ATHENS — I was on vacation when Herschel Walker got a street named after him in Wrightsville, Ga., in a dedication ceremony on the Fourth of July. That’s a fitting date, I guess, since Walker is an American and was an All-American and once played for America’s team in the NFL.
But he first was a member of the Georgia Bulldogs, and he never was greater or had more impact than during those times. As far as I can tell, there was no official UGA representation at this event in Walker’s hometown of Wrightsville, located a little more than 100 miles south of Athens. This was strictly a local deal, a small town’s tribute to its most famous citizen. Good for them, and for him.
It got me to thinking, though. If Herschel Walker has a street named for him anywhere, shouldn’t it be in Athens, Ga., maybe somewhere on the UGA campus? I’d say as close to Sanford Stadium as you could possibly put it. Right?
With all due respect to that esteemed gentleman for whom the stadium is named, Steadman V. Sanford, but I’d take the bordering street that also bears his name — Sanford Drive — and change it to Herschel Walker Drive. It doesn’t even need to be the whole street, just the part that crosses Sanford Bridge. Call it Herschel Walker Run or Lane or something, if you have to.
I honestly don’t know how hard it is to change the name of a street or what kind of politics are involved. I wrote this on a Sunday night, and Google was of little help. But I’m sure it’s probably painstaking like anything else involving government and university bureaucracies.
But aside from all that, it got me wondering about just what has been done by UGA to honor Herschel Walker. The school retired his No. 34 jersey in 1985, just three years after he left school for professional football. And if you enter Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall during open hours, you can see his Heisman Trophy on display next to Frank Sinkwich’s in the second-floor reception area for the coaches’ offices. I believe the museum also has an exhibit of Walker memorabilia on the third floor.
But is that enough? Stan Mullins is among those who don’t think so.
You might recall that I wrote about his plans to build a statue of Walker a couple of years ago. With all this talk of streets being named, I called Mullins on Sunday to learn how it turned out.
He completed his Herschel Walker statue last year. The 8-foot-tall, 1,000-pound bronze work now is on display next to the Creature Comforts Brewing Co. in downtown Athens.
That’s where it is now. In a few weeks, the statue will move to Hendershot’s, a coffee house on Prince Avenue. How long it will stay there, Mullins couldn’t be sure.
In the last year, Walker’s likeness also has been displayed in front of the Athens Running Company store in Five Points, the Morton Theatre downtown and other businesses around town. Mullins decided last fall to play a sort of “Where’s Herschel?” marketing game with the statue, moving the statue to different places on the back of a flat-bed truck. The rest of the time, Walker’s likeness stays in Mullins’ backyard on Pulaski Street.
“Herschel’s still gaining yardage in this town, and I’m blocking for him,” Mullins cracked.
Obviously, Mullins would prefer for his work to have a permanent location, preferably somewhere around the stadium where Walker set so many records and won so many games. But nothing seems to be happening fast on that front.
“Look, Herschel didn’t sell beer or coffee. He didn’t sell cars,” Mullins said. “He played football in Sanford Stadium, so that’s the goal. But I’m sick of waiting for other people. I’ve had some very nice conversations with the Georgia athletic department, but I just don’t understand their reticence to honor their heroes.”
Mullins is the artist who created the Vince Dooley statue that was erected on South Campus in 2005, and he encountered more than a little political resistance on that project. He also has completed commissioned works for Georgia Southern (Erk Russell) and Marshall University (a “thundering herd” of buffalo). He already has sculpted miniatures of Sinkwich and Charley Trippi and wants to incorporate them into something he calls his “Crowns of Glory” project. So he has invested time and money into all this.
Given Walker’s credentials and impact, it’s questionable whether proper homage has been paid to him by his alma mater. As awesome and magnificent as is UGA’s football tradition, there is no one who has done more to make Georgia football what it is today than Herschel Walker. I’m not talking about monetarily or from a marketability standpoint. I’m talking about in the realm of having a lasting impact as a player.
A quick reminder that his accomplishments at Georgia include rushing for 5,259 yards — most in SEC history — scoring 49 touchdowns, and his teams winning three consecutive SEC championships and a national championship. By the time he left as a junior, he had set 41 Georgia records, 16 SEC records and 11 NCAA records. There’s a reason so many different rankings and polls list Walker as the greatest to ever play the college game.
But the legacy that Walker left on the University of Georgia goes beyond production and success. Walker made Georgia into Tailback U.
Just think of the parade of great backs who have come through since Walker matriculated. Among them: Lars Tate, Tim Worley, Rodney Hampton, Terrell Davis, Garrison Hearst, Robert Edwards, Musa Smith, Thomas Brown, Knowshon Moreno and Todd Gurley. Now, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel carry that torch.
Georgia just added another high-profile name to this list in Zamir “Zeus” White. He’s a 5-star prospect and the No. 1-rated running back in America for the Class of 2018. We’ll have to wait to see how he pans out, but he’s just the latest example that the best backs still want to play for the Bulldogs.
UGA has remained dedicated to building its offenses around great backs since Walker played in Athens. That probably deserves a street and a statue.