- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
You could say that we become what we are not so much in the sanctuary of the womb or the groves of academe but in that Elysian drive-in joint known as high school. Most everyone went to high school, even a few hockey players. It is there that we were nurtured, our personalities shaped, our bodies structured, our habits and moods and values all having jockeyed for position in the chaotic halls of puberty. High school is enduring. Chuck Berry: Ring, ring, goes the bell...deliver me from the days of old. No one is completely delivered from the days of high school.
This is especially true in the case of heroes who learn to be heroes in high school and stay that way. High school nerds can change and turn into real people, but high school heroes aren't permitted the luxury. So why all the hullabaloo over Herschel Junior Walker, 19 and never been hissed? Why such astonishment about his poise, intelligence, charm, graciousness, humility, charisma, and his ability to put together more than two words at a time? Sir John Gielgud once said of Jean Seberg, who came out of little Marshalltown, Iowa, "She had learned to be a star before she became an actress." And so, now, Herschel Walker, the End Zone Stalker.
Walker, the All-America football player, says he runs track better than he plays football. Walker, the world-class sprinter, says he dances better than he sprints. Walker, the jump-splits hoofer, says he spends more time writing poetry than sashaying around the disco floor. But if there is one thing he knows more about than all of this, it is how to be a hero. Herschel Walker, out of little Wrightsville, Ga., learned that before he became anything else.
If all the Georgia Dawgs will please hunker down for a moment and cease woofing, we can put away Walker's historical debut against Tennessee and his historical NCAA freshman rushing record of 1,616 yards and his historical rookie-year third-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting and his historical one-man-gang-despite-a-dislocated-shoulder Sugar Bowl routine against Notre Dame for the national championship and...woof, woof, woof. All right, all right. Healthy all season, Hushel—that's the way you Dawgs say it, now ain't it? Hushel—would've gone for 2,000 yards easy. And, yeah, yeah, he got absolutely jobbed out of the Heisman. If the voters had waited two more weeks, Walker would have won it laughing. Now git down, you hairy dawgs.... If we put away all the football elements, and the track stopwatches, too, it becomes fairly clear from Walker's endearing way with people, plus an obvious relish for this hero business, that his race is not with Art Schlichter or Carl Lewis for yards, finishing tapes, banquet appearances and other boring stuff. It is with—why, of course!—Sugar Ray Media Leonard for the role of America's next black sports idol.
Doubtless the word "idol" hasn't crossed Walker's own lips. He insists he never had a role model. Indeed, he says, "I don't remember ever admiring anyone.... Well, maybe Richard Pryor." And yet his mentors from Wrightsville—Tom Jordan, a former head track coach and assistant football coach at Johnson County High, and Bob Newsome, Walker's employer at the corner Ford agency in town—dispute this. Jordan says Walker "kept close track" of Muhammad Ali. Newsome remembers Walker's following the career of O.J. Simpson, being impressed with his "class and stature."
Wasn't Ali the one who rhymed anything that moved? Wasn't Simpson the one who gave so much credit to his offensive line? Well, late at night while everybody else was asleep in the old house on the hill outside Wrightsville, little Herschel Walker composed poems about life, love, his football team and his algebra class, at times conveying a feel and sensitivity that would shock and amaze ya, even Joe Frazya:
I wish they could
And when Walker arrived in Athens with all the bugles blaring, he proceeded to diffuse any resentment on the part of his teammates by being the first freshman to unload the seniors' luggage on the opening day of practice. Following that, he unloaded volley after volley of Simpsonilities. Like "I'm just here to make the traveling squad." And "The tailback position is one of the easiest to play." And "I play to satisfy my coaches and teammates. I'm just grateful to the offensive line for taking me in as a member of their family."
"Herschel has the unique ability to make you feel good about yourself," says LaTrelle Troup, a Wrightsville housewife who has known Walker through her son, Chris, the current starting quarterback and safety at Johnson County High. "The folks who know Herschel Walker only as an athlete will be severely cheated in life."