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Looking Ahead While Looking Back: Georgia's Best Bowl Game, 1981

Thanks to overwhelming support and intriguing suggestions from the Dawg Sports community, I have decided to continue my series with a special postseason edition.

Without further ado, I present you with Georgia's most monumental bowl victory, the 1981 Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame.

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via www.allstatesugarbowl.org

Thursday, January 1, 1981

Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, LA

Georgia: 17, Notre Dame: 10

When I first decided to do a postseason edition in this series, I thought picking the greatest Georgia bowl game of all time would be a little more difficult. It wasn't. I came to this decision in about 10 seconds and I'm embarrassed it took me that long. The 1981 Sugar Bowl was the most monumental postseason contest in the proud history of our program, bringing the first consensus national football championship to UGA.

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Were you able to get your hands on one of these? via www.sicemdawgs.com

Droves of Dawg fans began flooding the streets of New Orleans days before the game, representative of the euphoria felt, in the words of Loran Smith, "from Hahira to Blairsville to Tybee Light."

The pregame excitement soon dissipated. Early-game lowlights for Georgia included:

  • An early Notre Dame 3-0 lead on a 50-yard field goal from kicker Harry Oliver
  • A sack of Georgia quarterback Buck Belue, backing the Dawgs up to their own 6
  • The Fighting Irish quickly striking again, ending up on the Georgia 31 attempting another Oliver FG

The Bulldog faithful perked up when Oliver's kick was blocked by Georgia freshman safety Terry Hoage. Hoage is now a household name in the Bulldog Nation, but at that point, he had only logged five minutes of playing time in the magical 1980 season and was a total unknown. As a matter of fact, Hoage only made the trip to New Orleans because the coaches were impressed by his kick-blocking skills in practice and figured they'd give him a shot on special teams in the big game. Good call.

Hoage's heroics fueled the Bulldogs on a drive that resulted in a Rex Robinson 46-yard FG to tie the game at 3.

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Robinson ties the game with this kick via www.footballspeakers.com

Immediately after Robinson tied the game, Georgia enjoyed another pleasant twist of fate as the ensuing kickoff was mishandled by Irish returners and recovered by brothers Bob and Steve Kelly, giving the Dawgs the ball at the Notre Dame 1. Just two plays later, Georgia phenom running back Herschel Walker vaulted over the defense for a 10-3 Bulldog lead.

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Herschel scoring an "easy" six for the Dawgs via 25.media.tumblr.com

The luck of the Irish again smiled on Georgia as Notre Dame coughed up the ball at their own 22, giving the Dawgs excellent field position. Walker went back to work, eventually scoring a three-yard touchdown to cap off the drive.

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Herschel scoring from three yards out via www.mmbolding.com

At intermission, Georgia, having capitalizing on a few Irish miscues in the first half, led 17-3. Herschel had already gained 95 yards against a defense known for not surrendering 100 total yards to any rusher all season. Buck Belue was 0-6 and struggled to even get a pass off on five other plays. At halftime, it looked as if the Dawgs would run away with this one, but the Irish decided to make a game of it in the second half.

With the Georgia passing game as a non-issue, Notre Dame coach Dan Devine focused all of his efforts on stopping Walker in the second half. #34 would not score for the rest of the game, but Notre Dame defenders still could not keep him from gaining solid yardage.

Notre Dame found the end zone in the third quarter and now trailed only 17-10. The Irish soon found themselves threatening at the Georgia 20, but were stopped dead in their tracks by Bulldog safety Scott Woerner on third down, forcing a missed FG attempt.

Notre Dame took one last shot at the end zone, but all hopes of tying the game ended in the outstretched hands of Scott Woerner, who made a game-saving interception in the final minute of the contest.

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Woerner secures the 1980 national championship via img.fanbase.com

Just like that, the game was over. Georgia was the 17-10 victor and the only undefeated, untied team in the country. Coach Vince Dooley said it best, "I don't know how good we are, but I do know we're 12-0 and nobody else is."

Notre Dame actually had more rushing yards, passing yards and first downs than Georgia in the game, but the Dawgs finished in control of the only statistic that mattered: the final score. Walker finished with 150 yards against a defense that vowed before the opening kickoff to hold him under 100.

Most impressive about Herschel's night was not that he gained 50 more yards than Notre Dame had allowed an individual rusher all season, it was that he did so with a dislocated shoulder, suffered on the first offensive series of the game! Seeing as how the passing game was largely ineffective and how Belue was sacked four times, without Walker's 150, the Dawgs would have had minus 30 yards of offense on the night.

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via www.clevelandskyline.com

Herschel Walker clearly earned the game ball for the 1981 Sugar Bowl, but since he's already received that honor in this series, I'll share the wealth and award the game ball to the defensive MVP of the game, Scott Woerner.

Born in Baytown, TX, Woerner arrived in Athens in 1977 via Jonesboro, GA, where he was a heck of a high school player. He didn't do too bad of a job at UGA, either. Although Woerner last donned the Red and Black in the 1981 Sugar Bowl, he still holds two UGA records: 190 kickoff return yards (vs. Kentucky in 1977) and 488 punt return yards in the 1980 season. The latter was (and still is) a UGA record; Woerner also led the nation in punt returns his in his senior season.

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Woerner in his younger days at UGA via 3.bp.blogspot.com

Among his gems that 1980 season included a dazzling performance against Clemson in which Scott scored on a 67-yard punt return and set up a TD on a 98-yard interception play. Coach Dooley remembers it all here. Here is an excerpt from the 1980 Dawgs documentary in which Woerner, his coach and teammates talk about #19's performance that fine September afternoon in 1980.

Scott was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the 1981 NFL Draft. After being cut by the Falcons the next season, he followed former Georgia teammate Herschel Walker to the USFL in 1983. As a safety for the Philadelphia Stars, Woerner was named All-League by the Sporting News in two of his three seasons there and helped the Stars to two league championships. Woerner called it a career with the New Orleans Saints of the NFL in 1987, playing on the same Superdome turf upon which he helped the 1980 Dawgs clinch the national championship.

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Woerner with the Stars of the USFL via www.angelfire.com

Scott Woerner dedicated his post-football life to education; he was a science teacher for six years before ultimately settling on coaching middle school football and teaching physical education in Rabun County. Scott remains a visible figure in and around the UGA football program and attends his fair share of games each season.

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How many of these do you have? via img1.etsystatic.com

Please join me in raising a paw to Scott Woerner and the 1980 Georgia Bulldogs for delivering an epic performance in a crucial game on January 1, 1981, the best Georgia bowl game of all time.

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The 1980 national championship team via www.sportswriters.net

What are some of your favorite bowl games from yesteryear? One could make an argument for the 1943 Rose Bowl, which brought home the 1942 national championship. The 1984 Cotton Bowl was a classic (what time is it in Texas?). How about the 2005 Outback Bowl, where David Greene concluded his UGA career with 42 wins, a record at the time for a starting quarterback.

With that, I officially conclude my series. It's been a pleasure working on these and I thank you wholeheartedly for your support, stories from bygone days and feedback.

GO DAWGS!

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