NEW ORLEANS — Georgia legend Herschel Walker stood a few blocks down from where he carried his Bulldogs to the 1980 national championship on Monday morning.
The Georgia icon explained how his historic performance in that game was about “more than football” for him.
Walker looked as fit and trim as ever at 57 years old as he reflected on his inspirational effort against Notre Dame. It was a night that saw Walker return from a dislocated shoulder, suffered in the first quarter, to lift Georgia to the 17-10 Sugar Bowl victory.
“I remember the pain, but you know that was my very first big game,” Walker told DawgNation in the exclusive interview.
“I tell people all the time, it’s more than just a game sometimes to some people, and this has always been more than a game to me.”
The Football Writers Association of America became the latest to honor college football’s all-time great, recognizing Walker as the pending inaugural Freshman Legend at the downtown Sheraton.
“Whenever you win an award, it’s always very humbling, because no one ever does anything alone,” Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, said on Monday. “I was on a great team, great coaches, great offensive line and so I just give a lot of praise to those guys.
“I give a lot of praise to my Lord Jesus, you know I’ve been blessed my whole life and getting this award is inspirational as well for me to continue to do the right thing.”
It was at the Sugar Bowl, on Jan. 1, 1981, that Walker inspired and captivated the college football world.
It wouldn’t be the last time: Walker was the SEC Player of the Year and an All-American all three years he played for the Bulldogs.
A 6-foot-1, 220-pounder, Walker ran a 10.2-second 100 meters. He was equally adept at running past defenders as well as running over them.
Notre Dame, however, presented a physical challenge throughout the 1981 Sugar Bowl.
It took all the 18-year-old Walker had in him. He carried 36 times for 150 yards and scored both of the Bulldogs’ touchdowns in the win over the Irish and their top-ranked run defense.
“I’m from a small little town in south Georgia, a lot of young kids have watched me,” Walker said. “I’ve got to be inspirational to them to let them know that during tough times you make tough people. That you don’t give up, you get up. That’s what I try to tell people all the time. That’s what I’ve done all my life.”
Walker, less than year removed from being named valedictorian at Johnson County High School in Wrightsville, supplied the horsepower for Coach Vince Dooley’s offense throughout his freshman campaign.
Walker amassed 1,616 yards and 15 touchdowns on 274 carries his first season in Athens. Bowl statistics were not included in players’ total statistics at the time, or Walker’s numbers would be even more staggering.
Georgia has remained one of college football’s top programs through he decades.
Current Coach Kirby Smart returned the Bulldogs to the national championship game in 2017, and the program is riding a streak of three straight SEC East Division crowns.
Indeed, Georgia has played 41 of its past 43 games in contention for the national championship.
Walker keeps up with the program closely. His observations on Monday were that, “Georgia went out and got themselves a great quarterback” in Wake Forest graduate transfer Jamie Newman.
Walker also said he likes what he has seen from tailbacks Zamir White, Kenny McIntosh and James Cook.
“I think Georgia is secure in their running back position, they’ve got some great, great running backs,” walker said. “I’m looking for good things from (D’Andre) Swift as well in the NFL, I think he’s going to do very well.
“One thing I like about Georgia running backs is they’re players that they play — their players they go out and play,” he said. “You know having a coach like Coach Smart, he’s going out and getting those big offensive linemen.
“I think the guys are gonna be happy, and all they gotta do is run like I did, that’s what’s gonna make it happen.”
Walker tackled some other tough questions during his interview posted below, including his thoughts on Jake Fromm turning pro and the issue of paying players.
Football legend Herschel Walker