When Georgia and Notre Dame first met on the gridiron back on January 1, 1981, it was the culmination of the greatest season in Bulldog football history. Ranked No. 1, champions of the Southeastern Conference, and sporting a perfect 11-0 record, the Bulldogs needed a Sugar Bowl victory over the most storied program in college football annals to capture the undisputed national title.
Underdogs in New Orleans to the 9-1-1, seventh-ranked Fighting Irish, the Bulldogs found a way, delivering the sons and daughters of Georgia their grandest day. The 17-10 victory over Notre Dame clinched the national championship with a perfect 12-0 season.
It is only fitting that most of the leading performers for this most cherished of Bulldog victories came from the greatest senior class in school history and the greatest freshman class in school history.
In the starring role was none other than the greatest college football player ever, The Goal Line Stalker, Herschel Walker. The Most Valuable Player of the Sugar Bowl, Walker ran for 150 yards on 35 carries and scored both Georgia touchdowns against a fierce Fighting Irish defense that hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. The Herculean stature of the incomparable Number 34 rose to new levels, as he re-emerged after leaving the game with a dislocated shoulder that was popped back into place on the second series of the game. You can do the math with Herschel’s performance. He had 150 on the ground, the Bulldog ran for 120 and threw for seven yards, for a total offensive output of 127.
But the Bulldogs didn’t turn the ball over while forcing the Irish into four and making a pair of enormous special teams plays.
The first big play in the kicking game came when another freshman future College Football Hall of Fame legend made his first mark on Georgia football. Trailing the Irish 3-0, the great Terry Hoage blocked a Harry Oliver field goal attempt, which set up the Bulldogs tying score. Hoage swung the game in what was his first Georgia game.
Having not played all season, Hoage caught the eye of the Georgia coaching staff during bowl practice and was a last-minute addition to the travel roster.
Georgia tied the game at 3-3 on a 46-yard field goal from All-American kicker Rex Robinson, one of the Bulldogs beloved senior greats.
Following the Robinson field goal, the Irish had a miscommunication on the ensuing kickoff, and senior Bob Kelly got on the loose ball.
Walker ran behind a great offensive line, which was primarily made up of seniors: Nat Hudson, Tim Morrison, Hugh Nall, and Jeff Harper. With one of his patented leaps over the top, Herschel struck paydirt, and the Dogs had the lead 10-3 following Robinson’s PAT.
Georgia’s defense then struck again. Senior Captain Frank Ros, the inside linebacker, laid a big hit on the Irish’s John Sweeney, forcing loose the pigskin, which was recovered by Senior rover Chris Welton.
This would set the stage for another Georgia score.
Leading the way for Walker on his second touchdown, a toss sweep right, bruising fullback Jimmy Womack, who’s decleating of an Irish defender remains one of the most iconic images from the victory.
Robinson’s extra point would extend the lead to 17-3 in the second quarter.
From there, Georgia would hang on, and rose to the pleas of iconic defensive coordinator to get a stop “just one more time” on numerous occasions.
Senior cornerback Mike Fisher, who wrapped up the unforgettable victory over Florida with an interception, picked off an Irish aerial.
The defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl, All-American cornerback/return specialist Scott Woerner, another future College Football Hall of Famer, had an epic performance. In Georgia’s 20-16 victory over Clemson in the third game of the year, Woerner returned a Tigers punt for a 67-yard touchdown and he had a 98-yard interception return to set up the Bulldogs other touchdown. Well, with all the chips down, Woerner, who had a masterful dice roll to celebrate his TD against the Tigers, delivered again. He intercepted an Irish pass in the end zone and had a big return to give Georgia room. Then on what turned out to be Notre Dame’s last possession, Woerner secured his second interception.
Now there were a slew of great players who were sophomores and juniors, including Buck Belue, Lindsay Scott, Wayne Radloff, Jimmy Payne and Eddie “Meat Cleaver” Weaver. There were several other seniors, including All-American safety Jeff Hipp, and defensive ends Pat McShea and Robert Miles, who played big roles in Georgia’s dream season and ultimate win. There were other freshmen too, like Freddie Gilbert.
But Herschel, that veteran-laden line, the turnover-making seniors, and the Dog debuting Hoage, had a harmonic convergence in the Louisiana SuperDome.
Following Woerner’s second interception, and desperate for one final first down to put the game away, Belue completed Georgia’s lone pass of the game, hitting Anthony “Amp” Arnold for a seven-yard strike on third and seven. Arnold, of course, was a senior.
When Georgia won in South Bend in 2017, the Bulldogs had great seniors like Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, and Isaiah Wynn. It was also the first start for freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, the second for tackle Andrew Thomas and the road debut for tailback D’Andre Swift. These three, along with kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, who made the game-winning field goal in South Bend in between huge plays from seniors Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy and Javon Wims (plus a pretty good junior in Roquan Smith) are now veterans. They look to lead the way for a third victory over the Irish, the first of which delivered a national championship, while the second helped the Dogs get their closest since.