Now, there are only 9 Saturdays before the first Saturday of football season. It’s just a few days away from our nation’s birthday, July 4th, and the dog days of summer are nearly upon us. So far, in spite of global warming, the summer has been surprisingly mild. Football is just right around the corner.
On September 6th, 1980, Georgia opened it’s football season at Tennessee. Going into this game, one of the hottest recruits in the history of college football, Herschel Walker, was running at 3rd string Tailback.
Georgia was 6-5 in 1979 and Tennessee was 7-5.
As previously mentioned, Herschel Walker was one of the most heavily recruited players of all time, but legend has it that he looked like a disappointment in practice. Georgia coaches weren’t sure what they had and Georgia Head Football Coach Vince Dooley was hesitant to play a freshman in his first game against a quality SEC opponent in front of over 100,000 fans.
Tennessee built a 15-0 led and was looking good and the Bulldogs could do little on offense against a very aggressive Volunteer defense. Things were not looking good for the Dogs.
Things would change when future Cowboy Bill Bates dropped a punt on his own 25 and that fumbled ball looked like it was touched by everybody on both teams at least once. Every player, the refs, and maybe a couple of cheerleaders and a few crazy fans as well looked to be involved as it rolled all the way to the goal line and then out of the end zone resulting in a safety for Georgia. Tennessee had a 15-2 lead at that point.
The following kick off resulted in a 15 yard penalty against Tennessee and Georgia got the ball at the 50.
How many times over the years have we seen a single play just change everything in a game. This single play, the punt drop by Bill Bates, seemed to change everything not only in the game but in the future legend of Herschel Walker.
At the Tennessee 15 yard line, Herschel Walker got the ball and just ran right over Bill Bates starting the legend of Herschel Walker. Walker had done very little with the ball up until that point and then he just seemed to come alive and become the Herschel Walker we all knew of.
Herschel Walker not only ran over Bates, but also 2 other Vols on the same play. 15-9.
Not all of the misfortune is Bates fault as the Vols promptly fumbled when they get the ball back and it was recovered by the Bulldogs.
Georgia drove the ball just slightly over 30 yards and Herschel took it in from there to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the game and of the season. 16-15 Georgia with the lead.
Suddenly, the game had become a nail biter as Tennessee drove the ball all the way down to the Georgia 5 and then they fumbled which was recorded by the Dogs at their own 1. Georgia could not drive it for a first down and they had to punt it. This gave the Vols one more shot at a winning drive. Our one time defensive struggle for the Bulldogs and the Vols was now something of a shootout and the Vols had yet one more shot at it. The Bulldog defense came up huge and sacked the qb on 4th down, ending the game.
If Herschel Walker were only the stuff of legends, he would have come in and made an instant impact in this game and scored on the first play. Instead, it took him quite a while to get going and the Vols kept him bottled up most of the game. Walker rushed for 84 yards on 24 carries and 2 TDs.
Herschel Walker went on to rush for 1,616 yards as a true freshman and 15 TDs. He was first team All-American, All SEC and he won a lot of other awards on his way to a very impressive college career in Athens, Georgia.
Georgia went on to a 12-0 record in 1980 and they won the National Championship in the Sugar Bowl with a 17-10 win over Notre dame. Georgia was 6-5 in 1979 before the arrival of Herschel and it would be 4 years before they lost another SEC football game.