ATHENS — Sometimes after the glory days have gotten small in the old rearview mirror, the intensity of those competitive days wanes. That never seemed to be the case with Bill Stanfill.
From the time he was slam-dunking Steve Spurrier all over the old Gator Bowl field in 1966 to the last time he stood up in front of an audience and recollected that day, he told the story as if he was talking his buddies at the bar the night after the game. That’s how I remember Stanfill when I think about him this morning, as much as a story-teller and humorist as one of the greatest defensive ends to play the game.
“Some players can take it or leave it once they leave campus,” said UGA’s venerable historian Loran Smith. “Some come back, some don’t. But Bill was always generous with Georgia about anything he could do to help. He came to events and would make a special effort to drive up if we asked.”
Stanfill died last night in his hometown of Albany. He was only 69, but it seems like he packed 100 years into his days on this Earth.
Smith shared an experience of Stanfill driving up to Atlanta at Georgia’s behest in his pickup truck when the Collegiate Hall of Fame opened. UGA put up Stanfill in a hotel, like its other Hall of Famers, and he politely asked for permission to use room service.
“Because he said he probably going to order a case of beer,” Smith recalled with a laugh.
On the field, Stanfill WAS one of the greatest to play the game, for Georgia or anybody else. That’s validated by his inclusions in both the NFL and College Football halls of fame. He was inducted into both. And in both cases, his speeches on induction day brought down the house.
He said his quickness, agility and strong hands came from chasing chickens and pigs on the family farm in Cairo. “Them pigs knew what was about to happen, and they didn’t want to be caught,” he’d say.
I mentioned this in a column I wrote yesterday, but I believe Stanfill should be included on Georgia’s Mt. Rushmore of greatest players. In my mind, you have to include the Bulldogs’ two Heisman Trophy winners, Frank Sinkwich and Herschel Walker, and of course Charley Trippi, who should’ve won one.
Then there’s Stanfill.
At a time when Georgia was just busting out as a football program under the direction of young head coach Vince Dooley, Stanfill came to Georgia and yanked down every major award there was a defensive lineman to help lift the Bulldogs to new heights. His teams won two SEC championships, in 1966 and ’68.
“Bill was probably the greatest athlete as a lineman I ever coached,” Dooley said Friday. “He could have been a great tight end as well. Against the triple option, he was the only player that could take the quarterback, the dive back, and the pitch man. Bill was a great person, great warrior, and a great Bulldog.”
Added Smith: “He and his class, which included Billy Payne and several others, those guys enabled Vince to get established and compete in the SEC. His class won two SEC championships. That crowd formed the foundation for Vince’s success at Georgia.”
Major awards flowed in for Stanfill in the mid-1960s. He was a second team All-American in 1966 and ’67 and was a consensus All-American in 1968. His senior year he became Georgia’s first and only winner of the Outland Trohy, which goes annually to the nation’s outstanding college lineman. He was also SEC Lineman of the Year in 1968, of course, and named first-team All-SEC first team three straight years. The team elected him as its permanent team captain. The Bulldogs were 25-6-2 with Stanfill on the roster.
Stanfill’s career continued to rise after college. The Miami Dolphins selected him in the first round of the 1969 draft, and Stanfill was named the AFL’s Rookie of the Year runner-up. He made All-Pro four times and was a starter on the Dolphins’ 1972 and ’73 Super Bowl championship teams. He set the Dolphins’ record for sacks in a career with 67.5 and in one season with 18.5.
At the end of his career, Dooley, Erk Russell and Don Shula all listed him among the greatest players they’d ever coached.
Stanfill, who did well in timber and real estate in Albany, had been in rapidly failing health the last few years. He fell recently and suffered a badly-broken leg, which caused all kinds of complications. He died peacefully with family at his side Thursday night.
“He had a tough career,” Smith said. “He got beat up a lot. He told me once he had broken every bone in his body, some of them twice. But he loved the game so much, it was worth it. It was fun to him.”
Stanfill leaves behind a wife, three sons, Stan, Jake and Scott, and several grandchildren. Funeral services are scheduled for Monday at 2 p.m. at First Methodist Church in Albany. Attendees are asked to wear red and black.