Remembering a towering but forgotten figure in SEC sports history.
Retired Nashville florist George Kelley died this week. So what's that information doing in a sports blog? Glad you asked. Kelley should be a renowned figure in SEC sports history, but he's not, so I'm doing my tiny part to remedy that. In what has to be a unique distinction in SEC annals, Kelley played football for Tennessee and basketball for Vanderbilt.
That's right. Kelley was a part of the 1944 Tennessee Vols team that went 7-1-1 and played USC in the Rose Bowl, losing 25-0. As the team was walking off the field after the Rose Bowl loss, Kelley was informed that he had been drafted into the army; coach John Barnhill, who was at the helm of the Vols while Bob Neyland was serving in World War II, knew about Kelley's draft status beforehand but asked that he not be informed until after the game.
Upon his return from the service, Kelley enrolled at Vanderbilt and joined coach Bob Polk's basketball team, earning election as captain of the 1950-51 squad that finished 19-8 and second to Kentucky in the SEC standings. Kelley then led the Commodores to one of the signature accomplishments in the school's hoops history: the 1951 SEC Tournament crown. Kelley helped the Dores dispatch Kentucky 61-57 in the finals, avenging 74-47 and 89-57 smackdowns at the hands of the Wildcats during the regular season. And oh, by the way, Kentucky went on to win the national title that season.
That pinnacle achievement was only part of Kelley's lifelong love affair with Vanderbilt athletics. As Vandy tips off in the 2012 SEC Tournament, I hope Commodore fans will pause to remember a towering but forgotten figure in SEC sports history.