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Vince Dooley’s first QB competition at Georgia featured player who made big impact in famed ‘Heidi game’

Georgia coach Vince Dooley
COURTESY OF GEORGIA ATHLETICS

You never know how a quarterback competition for the Georgia Bulldogs might turn out.

Last spring, Jacob Eason seemed a lock for a 2017 starring role, only to lose the job to injury and the ascendance of freshman Jake Fromm. Now, Eason sits out a transfer year at Washington while Fromm tries to fend off a challenge from prep phenom Justin Fields.

The Fromm and Fields duo is the latest Georgia quarterback rivalry, including a couple of signal-callers from the 1964 squad better known for other accomplishments.

College football returned to open substitution rules in 1964 for the first time since 1951, allowing coaches to develop separate offensive and defensive squads instead of using players both ways. That also was Vince Dooley’s first season leading the Bulldogs, and he had a spirited race for snaps behind center that included one of the better two-way players in Georgia history.

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Sophomore Lynn Hughes and junior Preston Ridlehuber battled all season for playing time. Both played well enough to help Dooley win seven games in his first season, including a Sun Bowl victory over Texas Tech where Ridlehuber garnered MVP honors. Ridlehuber won the starting job in 1965, but both players gained acclaim aside from playing quarterback at Georgia.

Hughes is best remembered as a defensive player and one of the more versatile Bulldogs of the modern era. He moved to defense during his junior and senior seasons, earning All-SEC and All-America honors at safety while still occasionally chipping in on offense as a backup quarterback. He finished his career with 10 interceptions, over 700 yards passing and another 188 yards rushing. His most famous interception came as a senior in 1966, against soon-to-be Heisman winner Steve Spurrier.

Florida entered the game 7-0 and ranked No. 7, while unranked Georgia arrived in Jacksonville at 6-1, the only blemish a 7-6 loss to Miami at the Orange Bowl three weeks earlier. After giving up a long touchdown drive to Florida on the opening series, Georgia’s defense throttled Spurrier and Florida the rest of the way. With the game tied at 10 late in the third quarter, Spurrier threw interceptions on successive possessions. Hughes picked off the second one and raced in for a 39-yard touchdown return, the game’s decisive score. Georgia tacked on ten more points to make the final 27-10.

The Bulldogs went on to finish 10-1 in 1966, giving Dooley his first SEC championship, one shared with unbeaten Alabama. Georgia won the Cotton Bowl over SMU and finished No. 4 in the final AP rankings.

Ridlehuber finished his career at Georgia in 1965. He was more accomplished as a runner and playmaker than passer, totaling 755 yards on the ground and 492 through the air between 1963 and 1965. He only attempted 62 passes in 10 games as a senior.

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Ridlehuber was a good enough athlete to play pro football as a backup running back and quarterback for three seasons, and he scored a key touchdown in a game recognized as perhaps the most famous regular-season broadcast in pro football history, although millions of viewers never got to see the play.

It has come to be known as “The Heidi game.”

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