LAWRENCEVILLE - Georgia Bulldog fans streamed steadily into the Aurora Theatre on Wednesday to meet legendary football coach Vince Dooley, who was in town promoting his two newest books.
In "Dooley's Playbook: The 34 Most Memorable Plays in Georgia Football History," Dooley - along with artist Steve Penley - takes a look at some of the Bulldogs' most exciting plays dating back to 1929. The children's book "Hairy Dawg Journeys Through the Peach State" takes readers on a trip to Georgia's premier tourism and entertainment venues.
As the University of Georgia fight song played in the background - along with rebroadcasts of football games called by Larry Munson - Dooley shook hands, signed autographs and told stories of classic games and former Bulldog greats.
"What was your favorite game?" a child asked.
Out of 288 games he coached, Dooley said it was probably the Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame that clinched the 1980 national championship.
"Toughest player you've coached against?" a man wanted to know.
"Probably the guy from Baylor ... (Mike) Singletary," Dooley said, recalling an incident in which a helmetless Singletary head-butted a fully uniformed player, knocking him to the ground.
Men, women and children of all ages greeted the coach, reminiscing about their college days in Athens and offering stories of allegiance to the red and black.
Linda Smith showed up with a mini-helmet signed on one side by current Bulldog coach Mark Richt. Her husband, J.R., couldn't make it because of work, but "sure wishes he could be here," she said. The couple has a room full of "Bulldog stuff" in their Statham home.
Dooley signed the mini-helmet opposite Richt's John Hancock, and Smith quickly put the memorabilia back in its protective case.
"He's going to be so excited," Smith said. "He wanted this so bad. I might tell him y'all were closed and then leave it on the table for him."
Dooley's warm, personable demeanor and keen sense of humor make him easily approachable, but it was apparent that autograph seekers knew the history of the man whose life has been defined by service.
The former infantry officer spent a total of 10 years - two on active duty and eight in the reserves - in the Marine Corps and 41 years working at the University of Georgia. He has helped raise millions of dollars for the university and donated a substantial amount of his own money.
During 24 years as head coach, Dooley led the Bulldogs to 20 bowl games, six Southeastern Conference championships and a national title.
During his 25-year tenure as athletic director, UGA athletic teams won 20 national and 78 conference championships.
As important as the athletic accomplishments is the standard of academic excellence achieved by student-athletes under his watch.
Dooley is involved with the Boy Scouts of America and active in the fight against multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes and homelessness.
His wife, Barbara, often talks about the sacrifices the couple had to make beginning the day the then-31-year-old Dooley became an SEC head coach and moved his family to Athens from their native Alabama.
Sometimes, Dooley said, Barbara had to be a mother and father to their four children. Those children are all grown now, so that means more time at home enjoying retirement, right?
Not so much.
"We're as busy as we've ever been," Dooley said, reeling off engagement after engagement he and Barbara attend. "But we enjoy it. My wife, she's tough to get a date with."
The couple had a date, of sorts, meeting at McCray's Tavern after the book signing before heading to Brookwood High School to watch one of their 11 grandchildren - a student at Peachtree Ridge - play soccer.
Autograph sessions and meet-and-greets may not be considered by some as "service." Dooley mingled with fans and signed autographs as casually as one strolls down the street on a cool, sunny day.
It's apparent, though, that the famed Bulldog is still serving. Just ask 57-year-old Marian Tanner, an autistic woman who has been a "Dawg" fan since she was a teenager. Tanner attended her first football game at Sanford Stadium in 1983 and remembers the 47-21 whipping the Dogs laid on Kentucky. She remembers vividly the 92-yard touchdown pass from Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott to beat Florida in 1980 and the famed "hobnail boot" game in 2001, a 26-24 win over fifth-ranked Tennessee in Knoxville.
While standing in line, Tanner was grinning, somewhat giddily, as she talked Georgia football to her sister, Emily. When she finally stepped in front of Dooley, her grin suddenly became a full-blown ear-to-ear.
"This is absolutely making her day," Emily said. "This is wonderful."