The University of Georgia and a few hundred others, Bulldogs and otherwise, put on a birthday fling for Dan Magill the other night on his 90th, in Athens, of course. At the Classic Center, and the joint was ajar with the sounds of jollity, admiration, comedy, jokes and lies. And what I liked most of all was the title: La Gala Magill.
Prettty slick, eh? I don't know who came up with it, but I'd be errant if I did give a nod here to Loran Smith.
You see, he did the same sort of thing in my name on my 90th birthday, though it was still about five months away. In Magill's case, though, Loran shared the lead (along with Pierre Howard, who was among the lettered who played tennis for Magill), but you can bet that Smith was the lead horse. In this case, though, he had a supporting case of many. Dozens. I don't know how many, but a bunch.
You see, Magill isn't just one of your ordinary figures around a
campus, he was Sports Information Director, before the title became capitalized, and was just plain publicity director. Then he added Tennis Coach as his titles began accumulating.
And not only that, he played a pretty mean game himself. I'm not sure about this, but he was still winning championships when he was 84 years old, and maybe longer. Seniors stuff, of course.
His daddy was an editor at the Banner-Herald, the local newspaper, and Dan was able to crash any gate. And, became addicted to newspapering himself, covered sports of all varieties, and once was a staff member at the Atlanta Journal.
All this, of course, before taking the oath with the Bulldogs in 1954, when he became coach of the tennis team. He was more than a coach, but a promoter who eventually brought national championships to Athens, won a mess of them with his teams of a national and international mixture.
Players who performed for the Magill teams filled two pages in the La Gala program, and included an all-time cast of politicians and corporate types, imported hopefuls who came to Athens to study at the feet of Magill. He was seriously regarded in college tennis circles, for the reason that he got things done and his teams won national championships. At one time he was the winningest coach in the NCAA's top division, and may still be. He turned out an assembly line of champions and international stars and coaches, and turned Athens into a major center of NCAA championships.
But that's an accumulation of dull facts about a man who's the absolute opposite of dull. Funny. Biting sense of humor. Quick to laugh at his own jokes. Fact is, he says he got his degree at Georgia and never bought a book.
"I sat next to a guy named A-plus Mason, and I had good peripheral vision," he said, believe it if you will or not.
He was a Marine,a lean one, and spent some duty in the Pacific during World War II, but he always came home to Athens.
I don't know that I ever met a man who was ever more addicted to his hometown and campus than Magill. Wore those weird looking hats, and created some of the most uncommon nicknames in collegiate history---"The Bootin' Teuton, Big Toe from Cairo, Phantom of Fitzgerald," and on and on.
And keep this in mind: He ain't done yet. About a thousand devoutly proud Bulldogs filled The Classic Center with vocal yowls and whoops in support of that prognosis. (itals) La Gala Magill (end itals), an evening never to be forgotten.
Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing . He writers periodic columns for the Daily.