With every football collegian eligible for play-for-pay status in the National Football League, I reflected on the past when things were decidedly different and, in the process, learned something new about Bulldog history.
Bill Hartman III, the retired sportscaster, had discovered several documents, which he delivered last week to the genial Claude Felton, Georgia’s nationally respected sports information director. Hartman’s late father, Bill Hartman Jr., the long-time UGA coach and chairman of the Georgia Student Educational Fund, was the first Bulldog to be drafted by the NFL. The junior Hartman discovered the documents which had been kept by his late sister, Laura Ciucevich.
Several Georgia matriculates and former players played in the league prior to the first year of the draft, which was 1936. Hartman was drafted in the 8th round by the Washington Redskins and his teammate Pete Tinsley was drafted in the 11th round by the Packers. Tinsley, a no-holds barred street fighter type, played eight years with Green Bay and is a member of the Packer Hall of Fame.
Hartman did play for the Redskins in 1938, but was not that enamored with the idea of playing professional football for two reasons. In 1939, he was offered a full-time job as UGA backfield coach, joining his old GMC coach, Wallace Butts. The other reason was that he was engaged to be married to Ruth Landers, his college sweetheart and Miss University of Georgia.
None of that deterred Ray Flaherty, the Washington Redskins coach, who was overtly redundant in trying to get Hartman to continue as a Redskin. Hartman, a fullback at Georgia, was the backup to the legendary Sammy Baugh, but was available for defense and punted for Washington. He threw the winning touchdown pass in the first professional game he ever saw, leading the Redskins to victory over the Eagles.
Flaherty wrote Hartman a letter dated Aug. 2, 1938, confirming the deal with the Redskins. The offer was generous for the times: $175 per game. This came to $2,275 for the season, but Flaherty noted that the Redskins were eyeing an Eastern Division title and a chance to make it into the playoffs. That would have meant an additional $500.
“I hope you will consider this offer,” the coach said. “It is very good pay for less than four months work.”
Hartman agreed, but only briefly.
After that one season of professional football, Hartman settled in Athens where he lived out his life, enjoying the laid back living that you can only find in a college town. Athens was great for raising a family, too. The Bulldog coach cherished the lifestyle that he experienced in his long years as an Athenian.
The Redskins, even with Hartman having coached for the ’39 season, were still trying to recruit him in 1940. Hartman III’s research of Red & Black archives confirmed that the Redskins thought so much of Hartman that they sent a blank contract and told him to fill in the amount he wanted to be paid. He returned the contract to Washington unsigned.
(A couple of years before this scene was taking place with Hartman, a Georgia star, Chick Shiver, who was a key player in the Harry Mehre era, gave up his starting outfield position with the minor league San Diego Padres for a coaching and teaching job in Savannah. Shiver was replaced in the outfield by the 17-year-old Ted Williams.)
Hartman, while he was never a rich man, was an astute businessman and lived out an enviable life combining business (he owned a National Life of Vermont agency), coaching Georgia football and volunteering on behalf of his community and his university.
He was an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to pin down a fact from the distant past. We talked for hours over the years, uplifting conversations, which brought about an emotional deficit when he passed away. I still miss this selfless man but take solace in the fact that I am fortunate to have come his way.
One of the reasons so many of his friends were everlasting aficionados of Coca-Cola was that Harold Hirsch, general legal counsel for the soft drink company, kept Georgia athletics afloat. Football players were entitled to $10 a month laundry money, but many times it was a Hirsch check sent over from Atlanta that enabled the players to enjoy that treasured perk.
Hirsch created summer jobs for Bulldog athletes. One, Harold “War Eagle” Ketron, became a bottler in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. It was Ketron who discovered Charley Trippi and recruited him to Athens.
My favorite story had to do with Mr. Hirsch hiring Hartman and three of his teammates to work in New York one summer. They were paid $75 a month salary and $6 a day for expenses. Hartman said, he could actually live on $1.50 a day. Rent would have cost $3 a day. But, he came up with a better deal. Coca-Cola paid him and his friends $180 a month for expenses. So, he and his roommate, Walter Troutman, rented a suite at the Shelton Hotel (now the East Side Marriott on Lexington Avenue) for $90 and split the cost.
He and Troutman bought a Model-A Ford for $65 and were paid mileage for their business calls in Manhattan and out on Long Island. When they started home at the end of the summer, their allowance for a Pullman sleeper was $60.
With the other two teammates, Hartman and Troutman drove the Model-A home, pooled their expenses and turned a nice profit. Now you know why the Redskins’ offer didn’t turn this Georgia boy’s head.