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No arm. No legs. Only The Grin and a big heart. Small wonder the Irish—like the female clientele at The Mad Hatter—can hardly wait to get their hands, not to mention their helmets and shoulder pads, on Belue. If he doesn't keep Notre Dame off balance with his passing, the rugged Irish defense could stop Georgia's freshman running back, Herschel Walker, glorious though he is. And if that happens, you can color Georgia's No. 1 hopes very blue, too.
"I've got to be good," says Belue, "or they just might beat the stew out of us." They just might. Indeed, some football people were chewing the fat in Birmingham before the recent Notre Dame-Alabama game, and their consensus was that there wasn't a team in the Top 10 that Georgia could beat. That, of course, is the snide view; it doesn't put much stock in the fact that the 11-0 Bulldogs were the only major undefeated team in the land this year and they didn't get there by mailing in their scores. Yet, there's suspicion that, although the Dogs won the SEC, they just aren't that good—they were fourth in the conference in both offense and defense. And there are those who argue that without an extraordinary amount of luck, Georgia would be 7-4. On top of that, one staunch Bulldog fan says, "Honestly, their quarterback's not that phenomenal." That fan is Belue's father, Ben.
Overshadowed by Walker, Belue has been operating in general, but not total, oblivion:
Roses are red
Being unnoticed much of the time may have been a blessing. In Georgia's opener against Tennessee, for example, Belue fumbled three snaps and was tackled for a safety. The Dogs barely escaped, 16-15, when the Volunteers fumbled on the Georgia two late in the game and at least a field goal seemed imminent. "For us to go, Buck has to go," says Dooley. "Buck didn't exactly go in the first game." In a 20-16 win over Clemson, Belue didn't exactly go again, completing two of seven passes for 31 yards. Georgia's offense was generated by the defense, namely Cornerback Scott Woerner, whose long punt return and interception scored one touchdown and set up another.
Still, as the season rolled along and Walker kept getting all the attention, Belue was steadily improving. He erupted for 228 passing yards against Kentucky; he threw a miracle pass to Lindsay Scott from deep in Georgia territory for the touchdown that beat Florida with :59 left to play; he annihilated Auburn with a lights-out, 176-total-yards performance.
All of which is more like it for a guy called Buck Belue. If ever there was a swashbuckling name, this is it. It belongs in bright lights and big letters. Belue should be riding off into the sunset with the girl at his side and the credits rolling down his back. Men give him no lip. And, appropriately, he is a cocky player in the Roger Staubach mold, and with some justification: in games Belue has started, the Dogs are 16-2. Bumper stickers in Athens read: ME AND YOU AND A DOG NAMED BELUE. In sum, Belue can't do anything except win.
His father planned it that way. Benjamin Franklin Belue Jr. peered into the crib of Benjamin Franklin Belue III and decreed, "We'll call him Buck. That sounds athletic." For his first birthday, Buck got a rubber bat and ball. By age five, he wasn't just playing catch with his father—he was running pass routes in the backyard. In midget football he was forced to be an end because of a rule that said if a boy weighed more than 100 pounds, he couldn't play in the backfield. Thus, Buck's coach devised an end-around pass; Belue led the league in passing.
Growing up in Valdosta was an advantage, too, because there are few towns in America that take football as seriously as Valdosta does. "Everybody cared so much about football that it made me care," says Belue. How much do they care? A recent coach for Valdosta High went 17-3 over two years and was fired because of his poor record.
Buck attended spring practice the year before he entered high school. In the span of three days, the starting quarterback hurt his knee, the backup broke his ankle and the third-teamer got so frightened when he saw what was happening that he quit. "So there I was, the new coach with a 142-pound eighth-grader named Buck Belue as my quarterback," says Hyder. "See, it wasn't as if I had a choice." The older kids repeatedly teed off on Buck. At practice one day blood was running from his nose, he had cuts under his eyes, and his jersey was ripped to shreds. Hyder said, "Buck, I have to take you out."