Call it “sentimental nostalgia”. Call it “childhood memories”. Call it “stubbornness”. In my mind, Herschel Walker is still the best college football running back in history. Although he no longer holds the single season SEC rushing record (Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry of Alabama broke it this season rushing for 1,986 yards), his importance to the game during an era of the running back can’t be overlooked. He also made an impression on a 8 year old boy from Marietta, GA in 1980 that helped create a life long college football fan.
Full disclosure: I’m an Alabama fan and couldn’t be happier for the success Derrick Henry is having this year and he deserves all the accolades coming his way. But before I was an Alabama fan, I was a Herschel Walker fan first. Herschel exploded onto the scene September 6, 1980. That’s when Walker ran over Tennessee defensive back Bill Bates to score the winning touchdown beating the Volunteers 16-15. The talk around the school yard was about this great new player at Georgia. “He ran over this Tennessee guy!” I remember one kid saying. That play, along with Larry Munson’s famous radio call “He’s running over people! My god a freshman!” brought national attention to Walker. Later that season Georgia played South Carolina in front of a national TV audience on ABC. This was back in the day when only a handful of games were televised and everyone was watching. It was freshman sensation Herschel Walker going up against, eventual Heisman Trophy winner, running back George Rogers of South Carolina. Herschel and Bulldogs beat Rogers and Gamecocks 13-10. The first game I remember watching him play on TV was the Georgia-Florida game on November 8, 1980. Herschel scored on the third play of the game with a 72 yard touchdown run. He ended the day with 37 carries for 238 yards but it took a last minute miracle pass from Bulldog quarterback Buck Belue to wide receiver Lindsey Scott to beat the Gators 26-21. Georgia went undefeated that season beating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to win the 1980 National Championship. Walker played three total seasons (known as the golden years of Bulldog football) winning the Heisman Trophy in 1982 as a junior.
Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry is a great running back. Watching how he played this year sums it up in one word…awesome. But Herschel Walker will always be the best. It’s hard to change the mind of an adult that remembers fond memories of a football legend as a child.