The Bulldogs were 11-0 headed to face the Fighting Irish in the Sugar Bowl. Chris Welton was a senior starting rover for this 1980 team that would go on to beat Notre Dame 17-10 and become national champions. Welton’s drive and passion made him not only an impressive player for the Dawgs, but an extremely accomplished attorney, businessman, and entrepreneur. I had the pleasure of talking with him about life on and off the field.
TO OPEN THIS UP, WILL YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF?
“Well, growing up I played a lot of sports, so when the opportunity was offered to play here, at Georgia, there was no way I would pass the offer up. I came here as a quarterback, but at the beginning of my sophomore year, I switched over to defense. My last year was 1980, and as you know we won it all that year. After that, I kind of wanted to just be a student, so I got an MBA. Next, I went to Georgia law school. I was at UGA for a total of eight years, and I got three degrees. The best part about it was that Coach Dooley kept me on football scholarship every year.”
“After school, I practiced law at King & Spalding in Atlanta for six and a half years. In 1991, I got a call from Billy Payne, and he asked me to come help out with the organization committee for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. He specifically wanted me working on the marketing and sponsorship for the Games. We were fortunate enough to fund the entire Olympic Games with 100% private funding, mainly from corporate sponsorships and television rights. In the history of the Olympics, only two have been completely privately funded, one being Los Angeles in 1984 and Atlanta in ’96. During the Games, I made so many connections in sports marketing and the Olympic world. I partnered with a connection from France, and we proposed to the International Olympic Committee that our business do the marketing on a global basis for the Olympics. We were fortunate enough for them to accept.”
“The only down side to it was I was leaving town and traveling the world about 1520 times a year, so if you ever want to quiz me on countries and capitals, you probably won’t stump me because I’ve probably been there. I’ve made so many friends from around the world. We ended up selling the company in 2010. I then started a consulting company and sold it in 2014. Since then I’ve been investing in real estate and managing my investments. More importantly, I’ve got two children, and I’ve been married 29 years to my wife Michelle. My son Conor is 26, and he played baseball at Georgia and was a three-year starter. My daughter India is 22, and she just graduated from Ole Miss where she ran track.”
WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE PLAYING LEGENDARY NOTRE DAME IN THE 1980 CHAMPIONSHIP?
“You can’t look at that one game. You have to look at the whole season, and that season was just surreal. We won our first game by coming back from a 15-point deficit. We had no idea what Herschel could do. He was the third string running back, which was a generous move by the coaches. He probably shouldn’t have made the traveling squad. Beginning the season defeating Tennessee by one point was huge. The next week we had Texas A&M, and we blew them out. We had some games where we won pretty handily, and we had a lot of close games too. Looking back at that season we had some games where the team we were playing was pretty good or even better than us on paper, but we just always found a way to win. When the season ended, we were 11-0 going to face the most prestigious football school in history at the time. There was nobody who had won as many championships or could compare to Notre Dame. Alabama is nearing them now, but at the time they were the best of the best. Playing in the national championship is pretty cool, but playing Notre Dame is even better. We had a strong sense of confidence going into the game. They were much bigger than us and their recruiting classes for every year were ranked much higher than ours, but for some reason we went into that game knowing we were going to win. We didn’t know how, but we knew it was going to happen.”
GIVE ME A SAMPLE OF A PEP TALK YOU WOULD GIVE THE TEAM GOING INTO NOTRE DAME SATURDAY NIGHT.
“In the locker room after the Appalachian State game you turn your focus to Notre Dame. You really do have to focus on each game one at a time, week by week, and you can’t look forward because that’s when teams get upset. As it gets closer to the game, and they’re on the field warming up, I think he has to address Notre Dame’s history in college football and their stadium’s history in college football, and what an honor it is to be playing them there. Very few people have the opportunity to play football at the level of Georgia or Notre Dame, but even fewer have the opportunity to play in Notre Dame’s stadium, and even fewer people than that have beaten Notre Dame in that stadium. I would emphasize on the importance of beating them and the credibility they would receive in doing so. It would make Georgia 2-0 against Notre Dame. I would also touch on the importance it would have on this season because winning one game at a time creates momentum that can carry us from week to week.”
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS SEASON?
“To me this season is going to come down to three things. Number one: How well our offensive line plays. How much better they have gotten since last season. How well they can run block and pass protect, so our great running backs can have some big holes and our quarterback can have time to get rid of the ball accurately. Number two: The overall production at quarterback …. Number three: How well some of these young players, particularly the freshmen, come along. Defensively, it’s how well some of these young corners can perform, and how well we can pass defend with those young guys. They’re very talented physically, and the size of our secondary has grown, so we just have to see if they can execute.”
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