One day, a few generations from now, a Woerner family bard will relate to eager listeners the legend of a famous family athlete who not only won citations by the dozens, but was also an adventurer who smacked of Renaissance trimmings, especially when it came to the outdoors and travel.
The warts will not be swept aside, but by the time the springtime stolen-pig episode of the Georgia Bulldogs’ 1980 national championship season is recalled at family gatherings, it will be told with the greatest of humor and levity. The incident will be no more than a college prank. Come to think of it, that was all it was anyway, except for the fact that the stolen pig, the centerpiece of the story, happened to be a prized swine from the University agricultural-research farm.
If you recall, Woerner and others stole the MVP pig for a spring barbecue for the football team. They lost their scholarships and had to paint the practice-field wall, a disciplinary measure which, they later said, led to a bonding that led to the national title.
All historians who recall Scott Woerner’s classic football career at the University of Georgia, will have material galore to relate to their audience. Woerner was a big-play man par excellence. His performances sometimes have been subordinated to that of his teammate Terry Hoage, but for making big plays that won or impacted the outcome of games that led to championships, it’s hard to beat the resume of No. 19.
Woerner-the-Returner played for a Wallace Butts disciple, Weyman Sellers, at Jonesboro and was headed to Texas, where the family tree had deep roots, but on the day of his official visit to the Austin campus, the heralded coach, Darrell Royal, resigned. First for the bad news (for Texas), Woerner decided he didn’t want to be a Longhorn after all. The good news – he soon would soon be singing “Glory to Ol’ Georgia” and preparing to play between the hedges.
There never was a time when Woerner was a miscreant. When boys would be boys, Woerner sometimes enjoyed the fun, but he was never a troublemaker, except for opposing team offenses. He was a serious student, he loved competing and when all-star rolls were posted, his name was usually included.
Today, there is a lot of then and now to his life. Back then, he was an avid hunter. He has more wildlife trophies than he can count. When he takes a shot involving a deer today, it is with his camera. There was a time when he could hit a coin dozens of yards away with his bow and arrow. As it was in football, he seldom missed. Naturally, no bucks are ever aware of who is after them while they are after a doe in heat. If they were aware of Scott’s presence, they would have passed on the rut. He was that good. The buck population in North Georgia should be increasing with Scott having traded his bow for a camera.
The camera is his constant companion when he goes traipsing about the woods near Sautee, where he lives. He’s a school teacher with affection for many subjects. One of his loves is traveling. He and his wife, Marianne, often take off for France, a place which excites him as much as the North Georgia mountains when fall color comes to his neighborhood. Bet you never realized this gifted athlete was a Francophile! A European aficionado!
Talk with him about any subject and you realize that he has an inquiring mind. All too many football players have a one-track mind — the National Football League. Woerner wanted to do that, too, and he would have flourished with a half step more of speed. Not having a Sunday resume to go with his other trophies was no reason, however, why he couldn’t enjoy life and small-town living, which is exactly what is going on with him today.
He played the game well enough to make All-American. He wears a national championship ring. In December, he will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He will have a notoriety plaque which will be the focal point of his wall display at his home in Sautee, Ga., Saturday during the Tennessee game, he will be recognized by the National Football Foundation and sponsor Fidelity Investments. This “on campus” salute has given him a grateful buzz.
What it represents is what means the most. Competitors appreciate singular standing with their peers. When he got the news a few months ago, you could tell he was overwhelmed. On the phone he was resigned rather than euphoric. You could sense that he was savoring the moment, but everything was trumped by recurring humility. “I’m really in disbelief,” he said. “When it sinks in, you realize how fortunate you are. You just don’t expect to be in that group. I really don’t know what to say, except thanks.” Modesty, not vanity, is a Woerner tradition.
It wasn’t long before his teammates learned about the good news and began singing his praises. Woerner always enjoyed special relationships with those with whom he lined up at kickoff, those who huddled up with him. He was forever the team player, a selfless and modest star who never left anything on the field.
Isolate his big plays, and it would make a stunning highlight film, video if you want to be in step with the times. I can see him snatching balls from an offensive player’s grasp. I can see him in his slashing style, avoid a would-be tackler and with the greatest of alacrity, gallop to the end zone post haste.
Great athletes have a compactness that makes admirers take note. There is nothing gangly, disjointed or loose about them. They are fluid, resolute and blessed with the greatest of propitiousness. It is second nature for them to be in the right place at the right time.
When we replay his career, we swoon to the highlights. Any appraiser would contend that there were good days and great days, but this is one athlete whom you could give the appellation NEVER HAD A BAD DAY, and you would likely be correct.
Memory lane would include:
1977, as a freshman, he had 190 yards in returns and a 100-yard kickoff return was called back; 1978, a key interception to set up a score versus Georgia Tech and a 72-yard punt return which was a critical score in the same game (on another punt return situation, he fielded the kick, was knocked unconscious but held on to the ball); 1979, he returned an interception for a score in the Wake Forest game, but doesn’t count that one as a big play, “because we lost the dadgum game.” Against Clemson that year, he had one of his best days, as the Dawgs’ defense held the Tigers to a single score.
Then came 1980 when the Bulldogs, even with Herschel Walker in the backfield, could not generate any offense against Clemson, but Woerner saved the day: a 67-yard punt return for a TD; a 98-yard interception return to set up Buck Belue’s 1-yard score. All that amounted to 14 of Georgia’s 20 points in a sensational 20-16 victory. In the South Carolina game, with the Gamecocks driving to take the lead, Woerner jarred the ball loose from the Gamecocks’ George Rogers, with Dale Carver finishing Rogers off, causing a critical fumble which was recovered by Tim Parks.
In the Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame, 17-10, Woerner intercepted the Fighting Irish twice. Herschel was the MVP, but coach Vince Dooley said there should have been two such awards, one for Herschel and one for Woerner.
There is no place Woerner would rather be than between the hedges. In the woods with his camera and a village in France would come in second. Maybe throw in a barbecued pig and a case of Miller Lite.
Loran Smith is a writer, UGA track letterman, a former executive secretary of the Georgia Bulldog Club and a longtime employee of the UGA Athletic Association who currently serves in the development office. His columns will appear weekly on DawgNation.