It’s almost hard to talk about the history of Georgia Bulldog football without the name Herschel Walker entering the conversation.
Herschel Walker was maybe the most sought after recruit to ever come out of the state of Georgia. After he rushed for 3,167 yards during his senior season at Johnson County High School, Walker received over 100 scholarship offers.
He led his football team to the state championship during his senior season in 1979 and he also led his track team to a championship. He won the shot put, the 100 yard and 200 yard dashes to show what kind of an athlete that he really is. He was strong and powerful, and he was fast. Those qualities combined to make Herschel Walker the hottest recruit in the country.
While Walker and his high school teammates were winning a state championship in football, the Georgia Bulldogs coached by the legendary Vince Dooley were struggling. The Bulldogs were
ranked 12th in the opening AP Poll, but they quickly dropped out of the standings when they lost their first game to Wake Forest. Things got worse as the Bulldogs lost to Clemson and South Carolina and all by a total of 13 points.
The Bulldogs got it going behind Quarterback Buck Belue Belue for President
They beat Ole Miss, 13th ranked LSU, Vanderbilt and Kentucky all in a row before losing again. Shockingly, the Virginia Cavaliers beat them 31-0. The Cavaliers were not exactly a powerhouse that season, either.
The Bulldogs recovered to trounce Florida in their annual grudge match, 33-10. But, 15th ranked Auburn beat them just as thoroughly, 13 – 33.
In-state rival Georgia Tech was all that was between them and either a 5-6, or a 6-5 final record and the Bulldogs prevailed winning 16-3.
It was not a happy season in Athens, Georgia.
But, things were about to change and change drastically.
The Bulldogs signed the greatest player in the history of their school in the second month of the new year. Herschel Walker was 1980’s highest rated player in the country. The Bulldog coaches had to fight off the likes of USC, Alabama and every other major program in the nation.
There wasn’t anyone enrolling early back then, nor did they start in June before their freshmen seasons. Freshmen arrived on campus in August, usually a few days before the rest of the football team arrived.
Vince Dooley must have been licking his chops over Herschel Walker. Still, he was old school and hesitant to start a true freshman football player.
Walker did not start against Tennessee in their opening game, but the Georgia offense was lethargic and needed something of a boost.
Walker’s first Touchdown against Tennessee is the stuff of legends. He ran over long time NFL
Defensive Back and Special Teams specialist Bill Bates near the goal line and scored the first of his 49 rushing Touchdowns.
Georgia escaped with a 16-15 win and that was just the beginning. The Bulldogs had a few easy wins and some really close calls.
No game was scarier for Georgia Bulldogs fans than the annual rivalry game against the Florida Gators.
The Bulldogs won the SEC and beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to finish up 12-0 and national champions.
The addition of Herschel Walker, no doubt, improved this team from 6-5 to 12-0. That’s a franchise player.
Walker wound up running for 1,616 yards and 15 Touchdowns as a true freshman and leading his team to the national championship.
With the arrival of 1981, the Bulldogs started the season ranked 10th. Herschel Walker was back as were a lot of other starters. Maybe the other most important returner was senior Quarterback Buck Belue.
Of course, Herschel walker did not disappoint with 1,891 rushing yards and 18 Touchdowns.
The Bulldogs started the season with a bang by crushing the Tennessee Vols, 44-0. With that score, you’d think that the Volunteers were a pitiful team, but they finished their season with an 8-4 record.
After beating a really bad California Golden Bear team, they lost to Clemson, 3-13.
The Bulldogs cruised through the rest of their schedule winning every game easily other than the grudge match against Florida. In 1980, they beat the Gators with the miracle play by 26-21. In 1981,
they beat them once again in a tough battle and by almost the exact same score, 26-20.
They won the SEC for the second year in a row and earned a Sugar Bowl berth and a rematch against Pittsburgh who beat them in the 1977 Sugar Bowl.
The Panthers of Pittsburgh were also in their glory years and they beat the Bulldogs yet again, 20-24.
They finished 1981 with a 10-2 record.
Buck Belue had been a senior in 1981 and now it was John Lastinger’s turn to Quarterback the Bulldogs.
Belue and Lastinger both came from the same high school in Valdosta, Georgia. Lastinger followed Belue to Georgia and patiently waited his turn.
But, they still had their franchise player, Herschel Walker.
The Bulldogs were ranked 6th before the season got started and the opened up with the defending national champions, Clemson.
They got by the Tigers, 13-7.
Next, they barely got by a scrappy Brigham Young team with Hall of Fame member Steve Young at Quarterback, 17-14.
They won 6 more games before meeting up with long time nemesis, Florida.
This game was totally different than the past two and the Bulldogs just blew the Gators out, 44-0.
After that, the Pollsters moved the Bulldogs to number one in the nation.
But, another deadly rival, the Auburn Tigers were next. Auburn had their own great Running Back, Bo Jackson, who was a freshman in 1982.
The Tigers presented a real problem before the Bulldogs prevailed with a tough 19-14 win.
They won the SEC for the 3rd straight season with only Georgia Tech left on the schedule to finish up undefeated.
The Yellow Jackets were no problem with a solid 38-18 win for the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs, for the third straight season, were heading to New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl.
Their opponent this time was the 2nd ranked Penn State Nittany Lions.
Penn State was a really good team with Todd Blackledge at Quarterback, and Curt Warner at Running Back. Wide Receiver Kenny Jackson was one of the nation’s best.
The Penn State Nittany Lions pulled it off surprising the Bulldogs 27-23 and winning their first national championship.
It was a disappointing ending to a great season, but the Bulldogs still finished 11-1. Beating Florida 44-0 must have felt pretty good for the Bulldog fans.
Herschel Walker won the Heisman Trophy in 1982 and then he did the unthinkable at the time. Leaving school early for the NFL was just not done back in those years. But, there was a brand new league called the United States Football League and they would take any and all comers to compete with the powerful NFL.
Herschel made himself available to the USFL and he was taken by the New Jersey Generals. The NFL obviously did not like the situation and shortly after made a new rule saying that the athlete only had to stay in school for 3 seasons before being eligible for the NFL Draft.
The USFL wasn’t long among the living, just like the World Football League and any other new
leagues trying to compete with the NFL.
But, the NFL and college football would be changed forever.
In three college seasons, Herschel Walker ran for an amazing 5,259 yards and 49 Touchdowns. If he had played 4 seasons of college football he would have owned every career rushing record in the books.
Even without Herschel running over Defensive Backs, the Bulldogs excellent seasons would continue one more year.
John Lastinger was back at Quarterback, but it was the old Running Back by committee situation. Nobody really stepped up there and clearly there was huge piece missing.
Still, this Bulldog team fought and clawed their way to a nice 10-1-1 record. They tied Clemson and they lost to the new SEC champion, Auburn. The Tigers and Bo Jackson had a nice season with only a loss to Texas working against them.
The Bulldogs barely got by Florida, 10-9, but it was their 4th win in a row over the hated Gators.
The Auburn Tigers played in the Sugar Bowl, but Georgia got a Cotton Bowl bid and they were fortunate due to a muffed punt and beat the 2nd ranked Texas Longhorns by 10-9.
The following season, Georgia lost 4 games and their amazing run of outstanding seasons was basically over for a few years.
Herschel Walker was key to their success, but there were other good players, too. It’s hard to overlook Buck Belue hooking up with Lindsay Scott against Florida to save the season.
Plus, John Lastinger was gritty and tough. It’s also hard to ignore Terry Hoage and Freddie Gilbert.
Georgia coach Vince Dooley retired after the 1988 season with a total record of 201-77-10.
The Georgia Bulldogs were always competitive, but not until the days of Mark Richt would the team enjoy the success of the Herschel Walker years again.