Herschel Walker is the greatest college football player ever. As Georgia celebrates its homecoming against Vanderbilt, the Bulldog faithful, on a beautiful October Saturday, can soak in the memories of glorious days gone by. And no player provided more than Number 34.
As magnificent as he was, Herschel Walker was equally humble.
No player has ever been so beloved. No player has ever meant more to a program. His amazing feats and performances were the catapult for great Georgia teams to become legendary champions of lore never to be forgotten.
During Walker’s unparalleled three-year career, Georgia won the 1980 national championship, three consecutive Southeastern Conference crowns from 1980-82, posted a 33-3 record and went to a trio of Sugar Bowls ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 1. Walker finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting as a freshman, second his sophomore season, and won the most coveted individual award in team sports as a junior in 1982, outdistancing John Elway and Eric Dickerson.
He shined brightest in the biggest of games, including the national championship clinching victory over Notre Dame on January 1, 1981, and averaged over 200 yards with 17 total touchdowns in six combined clashes with Florida and Tech.
Not surprisingly, “The Goal Line Stalker” was dominant in the Bulldogs three victories over Vanderbilt in his Georgia career. His single highest rushing total came against the Commodores on October 18, 1980.
Following his unforgettable debut in Georgia’s 16-15 victory at Tennessee in which he ran over Bill Bates – “My God a Freshman” – on one of the Mighty Larry Munson’s most iconic calls, Walker went over the 100-yard mark in the 42-0 rout of Texas A&M and 20-16 knee-knocker over Clemson. The next week, on a long run against Texas Christian, Walker injured his ankle and did not return. There was, of course, a great deal of worry and angst amongst the Georgia faithful.
Fortunately, and great teams need some good fortune, breaks and circumstance, Georgia had an open date following the 34-3 win over the Horned Frogs. Walker came back and played sparingly in the Bulldogs 28-21 win over Ole Miss, carrying 11 times for 44 yards. The question was then, when would the freshman sensation return to full strength?
It would be the following week.
Herschel amassed 283 yards and three touchdowns on just 23 carries, averaging an astonishing 12.3 per touch in a 41-0 pummeling of the Commodores. Those are the statistics, but the memories, the visions are of the three long scoring dashes in which he ran over, through, around and past the Vanderbilt defense for touchdown runs of 60, 54 and 48 yards. Love the numerical symmetry in those runs for six.
It is amazing how time flies by.
Herschel’s 283 yards broke the school single-game rushing mark, set by fellow iconic Hall of Fame legend Charley Trippi – amongst the greatest players in college football annals, and a standout on Georgia’s first two SEC championship teams in 1942 and 1946, both of which earned national championship recognition. Trippi and 1942 Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich were the Herschel of their days. Or, while Walker was playing and I was raving about my football hero, “older,” or “old school” Georgia football fans, including my grandfather and great aunt told me how spectacular Trippi and Sinkwich were. And they had to play both ways.
Trippi ripped through Florida for a school-record 239 rushing yards on November 10, 1945 in a 34-0 drubbing of the Gators.
The memories are still there, pacing the den and living room in my home in Statesboro, like so many hundreds of thousands, “listening to Larry.” When hearing that Herschel had broken the great Trippi’s record set in 1945, my thoughts went to black and white. That was 1945; we had just won World War II. It seemed like absolutely forever ago (Of course so did O.J. Simpson’s Heisman season of 1968, which Herschel’s freshman campaign was being compared to). Trippi set that record against the Gators 35 years prior. Herschel’s record…well that was 36 years ago.
Georgia would go on to a perfect 12-0 national championship season, and the whirling dervish freshman did things on the field that no one had ever seen, or seen since. All the while, when he scored, Herschel would just toss the football to the referee, congratulate his teammates and return the sideline.
For the record, Herschel had a 38 carry, 188 yards, two touchdown showing the following season in the Music City, as the Bulldogs rolled to a 53-21 win. He had 16 runs that resulted in Georgia first downs.
As a junior, Herschel had a tremendous game in Georgia’s 27-13 win over one of the best Vanderbilt teams ever. That Commodores squad, quarterbacked by All-SEC standout Whit Taylor, were 8-3 that regular season.
Vanderbilt led 13-10 in Athens. Hall of Fame legend Kevin Butler booted a game-tying field goal on the last play of the third quarter. Then Georgia dominated the fourth period, with Walker striking pay dirt. He carried 38 times for 172 yards against the Commodores.
Yet another Hall of Fame legend Terry Hoage tied a school record with three interceptions that beautiful Saturday against Vandy. By the way, that’s a formula on how to beat an excellent team, have three all-time greats – Walker, Hoage and Butler – have outstanding performances.
Those championship days and years will never be forgotten. They will live on forever. There will never be another Herschel Walker – or Sinkwich, or Trippi, or Butler or Hoage either – but Georgia can absolutely have championship seasons the caliber of those glorious days of the early ‘80s. That’s the aim, that’s the goal. So when Vanderbilt comes back in four or six years, there are a few more championship flags flying over beautiful Sanford Stadium, some more “great old days.”