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STILL FLYING HIGH
John Papanek
September 14, 1981
Tennessee didn't bring Georgia down to earth as the Dogs' defense of their national title opened with a 44-0 win
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September 14, 1981

Still Flying High

Tennessee didn't bring Georgia down to earth as the Dogs' defense of their national title opened with a 44-0 win

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The long, hot dog days of another Georgia summer ran out almost without warning last weekend. It was as if an alarm clock jangled on Saturday morning and 80,000 Georgians were jolted out of bed all at once. The streets of Athens, which had been empty for months, became clogged with people attired from head to toe in red and black. Suddenly it was another kind of dog day—what the locals call a Dog Day Afternoon.

Football season had come around again so soon, and with it mixed emotions. Georgia's first national championship, fashioned from 12 victories—some of them nothing short of miraculous—and zero defeats, was now history. Did it really happen? Was there really an 18-year-old named Herschel Walker who rewrote the laws of football physics? Had it all been a mass hallucination? If it was a dream, nobody wanted it to end, and it could have on Saturday at the vengeful hands of Tennessee in a rematch of the game that started it all last year.

A lot of great football minds figure that Georgia's championship season was a fluke. Most preseason polls placed the Bulldogs, minus 15 of 1980's starters, no higher than ninth or 10th...and that was only because Walker had decided not to jump to the Canadian Football League.

But by the end of last Saturday, the Dogs and their fans and the nation had waked up but good. Georgia 44, Tennessee 0. Bigger than any win in 1980. Worst Tennessee loss since 1923. Opening-game jitters? Georgia had the ball six times in the second half and six times it put points on the scoreboard. Sophomore jinx? Walker looked just like a freshman out there, churning out 161 yards in 30 carries, with one touchdown and another called back. One-man gang? Quarterback Buck Belue completed 10 of 15 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns, both of them to Lindsay Scott, who could become the next John Jefferson. Inexperience? Baby-faced Kevin Butler, this year's freshman phenom, set a school record for scoring by a kicker, with field goals of 36, 44 and 45 yards and five PATs. And the defense? It held the Vols to 30 yards rushing in 30 carries.

It was all enough to make Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors—who last week began the fifth year of his four-year plan to revive the Vols—a little bit ill. "They went out and played as if they were trying to prove to people that last year wasn't an accident," said Majors.

What Majors is trying to prove—harder than ever after Saturday—to the folks in Knoxville is that their 1976 dumping of Bill Battle, who had merely given Tennessee five straight bowl teams, to hire former Vol All-America Majors, fresh from coaching Pitt to a national championship, was no mistake. Thus far, Majors has had but one winning season, a fact that has a few Tennesseans wondering, though the university recently signed him to a contract that runs through 1985. "The only pressure I feel comes from my own heart," Majors said before the Georgia game. But afterward, asked if this was his lowest point, he said, "It sure is."

None of the Georgia people had griped about the Bulldogs' relatively low preseason ranking. Coach Vince Dooley wasn't talking coach talk when he articulated his concern about what the future held. He was downright scared when he said, "Everybody's worried about the parking. Nobody seems to be worried about the offensive line or the secondary. Cockiness? False hopes? I honestly don't know. My assistants have told me our practices have been real bad; there hasn't been any enthusiasm. My first reaction is to say, 'Well, our players are young, just trying to learn their jobs.' I hope that's what it is."

The first students had begun to trickle into Athens on Tuesday, almost three weeks before classes would begin, and some pitched tents in the rain in parking lots, hoping to scare up tickets that didn't exist. One fan offered free accommodations in Algiers or Paris to anyone who could get him three.

Meanwhile, the parade of pilgrims with pencils and pads, mikes and minicams flocked to the feet of Walker, who, like the Pope, now has his weekly audiences. Walker puffed up his enormous chest on Tuesday, and in a low voice that gradually rose in pitch as it increased in confidence, said, "This year I'm bigger, stronger, quicker, faster and more powerful...I can do almost anything. They [the Vols] haven't seen the Herschel Walker of September 5, 1981; they've only seen the one from last year."

Jaws hung. The tone hadn't been boastful, the words were simply stated. Minds flashed back to last September's opening game when Walker, a third-string freshman, busted up the middle for the 16-yard touchdown run that launched the unbeaten season and began the Walker legend.

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