The game and the risk were over early this morning. The Sanford Stadium scoreboard blinked the final: Georgia 13, Clemson 7. Clemson's 13-game winning streak, longest in the nation, was gone.
As 82,122 danced in jubilation, things became clear. The smokescreen had been lifted. Herschel Walker played, after all.
"I'd have to be a dumb coach if I went around telling all my plans, wouldn't I?" Georgia's Vince Dooley said after the game. "We talked about this plan some during the week."
This morning, he elaborated. "If I had told the public, it would have been the same as telling the coach of Clemson," he said. "Based on what the doctor told me, I decided it wasn't dangerous. If it had been, I certainly would not have played him.
"Smokescreen? I guess some people might look at it that way, but I don't think it was."
So the plan was this: heavily bandage Herschel Walker's broken right thumb and let him play. Not as a starter. But let him play. "Only as a decoy," said Dooley, who sent Walker into the game with 10:03 left in the second quarter and didn't allow him to carry the ball that period.
When Georgia went to the locker room with a 10-7 halftime lead, Dooley had an idea. "Coach Dooley asked me, 'If we get in a tough situation, what are the odds Herschel might get hurt?' " said Georgia team doctor William Mulherin.
"I said 40 percent. And of that 40 percent, I told him there was a 50 percent chance he would need a long time for healing. It was a calculated risk."
Then, Mulherin twisted Walker's thumb every way. "I told him I felt fine. It didn't hurt," said Walker. The nearby X-ray machine, there for the occasion, would not be used at the half, after all. No need for it. "I wanted to play," said Walker.
And Walker was a decoy no more. He carried the ball 11 times for 20 yards in the second half.
"He was not a big deal," Clemson defensive end Andy Headen said. Walker had one 10-yard gain, and 10 other carries for 10 yards.
It was left for the Georgia defense to suffocate Clemson quarterback Homer Jordan's offense. Jordan ran for only 15 yards on nine carries and completed 15 of 28 passes for 120 yards. He was intercepted four times, twice in the final two desperation fourth-quarter drives. Linebacker Nate Taylor intercepted a fourth-and-13 pass on the Georgia 40 with 1:01 left, signifying Clemson's surrender.
"I kind of want to forget this game," said Jordan, whose return home to Athens was not happy.
Eight minutes into the game, Clemson led, 7-0. William Perry, the Tigers' 310-pound nose guard, recovered Georgia quarterback John Lastinger's fumble on the Georgia 10. Three plays later, Jordan ran six yards on a quick-step quarterback draw for a touchdown with 7:09 left in the quarter.
Then, 32 seconds into the second quarter, Georgia defensive end Dale Carver blocked Dale Hatcher's punt from the end zone. Georgia's other defensive end, Stan Dooley, recovered the ball on one high hop on the two-yard line and fell into the end zone for the touchdown. It was 7-7.
With nine seconds left in the half, Georgia's Kevin Butler kicked a 39-yard field goal. This 10-7 halftime lead swelled to 13-7 when Butler added a 23-yard field goal with 9:20 left in the third quarter.