Everybody that knows me knows that I am a big fan of college football. The six or seven Saturdays I get to spend inside Sanford Stadium are six or seven of the most enjoyable Saturdays of my year, regardless of the outcome of the games. I like being in the crowd. I like the noise and the excitement. I like watching the cheerleaders and seeing the band perform and I like hearing Brook Whitmire say “it’s time to tee it up — between the hedges!” and I love it when he announces a score from “historic Grant Field,” particularly if the visitors are winning.
And then there’s the game, too.
But one of my favorite things about Saturdays in Sanford Stadium is when they take time to bring out distinguished faculty members and recognize them for their contributions to the university. I enjoy seeing the men and women who make my alma mater the world renowned institute of higher learning that it has become given a miniscule portion of their due.
I know there are skeptics out there who are probably offended by the “tokenism” of running a professor or three onto the sideline while Madison Avenue sells whatever it is they sell when Georgia plays on television. I honestly have no idea because I don’t watch the games on the tube. I do however watch the honored teachers as they walk onto the field and I listen to the long list of accomplishments of each professor and I am in awe of their collective accomplishments.
We have some smart people teaching those classes at UGA.
Now I told you all of that to tell you this. Last Saturday was especially gratifying for me because the first person they introduced — the gray-haired guy in the baseball cap and blazer; the one who needed a trim — was one of my professors when I was in school, a hundred years ago.
I took my first class from Jim Cobb because it was required. I took the next two because I enjoyed the first so much. Arriving in Athens as the greenest student in the whole long history of the University of Georgia, I had no idea that my U.S. History instructor was a graduate assistant. Apparently he was because in researching this column I learned that Dr. James C. Cobb received his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia in 1975, and I was long gone by then.
All I knew was that he was interesting and entertaining and that he made me actually think. My education had not included much thinking to that point. It had consisted primarily of pleasing my teachers by memorizing the facts as they presented them and handing those facts — and my teachers’ opinions — back to them on multiple choice tests and in essays. That wasn’t what he was looking for, however. He wanted me to know the “who, what, when, and where,” of course — but, more importantly, he wanted me to know the “why.” And he wanted me to use the knowledge I had obtained to draw my own conclusions about that “why.”
I think I probably hit it off with Jim Cobb, originally, because he was from Hart County and a basketball fan. I was from Newton County and basketball was a huge part of my life. Newton County and Hart County were bitter rivals in basketball in the 1960s, so we had that in common. And we were living through the history that I now teach. I will never forget the day in class that James C. Cobb, future B. Phinizy Spalding Distinguished Professor, asked Darrell Huckaby, former linthead, who the sheriff of Newton County blamed for the racial unrest that we had recently experienced.
He was going for “outside agitators.” That’s not what he got.
I also remember the day that he was teaching us about Richard Nixon and kept repeating the famous line, “I am not a crook,” while holding up a double peace sign and furrowing his brow in his best Nixon impression. And then he triumphantly held up a newspaper with the bold headline, “NIXON QUITS.”
That’s why I laughed out loud when I got a text two weeks ago from my 18-year-old daughter, Jenna, that said, “I am not a crook.” I texted her back and asked, “Did Dr. Cobb hold up the newspaper?” Her reply was “Yes.”
That’s right. My youngest child is learning about learning from Jim Cobb, too — as did my older daughter.
Brook Whitmire read a long list of James C. Cobb’s accomplishments last Saturday. Here’s another. He’s a big reason I still spend 180 days a year trying to help students learn to think about the history I am trying to teach them.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.