Herschel Walker seems comfortable with his status now. No longer is he bursting upon the college football scene. He is the scene, secure in the knowledge that he is capable of intimidating the quickest college linebacker or challenging the National Football League rule that says he can't play until his class graduates.
Even if a fractured thumb on his right hand causes Walker to miss the University of Georgia's first two games, most would agree that he is still the best player in the nation. Some say he is the best college football player ever. Ever.
In two years Walker has broken records previously held by Mike Garrett, Gale Sayers, O.J. Simpson, Billy Sims and Tony Dorsett. As Dwight Adams, an assistant coach at Florida says, "Herschel is another dimension in football."
Recently, Walker sat in a hotel room overlooking Central Park South and talked about the life and lights of New York City. Two years ago, Walker would have said something like, "I reckon New York is the biggest place in the whole world." Now, the Pride of Wrightsville, Ga., is comfortable even in The City.
"Are you kidding? New York doesn't scare me," Walker said, breaking into laughter. "Wrightsville is getting as big as New York. We just added our third Piggly-Wiggly."
Later that night, Walker and five other all-Americas (who were in New York for an NCAA-sponsored promotional tour) were leaving Magique's discotheque when Walker and Nebraska's Dave Rimington were approached by someone who offered to sell them cocaine.
Walker and Rimington declined and began to walk away. The would-be salesman would not be dissuaded. He said to Walker, "Hey, I know you use the stuff, I read it in the papers."
"You haven't read about me using any drugs," Walker said.
"I know you use it," the man said. "I recognize your face. You're George Rogers."
"Let's get out of here," said Walker, who laughed when he retold the story the next day.
"You sure you're comfortable in New York?" Walker was asked again. "Oh yes," he replied, smiling. "The big time doesn't intimidate me."
Walker introduced himself to the big time on Sept. 6, 1980, when, in a substitute role, he rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee in his first collegiate game.
Since then, Walker has rushed for 3,507 yards, set six NCAA records, eight Southeastern Conference records and 15 University of Georgia records. He has rushed for 200 yards or more six times. Dan Marino, the Pitt quarterback who was with Walker in New York, says Walker could be the greatest player never to have won the Heisman Trophy.
Asked to discuss the Heisman award, Walker -- master of the diplomatic answer -- says the obligatory things, like, "George Rogers deserved it more (in 1980) because he was a senior," or, "I don't worry about individual accomplishments."
But let Walker ramble a bit, get a little more comfortable with the subject, and very candidly he says, "I'd like to win it. But now, I really don't think there's anything it could do for me. I lost out twice. I'm starting to think it really wasn't meant for me. What can the Heisman do for me now? I've played two years and I think I've played real well. I don't know what it can do."
Walker says he doesn't have a place yet in college football history. But history has already claimed him.
Bobby Mitchell, the Redskins assistant general manager and a pretty fair running back once upon a time, thought over names like Jim Brown, Earl Campbell and J.C. Caroline before saying:
"I can't think of anybody that rates with Herschel as a college back. Mike Garrett is in the same class. But nobody has Walker's size and speed. You can't get away from size and speed. That's what makes him great.
"I've seen people with as much or more determination than he has. But Herschel's an exceptionally big kid with God-given speed who exploits it very well," Mitchell said. "The other great ones couldn't move and use it the way he can. Earl Campbell was big and strong like Herschel. But Earl didn't have the maneuverability, and he got more speed after reaching the pros. Herschel will have to work on his blocking and catching. But I think it's pretty safe if you say Walker might be the best we've ever seen."
Walker says he can't compare himself with other great running backs because outside of his own sporting life, he isn't much of a fan. But he has watched the others enought to know he is different. Walker's view of himself and the scouts' views are similar.
"My style of running is lot different than a lot of people because of my size and speed," said Walker, who stands 6 foot 2 and weighs 222 pounds, at least. "A lot of people my size never have my speed and a lot of people with this size never have this speed.
"I always say I'm a surprising runner. I love it when people never know what I'm going to do next. I surprise myself. Sometimes, I don't even know what I'm going to do. I don't have real control. I'll start running, go through one hole and I don't know what's coming next. And you don't find too many running backs that are like myself, the way I run the ball."
A banquet in New York last month featured Stanford's John Elway, Arkansas' Billy Ray Smith, North Carolina's Kelvin Bryant, Marino, Rimington and Walker -- all potential Heisman Trophy winners. Rimington looked around the room, at arguably the best six players in college this year, and said, "Herschel has more talent in his body than all of us combined."
Herschel Walker could have made big news this summer for something other than the fractured thumb he suffered in a team scrimmage in mid-August.
He had contemplated challenging a National Football League rule that prevents underclassmen from joining the league before their class graduates. Walker, a criminology major at Georgia, figures he had a good case.
But he passed up what could have been a landmark case and maybe a landmark salary because, as he says, "I didn't want to disrupt a lot of college athletes' lives. A lot of people would have been going out, trying to go into the pros who weren't ready. And I wasn't ready mentally."
How close did Walker come to challenging the NFL? "Oh it was real, real close," he said. "I don't have any regrets (about not challenging the system this year) but I still think the rule is unconstitutional. It was the right decision at that time."
He has left his options open for challenging the NFL after his junior year; he says there is a 50-50 chance he'll fight to play in the NFL. Of course, there's always the USFL. "I really haven't given that any thought," he said.
Walker's inclination toward law also creates another interesting situation: How does he feel about the current drug scandal in professional sports and the issue of mandatory urinalysis for athletes?
"I see a lot of athletes messing up their lives, throwing away a lot of money, accomplishing nothing," Walker said. "The problems will still be there when you come down from your high. I guess I could have mixed emotions about urinalysis (testing), but I don't." He is in favor of the testing.
Walker sat back, took a peek out the window at New York City and tried to put his life and football in perspective.
"I'm the same person I've always been," he said. "I don't feel like I'm carrying the sport of college football. Yes, I'm discouting all the records. It seems like I've been around a long time because of what I did my freshman year and a lot of people think I'm older, that I'm a senior. But I don't reckon that I've done anything super, as people say.
"I've just done one job, and that's run with a football."