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Why Herschel Walker Was Hosed on the 1980 Heisman Trophy

Look, I don't mean to beat a dead horse or anything, but, what with the hullabaloo over Tim Tebow being a unanimous preseason all-conference pick and all, I simply have to make this point ere the season begins while all the attention is being paid to the first underclassman to win the Heisman Trophy:

Herschel got hosed on the 1980 Heisman Trophy.

I know it, you know it, and everyone without a Columbia, S.C., mailing address knows it.

The argument for George Rogers was simple: he was a senior who had 1,781 rushing yards, while Herschel was a freshman who had 1,616 rushing yards. All right, I get that Rogers (perhaps thanks to the efforts of his position coach, a fellow by the name of Ray Goff) was an upperclassman with a slightly higher yardage tally on carries from scrimmage. That's all well and good.

The knock on Herschel, though, had more to do with his being just a freshman than with any deficiency in his on-field performance. Now that the silly stigma against underclassmen has been removed, the chief argument for George Rogers over Herschel Walker has been negated.

"But wait," some South Carolina fan is sure to say, "1,781 is still more than 1,616. You lose."

That argument assumes that the Heisman Trophy is awarded to the best running back in the country, and is based strictly on one set of numbers, but it isn't. It's supposed to go to the best college football player in the country. With all due respect to Rogers, the guy who fit that description was wearing silver britches.

In 1980, Walker also had 70 receiving yards . . . a little over three times the 23 receiving yards amassed by Rogers. Likewise, the Georgia freshman chalked up 119 kick return yards to the South Carolina senior's impressive total of zero.

For those of you who are bad at math, that comes to 1,805 all-purpose yards for the Goal Line Stalker and 1,804 all-purpose yards for the Gamecock ballcarrier. Literally three feet divided the season-long yardage totals of Rogers and Walker . . . and that is without taking into account bowl numbers (which did not then count towards season statistics). Rogers gained 113 rushing yards in the Gator Bowl on December 29, 1980. Walker gained 150 rushing yards (and scored two touchdowns) in the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 1981.

Even if we just look at the regular-season rushing numbers, though, Rogers's lead is not in reality what it appears to be on paper. The South Carolina tailback ran the ball 297 times. The Georgia tailback ran the ball 274 times. Rogers averaged 6.0 yards per carry to Walker's 5.9. On the field, it was a statistical dead heat.

Fortunately, there is more to football than mere statistics, and the retorts to the "1,781 > 1,616" formulation are "12 > 8" and "13 > 10." That is, when the fourth-ranked Bulldogs faced the 14th-ranked Gamecocks on November 1, 1980, the Red and Black won by a 13-10 margin. That victory helped pave the way for Georgia's 12-0 national championship season while South Carolina had to settle for 8-4 after losing the Gator Bowl.

Georgia had the better season, and, in the head-to-head meeting, Georgia had the better game. Against the Gamecocks, Walker rushed for 219 yards. How big a difference did Herschel make? In 1979, the Bulldogs went 6-5 and lost to South Carolina between the hedges. The turnaround was largely the handiwork (and footwork) of Herschel Junior Walker, who never played a season of college football in which he was not the best player in the nation, without exception.

So how 'bout we box up that Heisman Trophy, ship it from Columbia to Athens where it belongs, and play some dadgum football?

Go 'Dawgs!