Loran Smith: Recollections of Herschel, Woerner and the 1981 Sugar Bowl

Loran Smith

SOUTH BEND, Ind. | In the time that has expired since New Year’s Day 1981, in the Crescent City of New Orleans, involving a Super Dome skirmish that had major importance in college football, there is the reminder that it was a similar case of taking the opposition for granted as it was in the historical battle of New Orleans. In that bigger conflict, the charges of Col. Andrew Jackson caused the British to turn tail and run, according to the balladeer Johnny Horton, which confirmed that the upstart Americans were not to be taken lightly.

 

“We fired our guns and the British kept a comin,”

“There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago,

“We fired once more and they began to runnin’

“On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.”

If Notre Dame, succumbing to overconfidence like the British, had little clue to where Athens, Georgia was, then the Irish had mighty company, including Jimmy the Greek, who was the odds maker for CBS television. It was a Rodney Dangerfield moment for the Bulldogs who got no respect, a reminder that flawed thinking when it comes to football viewpoints often affects all teams.

Those so-called experts 37 years ago not only considered the Southern opponent inferior, they expected the Irish to emerge from the clash the victor. Perhaps the Dawgs would be easily subdued. The Dawgs (the new term which had become vogue) had a running back named Herschel Walker, but what else? The Irish had already beaten Alabama, so how could Georgia not be a lesser team. If that was not the way Notre Dame felt, then that is the way the overachieving Bulldogs took it.

There may have been better physical national champions that the one which ruled college football in 1980, but it would be a monumental challenge to identify one with more heart. And about Herschel Walker! Notre Dame patrons, players and coaches were supremely confident that if they stopped Hershel, no last name needed, then Georgia was done. Never been a simpler game plan. The Irish came to town, bent on achieving that objective.

Little did they know, and the experts along with them (Georgia players, too) that Herschel gained 150 yards on 34 snaps in the teeth of the Irish defense hell bent on keeping the Wrightsville wonder from gaining the meaningful standard of 100 yards.

And Herschel did it with a dislocated shoulder.

It happened on the second play of the game. A pall came over the huddle of Trainer Warren Morris, Head Coach Vince Dooley, Assistant Coach Mike Cavan and orthopedist Dr. Butch Mulherin. The doctor, a former player himself, knew what the issue was. In just a few seconds he popped the shoulder back in place, expecting the star running back to take up residency on the Georgia bench. Herschel winched ever so slightly and jogged back on the field, and like the British in 1814, he kept on running but for a different reason.

The broad shouldered freshmen with winged feet has never exemplified that old football adage that “you gotta play hurt” more than on that day. If one player could literally take a team on his back and carry it to victory, it was Herschel.

However, when the dust settled, it was a standoff of colossus proportion, with neither team seeming to have the advantage. The difference turned out to be Herschel and the big plays, all of which went the Bulldogs way, as it had during the season.

• Terry Hoage, the freshman who played his way on the team by blocking field goal after field goal in practice, would time his dash to where he could leap up on the back of linebacker Frank Ros. Hoage, with perfect timing, knifed his angular body thru the line of scrimmage and blocked a Notre Dame kick that resonated with the opportunistic Georgia team. Instead of 6-0 at that juncture, it was 3-0 and a sense of relief and a little train reverberation washed over the Bulldogs. “We think we can, we think we can, We know we can. ”

• Then with 1:45 left in the first quarter, Rex Robinson’s 46-yard field goal, tied the game. Robinson’s ensuing kickoff resulted in the longest onside kickoff recovery in college football history. Rex Robinson’s boot landed between two Notre Dame receivers, neither making a timely dash to claim it, and before they realized it, brotherly influence, apropos with the opportunist ‘Dawgs 1n 1980, gave Georgia one of the biggest breaks of the day. Steve Kelly knocked a Notre Dame receiver off the ball and brother Bob recovered at the one yard line. Two plays later, Herschel goes over the top and Georgia led, 10-3. The Kelly brothers, who hailed from Savannah, will always enjoy residency in the pantheon of great plays in Georgia Football history.

• Buck Belue, harassed all day by the Irish defense, completed only one pass, but it was propitious, a thing of beauty. It came on Georgia’s last possession with 2:56 left in the game. Buck completed a seven yard pass to Amp Arnold to help the Bulldogs maintain possession with the elapsing of time certainly being of the essence.

• Rightly so, Herschel was the game’s MVP, but Coach Vince Dooley always maintained that there should have been two MVPs. He would have given one to Scott Woerner, whose big play timeliness was always extraordinary. Not just here and there, but every Saturday. He came up with a timely interception in the 2nd quarter, snagging the Notre Dame pass in the end zone and running it out to the Georgia 19 yard line, which ended a Notre Dame offensive opportunity.

• In an unusual twist, Note Dame’s All-America center, John Sully, became Woerner’s roommate when they were with the Falcons.

This epic battle, from Georgia’s perspective, was one in which the Bulldogs believed they were as good as any team in the country, and being the underdog and getting no respect enhanced the incentive to underscore the role of being the upstart to the fullest — a reminder that the best team doesn’t always win, but the team that plays the best, usually wins.

 

More

Thu, 2017-09-21 11:03am

AthHalf gets new course, adds 5K