The good news was delivered to Scott Woerner’s home in north Georgia on Thursday: a package containing a College Football Hall of Fame commemorative football and a letter congratulating him on being elected to the sport’s shrine.
“It was really cool,” said Woerner, a star defensive back on Georgia’s 1980 national championship team. “The first thing I did was set the football beside my Notre Dame football from 1980.”
That would be the football he intercepted in the waning minutes of Georgia’s 17-10 Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame for the national title. He carried the ball off the field with him and has had it ever since.
On the day after Woerner learned privately of his election to the Hall of Fame, the public announcement came Friday as the National Football Foundation named the 14 former players and two former coaches in the 2016 induction class.
Woerner will become the 13th former UGA player — and the third player from the 1980 Bulldogs — in the Hall of Fame, which relocated to downtown Atlanta in 2014. Two freshmen from Georgia’s 1980 team, running back Herschel Walker and defensive back Terry Hoage, were inducted in 1999 and 2000, respectively.
Woerner has had to wait too long in the view of former teammate Buck Belue, Georgia’s 1980 quarterback.
“This is just so satisfying,” Belue said Friday of Woerner’s election. “I always felt he had gotten slighted.
“Everybody talks about Herschel and ‘you don’t win without Herschel.’ But we wouldn’t have won without Scott Woerner, either.”
In fact, Belue said, the Bulldogs’ undefeated season could have been a three-loss season if not for big plays Woerner made in narrow victories over Clemson, South Carolina and Notre Dame.
“Those are three games we don’t win without him,” Belue said.
Woerner was a senior in 1980, and the aforementioned interception — his second of the Sugar Bowl — was the final play of his college career. (Notre Dame didn’t get the ball back after that.) Woerner’s finale capped a college career that produced 13 interceptions and 1,077 punt-return yards.
Former long-time Georgia coach Vince Dooley, also a College Football Hall of Famer, called Woerner’s election “richly deserved.” Woerner in 1980 “was to our defense and kicking game what Herschel Walker was to our offense,” Dooley said.
Woerner, who has spent 26 years as an educator from the kindergarten to high school levels, said he is “as thrilled as anyone could possibly be” to get into the Hall of Fame. But he said the long wait never bothered him.
“I didn’t really worry about it,” he said. “If it was meant to be, it would happen, regardless.”
How much it means to him, however, is symbolized by where he immediately placed the Hall of Fame football — next to his prized possession of 35 years, the football with “Notre Dame” stamped on it.
“How many people can say their last play in college football was an interception in a game that won the national championship?” Woerner asked.
“I figured I would never get a chance to have something like that again, so I just held on to the ball and kept it. I wouldn’t let go of it. I don’t think the referee was thinking of it.”
Woerner said he has been asked a few times over the years to donate the football to the university, “but I said I’m not ready.”
He and the rest of the Hall of Fame’s 2016 class will be officially inducted in December.