Approximately one week ago, I suggested four former Georgia football players and one late Red and Black coach as the initial slate of five Dawg Sports nominees for the SB Nation college football hall of fame. As requested, discussion ensued, producing not one, but two votes, as a result of which we ultimately settled upon this year’s five nominees, and went a long way toward coming up with next year’s list, as well.
Because this is the official nomination posting, I am reproducing for the good of the order the biographies of the five nominees, who are listed in alphabetical order. Since Terry Hoage did not make the cut, I opted to classify Champ Bailey as a defensive back and Hines Ward as an athlete, though I would hope the voters would consider both players’ versatility when judging their worthiness.
Here are the five damn good ‘Dawgs who made the grade for the 2012 nominating class:
- Defensive Back: Champ Bailey (Cornerback, Georgia Bulldogs). In his final year in silver britches, the greatest of the Folkston Bailey Bulldogs took home the 1998 Bronko Nagurski Award as the country’s best defensive player and earned consensus All-American honors during a campaign in which he was on the field for more than 1,000 plays. As a cornerback, kickoff and punt returner, and wide receiver, Bailey racked up 744 receiving yards, 261 kickoff return yards, 84 rushing yards, 52 tackles, 49 punt return yards, five touchdowns, and three interceptions in 1998, compiling combined numbers that compare favorably with those amassed by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson the year before. Because the Heisman Trophy is stupid, Champ only finished seventh in the balloting in 1998, but he was taken in the first round of the following year’s NFL Draft.
- Defensive Line: David Pollack (Defensive End, Georgia Bulldogs). The only Georgia player other than Herschel Walker to be named a first-team All-American three times, Pollack exploded onto the scene with an immortal play against South Carolina in 2002 before capturing the following year’s Ted Hendricks Award as the country’s best defensive end. As a senior in 2004, Pollack became the Bulldogs’ most decorated defender, bringing home a second straight Hendricks Award, along with the Chuck Bednarik Award (as the nation’s top defensive player), the Lombardi Award (as the nation’s top lineman), and the Lott Trophy (as the nation’s top impact defensive player). He capped off his final collegiate season by being named the SEC defensive player of the year by the sportswriters (for the second time) and the SEC player of the year by the coaches after surpassing Richard Tardits as the school’s all-time sack leader with 36 quarterback takedowns.
Coach: Erskine Russell (Head Coach, Georgia Southern Eagles). No one can mount a serious argument for the proposition that there should even be a college football hall of fame if the former Georgia defensive coordinator and our non-AQ nominee isn’t in it, but, because an asinine and rigid rule is keeping him out of the real one, despite my best efforts to the contrary (which, regrettably, thus far have been unsuccessful), I am left to make the case for Coach Russell’s inclusion in this batch of honorees, instead. Fortunately, such a case is by no means difficult to make.
Coach Russell, who left Auburn as that college’s last four-sport letter winner, followed up his 17-year run as the beloved architect of the “Junkyard ‘Dawgs” defenses in Athens by reviving in Statesboro a Georgia Southern football program that had lain dormant for four decades. (The athletic director had to go to the local store to purchase a football to have on hand at Coach Russell’s introductory press conference.) Erk built a Division I-AA powerhouse by the banks of beautiful Eagle Creek, leading Georgia Southern to three national championships. Erk’s Eagles won nearly 80 per cent of their games during his tenure, going 83-22-1, including a 70-14 (.825) mark after Georgia Southern completed the transition to Division I-AA in 1984. His players earned 14 All-American selections during his first seven years as a head coach, and he capped off that stellar run by guiding his final club to the 20th century’s first 15-0 season in 1989.
A master motivator, Coach Russell butted his bleeding bald head against his players’ helmets, got the Redcoat Band director to play “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” after great defensive plays, produced T-shirts reading “TEAM” in large letters with “me” in small letters underneath, and exhorted his charges to “G.A.T.A.”: “Get After Their Asses.” To this day, he remains the standard by which Georgia defensive coordinators and Georgia Southern head coaches are judged, and Georgia Tech fans ought to like him, too: Erk was the one who made the decision to move Paul Johnson from defense to offense.
- Running Back: Herschel Walker (Tailback, Georgia Bulldogs). All right, seriously, if I have to explain this one to you, you really need to promise never to watch college football again. The Goal Line Stalker set 41 school, 16 conference, and eleven NCAA records, including a career rushing tally of 5,259 yards that remains to this day the most ever amassed by a college player in three seasons. Walker finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting as a freshman, and second as a sophomore, before winning the award as a junior. A consensus All-American in each of his three years who went on to make his mark in several other sports after leaving school, Walker also was the epitome of class and the ultimate team player, whose individual achievements led directly to a 33-3 record, three straight SEC championships, and a national title. While he may appear on other ballots, there’s no way we could omit Herschel from ours.
- Athlete: Hines Ward (Quarterback/Scatback/Split End, Georgia Bulldogs). Ward, even more so than Bailey, warrants consideration at multiple spots in the lineup. In his four-year Bulldog career, Ward amassed 4,788 all-purpose yards, compiling them in every way possible. He had 203 carries for 1,063 rushing yards, 144 catches for 1,965 receiving yards, 120 attempts for 918 passing yards, and 48 returns for an additional 842 yards. Ward led the Red and Black in passing in 1995, in kickoff returns in 1996, and in receiving in 1996 and in 1997. Together with Jake Scott and Terrell Davis, Ward is one of three former Bulldogs to have gone on to be named a Super Bowl MVP, and, to top it all off, he wants to come home to his alma mater.
Clearly, these all are damn good ‘Dawgs, and, while I regret that the likes of Kevin Butler, David Greene, and Terry Hoage were not among those who made the list this year, I am pleased with our five nominees, and I thank you for your participation in the selection process.