Greatest college player ever? Not Tim Tebow, I’m afraid

A kerfuffle arose last week when esteemed colleague Mr. College Football noted the sainted Tim Tebow was not — repeat, was not – a unanimous choice on the SEC coaches’ preseason all-conference team. Not that anyone should ever care about a preseason all-conference team. But I digress.

We are about to embark on a season in which the debate will rage: Is Tim Tebow the greatest college player ever? Thom Brennaman touched off the discussion during the broadcast of the BCS title game, and essentially every broadcast of every Florida game in 2009 will include some variation thereof. And I should stipulate that, not so long ago, I wrote that Matthew Stafford was a better college quarterback than Tebow.

I was, as often happens, wrong. And I became a massive Tebow believer during his bravura performance against Alabama in the SEC championship game. I would have no trouble putting him in the all-time top five among college players, alongside or slightly ahead of Red Grange, O.J. Simpson and Roger Staubach. But I could not in good conscience put him atop that list. Because, as great as Tebow has been, Herschel Walker was greater.

In Tebow’s three seasons at Florida, the Gators have lost six games and won two national championships. (Remember, he was the backup quarterback to Chris Leak in 2006.) In Herschel’s three seasons at Georgia, the Bulldogs lost three games, won one national championship and played for another (and were tantalizingly close to playing for a third). Herschel didn’t touch the ball on every play, but it was as if he did.

Remember the Labor Day night game against Clemson in 1982? Remember Herschel, who had broken his thumb in preseason practice, trotting on the field despite Vince Dooley’s assurance (whoops) he wouldn’t play? Remember how Dooley, in the greatest moment of a Hall of Fame career, had John Lastinger fake to Herschel and hand the ball to Tron (Electron) Jackson on a reverse? Remember how the stout Clemson defense — Terry Kinard and Refrigerator Perry among the crew — all ran to Herschel? Remember Jackson scoring the coolest-ever touchdown that didn’t actually count? (Motion penalty nullified it.)

That was Herschel to a “H.” He terrified defenses. The Sunday before Kentucky played Georgia in 1980, I sat with the Wildcats’ defensive coaches as they watched film of Herschel, who had just gained 283 yards against Vanderbilt. Fran Curci, the head coach, never watched film with the defensive guys, but he watched this one.

Who was the better college player?

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And when it came to the immortal sequence when a hapless Commodore latched onto Herschel’s shoulder pad before being brushed off — it’s first clip on the YouTube video below — Curci stood and started yelling. “Did you see that? He didn’t even know the guy was there!” (Three years earlier, Curci had beaten Georgia in Athens 33-0 with Prince Charles and James Brown in attendance, and here he was hollering like an ordinary fan.)

Tim Tebow still has another year, and he has already proved me wrong once. He’s a great player. But I confess I don’t come to this discussion with an entirely open mind. I decided long before I moved to Georgia that Herschel was the best college player I’d ever see, and 29 years later I haven’t wavered.

399 comments Add your comment

mq

July 21st, 2009
10:14 am

Tebow couldn’t shine Walkers shoes.

wheby

July 21st, 2009
10:18 am

Loyalty to the college should be a criteria for this acclaim. Tebow will have stayed all four years, Walker quit, and ran away. Remember the scholarship should be for four years……

Wheby has a point...

July 21st, 2009
10:23 am

…but, still, there is no doubt that as good as Tebow has been and is, he, and no one else, compares to Herschel “my body is like an Army” and “no suh, ball ain’t heavy” Walker!

Didn't Junkyard Blawger...

July 21st, 2009
10:24 am

…cover this a couple of weeks ago?

H.S. Coach

July 21st, 2009
10:24 am

Why on earth does it matter how many years he plays? Scholarships are 1 year agreements that the coach or player can agree not to renew each year. The man was the greatest of that generation if not all time. And he didn’t quit and walk away as you suggest.

GTDhoo

July 21st, 2009
10:25 am

If Tebow wins 3 national championships to Herschel’s 1, I think you’ll have your answer

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2009
10:26 am

Tebow’s not going to win three BCS titles as a starter, I don’t believe.

DawginLex

July 21st, 2009
10:28 am

Herschel
Bo Jackson
Archie Griffin

Big dropoff after that to Tebow and others like OJ, Charles White, Ricky Williams, Earl Campbell etc.

Huh?

July 21st, 2009
10:28 am

When I think of Tebow, I think of jump passes in to the endzone from 4 yards out and grinding out 3 yard touchdown runs. I think this is what he will be remembered for. Watching that Hershel highlight reel you ask yourself where are all the similar big plays from Tebow? They really aren’t there. He is undoubtedly the best player in the game right now and one of the best in a long long time, but the best ever? I don’t think so.

Robert

July 21st, 2009
10:29 am

Tebow may well be the best college quarterback ever, but he won’t be a great pro. There is no doubt that Herchel was the greatest college football player ever. I was lucky to be in the stadium for all of his home games and a bunch of the away ones. He was truly a man among boys.

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2009
10:31 am

I don’t rate college players on pro potential. Apples and oranges.

Oh, and I believe the Junkyard Blawger addressed best Georgia players ever, not the best college players. Could be wrong, though.

Huh?

July 21st, 2009
10:31 am

wheby does not have a point. The only point he has is that he is absolutely woefully clueless about the business of college and pro football. Tebow was projected as no better than a 3rd round draft choice in this year’s draft. To act like he made some bold and brave choice by staying at Florida smacks of ignorance. He had no choice. He had to come back. Please get yourself a flippin’ clue. Thanks.

Bryan G.

July 21st, 2009
10:35 am

I’m a UGA alum, so of course I am going to be shaded towards #34.

I think Tebow is definitely in the discussion of greatest ever. If he wins another BCS championship and Heisman this year, though, it’s going to be hard to say that #34 was better. The Gators lost 4 games in 2007 not because of Tebow but because their defense was awful.

By the way…why doesn’t Tommy Frazier get more love for best all-time?? He was 33-3 as a starter and won two NCs and played for a third (and almost beat the unbeatable FSU team).

Robert, I have said this before...

July 21st, 2009
10:36 am

…don’t be a dumb a$$ – Herschel was not necessarily a good pro, either. And the question was about college players, and NOBODY compares to Herschel as a college football player – nobody!

Tide Rising

July 21st, 2009
10:39 am

Neutral opinion here. Herschel is definitely the greater player over Tebow.

Tebow is a great player but when sportscasters are saying during the seccg that every person would be a better person if they just spent 5 minutes with Tim Tebow then I know the hype is getting a little crazy. Still a great player though.

Sorry, Huh?...

July 21st, 2009
10:42 am

…what I was trying to say was that Tebow, as good as he has been and is, still does NOT compare, nor does anyone else, to Herschel “my body is like an Army’ and “no suh, ball ain’t heavy” Walker!

So, I really do have a clue, I am just not very articulate, unlike you!

Saint Simons

July 21st, 2009
10:44 am

45-42!!!!!!!!! hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

CrimsonRedScarlett

July 21st, 2009
10:45 am

It is almost impossible to compare the players from before 1960 to the latter group. Temember that the earlier ones had to play defense and could not go in and out every play. This also applies to the NFL.
That said, I woudl go for Trippi at UGA and Hutson at Alabama for two southern schools. To e fair, I think that Tebow could be OK at safety.

Mac

July 21st, 2009
10:46 am

Looks like a job may have just opened up for Michael Vick in Pittsburgh.

JMar

July 21st, 2009
10:47 am

I’d rather hear the garbage about Tebow being the best college player every single game, versus having to hear the circumcisions story for the billionth time.

Robert

July 21st, 2009
10:48 am

That was my point. The games are apples and oranges and again I think that Tebow is the best college quarterback that I have seen. I liked your point that Herchel was the complete focus of every defense after his first 3 games and still could not be stopped. Tebow has had the luxury of being surrounded by a great supporting cast. I also think that it is strange that Jim Brown gets no mention in the list of greatest players.

David Granger

July 21st, 2009
10:49 am

Herschel also excelled under two different offensive systems. His freshman year, Georgia ran the wishbone. (And Hershcel had…what might have been…his best season ever.) Then Dooley switched to the I-formation, and let Herschel carry the ball 45 times a game. And Herschel continued to excel.
I like Tebow, and am a fan…but I don’t think he would be as effective running any other offensive scheme. (And Urban Meyer is to be commended for KNOWING that, and running the offense that works.)
I get a little tired of hearing the Gator fans praising Tebow to the skies…but I’m sure the fans of other schools got tired of hearing Dawg fans rave about “Hushel”.
Tebow’s a great one…NOT the best ever.

Chris

July 21st, 2009
10:50 am

Oh man what a great memory Mark!

I had completely forgotten the fake to Tron was nullified. The entire defense, the stadium, cameramen bit on Herschel. Greatest play fake ever David Greene notwithstanding.

Vince Dooley: “Tron is what you maght call a watuh-bugg”

VanDSIRROM

July 21st, 2009
10:50 am

Robert says Walker was a ‘man among boys’ and that’s correct. The 1980 Vanderbilt game was Herschel’s ‘coming out party’.

I was in the stadium that day and if the article had said he gained 383 yds., I’d have believed it.

No doubt, Herschel Walker was a great player; however, he was not the leader that Tim Tebow is. Remember the speech after the Ole Miss loss.

In 2009, Florida plays more competent teams in today’s SEC than Georgia played in all of Walker’s career at Georgia. In 1980, football was not a ‘year round’ sport as it is today. The level of football played by any team in the 1980’s is not even close to what the players do these days. There was not even a ‘football weight room’ in those days, much less year round conditioning.

When Florida wins another national championship this year, Mark, you need to ‘eat crow’ like a man and crown Tim Tebow as THE greatest football player–ever.

Oh, geez DAvid Granger...

July 21st, 2009
10:52 am

…UGA, and especially Vince Dooley, has NEVER run the wishbone – where in the heck did you dream that?

bali smith

July 21st, 2009
10:53 am

i had a sideline pass for the georgia south carolina game when walker outran the south carolina defense.. should of been a 10m yard gain , he ran for over 50 and scored thetouchdown. iknew the safety was gonna tackle him around the 10 yd line and he just blew past him…….. greatest run i have ever seen

wally

July 21st, 2009
10:53 am

Mark, you know how to get these guys going. haha I enjoy reading your articles though.

Paddy

July 21st, 2009
10:54 am

Bo Jackson needs to be right behind Walker. Didn’t see Red Grange, but hell, he’s Red Grange, nuff said. Next would be Earl Campbell. Somebody else pick #5 for me, the light gets sort of dim right now. OJ would never be on any list of mine, ever. It was hard enough just to type his initials.

And Jim Brown...

July 21st, 2009
10:56 am

…was not Jim Brown until he got to pros (like MJ was not MJ until he left North Carolina), though Jim Brown was a very good college player at the ‘Cuse!

Also, Herschel’s coming out party was NOT the Vandy game – he had already ‘come out’ in the opening game against that other team in TN – UT.

#5 would be...

July 21st, 2009
10:58 am

…Barry Sanders at OK State if you are leaving OJ off the list.

ryan

July 21st, 2009
11:02 am

Tebow . . . and its not even close.

Pretend Hero

July 21st, 2009
11:02 am

He may not be the best college player ever, but if he wins another heisman and another national championship, he will certainly be the most accomplished college player ever.

meat rabbit

July 21st, 2009
11:02 am

Who cares….did you hear that there is a naked Erin Andrews video on the internet?? You never saw anyone videotaping Herschel through a peephole.

Robert

July 21st, 2009
11:02 am

Georgia ran the wishbone? Georgia always ran the I. They ran a two fullback power I in some short yardage situations, but never a bone. And never forget that Jimmy Womack was the lead blocker for most of Herchel’s greatest runs. One of those unsung hero’s from 80.

secondguesser

July 21st, 2009
11:09 am

You leghumpers are out of your gords with jealousy! Tim might not be able to run a 4.4 but Herschel Walker couldn’t throw thirty yard lasers either. Tebow is without a doubt the most galvanized player with skills to ever play the college game. I can’t wait for the ribbiing I’m gonna give when his pro career dominates that of the beloved Herschel! If Wayne Weaver has the cards fall his way he will pounce to grab the saviour of his franchise. Ten years of sellouts and a couple of Super Bowls will be his reward for keeping the prodigy at home.
Barks Madley, thanks for the sure thing with another idiotic homer opinion that will once again be proved laughable. It will be like the way last year turned out!!!!! Dawgs number one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now that’s a good one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Herschel over Tebow!!!!!! ROFLMAO Keep’em comin Barks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jack G.

July 21st, 2009
11:09 am

Mark

If you were a little older and had seen Trippi play you might have a different #1.

Reality Check

July 21st, 2009
11:13 am

Tebow is really good at what he does. However is you look at the best QBs in college football history, I would not put him in the top 5.

Tommy Frazier – Beginning as a frost started in three national title games winning two. Would made it 4 for 4 if not for blood clotting issue.
Matt Leinart – Started three years and played in national title games in all three.
Ken Dorsey – In three years, only lost two games. Should have won two national titles and played for a third.
Roger Staubach – Didn’t play for a national title, but won the Heisman at Navy…NAVY…long after the service academies were national powers.
Doug Flutie – Took a weak BC program without a ton of talent to national prominence and ended up as the NCAA’s career passing leading.

THe list doesn’t even include people like.

Jamelle Holieway – Won a national title as a freshman at OU. Finished second in the nation in back to back seasons. Only lost six games as a starter.
John Elway – Stanford sucked without his heroics.
Danny Wuerffel – Amazing how quickly Gator fans forget…

Tebow is good, but other people have resumes that equal his.

J.D.

July 21st, 2009
11:14 am

Walker, hands down. I still get a rush playing a recording of Munson’s broadcast of the ‘80 Tennessee game.

Robert

July 21st, 2009
11:15 am

It was not a 4.4 I can promise you that. One of the most awe inspiring athletic moments I ever saw was not on the football field. I attended a UGA-Auburn dual meet at the Georgia Track the spring after the 80 football season. There were two Olympians there in Melvin Lattany and Harvey Glance. I saw Melvin set the college record at 10.02 on that day with Glance a close second. Herchel Walker was less than a step behind the two of them, but at 230 Lbs.

Robert

July 21st, 2009
11:18 am

Not if you asked Charlie himself.

Buck Strickland

July 21st, 2009
11:27 am

Beat out John Elway and Eric Dickerson to win his heisman. Should have won the heisman in 80. Bo Jackson barely beat out Chuck Long and Robbie Bosco.

In 12 NFL seasons, Walker gained 8,225 rushing yards, 4,859 receiving yards, and 5,084 kickoff-return yards. This gave him 18,168 total combined net yards, ranking him second among the NFL’s all-time leaders in total yardage at the time of his retirement. And that’s not counting some of his most productive years lost to the USFL.

Greatest college running back of all time. Period.

When asked if he ever got tired carrying the ball so many times a game, he replied “No sir, the ball ain’t heavy.”

Huh?

July 21st, 2009
11:28 am

LOL. A 4.4? Try a 4.3 and that’s only on a bad day. Hershel Walker had world class speed and the body of an outside linebacker. He was simply a freak of nature. He could play today and do EXACTLY what he did then. In fact, isn’t it true that Walker never lifted weights at Georgia? Could you imagine the havoc this guy would wreak if he had the strength & conditioning that today’s players get? He would hand Brandon Spikes his freaking jock and make him like it. End of story. Hershel Walker craps bigger than Tim Tebow.

Mark Bradley

July 21st, 2009
11:28 am

I didn’t see Trippi. (Wasn’t born yet.) Barely remember Staubach. Did see O.J. on TV quite a bit. I always thought he was the best until Herschel.

My second five: Bo Jackson, Tom Harmon, Dick Butkus, Jim Plunkett, Archie Manning. (Saw two of those in person.)

Honorable mention: Reggie Bush, Charlie Ward, Vince Young, Marcus Allen, Hugh Green.

BeyondSEC

July 21st, 2009
11:29 am

Barry Sanders
Herschel Walker
LT
and much further down the list is Tebow. Unless this is an all SEC blog.

Dr. Warren

July 21st, 2009
11:32 am

I was there to see Walker gain 150 yards with a separated shoulder against ND in the national championship. I saw Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart play in person at least 15 times. Those two put together were not as good as Herschel Walker.

David Granger

July 21st, 2009
11:32 am

Georgia ran variations of the wishbone throughout the 1970’s. Why else do you think Ray Goff carried the ball so much as a quarterback? Do your research.
You’re sure right about Jimmy Womack, Robert. He was vastly underrated, and was the best blocking fullback I ever saw. He’s largely responsible for a lot of the yards gained by both Willie McLendon and Herschel.

john marshall

July 21st, 2009
11:37 am

no doubt about it. Charlie Trippi was foot balls greatest ever.Ask Bisher and Coach Dodd if he is available

LizDawg

July 21st, 2009
11:38 am

Herschel was the best folks, he was the best. Tebow is at best a 3rd round draft pick.

How's the present look?

July 21st, 2009
11:39 am

Georgia football has the same problem now that Tech basketball has had: the stars leaving early for the pros.
MB was throwing dog fans a bone today to revive their Herchel memories of a bygone day when the Dogs were better than the Gators.
With recent national championships in both football and basketball, the hated Gators have achieved what Dog fans would die for.

TS

July 21st, 2009
11:41 am

Hi, my name is Mark Bradley. Mr. College Football puts stuff up and gets three hundred posts about legitimate topics. How can my lame excuse for a blog get 300 posts? I know, I’ll just put up something comparing Tebow to Herschel.