Sometimes, it seems as if the University of Georgia Athletic Association takes Herschel Walker for granted.
Let’s face it, the Bulldogs legend — recently proclaimed as the best college football player of the past 50 years — would dominate any vote on the Athens school’s greatest athlete ever, and with good reason.
He was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, a statement punctuated with a great big exclamation point in the 1980 Georgia-South Carolina game, an epic matchup of Walker and fellow Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers. I was reminded of this the other night when I watched an SEC Network replay of the original ABC coverage of that game.
There was No. 34, shooting down the sideline for a 76-yard touchdown run in which three Gamecocks defenders had a perfect angle to knock him out of bounds, only to see him accelerate out of their grasp in almost superhuman fashion. That day, he ran for 219 of the 1,616 rushing yards he accumulated in his freshman season, despite missing parts of several games with an ankle injury. He went on to rush for an SEC-record 5,259 yards in his three years with the Bulldogs.
Said ABC’s Keith Jackson near the end of that 1980 broadcast: “Herschel Walker. Remember the name.”
And, yet, I wonder sometimes whether Walker is remembered properly by his alma mater. DawgNation’s Chip Towers asked last week, “Has UGA adequately honored Herschel Walker?”
The answer, unfortunately, is not by a long shot.
If Walker had played at another school, he’d probably have a statue in or near the stadium, or a street named after him, as do Florida’s Tim Tebow (statue) and Tennessee’s Peyton Manning (street).
But, so far, that hasn’t been the Georgia Way.
It’s not for lack of a ready-made Walker tribute. As Towers noted, sculptor Stan Mullins, who did the Vince Dooley statue unveiled in 2008, has created an 8-foot-tall, 1,000-pound bronze likeness of Walker that he’s been exhibiting around Athens for the past year while he’s sought in vain to find a permanent home for it on the UGA campus.
Mullins told Towers he’s “had some very nice conversations with the Georgia athletic department, but I just don’t understand their reticence to honor their heroes.”
I don’t understand that reticence, either. I’ve long wondered why you see so little of UGA’s football history at Sanford Stadium, in contrast to schools like the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where Tar Heel history is a tangible presence at Kenan Memorial Stadium. UNC generally isn’t thought of as a football power these days, but it has a statue of Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice.
Now, as I’ve noted before, I recognize there are those who think a university campus should erect monuments to great scholars or distinguished alumni rather than athletes, and I’m all for honoring those folks as well, if someone’s willing to put up the money, like the athletic association did with the Dooley statue. I don’t think tax dollars ought to be shelled out for statues when there aren’t enough faculty members.
And, indeed, private funds paid for a statue of UGA’s founder and first president, Abraham Baldwin, that was erected on North Campus, just as the Sonny Seiler family donated a small bronze statue of Uga VI to the veterinary medicine school.
But, I’m sure there’d be no shortage of donors willing to contribute to erect Mullins’ Walker statue at UGA, as well as tributes to other Bulldogs greats like Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi.
It’s not just UGA’s football history that ought to be commemorated, either. Over at Stegeman Coliseum, why not at least mount some busts or plaques honoring Human Highlight Film Dominique Wilkins, five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards or one of the most decorated gymnasts in NCAA history in Courtney Kupets (the Gym Dogs’ new coach).
UGA does pay homage to past Bulldogs heroes in the Butts-Mehre building, but most fans and visitors to the Athens campus never see those displays. There are banners at Stegeman Coliseum celebrating some of the greats who’ve played there, but, as I said in a 2015 Blawg on ways to spruce up Sanford, there is hardly any of UGA’s football history/heritage represented in the main part of the stadium. The mascot cemetery is about it.
There should be recognition of heroes and championships past, and more use of the school colors. The power G symbol in the Reed Plaza area is nice, but why not line the walls of the plaza with busts honoring Bulldogs greats in a UGA equivalent of Alabama’s Walk of Champions? (In addition to his Walker statue, Mullins already has sculpted miniatures of Sinkwich and Trippi.)
And there’s that big, ugly blank wall down at the east end of the stadium, where a mural or a banner listing championships would look great.
It seems like all these things would be helpful in recruiting. But, unlike a lot of other schools, UGA for some reason doesn’t make that big a deal of its titles, bowl wins and All-Americans inside its stadium. The small flags at the top of the east end zone are about it. More effort should be made to remind visitors of UGA football’s rich history.
But, first, UGA’s athletics powers-that-be need to find a home for Mullins’ bronze Herschel Walker.
How about erecting it outside the spiffy new indoor practice facility? (And, while they’re at it, I’d much rather see Herschel’s name on that building rather than some fat-cat alum’s.)
The greatest football player of the past half century deserves at least that much recognition at the school where his legend was born.
Open practice, but no Picture Day
In his first year as coach, Kirby Smart did some things widely applauded by fans (93K Day) and some that nobody quite understood (killing fan Picture Day).
Instead of the popular annual fan gathering at the stadium last year, Smart opened one of the preseason practices to the public and allowed fans on the field briefly afterward for autographs.
Those fans who’d been asking in recent weeks whether Picture Day would make a comeback this year will be disappointed by the official word from Friday: It’ll be the same deal as last year, although some of the logistics will be improved.
What’s been dubbed University of Georgia Football Fan Day will be held Saturday, Aug. 5, at Sanford Stadium. The Bulldogs football team will hold an open practice there from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Players and Smart will be available for autographs on the field for 45 minutes immediately following the practice on the field, starting at approximately 5:45 p.m. Admission is free.
In the one holdover from Picture Day, fans will have an opportunity to take photos with UGA X beginning at 3 p.m. Special ticket coupons are required for access to the location for the bulldog mascot, and those tickets will be distributed to the first 150 fans at noon from the East End ticket windows on East Campus Road. Ticket holders who want to see Uga X must be in line by 3:30 p.m. Only those with a ticket are guaranteed a photo, and no standby tickets will be issued.
Fans may enter the stadium through Gates 2, 4, 6 and 9 beginning at 2:30 p.m. and can sit in the 100 and 200 levels. The west end zone will be closed to entry and seating because of construction. At the conclusion of the two-hour open practice, fans will be allowed to enter the field; they can start lining up at 5 p.m.
The gates to the field will open once the autograph session has been set up, with the defense on the south sideline, the offense on the north sideline and Smart in the east end zone.
In an effort to facilitate as many autographs as possible, the athletic department says it is limiting fans to two posters per person, and fans will be allowed to have only the 2017 Georgia football schedule poster signed. The poster will be available as fans enter the field for the autograph session. No other items will be permitted for autographs and no posed photographs with players and Smart will be permitted.
Parking will be available in any lots along East Campus Road, the Psychology-Journalism and Legion Field lots, the Tate Center parking deck, the Hull Street parking deck and the North Campus parking deck.
Concessions will be available in specific areas on the 100 and 200 levels. Fans can purchase UGA merchandise at the UGA Bookstore, which will be open from 10 a.m. until 7:30 p.m., or inside Sanford Stadium’s Gate 6 Plaza and Reed Plaza.
In case of inclement weather, the Fan Day portion of the afternoon will be canceled. For more details, go to georgiadogs.com.