To say George "Kid" Woodruff had the ear of some important decision makers might be a bit of an understatement.
Take this phone conversation, overheard many years ago by Woodruff's son, George Jr., with Dwight Eisenhower --- Woodruff's old acquaintance from Fort Benning's Officer's Club:
"I remember coming in the back door and hearing Daddy say, 'Listen dammit, Ike. I don't care. You listen to me, I want you to get' --- and I can't remember whether he said (Georgia star halfbacks Charley) Trippi or (Frank) Sinkwich --- 'I want you to get them out of that man's army, and I want you to get them out now.' He was just giving Eisenhower hell," Woodruff Jr. recalled.
"I remember walking back to where my Momma was and she said, 'Who's your Daddy talking to on the phone?' and I said, 'He's talking to General Eisenhower and Momma, they're gonna come and put him under the jail.' ''
But that was the kind of influence the Columbus businessman --- a former Georgia quarterback, coach and prominent Bulldogs booster --- wielded.
It speaks to how he and his close friend and next-door neighbor, Judge Frank Foley, were able to bring the Georgia-Auburn football game to Columbus and keep it here for 42 years, until the game simply outgrew the town in 1958.
And that's only one of the many significant imprints Woodruff left in the early days of Georgia's athletic program, helping it grow into the multimillion-dollar machine that it is today.
"He not only was a great player himself and a great coach, but he was even greater as a supporter of the University of Georgia in every way possible, especially athletics because he'd been an athlete," said Dan Magill, Georgia's former sports information director and tennis coach --- one of the foremost authorities on UGA athletics history. "He and Judge Foley were responsible for the Georgia-Auburn game being in Columbus every year for a long time.
"They had to finally give it up because it only seated about 27,000 people and more than that wanted to see it. Both Auburn and Georgia were drawing 40,000 or 50,000 people at their home games."
Captain of 1911 team
Woodruff's impact on Georgia's --- and on Columbus' --- athletics history is why he is a member of this year's Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame induction class, which will be honored Saturday at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.
"He served the University system so very well, with his coaching career, and his role in the construction of (Sanford) Stadium and his support of the school," Hall of Fame Chairman Jim White said. "With that kind of legacy following his life, it was a shoo-in that he be elected."
Woodruff played at Georgia between 1907 and 1911, taking the 1909 year off to tour the U.S. and Mexico. His diminutive 135-pound frame produced his nickname, "Kid," but was a poor indicator of his skill on the field. Woodruff was a gifted quarterback, served as team captain in 1911, and was named to Georgia's All-Quarter-Century team (1891-1916) in John Stegeman's 1966 book, "The Ghosts of Herty Field," which recounted the early days of Georgia football.
After a stint in World War I serving as a major in the Army's now-famous 82nd Airborne Division, Woodruff returned home to Columbus and built a thriving insurance and real estate business. The Woodruff family sold off the insurance side of the business several years ago, but the company remains active in the Columbus real estate market to this day.
Even then, Woodruff's business was healthy enough that he was able to heed the calls of Georgia's football fans and alums who wanted him to become the Bulldogs' football coach in 1923. So healthy, in fact, that he was able to accept the job at a salary of $1 per year.
"He was a very wealthy fellow and he coached the team for five years for a dollar a year," Magill recalled with a laugh. "I don't guess he had to pay much income tax on that."
Woodruff posted a 30-16-1 record before retiring in 1927 after directing Georgia to its most successful season to that point. The Bulldogs' 1927 "Dream and Wonder" team won their first nine games before being upset 12-0 by Georgia Tech in the last game of the season, costing them a likely spot in the Rose Bowl.
Despite the loss to the Yellow Jackets, Georgia was still named the No. 1 team in the nation by two recognized polls of the day, Boand and Poling.
He helped usher in big-time football at Georgia by bringing in coaches from the most big-time school in the country at that point --- Notre Dame. Woodruff installed a Notre Dame box offense with help from former Fighting Irish coaches Frank Thomas and Harry Mehre, as well as Jim Crowley, once a member of the Irish's vaunted "Four Horsemen" backfield.
All three later became successful head coaches in their own right --- Thomas at Alabama, Mehre at Georgia and Ole Miss and Crowley at Fordham.
Even after Woodruff was no longer Georgia's coach, he was still a key player in the hiring of at least one more prominent Georgia coach. Woodruff is credited with helping Georgia land Wally Butts, who led the Bulldogs to the 1942 national title, four Southeastern Conference titles and eight bowl games between 1939 and 1960.
There was a time in the 1950s when Georgia football was slumping under Butts and Georgia Tech was in its heyday under coach Bobby Dodd when Woodruff, Foley and Magill teamed to revive interest in Bulldogs football. Woodruff and Foley set Magill --- a natural-born promoter --- up in a red-and-black station wagon and sent him all over the state establishing Bulldog clubs, many of which exist to this day.
"It took three years to form them in every county. I'd travel the state in that red-and-black station wagon --- I'd hate to travel it now with all that traffic," Magill said. "I'd form three clubs a day. In a small town I'd have a breakfast meeting, in a bigger town I'd have a lunch meeting and the biggest town in the area in the evening."
That was the level of foresight Woodruff had for the future of Georgia athletics, but it's only another small example of his overall impact on school history.
He helped secure the loan to build Georgia's football stadium, Sanford Stadium, whose original cost was $360,000 in 1929.
"After (the 1927 loss to Georgia Tech), Daddy was talking to some folks and said that Georgia could never be a real factor in football unless they had their own stadium," Woodruff Jr. said. "That's when the idea came of getting X number of people to endorse so much per person to get the money to start building Sanford Stadium."
Advocate for students
Woodruff served as chairman of the University's Athletic Board of Control and was an inaugural member of Georgia's Board of Regents for 12 years, from 1932 to 1945.
Always an advocate for the University's students, he and Foley organized the Georgia Student Educational Fund, the athletic department's fundraising arm which required football season ticket holders to donate a given amount of money before being allowed to place their ticket order.
As coach, he would regularly walk down Broad Street in Athens with a large stack of football tickets he would try to sell, or simply give away if the recipient would guarantee they would attend that week's game. Before his death in 1968, Woodruff began to notice the change in college athletics away from pure amateurism and toward big business --- a change that disturbed him.
It's safe to say he wouldn't be a fan of the billion-dollar business NCAA athletics is today.
"Lord have mercy, it'd kill him," Woodruff Jr. said with a laugh.
His impression on Georgia history will always be detectable, but he's not completely removed from its present, even 40 years after his death. Each time Georgia's football players gather to practice, they do so on the Woodruff Practice Fields --- a fitting acknowledgement of a man who played such a significant role in the University's development.
"He called it 'THE school.' He'd get mad if people didn't know what he was talking about," Woodruff Jr. recalled. "He just flat had a very fond attachment to the University of Georgia."
GEORGE "KID" WOODRUFF
Age: Deceased (1889-1968)
High school: Columbus High School, University School for Boys (Stone Mountain, Ga.)
College: University of Georgia
Ties to Columbus: Columbus native grew up here and lived here after stints coaching and playing at Georgia and serving in the U.S. Army in Europe in World War I.
Family: Son, George Woodruff Jr., still resides in Columbus. Grandchildren George Woodruff III, Julie Woodruff and Laurie Waldrop. Seven great grandchildren
Accomplishments: Played quarterback at Georgia between 1907-1911 and was team captain in 1911. Later named to Georgia's All-Quarter Century team for 1891-1916. . . . A wealthy businessman, Woodruff agreed to coach Georgia's football team from 1923 to 1927 at a salary of $1 per season. He posted a 30-16-1 record and led Georgia to its first national title, when his 1927 "Dream and Wonder" Bulldogs went 9-1 and were named national champs by two nationally recognized polls, Boand and Poling. . . . Together with his friend and neighbor, Judge Frank Foley, helped bring the Georgia-Auburn football game to Columbus' Memorial Stadium for every meeting except one between 1916 and 1958. . . . Helped convince Georgia boosters to fund construction of Sanford Stadium in 1929 to legitimize the Bulldogs' football program. . . . Again with Foley, founded the Georgia Student Educational Fund. . . . Served as chairman of Georgia's Athletic Board of Control and Board of Regents for 12 years (1932-1945). . . . Founded the Woodruff Companies, originally an insurance and real estate business, in Columbus in 1916. The family sold off its insurance interest, but the company remains active in the Columbus real estate market today.