- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Coach, you can't do that," said Buck.
"Because you don't have nobody else."
In his four high school seasons Buck never missed a practice. That includes showing up at 6 a.m. on winter mornings for conditioning because, as Hyder says, "Our philosophy is that we work while our opponents sleep. He has always been the kind of guy that if everyone else is going 90 miles an hour, he'll go 91 and win. All he is is a battler." In Buck's first year as quarterback the Valdosta Wildcats were 3-7. In the next three their record was 31-6; they finished No. 2 in the state in Buck's senior season. No wonder Buck eyed his old high school field the other day and shook his head. "It was a lot bigger when I played on it," he said.
Soon football recruiters from most of the big colleges were hanging around Valdosta, but Georgia won out because Dooley agreed that Belue could also play baseball. Indeed, baseball very likely is Belue's first love. An outfielder, he was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the second round in 1978, but their paltry offer of $22,000—reluctantly increased to $30,000—didn't turn Buck's head. He led Georgia in hitting as a freshman, with a .373 average and a record 13 homers. But in the 1980 season Belue, who was coming off a slightly fractured left fibula suffered late in the 1979 football season, tried to split his time between spring practice and baseball. He hit .274, poorest on the team. In 1981 Belue won't play spring football, on the eminently logical grounds that "spring is for baseball and fall is for football." He even says that a big dollar offer from baseball might entice him to forgo his last year of college football. That already has the Georgia faithful wringing their hands.
Belue has come a long way since 1978 "when I didn't know if I could play football on the college level or not. But after a couple days, I found out I could. Then I was sure disappointed to be on the bench. Heck, all those recruiters kept telling me how great I was. Now I realize that what they said wasn't true."
Late in Belue's freshman season, Georgia fell behind Georgia Tech 0-20 and Dooley called on Belue. "I couldn't believe they were doing that to my child," recalls Buck's mother, Sandra. At which time Belue went crazy and led the Dogs to a 29-28 victory, the greatest comeback in school history. A legend was born. Yet, that performance became a burden for Belue, too, because it established what he could do. However, because the Georgia coaches still looked upon him as the No. 2 quarterback, he often found himself on the bench. He was so distressed after getting minimal playing time in the 1978 Bluebonnet Bowl that he nearly quit the team. "I wasn't a real happy person," he says.
When the 1979 season began, things got worse. Belue shared playing time with Jeff Pyburn. "I was playing them both, neither was playing very well, and we were losing," says Dooley. Indeed, Dooley's irrepressible wife, Barbara, who considers Buck "the cutest thing ever to hit this campus," says that when her husband would toss and turn at night over who should play quarterback, she would whisper in his ear, "Buck Belue, Buck Belue, Buck Belue." As the year progressed, Belue emerged as the starter, but then came the broken fibula. Little was made of the injury outside Athens. "When you're quarterback of a 6-5 team and throw 11 interceptions, you're not much of a celebrity," says Belue.
Asked if he had any concern about Belue as his quarterback before this season began, Dooley says, "Not at all." Barbara, however, laughs and says, "Vince was in a nervous panic over Buck." Who do you believe?
As a leader, Belue is flat out terrific, the rare kind of quarterback who is one of the boys and can still inspire his blockers. His high school baseball coach, Butch Brooks, says, "He just looks at you, doesn't say anything, but you think, 'By George, I better straighten up.' " Belue is no classroom star, but he had the good sense to travel twice to Wrightsville to help recruit Walker. Why? "We wanted him," Belue says. "More important, we needed him." Walker says, "Buck's real smart."