Herschel Walker sat in a VIP booth at Sanford Stadium Saturday night with his wife, Cindy, and Barbara Dooley, Georgia Coach Vince Dooley's wife, and watched the Bulldogs beat UCLA, 19-8, before a near-capacity crowd of 82,122.
Walker wore a designer shirt with an open black flap peeled back at the chest, exposing a $20 gold piece suspended by a great hank of gold chain. Chatting idly with the philanthropic elite of Bulldogs' football, Walker confessed to an Atlanta Journal reporter that he had no desire to play football this night. "No," he said. "I played enough ball already."
But Walker, invited to the season opener by Dooley and the team after a unanimous vote by the seniors, did manage to mosey down to the field during the game and stand among the 60 or so redcoats who would have been his compatriots had he not chosen the U.S. Football League and $5 million over his senior year at Georgia. With hands in pockets, he stood only minutes in the light drizzle, looking oddly out of place.
Except for two figures dressed in blood red bloomers and Dawg caps and marching around the ligustrum hedges with a 20-foot banner thanking Walker "for the memories," it appeared last year's Heisman Trophy winner was not begrudged by the masses, but forgotten.
Although it is doubtful that any raw-boned Georgia boy--pulling up from a little red town like Walker's Wrightsville and blessed with all the bright promise of an all-America--will ever slip the jersey numbered 34 over his shoulder pads, Athens will soon discover its share of 20-year-olds to believe in.
"The defense came up with the big play time and again," Dooley said after the game, "and Terry Hoage may be the best I've ever seen. He held us together . . . and played his usual all-America game."
Hoage, a rover back, played on a slick field with an injured knee. He repeatedly demonstrated his courage, blitzing often and propelling his body into anyone wearing blue and gold.
In the third quarter, Hoage sacked Rick Neuheisel, the UCLA quarterback, for a 10-yard loss on second down when the Bruins seemed likely to score from the Georgia six. The score was 12-6. Two plays later, on fourth down, safety Charlie Dean broke up a pass on a faked field goal by UCLA kicker John Lee and Georgia kept the lead.
Again pressed for heroism late in the fourth quarter, when Neuheisel passed the Bruins down to the Georgia 31, Dean responded with an interception and 69-yard touchdown return. His left fist waved at the dark heavens long before he crossed the end zone lime stripe.
Certainly, simple deeds of monumental stature will help Georgia as it learns to live without Herschel Walker. "In a way," Barry Young said last week, "it was a little like somebody died when folks started thinking about not having Herschel here anymore."
Dooley said good-bye to Walker on the first play of the Bulldogs' first possession when he called a play that seemed, for so long, specifically designed for the former all-America running back. After receiving the snap, quarterback John Lastinger reversed quickly and quick-pitched to Young, who ran with all the grace and fluidity Georgia expects of its heroes. Young crashed through the right side, was hit twice but kept going. He gained 10 yards. And all of Georgia rose to its feet.