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Story Archives: Graning story still intrigues
|Graning story still intrigues|
The phone rang on a recent Saturday morning and the ID read "Rachel Williams," along with the phone number with a 770 area code.
I answered, not knowing whether we had won a vacation trip or if someone hit the wrong number on their cell phone.
"I may have the wrong Joey Martin," the female voice said on the other end, "but did you write a story about a game 50 years ago," this woman asked.
Well, I was thinking back to the series I did on the Ferriday Bulldogs of the 1950s, and said, 'yes ma'am.'"
"Well, I wanted to talk to you about a game,'" she said.
I asked which game and she mentioned Georgia Tech.
Aaahhh, not Ferriday after all.
I wrote a column for the Sentinel back in 2008 on an incident involving Chick Graning of Natchez, who was a standout member of the Georgia Tech team.
To rehash, the column came about after I read, "The Missing Ring," the story of Alabama's football team being denied a third straight national championship despite going unbeaten.
The very well written book by Keith Dunnavant talks about Alabama finishing behind Notre Dame and Michigan State despite the Irish and Spartans playing to a 6-6 tie during the 1966 season while Alabama went unbeaten and untied, dominating Nebraska 34-7 in the 1967 Sugar Bowl.
When I got to page 12, I came across a familiar name - well, somewhat. The sentence at the top of the page read, "It had been little more than a year since the same magazine accused Bryant of promoting 'brutal football' after an unfortunate incident involving Georgia Tech player Chick Granning."
I'm sure that's not the first time Chick Graning has had his name misspelled.
It's also not the first time Graning has read about the incident which earned a lot of headlines back in 1961.
"It's funny how many people heard the story and how few ask my version," Graning told me back then. "Particularly since I was there."
Sportswriter Harry Dery explained the infamous play this way:
On November 18, 1961, Bear Bryant led his team against then Southeastern Conference rival Georgia Tech at Legion Field in Birmingham.
The single incident that became a national symbol for the type of dirty football allegedly encouraged by Bryant occurred in the fourth quarter on a routine punt return on which Alabama's return man called for a fair catch. The score was 10-0 and Alabama was determined to pound the last hopes for victory from the Tech squad.
Georgia Tech's Chick Graning was running down field on punt coverage when he saw the fair catch signal. Thinking the play was over, he pulled up, temporarily dropping his guard. That was all Alabama's Darwin Holt, a Texas native and a senior who'd followed Bryant from A&M, needed to see. He sprung at Graning, throwing a forearm into the unsuspecting young man's face and shattering his jaw.
Graning fell to the ground unconscious as Holt ran to the sidelines where he was embraced by a gleeful Alabama sideline that included legendary Alabama linebacker LeRoy Jordan as well as the young and impressionable Mickey Andrewsó now a coach at Florida State University.
Dery went on to say that the SEC officials did not even flag the play and accounts of the game by Alabama's media did not even mention it.
Everywhere else in America, and especially in Georgia Tech's hometown of Atlanta, it was the story of the week.
Graning's jaw and cheekbone were shattered, he'd lost five teeth, suffered a concussion and, since his nasal bone had also been destroyed, his sinuses had flooded with blood.
The Atlanta Constitution ran photos of the brutalized young Graning lying in his hospital bed with his face smothered in bandages.
Dery said papers called for Holt to be suspended for what was, to them, an obviously late and dirty hit.
Alabama declined, offering an apology instead.
You can find the story on our Web site, under "Graning tale still intriguing."
I received more phone calls and e-mails about that column than anything else I have ever written.
A few people from Alabama did not appreciate it, and one even told me Dery's son received a football scholarship from Georgia Tech even though he wasn't that good an athlete.
Don't mess with the Bear.
Quite a few came from Georgia Tech people, including a couple of letters from people who played with or followed Georgia Tech back then and wanted to know how to get in touch with Chick, who was very gracious about the whole thing.
Sorry for not landing the plane, but now back to the phone call.
Williams said she just had to call to tell me she was at the game and was also working at St. Joseph's Infirmary before Graning was sent down the road to Piedmont Hospital.
Graning told me between phone calls with Williams that he did not remember being at St. Joseph, but Wiliams understood that.
"I wouldn't think he would remember a lot from then," she said. "He was in bad shape. They literally had to rebuild his face."
Williams would not go into a lot of detail because, even though she has been retired a number of years, patient confidentiality is still very important to her.
She did share a tidbit about how Graning's room was next door to a chapel.
Williams said when the nuns and nurses would go to the chapel early in the morning, they would all touch Graning's door while passing by before entering the chapel.
Chick was intrigued when I told him about the phone call. He was also disappointed when I told him Williams was content to just let the story end there and was hesitant about talking with him. She was satisfied for the story to end there.
But take my word for it, Chick, it's a story that can't seem to go away.
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