An old man in red and black clothes pulled his car into a West Ashley restaurant parking lot and opened the trunk. Vince Dooley, 80, grabbed one of several large cardboard boxes full of books and headed toward the door with a smile.
Georgia’s all-time winningest football coach came to Charleston this weekend to promote his latest literary work — on gardening, of all subjects — and swap Bulldogs stories with fans.
“I’m an inspiration for anyone that wants to be a gardener, particularly later in life,” Dooley said. “Because 20 years ago I could not have told you the difference between a grapefruit and a gladiolus.”
The timing of visits to Home Team BBQ and Magnolia Plantation couldn’t have been better.
No. 5 Georgia opens the 2013 season Saturday night at No. 8 Clemson. The Bulldogs start Southeastern Conference play a week later in Athens against No. 6 South Carolina.
“Playing Clemson in an opening ballgame really sets the tone for the season for both teams,” Dooley said. “It’s got everybody excited. The only problem for Georgia is that when they’re done with Clemson, one way or the other, they have to play South Carolina. I am not responsible, as the former athletic director, for making that schedule. I just want Georgia people to know that.”
Players come and go.
You can never get official comment out of Georgia’s somewhat cute little Uga mascots.
Among all those lofty rankings, Dooley is the No. 1 source for perspective on Georgia’s rivalries with the Palmetto State.
On Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney:
“Oh, I like him because of his fire and enthusiasm. Obviously, he’s a good recruiter. You can see why players would want to play for him.”
Herschel vs. Rogers
On Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier:
“I’ve known Steve since he was a player at Florida. The year that he won the Heisman Trophy (1966), the only SEC game Florida lost was to Georgia. I never coached against Steve when he was at Florida, but I got to coach him in the old Coaches All-American Game in Atlanta. He’s a winner. Steve did a great job as a coach at Florida and he’s done an even better job at South Carolina, where he doesn’t have the material he had at Florida.”
Georgia wasn’t in the same conference as Clemson or South Carolina during Dooley’s tenure as head coach from 1964-1988, but played the Tigers and Gamecocks 22 times apiece.
Dooley vs. Clemson: 15-6-1.
The Tigers finished stronger after a 1-7 start vs. Dooley.
Dooley vs. South Carolina: 17-4-1.
The Gamecocks went 0-10-1 in their first 11 games.
The 1980 game against No. 14 South Carolina in Athens still sticks out. It was No. 4 Georgia’s national championship season, the year South Carolina running back George Rogers won the Heisman Trophy.
In only the third national telecast from Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs won 13-10 on ABC as freshman Herschel Walker ran for 219 yards and Rogers ran for 168.
The Gamecocks were driving late before a rare Rogers fumble.
“It went down to the wire,” Dooley said. “It looked like South Carolina was going down the field for the winning touchdown. We couldn’t stop Rogers. He’d get seven yards, then eight. The great backs get stronger as the game goes on. Finally around the 20-yard-line, we hit him and he coughed it up.”
Gamecocks fans got the last laugh in a lopsided series; No. 14 South Carolina under Sparky Woods beat No. 6 Georgia, 23-10, in Columbia in 1988.
The 1982 season opener on Labor Day Night against No. 11 Clemson in Athens lived up to its epic battle billing. No. 7 Georgia won the national title in 1980, Clemson in 1981.
Perhaps you forget that Jim Nabors sang the National Anthem. Georgia won as Clemson quarterback Homer Jordan threw four interceptions in a 13-7 loss.
“Another one of those classics, just a tough defensive struggle,” Dooley said. “Hershel had broken his thumb, so we had to sparingly use him at first.
“We just had some great games with Clemson in the ’70s and ’80s. Danny Ford and I had similar philosophies; we both believed in tough defense and the running game.”
Before becoming a gardener, Dooley was a thorn. Three times and against three coaches — 1978 (Charley Pell), 1982 (Ford) and 1991 (Ken Hatfield) — his Bulldogs handed Clemson its only regular season loss.
Some of those tales are in Dooley’s conventional football books. He also has written children’s books, such as “How ‘Bout Them Dawgs!”
The new “Vince Dooley’s Garden — The Horticultural Journey of a Football Coach” is 160 pages of illustrated insight into Dooley’s hobby.
“It’s my golf,” he said.
Of course, a book tour that includes thoughts on the Chinese privet hedges that surround the field at Sanford Stadium is popular because of what happened between the most famous plants in football. Dooley’s dominance of Clemson and South Carolina was a big part of that.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff