later describe the play as "fantastic, electric. All of a sudden, you just
knew...." Center Joe Happe says, "It was stunning. The effect that
single run had on our team, I just can't explain it. All of us, we went crazy
and played over our heads the rest of the game. [The rest of the season?] There
was no way we would lose. Everybody was so psyched."
one. For a brief moment after the run, and just before he was pummeled by
Offensive Tackle Nat Hudson and then engulfed by what looked like an entire
republic in red, all of them hugging and waving and jumping up and down, he was
alone there in the end zone. Just Herschel Walker and history.
thousand fans, the largest crowd ever to see a football game in the South, were
on their feet not knowing whether to laugh or cry at what they had just
witnessed but knowing it was something very special. Walker himself slowly
turned around to face the oncoming hordes. He held out both his hands, palms
up, for the routine congratulatory hand-slap. At this transcendent moment, it
was obvious that Herschel Walker had been there, somewhere, before. Ring, ring,
goes the bell.
There would be
other glorious Herschel Walker journeys encompassed in Georgia's perfect 12-0
season. The very next week the Dublin Courier Herald greeted Walker's first
home game at Athens with this stentorian headline: DEBUT! HERSCHEL BETWEEN THE
HEDGES! The newspaper suggested to its readers: "You might want to stash
this away somewhere to show your grandchildren one day." Walker ran for 145
yards and three TDs against Texas A&M.
Every week a new
wrinkle. For power aficionados there was Walker's 60-yard ramble against
Vanderbilt following a play in which he was penalized for a late block. So he
got mad and took off, looking for people to blast until he finally, mercifully,
found pay dirt. For speed freaks, there was the 76-yard scamper against South
Carolina in which three Gamecock defenders had the easy angle to spear Walker
over the sideline and into Athens' famous greenery. The trio came up empty. For
record keepers, there was the 65-yarder late in the game with Georgia Tech that
broke Tony Dorsett's total yardage mark for freshmen.
Running backs are
forever being compared to each other, Payton to Simpson to Sayers, Campbell to
Brown to Motley. In reality such an exercise is futile because, like concert
pianists, each RB has some distinct characteristic with which he delivers the
goods. After one has rounded up clichés like inner drive and concentration and
competitiveness, there is simply this about Walker—probably no runner has ever
been so powerful and so fast concurrently.
in Early Colonial coachese, mentions Walker's feet. How "close
together" and "close to the ground" they are. How he has "the
nice base" and "the good plant and spurt." How he "slides"
so well. Dooley says Walker's improvement graph in practices and games was a
vast upward slope. "Herschel kept getting better and better. He just never
leveled off." Georgia Offensive Coordinator George Haffner speaks of
Walker's "happiness," his "zest and enjoyment for running."
Haffner says it always looked like Herschel was saying, "Here I come, boys.
I'm a competitor and you've got your hands full now."
The sine qua non
for all running backs is their ability at that moment when the hole closes. Do
they whirl, shift direction, lower the helmet? Spin off? Slow up? Power move?
What Walker seems to do better than anyone before is to accelerate right then
and there and whip into a gear unbeknownst to mere football players. Remember,
we are talking about an Olympic gold medal aspirant who has run the 60-yard
dash in 6.24 and a wind-aided 10.22 100 meters. We're talking quick.
"Herschel won't impress you with his slick moves or feints," says
Cavan. "But don't let him get even with you on the field or the points
start clicking on the scoreboard."
Spec Townes, the
former Georgia track coach who won the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles in
the 1936 Olympics, likens Walker's gliding motion in the open field to that of
an old teammate, Jesse Owens.
Walker closed out
the 1980 regular season by rushing for more than 200 yards in three of his last
four games. Some of his other numbers were equally staggering. Thirty-five of
his 274 carries were for 10 yards or more. Seven of his 15 touchdown runs were
for 48 yards or longer. His many records were achieved despite injuries that
caused him to miss more than 10 full quarters. He was the first freshman to
make the consensus All-America team in this century.