Sad day for Georgia. Sad day for the South. Happy day for Herschel Walker.
How odd that millions of people here in Dixieland could go into mourning over a man who just became the richest player in the history of professional football. But when the player is Herschel Walker, it's not that odd.
"This is indeed a sad day for Georgia," said Walker's coach, Vince Dooley. "Herschel Walker has meant so much to our program the past three years."
Fred Davidson, the university president, said, "There is no question we will miss Herschel Walker's presence on the football field, but we wish him great success in the continuation of his football career. I sincerely hope he will continue to pursue and complete his education at the University of Georgia."
In Walker's three years here, he led Georgia to its only national championship, won a Heisman Trophy and broke at least 10 NCAA rushing records and finished as the third leading collegiate rusher of all time.
Then, after he become a multimillionaire this afternoon by signing a contract with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, he went into seclusion.
His attorney said the Generals had instructed Walker not to talk to reporters until a team press conference in Orlando this weekend.
Many students at this 200-year- old university were more than happy to say how they felt about Walker leaving, and its impact on the university.
"As a player, I'm trying to look at his leaving as another graduation," said Guy McIntyre, a senior offensive lineman who helped Walker gain 5,259 career yards. "Sooner or later, he would have graduated. We had to lose him sometime, even though these people have gotten so attached to him they expected him to go to grad school and stay four or five more years. "But I don't feel betrayed," McIntyre continued.
"I respect his decision and understand why. In view of how messed up the world is today, how can a 21-year old say no to $15 million or whatever it was?
"I don't think he wanted to go, and somebody may have manipulated him into leaving. But he did what he had to do.."
Walt Norley, another one of Walker's teammates, said Walker's leaving "is the end of an incredible era. Just knowing he was on the same campus felt good.
"It's funny, he's going up north now and they'll have more exposure to him than we will. If he had just stayed down here (with the USFL's Birmingham franchise) it wouldn't have been so bad . . . .
"But being fair," Norley said, "What else was there for him to do here?
"In a way, it's probably best for everybody because it's been a guessing game every spring for the last three years."
While most of Walker's teammates talked about Walker in terms of football, many coeds on campus knew him differently. Some said they worry about Walker having been used at Georgia, and the prospect of the same thing happening in the USFL.
"I wish Herschel all the luck in the world," said Roberta Harris. "Since he was here, Georgia put up new lights and added 20,000 seats to Sanford Stadium. But he's still a naive country boy in many ways. If he signed with the USFL because he wanted to, I think he did the right thing. If he did it because he was pressured or manipulated, then that's different.
"I just wish it was the NFL, because that league is established. I think of the USFL as sort of a minor league."
Roberta Samuel, a junior journalism student and a friend of Walker, said she, too, worried about Walker being ready for professional football. "People have always guided him," she said, "his high school coaches, his attorney, Coach Dooley. Now it's Herschel and the world. I hope he does well."
The talk in Georgia focused on Herschel all night long. An Atlanta television station asked its viewers to call in and vote--should Herschel have left or not?
In less than 30 minutes, 11,000 people said he had done the right thing, 12,000 said he should have stayed for his senior year.
"Sad day for Georgia," the commentator said, "Walker leaves to become a millionaire. Details at 11."