On September 13, 1962, Atlanta businessman George Burnett overheard a telephone conversation between legendary coach Paul Bryant of the University of Alabama and Athletic Director and former coach Wally Butts of the University of Georgia. Burnett’s notes, taken during the thirteen-minute call, suggested that Butts was passing on information about the Georgia football team, scheduled to play Alabama in less than two weeks. Burnett later sold his story to the SATURDAY EVENING POST for $5000. Alabama easily defeated Georgia, 35-0, and the POST article contended that the two had conspired to fix the game.
Butts and Bryant separately filed suit against the POST, and the Butts case went to trial. He was awarded in excess of $3,000,000. Bryant settled his suit for $320,000. Interestingly enough, Bryant had sued the POST for an earlier article on alleged brutality. The POST filed numerous unsuccessful motions for a retrial; eventually the Butts judgment was adjusted to $460,000. The immediate effect of the publicity attending the trial was increased circulation for the magazine, but the incident contributed to the POST’s demise in 1969.
Kirby, who attended the trial as an observer for the Southeastern Conference, relates the story in an exciting fashion. Except for the legalistic chapter on the appeals process, the book reads like fiction. Kirby believes that the conversation took place and aided Alabama, but he stops short of confirming the fix. FUMBLE presents a fresh analysis of the incident and, in the process, provides an intriguing critique of big-time college sports.