s something special about those Wally’s Boys.

And their families.