Estes: Catching up with Jake Scott

As for those years that have multiplied, the enigmatic – and reclusive -- Jake Scott explains it this way: “I haven’t been hiding out. I’ve just been somewhere else.”

Jake Scott intercepted 16 passes during two seasons as a UGA defensive back (Photo courtesy of UGA)

Scott was selected for induction this week into the College Football Hall of Fame, which is why he was on a phone call Friday afternoon all the way from his home in Hawaii.

The former Bulldog chatted and joked with members of the Georgia media, cheerful as anyone should probably be while in between stints fishing, golfing and otherwise “Doing what you’re supposed to do when you’re retired – if you’re lucky enough."

A part of this just didn’t seem right.

This was Jake Scott?

The man who legend has it could not be tracked down, and yet he had been so easily wrangled by UGA Sports Communications?

This notoriously talented and difficult football star, he’s cool as heck, telling jokes and giving life's lessons during a laid-back interview where he addressed reporters as “brud-ah” -- in Hawaiian lingo – and spoke of travel and life in a greater sense based on experiences.

“You can get caught up in your own life too much,” Scott said. “You should go out and see other cultures and see other people and meet different people and understand what the world has going on and what it’s about. That’s my advice. You’re not going to get really rich, but you’re going to have a good life.”

If you don’t know the story, Scott’s is a special one.

That is for reasons to go far beyond his two years, All-American honors and school records as a safety at Georgia. On the field, Scott was always a terror. He intercepted a whopping 16 passes from 1967-68, compiling 315 return yards. Both stats remain UGA records.

When Scott left Athens (with a year of eligibility remaining), it led to a successful NFL career in the 1970s with the Miami Dolphins, including MVP honors of Super Bowl VII, which capped the last perfect season in pro football history.

“I’ve been asked many times who was the greatest player I ever coached,” former UGA head coach Vince Dooley said this week upon news of Scott’s selection. “I always said that Herschel Walker was the most productive player, but the most gifted all-around athlete combined with the love and determination to play the game was Jake Scott.”

“I appreciate that statement,” Scott replied from Hawaii. “I’m not sure it’s true, but I appreciate it.”

There's plenty of stories here too. Off the field, Scott was much more difficult to pin down. He quit UGA’s team after two seasons because he was angry over Dooley’s decision in 1968 to agree prematurely to play in the lesser Sugar Bowl rather than gamble over a possible Orange Bowl bid for a team that finished the regular season unbeaten.

“We just felt like that he didn’t think we could go over and beat Auburn (and earn the Orange Bowl bid),” Scott said, “and it just really hurt our team. That’s what it was about, because we thought that we were headed for the Orange Bowl … and we thought we had a chance to win a national championship at the time.”

Scott adds simply, “Yeah, that’s why I left.”

Players at that time didn’t go early into the NFL, so Scott played a year in Canada before being signed by the Dolphins. He was a five-time Pro Bowler before feud with Don Shula prompted a switch to the Washington Redskins to close out his career.

Since that point, Scott basically vanished, and legends grew, like the one saying he rode a motorcycle up and over Stegeman Coliseum in its early days.

“It was an exciting ride,” Scott confirmed Friday. “I went over the top. Going down the other side was tough.”

The definitive piece on Scott's post-football life was written in 2006 by Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, who traveled all the way to Hawaii to try to find him.

Among the tidbits in that memorable story was that Dooley tried in 2001 to lobby Scott for the College Football Hall of Fame, having to send word through friends since Dooley had no way to reach him. Per the story, “Scott sent word back not to bother.”

It’s not as though Scott holds some huge grudge with UGA. He says he still returns to Georgia quite frequently and attended the 2008 Alabama game, for instance.

And finally, 10 years later, Scott has given in on the Hall of Fame, too. He said his decision to attend the ceremony in person later this year had to do with former Dolphins teammate Jim Mandich, who died last month of cancer.

“He called me and he said, ‘If I get you in the College Hall of Fame will you cooperate,’” Scott said. “I said, ‘Whatever you want me to do, Jim.’ So I’m going.”

Of the induction, Scott deflects the praise on to others.

“I think it’s a team honor more than it is a personal honor,” he said. “Football is a team sport, and if it wasn’t for the good players around me at Georgia or the good players around me at Miami, I wouldn’t be there. If you’re a loser, you lose. But if you’ve win, you’ve got to win as a team.”

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