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The Rabbit in Life and Death

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Y’all ever heard the story of The Rabbit?

The Marlin Marvel? The Mighty Midget? The Texas Terror?

The man who bumfozzled the Auburnites? The youngster who could run barefooted on greased grass and not be at all handicapped? The runningest gent who ever floated across the cross marks?

Yeah, that’s The Rabbit — Irby Rice Curry by birth, 1st Lt. Irby Rice Curry in death.

Irby “Rabbit” Curry

A hundred years ago, there would have been no need for an explanation. Folks from Texas to Virginia and beyond knew all about Rabbit Curry, the peppery little gridiron star who died a hero in the skies over France.

They revered The Rabbit back then, only a few years removed from his glory days at Vanderbilt, and his name would take on the sheen of legend. That lore was built and maintained by the men best positioned to do that kind of thing in those days: the sportswriters.

Scribes like Zipp Newman of the Birmingham News, James Stahlman and later Ralph McGill and Fred Russell at the old Nashville Banner, and above all the incomparable Blinkey Horn of The Tennessean, made Rabbit Curry a household name as a player and ensured future generations knew his story for decades to come.

You have to remember that throughout the 24 years and six days of Irby Rice Curry’s short life, from August 4, 1894 through August 10, 1918, it was the writers who created characters, who shaped public personas. With no other medium to compete against, they conjured the most florid descriptions their typewriters would allow, day after day and year after year. And boy did they spill some ink over Rabbit Curry.

So why don’t we step aside and let them tell you the story …

George Lombard: The Dawg who got away

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Photo by Marc Lancaster

George Lombard earned a World Series ring last week, reaching the pinnacle of his chosen sport as first base coach of the Dodgers. 

Watching the 45-year-old Atlanta native throughout the postseason, as he gathered various protective gear from hitters who had reached first and whispered instructions through his mask into their ears, sparked thoughts of what might have been if Lombard had taken the path so many expected. 

Bulldog fans of a certain age know the story already, but for those who don’t: the Dodgers’ first base coach and former journeyman MLB outfielder was supposed to be the running back who resurrected Georgia football. 

In the fall of 1993, George Lombard was one of the country’s top recruits, a Parade All-American who was the unquestioned star of a Lovett School team that had gone 11-3 the previous year. Entering Lovett’s season opener against Woodward Academy, coach Bill Railey shared with the Atlanta Constitution his rather straightforward game plan: “Keep running George at them until he breaks one.”

Kenneth Nichols knows where he’s going

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Photo courtesy of the Nichols family

Story by Dave Hudson and Joe VanHoose

Kenneth Nichols still has the helmet with the scrape. 

The scrape starts above the visor on the left side and digs through the dark blue base color, widening as it stops just past a design of a gold torch – the same torch you see on the Indiana State Flag. 

Nichols is a native Hoosier, and like many Indiana boys he grew up dreaming about becoming a racecar driver. On February 6, 1999, he nearly died living out that dream.

Darlington won’t be the same without ‘Mr. Raceway’ around

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NASCAR kicks off its Playoffs Sunday evening in South Carolina, wrapping up an abbreviated race week at the famed Darlington Raceway unlike the Pee Dee has seen in the track’s 70-year history.

While up to 8,000 race fans have been approved to attend the Southern 500, there will be tens of thousands of other seats that will remain unfilled this weekend.

This Southern 500 marks the first year I haven’t seen a NASCAR race at Darlington since 1992. I doubt they’ll notice my absence. On the other hand, this marks the first real race week at Darlington without “Mr. Raceway” around. That would be Harold King, my great uncle, who died in March at the age of 96.

Uncle Harold had a career at Dixie Cup, helped launch the funeral service that put him in the ground, and served on both the Darlington City and County Councils.

Welcome to Jacksonville, you maniac

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Photo by Jay LaPrete via jaguars.com

When I found out that Steve Spurrier had broken my heart on January 4, 2002, I saw it on the ESPN Bottom Line. I walked into the hall bathroom at my mom’s house and started to cry.

Spurrier’s departure was sudden and unexpected. I just knew that he was going to grow old coaching at his alma mater, swaggering down the sidelines while his offenses ran up and down the field, scoring touchdown after touchdown and keeping us in the national championship chase season after season.

Spurrier’s 2001 team at Florida fell a two-point conversion short of playing for another SEC championship with a shot at the national title in the Rose Bowl on the line. On my birthday that year, Florida beat Nick Saban’s LSU Tigers, 44-15. The Gators beat Mississippi State, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State and Maryland — all ranked teams — by 52, 14, 37, 24 and 33 points, respectively.

Many of the major pieces of that 2001 team were coming back in 2002. Rex Grossman at quarterback was to be a Heisman Trophy frontrunner. Certainly, Spurrier was ready to make a run at a second national championship.

I was wrong.

The memory is better

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Photo courtesy of Joe VanHoose

Parishioners were already deep into their church service on this cold, damp fall morning in Lake Keowee Village. The nearby parking lot was filled with German badges and luxury utility vehicles, which one may expect in a gated, country club community disguised as a Pleasantville town.

Paul Weir turned his 1964 International Harvester Travelall down the road that leads to the chapel, a road lined with tightly-packed craftsman homes.

Plenty of cars and pickups can drive down the road in anonymity. In Weir’s Travelall, we may as well have been passing by the chapel blasting Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” through a bullhorn. The 345-cubic-inch V8 announces its presence with authority through straight pipes wherever Weir goes.

Conversation With A Creator: Matt Brown

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Our latest conversation is with Matt Brown, the driving force behind the Extra Points newsletter and a longtime writer at SB Nation. Extra Points is a newsletter that focuses on the forces that shape college athletics beyond the field, such as media rights, trends in higher education and more, and it operates in partnership with The Intercollegiate. This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.

BTT: One of the things that I hear a lot of writers say is there was some point when they were growing up where they realized ‘hey, I can do this, and I think I can be pretty good at this thing.’ Did you have a moment like that?

MB: This was a running joke in my family, ever since I was a little kid, that this would eventually be the career I would end up in. I remember when I was playing Little League, so I must have been nine — so I’m a nine-year-old, 60-pound second baseman — and I’m getting yelled at by my mom in the stands and by my coaches because I’m sitting there in the infield and everybody else is doing “hey batter, batter!’ and I’m doing Howard Cosell and play-by-play, like loud.

I grew up in rural Ohio where there weren’t really a ton of opportunities to get into this, and even though sportswriting and sports journalism and the behind-the-scenes stories were a passion, coming into college I didn’t really feel like that was a career you could actually do. So, I have this really weird, unique pathway to journalism. I went into school thinking I was going to work in politics.

The legend who said ‘no’ to the Celtics

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Photo of Jack and Bill Butcher courtesy of the Butcher Family

By David Hudson with Joe VanHoose

In the past 64 years, three outstanding southern Indiana High School Basketball stars have been drafted by the NBA’s Boston Celtics.  

Most recently, Romeo Langford, who starred at New Albany High School and played a one-and-done season at Indiana University, was drafted in 2019. The Celtics signed Romeo to a four-year contract worth $16.5 million. 

Of course, most everyone knows about Larry Bird, the legend, who signed with the Celtics for $3.25 million after his Indiana State Sycamores finished runner-up to Michigan State and Magic Johnson in the 1979 NCAA Final Four. Bird played his high school ball at Springs Valley High School in French Lick. 

And then there’s Jack Butcher.

‘I want to be the person that I wish I had had’

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In recent years, sports social media has seen a growth in the number of professional women who manage the brand voices for collegiate and professional teams. Beyond The Trestle reached out to several women who lead social media work for various programs, franchises and institutions, to get their take on the industry, its challenges and opportunities, and the difficulties that come with simply putting the phone down. These transcriptions were pieced together through a mixture of phone interviews, email threads and Twitter exchanges with some portions lightly edited for grammar or style.

Jen Blackwell Galas, University of Georgia: I came to (this career) by chance. I needed to find an internship because my scholarship was going to end, and I didn’t want to pay for an additional year of school. Found a loophole in my scholarship where it would pay for my summer classes as a full semester. 

Katie Gillen, Atlanta United: I got my start in sports freshman year at the University of Florida with GatorVision and the PBS Station WUFT-TV in Gainesville. I am fortunate that I was given opportunities to volunteer from the beginning as there is much to learn and the need to network is huge in our world. 

Maddie Heaps, San Diego State University: I started out in the industry officially in college, as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley acting as a media relations student assistant in the athletics department. I had a love of sports from a young age — it started as a way to get attention from my dad while my sister, eight years older than me, was going through bigger life events than I was. Watching baseball or Sunday night football was our main method of bonding as I was growing up. 

More than a worthy nominee

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Photo courtesy of Matt Boedy

This is a guest essay from Matt Boedy, a professor of English at the University of North Georgia who teaches in its First Year Composition program, as well as upper-level courses in writing and publication. He is the author of Murder Creek, chronicling the story of the last man to die in Georgia’s electric chairand Speaking of Evil, an examination of the question of why God would allow for the existence of evil through a rhetorical prism.

Earlier this year, BTT published a piece on the people who thought it worthwhile to start a Georgia Hall of Fame dedicated to football. 

You may not know this, but the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon has inducted a few officials in its history. There are 11 officials currently in the Hall. 

I nominated another last year, my father. 

For as long as I can remember – and I am 43 years old – my father has been a sports official. Baseball, basketball, and eventually he took up football. He has officiated at every level of sports from middle school to college. He toured this state for decades blowing whistles, taking balls off the mask, and yes, making a few mistakes. 

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