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March 3, 2010

In case you thought he could only run the ball...

I had a reader email me this YouTube clip of Herschel Walker's two touchdown receptions against Florida in 1981. 

This game from 29 years ago is one of my first clear memories as a Bulldog fan.  Nearly three decades later, while Georgia has dropped 17 of its last 20 to Florida, memories of Walker running by and through Gators are becoming even more cherished.

Seeing these two catch-and-runs for scores remind me of how versatile Herschel could have been for Georgia.  He was a good kick returner and gifted receiver out of the backfield but was hardly given the chance at either during his three seasons.  

Coach Dooley has said before he would've loved to have Herschel return every kickoff.  However, how can you expect a player to run back every kick and then hand him the ball 30-to-40 times each game? 

The same was true as far as throwing to Walker more often.  Dooley believed Herschel would've become absolutely exhausted or maybe more prone to injury, so the "Goal-line Stalker" was primarily used as only a rusher. 

Herschel had three touchdowns receiving in his 33 regular-season games as a Bulldog—these two against Florida and a 64-yard score versus Kentucky a year later.  Like the two against the Gators, the one at Lexington in 1982 was mostly Herschel running for a touchdown after catching a short pass.

For his career, Walker caught just 26 passes for 243 yards.  More than half of his receiving yardage came in only two games—Florida in 1981 (55) and Kentucky in 1982 (79).  He also ran back only 14 kickoffs for 247 yards.

Of Herschel's 5,749 career all-purpose yards (currently ranks 4th in SEC history), 5,259 yards (still ranks 1st), or more than 91 percent, came via rushing.  Of the 26 players in Division I-A/FBS history who gained 6,000+ career all-purpose yards, only two (Wisconsin's Ron Dayne and Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett) had a greater portion of their yardage by way of rushing than Herschel.

Once he got to the USFL and later NFL, unlike at Georgia, Walker was used equally in all three facets—rushing, receiving, and returning.  However, it's Herschel's "versatility" for five professional teams over 15 seasons that will ultimately keep him from ever being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, although he arguably belongs.

There was one thing Herschel surprisingly couldn't do... pass the football, at least on the two attempts he had while at Georgia—an incompletion resembling a wounded duck against Notre Dame in the '81 Sugar Bowl followed by an interception thrown to a Kentucky defender the next season.

Nevertheless, he could've done just about anything else asked of him.  Georgia primarily chose to simply hand Herschel Walker the ball over and over and watch him run.  And run he did. 

Against Clemson in 1982, Walker played sparingly, carrying the ball just 11 times while nursing a broken thumb. 

“Coach Dooley told me to go in as a decoy,” he said following the 13-7 season-opening victory. “I just wanted to help the team even if it was only running onto the field to pick up the kicking tee.”

Let's face it, if Herschel was to do it, it probably would've been the best display of picking up a kicking tee Georgia football had ever seen.

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