To Bulldog Nation,
The University of Georgia made history on Monday night. As confetti fell on our players in Indianapolis, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own memories from our 1980 National Championship.
Many of the games have started to blend together, but that one is still clear as day. We were playing Notre Dame. During one of the first few plays of the game, I dislocated my shoulder. I jogged over to the sideline clutching my arm. Our team doctor said I likely would be out the rest of the game. I looked at him and asked, “Well, can we pop it back in?” He did, and boy did it hurt. Soon, the adrenaline kicked in and I got back on the field. My teammates were counting on me and I wanted to finish the drill.
The rest is history.
That win changed my life. It set me up to win the Heisman Trophy and go on to play a 15-year professional football career. It also opened doors for me professionally which have allowed me, a poor kid from Wrightsville, to achieve the American dream.
While I am so grateful for those opportunities, I know that I am not the reason we won the game. There would be no running back without the incredible offensive line I played behind or our quarterback, Buck Belue, who handed me the ball. We won as a team. We practiced together, sweated together, struggled together, bled together, and celebrated as we held that National Championship trophy together.
Over the next 2 years, we came close to winning another National Championship but were not able to seal the deal. In 1981, we lost in a heartbreaker to Pittsburgh. In 1982, it was to Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. Much like sugar, it slipped right through our fingers.
It’s been 41 years since that Notre Dame victory. Since then, our beloved Bulldogs have been on the relentless pursuit of another trophy. We have been on the cusp several times but have not been able to get there.
Whether it was the 2007 season with Matt Stafford, coming up 5 yards short in the 2012 SEC championship, the prayer at Jordan Hare, 2nd and 26 in the 2017 National Championship, or Jalen Hurts’ comeback in the 2018 SEC Championship – Bulldog nation was starting to lose hope.
Just like 1980, this season felt different. I saw it at the first game of the season against Clemson in Charlotte. That game was tough and physical — but we never gave up and pulled out a win against a very good team. I was at that game and had a good feeling about the season after seeing the way the players came together as a team and never quit.
It was a storybook season. Stetson Bennett was a walk-on quarterback who many assumed would never take the field. Zamir White was given two weeks to live after being born with serious health complications. Our defense was told they were overrated and out of shape after losing the SEC Championship game.
While most people would have given up, the Bulldogs went to work.
After being doubted all season by the media and some fans, Stetson delivered a 33-18 victory against the Tide. Zamir White who overcame two ACL reconstruction surgeries averaged 6.5 yards per carry on Monday night when it mattered most. Our defense was lights out and held the formidable Crimson Tide’s offense to just one touchdown.
Our team’s word this year was connected. Every time one of our players gave an interview, the first thing they always talked about was the team. Though we have more five-star talent than you can keep track of, the season was not about any particular star. It was about connectedness – togetherness — as a team.
These young men embody what Georgia football is all about: toughness, physicality, and teamwork. The friendships and brotherhood built on that practice field will last a lifetime. 41 years later, my teammates are still some of my closest friends. I will always have their backs, and they will always have mine.
As awesome as it was to be a part of that 1980 team, I am so happy to hand the baton off to this new breed of Bulldogs. You make us all proud and are a reminder of how with hard work, sacrifice, and a “BIG TEAM, little me” mindset, you can accomplish anything.
It’s hard to describe how much Georgia football means to this state. It’s our shared heartbeat, our way of bonding with new neighbors, and our salutation while passing each other in the grocery store. When Georgia is playing, nothing else matters. On Monday night during that game, we weren’t black or white, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor. We were Bulldogs, bleeding red and black, rooting for our team to hunker down one more time.
On behalf of the entire 1980 team, congratulations 2021 Bulldogs! Can’t wait for next season. Go Dawgs!
Herschel Walker #34