There are a select few schools around the country that have the pedigree and lineage of dynamic runners throughout its history to make a bid for the College Football moniker Tailback U. Southern Cal is in the conversation, with an infamous character (O.J.), Super Bowl Most Valuable Player (Marcus Allen) and 21st century one-time reality star boyfriend (Matt Leinhart) headlining the list. Auburn boasts Bo Jackson and far too many Peach State standouts. Miami has had its share, and Alabama joined the debate in the last decade. But when it comes to the number of all-time greats, the decades and eras these standouts span and the current and future crop of T-dotting darters, make no mistake, Georgia is Tailback U.
Getting ready to play Vanderbilt and reliving some of the Bulldogs great moments in this long played Southeastern Conference series conjures up memories of one of the best games that the best ever played, as well as another from one of his most successful successors.
October 18, 1980, freshman sensation Herschel Walker took the field between the hedges against Vanderbilt just two games and three weeks removed from an ankle sprain suffered in a 34-3 win over TCU. The Bulldogs were 5-0, in the midst of something special. But this team needed its biggest weapon at 100 percent. “The Goal Line Stalker” produced a Herculean performance for the ages, shattering a slew of records with 283 yards on 23 carries – an average of 12.3 per tote – and touchdown dashes of 60, 54 and 48 yards in a 41-0 rout of the Commodores. The most significant record broken by Walker was the Bulldogs single-game rushing yardage mark of 239 set by Charley Trippi in Georgia’s 34-0 drubbing of Florida in 1945, mere weeks after the “Scintillating Sicilian” returned from Allied victory in World War II. Trippi’s mark was set 35 seasons prior to Walker’s performance against Vanderbilt, at the time to the children of the ’80s, 1945 was visualized in black and white – Churchill, Patton, Eisenhower, MacArthur.
Well, to age us all a bit, 1980 is closer to 1945 than to 2017.
Trippi, who won the 1946 Maxwell Award as the nation’s outstanding player, and 1942 Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich are two of the great all-around performers in college football history. Passing, punting, defense, these two did it all, but the trademark for both was splendid running. Both would join the Bulldogs first All-American and first great halfback Bob McWhorter in the College Football Hall of Fame. McWhorter played for the Bulldogs from 1910-1913, and records of the day indicate he scored some 60 touchdowns in 34 games.
Sinkwich and Trippi were teammates on the 1942 national and SEC championship squad, with Trippi leading the Bulldogs to an 11-0 conference title in ’46. Over the next few decades, there were some outstanding runners for Georgia, including Joe Geri, “drought-breaker” Theron Sapp, Kent “The Jet” Lawrence (who once beat the aforementioned USC infamous character in the 100-yard dash), Jimmy Poulos, “Glidin'” Glynn Harrison, Kevin McLee and Willie McClendon.
Walker then took the position and Georgia to another level.
College football’s greatest player ever was the final piece, transforming tremendous teams into champions for the ages. Amassing 5,259 yards and scoring 52 touchdowns in three seasons, Walker won the 1982 Heisman Trophy after finishing third as a freshman and second to that USC Super Bowl MVP as a sophomore. With Herschel, the headlining actor of a star-studded cast, Georgia won the 1980 national championship, won three straight SEC titles and compiled a record of 33-3.
His humility, persona, gratitude and genuine infectious personality made him one of the most famous people in the country.
Great runners wanted to follow in his footsteps and Georgia was Tailback U.
Lars Tate was a good one, Tim Worley and Keith Henderson, who primarily played fullback, were rare talents and Rodney Hampton had the footwork and balance of Gale Sayers.
As the decade shifted to the 1990s, the next great tailback was Garrison Hearst, who succeeded Hampton carried the torch for Tailback U. He also proudly carried on the jersey number five, worn prior by legendary All-American kickers Rex Robinson and Kevin Butler. Hearst ran for 1,547 yards in 1992 and finished third in the Heisman voting. His top performance, a 246-yard outburst in the Bulldogs 30-20 victory over Vandy, still the fourth best single-game total in Georgia history.
Terrell Davis is one of the best running backs to ever play the game. Robert Edwards was big and strong and fast, in his first game as a tailback, after moving from corner, he ran for five touchdowns in a half.
There would be some solid backs to follow, but that next one with the “It” factor was Knowshon Moreno, who helped lead Georgia to a No. 2 national finish in 2007.
The best since Herschel came in 2012.
Todd Gurley was a whirling dervish, a do-all Dynamo currently one of the NFL’s best.
He was succeeded by two special tailbacks in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who are back for their senior season in pursuit of greatness for Georgia. There are heir apparent runners, how good is D’Andre Swift?
Georgia is Tailback U. And the position is at center stage, as Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs strive to reclaim the glory of the championship days of Sinkwich, Trippi, Walker and so many more.
Recent Articles by Jeff Dantzler