1. Is Herschel Walker the greatest college running back ever?
Without question, the answer is yes. The Goal Line Stalker ranks ninth on the all-time N.C.A.A. rushing yardage list and the guys above him (Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, Tony Dorsett, DeAngelo Williams, Charles White, Travis Prentice, Cedric Benson, and LaDainian Tomlinson) all had four-year college careers, whereas Herschel spent only three years wearing the silver britches. (If you don’t believe me, you can look it up in the .pdf version of the N.C.A.A. record book. Appropriately enough, the data are on page 34.) Dayne’s record-setting 6,397-yard career at Wisconsin eclipses Walker’s three-year career mark of 5,269 by just 1,138 yards. (The next-best three-year rushing career belongs to Herschel’s contemporary, Nebraska’s Mike Rozier, who gained 4,780 yards. Rozier ranks 21st on the all-time list.) In statistically the worst season of his college career, Herschel gained 1,616 yards.
Had the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner spent the 1983 season with the Georgia Bulldogs rather than the New Jersey Generals, he would have set a career mark somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 yards. Barring injury, four collegiate seasons of Herschel Walker would have established a record that not only would stand today, it would be unassailable, a high water mark for which there is no analogue to be found in college football. We would have to go to the realm of baseball---to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Ted Williams’s .406 average in 1941---to find a sports record similarly untouchable. Some contemporary stars like Texas’s Cedric Benson and Memphis’s DeAngelo Williams benefited from the 2002 rules change that allowed postseason yards to count towards career totals. Had that rule always been in place, Walker would have tacked an additional 337 yards onto his collegiate tally by virtue of his three Sugar Bowl appearances.
More important than that, though, is the fact that Walker did what he did in an era before supplements, before sophisticated weight training regimens, and before scientifically sound nutritional guidelines. What Herschel did, he did with God-given talent and personal drive. Add to that the fact of his great quality both as a human being and, even today, as an ambassador for his alma mater and it is clear that the Goal Line Stalker is without peer as college football’s greatest running back ever.
2. What is the greatest Georgia football game that you have seen – whether it be in-person or on television? Explain the game and why it was so great.
This was the toughest question for me to answer, because so many memories flooded into my brain as soon as I began to think about it . . . the 1980 Florida game (photo - below right of Lindsay Scott) . . . the 1981 Sugar Bowl . . . the 1984 Clemson game . . . the 1996 Auburn game . . . the 1997 Florida game . . .the 2001 Tennessee game . . . the 2004 and 2005 L.S.U. games . . .In the end, though, it came down to two choices. The best game I ever saw on television was the 2002 Auburn game, in which Georgia, down to its last gasp on a cold night on the Plains, called 70 X Takeoff on fourth down and connected on the touchdown pass that put the Bulldogs into their first S.E.C. championship game.
The best game I ever saw in person came exactly one year later, when the Tigers came calling in Sanford Stadium looking for a little revenge. For the first time in a dozen years, Georgia beat Auburn between the hedges, handing the Plainsmen a 26-7 beatdown that was nowhere near as close as the score indicated. The Auburn rushing attack was limited to nine yards in the first half and the War Eagle was held in check throughout the day. David Greene handed off to Michael Johnson (he of 70 X Takeoff fame) on an ostensible reverse, but the Georgia wide receiver uncorked a 40-yard pass to Fred Gibson to set up a touchdown. What made this game so perfect was a play at the start of the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs were leading 19-0 but Auburn was driving and hoping to claw its way back into the contest. Jason Campbell’s would-be touchdown pass was tipped and Odell Thurman snagged it out of the air at the one yard line. 99 yards later, the Georgia linebacker rumbled into the end zone to put the home team comfortably ahead at 26-0. It was the most electrifying play I have ever seen from the stands, as Odell’s end-zone-to-end-zone rumble---which seemingly took half an hour---was accompanied by the shouts of 92,058 screaming fans, including me. When Odell scored, I felt like I’d run 99 yards.
3. Who do you consider Georgia’s biggest rival – Auburn, Florida, or Georgia Tech?
I probably tipped my hand a little with my answer to the previous question, but I will walk you through the explanation, just the same. The in-state series with the Yellow Jackets has lost much of its luster since Georgia Tech left the Southeastern Conference and Bobby Dodd retired. At one time, the Ramblin’ Wreck was the very portrait of stability, as the Golden Tornado had just three head coaches in the first 75 years of Georgia Tech football. In the 40 seasons since, the Yellow Jackets have been led by eight different head coaches, not counting the interim coach for the 2001 Seattle Bowl. That instability has cost Georgia Tech dearly and the rivalry has been diminished accordingly. I have been alive on the planet for 38 years and I have seen Georgia defeat Georgia Tech 28 times. As the old saying goes, “Georgia Tech fans think about Georgia every day of their lives, but Georgia fans only think about Georgia Tech when Georgia Tech is good.”
As maddening as the Gators’ recent run of dominance in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has been, the Georgia-Florida series has always been streaky in nature. The Orange and Blue have won 15 of the 17 series meetings since 1990, but the Red and Black won 15 of the 19 series meetings from 1971 to 1989. The closeness of recent games suggests that the pendulum is swinging back Georgia’s way, especially in light of the Bulldogs’ 5-1 record against defending national champions since 1965. We’re proud to be Gator-haters, but a program whose tradition dates back to the 1890s cannot claim as its chief rival a program whose tradition dates back to the 1990s. That (dis)honor goes to Auburn.
The Plainsmen are the Classic City Canines’ oldest rivals; the series dates back to 1892, when the two teams met in Auburn’s first game and Georgia’s second game . . . ever. Georgia has played Auburn more times than Georgia has played Georgia Tech and Auburn has played Georgia more times than Auburn has played Alabama. Since 1897, it quite literally has taken a World War to prevent the Bulldogs and the Tigers from tangling. The rivalry is heightened by the proximity of the schools and the extensive cross-pollination between the Deep South’s oldest enemies: Georgia’s most successful coach, Vince Dooley, went to Auburn and Auburn’s most successful coach, Pat Dye, went to Georgia. Each program has at least one of the other school’s alumni on the football coaching staff to this day. Finally, there is the quirky nature of the series. Auburn has a winning record (18-9) in the Classic City. Georgia has a winning record (13-9-2) in the Loveliest Village. The home team has won just three times in the last 15 series meetings and, more often than not, the higher-ranked team comes up short on the scoreboard.
Thanks to the bizarre nature of this heated rivalry, the series is about as close as they come. In 110 showdowns between the two, the all-time score is 1,685 points for Georgia and 1,665 points for Auburn. Such is the stuff of which one of the great rivalries, not just in the history of the schools, but in the history of the sport, is made.
By the way . . . I hate Auburn.
4. Since 1970, who are the five greatest players to wear a Georgia uniform and why?
I’ll play within the rules, but it should be noted that three of the four retired jersey numbers in Bulldog football history were worn by players whose collegiate careers concluded well before 1970. The fourth, of course, was Herschel Walker, whose status at the top of the list cannot be gainsaid, for the reasons provided previously, as well as others. During the Goal Line Stalker’s three-year career at Georgia, the Bulldogs went 33-3, never lost a conference game, captured three straight league titles, and won a national championship. The Red and Black’s losses during the Herschel Walker era came against Clemson in 1981, Pittsburgh in the 1982 Sugar Bowl, and Penn State in the 1983 Sugar Bowl. Those three teams finished those seasons ranked No. 1, No. 2, and No. 1, respectively, in the final coaches’ polls. Georgia was good; like no other player since Frank Sinkwich (photo), Herschel made Georgia great.
Second place probably goes to David Pollack, the emotional leader of the Bulldogs’ 21st century resurgence and the only Georgia player other than the Goal Line Stalker to have been a three-time consensus all-American. After that, it starts to get a bit tricky. I’m not altogether convinced that at least two of the other three fellows in the top five aren’t on the Red and Black roster right now, but they haven’t earned their way onto the list quite yet. Likewise, George Patton, Jake Scott, and Bill Stanfill would have contended strongly for a spot in the standings, had the cutoff point been just five years earlier.
With apologies to Boss Bailey, Buck Belue, Kevin Butler, Robert Edwards, Bill Goldberg, David Greene, Rodney Hampton, Andre Hastings, Rex Robinson, Lindsay Scott, Jon and Matt Stinchcomb, Richard Tardits, Hines Ward, Scott Woerner, and Ben Zambiasi, though, I’m going to round out my top five with Champ Bailey, Terry Hoage, and Garrison Hearst, in that order.
Bailey was probably the most versatile player to have suited up for Georgia since Charley Trippi in the mid-1940s. In 1998, the year after Michigan’s Charles Woodson won the Heisman Trophy as a sometime two-way player, Champ was on the field for more than 1,000 plays as a cornerback, wide receiver, and return specialist en route to the Bronko Nagurski Award. Over the course of the 1998 campaign, Bailey racked up 49 punt return yards, 261 kickoff return yards, 744 receiving yards, 47 catches, 52 tackles, three interceptions, and five touchdowns.
Hoage’s Georgia career overlapped with one of the three great periods of success in Bulldog football history, the Red and Black’s 43-4-1 run from 1980 to 1983. That was no coincidence. A two-time all-American both on the field and in the classroom, Hoage posted what was at the time the highest finish ever by a defensive back in the Heisman Trophy balloting, coming in fifth in 1983.
Hearst revived Georgia’s “Tailback U.” tradition in 1992, when he finished third in the Heisman Trophy race. While averaging 6.8 yards per carry in his final year with the Bulldogs, Hearst set a new conference mark for rushing touchdowns in a single season (19) and capped off his career by being named the S.E.C. Player of the Year, the Doak Walker Award winner, and the Citrus Bowl M.V.P.
5. Make your case why Georgia football, as a whole, is the best football program in the country?
After 20 years of wandering in the wilderness, Georgia football has been restored to its rightful place in the college football firmament by Mark Richt, who guided the Bulldogs to four straight 10-win seasons, four straight top 10 finishes, two S.E.C. titles, and three Eastern Division championships. The totality of the Red and Black’s restoration is attested to by the fact that a nine-win season in which the Bulldogs lost a seven-point game to the eventual national champion and finished the season with three straight wins over ranked opponents now counts as a “down” year.
Historically, Georgia has been a storied program, even if the Red and Black have not been celebrated widely outside the region. The Bulldogs have been victorious in the Cotton, Orange, Rose, and Sugar Bowls, something few other programs can claim. In addition to capturing a dozen conference crowns in what arguably is the toughest league in the country, Georgia has been at or near the forefront of college football on numerous occasions since making its first real national impact under Harry Mehre in the 1930s.
Now, with a visionary young athletic director, an efficient and highly solvent athletics program, and the man who already is the third-winningest head coach in school history just six years into his tenure in the Classic City, the Bulldogs are poised to cash in on stellar recruiting and upgrades to the coaching staff, the facilities, and the schedule by clearing the hurdle that will make one of the great college towns and one of the most talent-rich states the home of the No. 1 team in the land. Count on it . . . by the time Georgia’s 1980 national championship team celebrates its 30th anniversary by being honored at halftime of the 2010 homecoming game, Buck Belue and Herschel Walker will not be members of the Bulldogs’ most recent national title-winning squad.
Once again I would like to thank Kyle...on Thursday, The U - Miami Hurricanes will be the next football program to be featured