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August 3, 2012

Flashback to UGA's "Four Horsemen"

Georgia's Four Horsemen: No. 33 Ellis, No. 38 
Worley, No. 30 Henderson, and No. 7 Hampton.
Tim Worley and I are trying to coordinate a book signing together for this fall.  For those of you who don't remember Worley, he was a first-team All-American in 1988, the 7th overall selection of the 1989 NFL Draft, and still remains one of the most talented tailbacks ever at Georgia, despite appearing in just 26 regular-season games. 

Tim was kind enough to write the foreword for my upcoming book on the Georgia-Florida rivalry.  In two games against the Gators, he rushed for 239 combined yards, averaged 8.2 yards per carry, and scored three touchdowns.  In 2007,  Worley's success against Florida in 1985 and 1988 propelled him into the Georgia-Florida Hall of Fame.

Notably, Worley also belonged to another exclusive group as a Bulldog; one formed around this time 24 years ago and not quite as celebrated as Notre Dame's version from 64 years beforehand – UGA's Four Horsemen.

Despite the loss of the school's second leading all-time career rusher, Lars Tate, Georgia entered its 1988 season still very much loaded at its running back positions.  As mere freshmen the year before, tailback Rodney Hampton and fullback Alphonso Ellis had rushed for nearly a combined 1,200 yards.  Juniors fullback Keith Henderson and tailback Worley, who ranked first and second respectively on the team in rushing as freshmen in 1985, spent a year at an Oklahoma junior college following academic troubles at UGA.  The two returned to Georgia in 1988, and along with Hampton and Ellis, plus sophomore Brian Cleveland and freshman Larry Ware, the Bulldogs exhibited a stable of backs likely never showcased by a previous Georgia team.

With all of this depth in the backfield, some wondered how often Bulldog quarterbacks senior Wayne Johnson and freshman Greg Talley would need to pass the football during the '88 campaign, if at all. 

With the 2012 opening game looming, I thought it would be appropriate to mention when my friend, Tim, and his trio of teammates made their grand debut as Horsemen in a season opener on national TV against 18th-ranked Tennessee in Athens.  It was certainly a night to remember... (...and no, not only since it would be another 12 years before the Dogs would topple the Vols again).

In the 28-17 victory over Tennessee, the Bulldogs might have had a difficult time stopping the Vols' passing game, allowing quarterback Jeff Francis to throw for 354 yards.  However, Georgia more than made up for its defensive deficiency by gaining a whopping 414 yards on the ground, 400 of which were totaled by the Four Horsemen: 

HAMPTON:     23 carries, 196 yards, 2 TDs
WORLEY:       23 carries, 144 yards, 2 TDs
HENDERSON: 11 carries, 60 yards
ELLIS:            1 carry, 0 yards (but NINE knockdown blocks) 

"That [team rushing performance] let people know that we have the horses in the backfield (no pun intended?) and some horses on the line and that we're going to come at you," said Worley after game. "That's what we did tonight. The holes were wide open."

As for quarterbacks Johnson and Talley, they were indeed hardly needed, passing for a combined 25 yards.

For the season, with Worley carrying the bulk of the load, the Four Horsemen combined to rush for 2,453 yards (6.0 yards per rush!), gain 3,541 in all-purpose yardage, and were responsible for 32 touchdowns.  Individually, a Heisman Trophy campaign was started for Worley in early October while he was still a backup at tailback to Hampton; it was believed to be the first time ever a reserve was touted for the coveted trophy. 

At the conclusion of the 1988 season, Worley and Henderson turned pro a year early, while Ellis' role would greatly diminish over his final two years, leaving the Bulldogs with just one Horsemen, Hampton, in 1989. 

While for four years, Notre Dame's Four Horsemen "rode again...outlined against a blue-gray October sky," according to famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, Georgia's version rode away after just a single season.


Dawg19 said...

Here's some great video of Henderson and Worley versus Florida in 1985:


Here's the entire 1988 game versus Florida:




Anonymous said...

That '88 UT game was one of my first at Sanford Stadium. also remember Richard Tardits getting like 4 sacks.

Anonymous said...

Cartersville Cousin ;)