UGA jacket’s tale draws wide media interest

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In media jargon, they say when a story has ongoing appeal or relevance then it has “legs.” So the story I wrote of an Alpharetta family’s saga of the father’s letterman jacket returned after 50 years can be said to have legs as well as sleeves.

Wes Williams, son of the legendary UGA footballer Garland “Bulldog” Williams, found his father’s letterman’s jacket for sale on eBay half a century after it was stolen. The buyer sold the coat back to the Williams’ family upon hearing the tale. (Go to www.northfulton.com and search “UGA jacket.”)

When Wes told me about it, I said this is a story I have write, and so it was published Nov. 9 of last year. The story had a lot going for it. First, his father was not just a player on one of many fine University of Georgia football teams. Garland Williams played on arguably the best teams UGA ever fielded, featuring Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich and Charlie Trippi, who many said should have won a Heisman also.

The “Bulldog” and his teammates played in the Rose, Orange and Sugar bowls, winning all of them. But much more than that, he entered the ROTC program and became a U.S. Marine in World War II. He fought at Iwo Jima, came back and played two more years of football.

Like so many stories I do, I write them and go on to the next. But the story has taken on an extended life of its own. Local television station WXIA picked up on it. Fox 5 ran it for Veterans Day and WSB-TV aired it over the Christmas holidays. Oprah’s network called, but they seemed to have cooled on it.

David Williams, Wes’ brother, called the jacket’s return a one-of-a-kind tale. For him, the story isn’t over.

“The intriguing part is to know where the jacket has been all this time. It’s been gone for 50 years. It’s had a story and a life away from us, and I believe it will get told some day,” David said.

One of the intriguing tales he did know was how a UGA recruiter spotted a skinny but hard-nosed football player in West Memphis, Ark., and signed him to a scholarship.

“The recruiter then gave him a satchel to put his clothes in, and took him on the train while the scout finished his recruiting. He didn’t want anybody changing Dad’s mind,” David said.

That’s how they did it in those days.

After the war, Garland Williams got married and became a family man. After a short stint in pro football, he became a high school coach, then a school principal. His wife Kathryn remembers him as humorous and jolly, but he could be stern.

For the boys, though, he seldom talked about the past, especially the war. That is common enough of most veterans.

“Dad was a very closed person,” David said. “Most of what we know of him came from others who knew him.”

Eric Philips, the WSB reporter who came to film his story of “Bulldog’s” jacket, said he liked the tale, and thought people would like how the sons made contact like this with their father’s past.

He’s right. It’s a story that strikes a chord in all of us. We all have ties to our parents that time cannot separate. But when something comes along out of the blue to renew that tie, it might be an undiscovered photo or letter, it can open the floodgates of emotion.

This story has all of that plus the Internet. No wonder it has legs.