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UGA's Haynes finishes another drill

2544 days ago
John Frierson | UGA Athletics
Photo: UGA Athletics

You know the play: P-44 Haynes was the name. It was 2001, Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. A 6-yard touchdown pass from David Greene to Verron Haynes with five seconds left, the tailback wide open in the middle of the end zone, that gave Georgia a 26-24 win over Tennessee.

You know Larry Munson's now legendary radio call, as well: "We just stepped on their face with a hobnail boot and broke their nose - we just crushed their face!"

What you may not know is that Haynes, now 37 and living in Buford, Ga., was in Athens Friday for fall commencement, having just completed his last class before earning his degree in finance.

"Finish The Drill" was the motto former coach Mark Richt implemented when he took charge of the program starting with that 2001 season. Haynes and the Bulldogs lived up to it that day in Knoxville and Haynes was proud to say this week that he did so again by, 15 years after playing his last down for the Dogs, getting his undergraduate degree from Georgia.

"You look up and 15 years later you're graduating," said Haynes, whose family was with him in Athens on Friday. "Life happens when you get out of school and it moves quite rapidly. I'm asking the kids to finish everything they start and I can't be a hypocrite."

Haynes left Georgia for the NFL, drafted in 2002 by the Pittsburgh Steelers, two classes short of his degree. He still needed to pass pre-calculus and calculus, he said.

"Those were my Achilles heel, so to speak," he said. "I was always withdrawing before [the end of the drop period]."

Haynes played seven seasons in the NFL, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers (alongside former Georgia great Hines Ward) in Super Bowl XL. He ended his career with the Atlanta Falcons in 2009, amassing in his career 738 rushing yards, 449 receiving and five touchdowns.

Three years ago, still those two credits short of his degree, Haynes, a real estate investor who has also worked as a commentator for ESPN International, decided to do something about it. He passed pre-calculus then, but it wasn't until this fall that he found the time to complete calculus, taking the course online, and earn the opportunity to participate in commencement at Stegeman Coliseum today.

"I was kind of keeping it quiet until last week and then when I finished my final final and I knew that I had successfully completed the class, I sent a mass text to my mother and my siblings and all the kin, letting them know that they would be attending graduation," he said. "It was a joyous moment, and my son interestingly enough texted me, 'Way to go, dad, that was strong of you. Way to finish the drill.'

"And that kind of touched me, so I shared that with Coach Richt this past weekend and he said that brought tears to his eyes. I just thanked him for all the moments that he enlightened us with and that his 'Finish The Drill' slogan is still playing an important role in life today."

Haynes is among 35 Georgia athletes participating in commencement today. Another football player earning a finance degree, safety Aaron Davis, was a few days from turning 7 years old on Oct. 6, 2001, when one of the most famous plays in Bulldog history happened: Greene to Haynes.

When Tennessee visited Georgia this fall, Haynes and Greene did an autograph signing. It means a lot, Haynes said, to be part of a special moment in Georgia football history.

"It's a humbling feeling, it definitely is," he said. "I think for me, I would be remiss if I didn't also remember my teammates and talk about my teammates when that play is mentioned. David Greene and I get a lot of the notoriety, but Randy McMichael and Damien Gary made big plays on that game-winning drive, and you can't forget the guy who called it at the perfect time, Coach Richt himself.

"It was one of those glorious moments that stuck and still sticks in life for me, because of what it meant to so many people."

And that degree, earned 15 years later, will be with him for life, as well.