The Man Who Broke The Drought
Theron Sapp was tired of losing to the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets. So was every other Georgia Bulldog player and fan in Georgia. For eight years throughout the entire decade of the 1950s, the Georgia Bulldogs had lost to Georgia Tech. When the 1957 game looked as if it was going to end in a tie, Sapp took matters into his own hands and nearly singlehandedly defeated a stubborn Tech team, which was determined to continue its decade long winning streak.
Theron Sapp was born on June 15, 1935 in Dublin, Georgia. His family lived in the Brewton community. His older brothers played six man football for Brewton High School in the years before World War II. One old timer, Judson Watson, said that the elder Sapps were much better football players than the younger Theron, who moved with his family to Macon in the 1940s.
Theron played left halfback for the Lanier Poets from 1950 to 1953. In his senior season as an honorable mention all state running back, Sapp, wearing jersey number 13, played in the backfield with All-American back Billy Kitchens, and two other honorable mention backs, Johnny Stallings, and Sam Vickers, all of whom led the Poets to eleven consecutive victories before losing to Grady High in the state championship game.
In the spring of 1954, Sapp dove into a swimming pool and cracked at least one of his vertebrae. His injury left his future football career in limbo. The doctors said that he would never play football again. Theron aggravated his injury that summer in the high school all star game. Georgia coach Wally Butts agreed to allow Theron to keep his scholarship and remain on the team, even if it meant that he would serve as a team manager. Sapp sat out his first season and missed most of his sophomore season after an injury relegated him to the number four spot on the fullback depth chart. In his junior year, Sapp recorded nearly six hundred yards rushing, the most by any Bulldog during the decade of the fifties. Despite Theron’s success on the ground, the team was far from successful. The Bulldogs won only two of eight games, while scoring only 86 points against their opponents who put 150 points on the scoreboard.
Theron Sapp’s day of destiny was November 30, 1957. A cold wind was howling from a cold clear sky down unto Grant Field in Atlanta. Georgia, losers of eight straight games to Tech, were made last minute favorites by Jesse Outler of the Atlanta Constitution. Outler changed his prognostication of the game in Saturday’s paper, predicting that Georgia would win by a score of 7 - 0. Tech was also regretting a bad year with only four victories in nine games.
Both teams battled to a scoreless draw in the first half. Georgia’s defense bent but didn’t break. The Dogs were determined to keep Tech away from their goal line. In the first series of the second half, Sapp, playing both ways, thwarted a bourgeoning Tech drive at midfield by stopping Tech running back Faucette for a three yard loss. Faucette took the next handoff and fumbled. Sapp pounced on the ball to give the Dogs excellent field position right in the middle of the gridiron.
Theron Sapp went on a personal mission - take the ball and ram it down the throats of the Tech defenders. Sapp ran for one yard. On the third down he carried the pigskin down to the Tech 37 for a first down. After Jimmy Orr caught a Charley Britt pass at the 28 yard line, Sapp plunged for seven yards to the 19 yard stripe.
Coach Wally Butts sent the word to “give the ball to Theron.” Sapp ran for three yards to the 16 and a first down. Then he scampered for seven yards to the nine.
All Georgia had to do was to hang on and victory was theirs - five agonizing minutes to go. The elusive win nearly vanished when Charlie Britt fumbled on his own 27 yard line. Once again, Theron was there to save the day. Sapp pounced on the ball, which allowed Georgia to gain one more first down as the clock dwindled down to less than two minutes. Georgia’s defense held. The drought was over.
Furman Bisher, described the bedlam on the field: “Men kissed men. Women kissed women.” Sapp’s teammates swarmed over their now immortal hero, whose ninety one yards on twenty three carries led the team to the oh so sweet victory. Sapp gave credit to Jimmy Orr and Ken Cooper for the blocks which allow him to gain the game winning score.
Theron Sapp improved on his 1957 season with an even more impressive performance in his senior 1958 season. He led the Dogs with 635 yards rushing with an excellent rate of 5.6 yards per carry. Georgia defeated Tech again by a score of 16 to 3. Once again, Theron bowled over Tech defenders for 103 yards to grind out a second consecutive victory over Tech. The Dogs finished the year with a record of four wins and six losses, giving them the distinction of being one the most powerful losing teams in Bulldog history by finishing third in the conference in total offense and second in rushing yards.
During his senior year, Sapp was named to the All SEC team. As the conference's second leading rusher, he won the William Jenkins Award. In post season play Sapp was named the outstanding player in the Senior Bowl and the outstanding back of the Blue Gray game. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. Sapp played second string halfback for the Eagles from 1959 to 1962. The Eagles, with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin and Sonny Jurgensen, defeated Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers to capture the 1960 World Championship.
Theron was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1963 when he enjoyed his best season with 453 yards rushing on 104 carries. An injury ended Sapp's career after three seasons with the Steelers in 1965.
Theron Sapp’s memorable performance on Grant Field in broke Tech’s stranglehold on the Bulldogs and elevated him to a spot on the level of Georgia’s greatest immortal football players. Sapp’s number 40 jersey was retired by the University along with those of three other great Bulldogs. Frankie Sinkwich (Georgia’s first Heisman Trophy winner), Charlie Trippi ( Georgia’s best all round player,) and Herschel Walker (Johnson County star and Georgia’s all time leading rusher) are the three others whose jersey number will never be worn by another Bulldog player. Sapp and Walker are the only native Georgians in the illustrious quartet. After college Sapp went into business in the Augusta area, where he still lives today. Amazingly, both men grew up within five miles of each other. On this forty-fifth anniversary of the Sapp’s day in the sun, listen to the words of Georgia Bulldog Poet Laureate, Harold M. Walker:
“Rise up you loyal Georgians
From Tybee Light to Rabun Gap,
Here’s to the Macon Mauler,
The mighty Theron Sapp.....
The word will still be carried
By every loyal mouth -
Let’s stand and drink another toast
To the man who broke the drouth!”