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Nonetheless, McCluskey remains the best bet to reach the top of the crowded depth chart, though not until Dooley thinks it's wise to move a freshman into the glamour position; even Walker didn't start his first game. McCluskey can run inside, which is what he did as a wishbone fullback in high school, and he also has the speed (4.6 in the 40) to go outside. "He's got the best raw talent for the position," says Georgia Offensive Coordinator George Haffner.
The tailback roll was completed by Simmons, whom Dooley inserted midway through the third quarter. A senior, Simmons carried only twice for 13 yards, but that's two carries more than he expected. He missed a lot of preseason practice while working to complete two independent study courses that would give him the eight academic hours he needed to stay eligible. In fact, he pulled an all-nighter on Thursday to study for Friday's final in Sociology 105, and he found out his grade, a C, late that afternoon. Dooley hadn't been counting on him for the game.
Simmons had the misfortune to arrive in Athens the same time as Walker, and, unlike Young, he could never find another spot. He was tested at cornerback and switched to split end last year but didn't feel comfortable at either position. Further, over the years Simmons had failed to win Dooley's confidence. "He may be capable of gaining 140 yards in one game, but you don't know what he'll do in the next," Dooley told The Atlanta Constitution in July.
Dooley is almost certain, however, to find out soon what Simmons will do next, perhaps by alternating him with McCluskey. Simmons' talent mandates that he get a chance to run with the ball in his final season. Even Walker, who refused to name a favorite in the tailback sweepstakes—though one would suspect he's rooting for his old roomie—singled out Simmons. "Nobody was more aware of Melvin's talent than I was," he said. "Sometimes I worried about it. Sometimes I thought he had too much talent, and he could take my job away."
Eventually one of the tailbacks will step forward to take charge, and the Walker Era will be officially over, though not forgotten. As it is, the Bulldogs have adjusted well to Walker's departure, perhaps because fate forced them to. Several injuries, the most crushing being Safety Jeff Sanchez' broken arm, which will sideline him for the season, coupled with Lastinger's uphill battle to rehabilitate a left knee that required surgery in April, drew much of the attention away from memories of ol' 34.
Neither did the Georgia fans fall into a deep funk over Walker's departure. About 1,000 more season tickets were sold this year than in '82, and the order forms went out after Walker had defected to the USFL. The pregame atmosphere around Athens was much the same as it had been in Walker's years. On Friday afternoon videotapes of old Georgia games ran nonstop at Bulldog Sporting Goods on Baxter Street, and Athens was just as unfriendly for the opposition. When UCLA bused in from Atlanta Airport on Friday evening, the Bruins were greeted by a sign above the entrance to Cycle World bicycle shop on the outskirts of town: UCLA: UGLY CALIFORNIANS LEAVE ATHENS. And, yes, the most obnoxious battle cry in all of college sports could still be heard: "How 'bout them...." You know the rest.
Certainly Walker's former teammates, who for three years had been the largest supporting cast this side of a Cecil B. DeMille epic, are eager to emerge from the shadow of No. 34. "It's a chance for us all to show how we can survive without Herschel," said Tight End Clarence Kay. "And we will survive."
They will indeed, but now and again there will be reminders of the days when Georgia had possibly the best running back in college history. Sports Information Director Claude Felton will be reminded when he's not entertaining six to eight interview requests per day. Dooley will be reminded when it's third-and-one, a call that used to be so automatic that he would begin thinking about first down even before the third-down snap. Walker's teammates will be reminded at gut-check time, perhaps in the locker room before a key SEC game. "The thing you got from Herschel more than anything else was attitude," says Simmons. "He had a positive attitude. He picked everybody up. He was always ready."
And Haffner will be reminded every time he goes to the projector. "Most of the time you're too busy with today's problems to think about the past," says Haffner. "But once in a while I'll turn on the projector when I'm studying the back films, and there will be Herschel. I'll watch for a few minutes and say to myself, 'Man, that's how it was.' "
Man, it'll never be like that again.