Best collegian ever? Tebow No. 2, Herschel still No. 1

Tim Tebow is the greatest collegian of the 21st Century. But the greatest collegiate player ever? Not quite. That distinction falls to a man who played for the other side in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, and I speak of  …

Zippy Morocco.

OK, I’m kidding. You know who I mean. As majestic as he was against everybody, Herschel Walker was never so splendid as those three afternoons in Jacksonville. He rushed for 649 yards and scored eight touchdowns against the Gators, who were really good each year but lost three times simply because they didn’t have Herschel. (Granted, Lindsay Scott had a bit to do with the 1980 outcome.)

Not since Herschel has the college game seen a force so irresistible as Tebow. He figures to win a second Heisman Trophy on merit. But Herschel played only three seasons before leaving for the USFL, and he won one Heisman and should have had two (he was clearly superior to George Rogers in 1980) and would have had another had he completed his eligibility.

Grand as he is, Tebow hasn’t been the Florida focal point all four seasons. He was the backup/changeup to Chris Leak when the Gators took the 2006 national championship, and in his first season as a starter he won the Heisman but didn’t lift his team to higher heights. The 2007 Gators finished 9-4. The Georgia Bulldogs with Herschel Walker lost three games in three seasons: Two to teams (Clemson and Penn State) that would themselves take national titles, the third to a team (Pittsburgh) that finished No. 2 in the land.

Georgia with Herschel won the 1980 national title, played for the 1982 championship and was still in the hunt until Clemson beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1982. Those Bulldogs won three SEC titles at a time when Paul W. Bryant was still coaching Alabama and Patrick F. Dye was getting going at Auburn and Mike Shanahan was coordinating the Florida run-and-shoot.

It would be wrong to suggest Herschel had no help. He didn’t play defense. (He did, however, return kickoffs.) But it’s instructive that Georgia produced only one first-round NFL draftee those three seasons, that being the aforementioned Scott. It finished undefeated in 1980 despite not leading the SEC in any major offensive or defensive category. It won because of No. 34.

From the moment he stepped onto Shields-Watkins Field the night of Sept. 6, 1980, Herschel was the only Dog who mattered. Remember Clemson biting on the handoff to the broken-thumbed Herschel on Labor Day night 1982 and being laid bare on a reverse to Tron Jackson? (No matter that the play was nullified by penalty.) Every defense was set to stop one man, and in 36 games that man rushed for more than 100 yards 31 times.

He willed Georgia to the Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame on Jan. 1, 1981, by gaining 150 yards with a separated shoulder on a day when the Bulldogs managed 127 total yards. The Georgia quarterback, name of Benjamin Franklin Belue, completed one pass (in 13 attempts) for seven yards.

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In 33 regular-season games Georgia managed 13,012 yards from scrimmage. Herschel gained 5,502 of those. He was 42 percent of Georgia’s offense without completing a pass. (Though he did once throw the ball. Against Kentucky in 1981. Intercepted.)

You can argue that because Tebow runs and passes he means more to Florida than Herschel meant to Georgia, but you’d be wrong. Tebow has demonstrably more talent around him. He has worked alongside three first-round Gators, with Brandon Spikes and Carlos Dunlap sure to come.

I have no problem calling Tebow the second-best college player ever. But no player lifted a program higher faster than Herschel Walker, the Goal Line Stalker. Georgia was 20-13-1 the three years before he arrived. It was 33-3 the three years he dotted the “I.” Cause and effect. Case closed.

455 comments Add your comment

Tide Rising

October 26th, 2009
1:00 pm

I gotta go with Herschel. Tebow benefits by virtue of enormous amount of talent all around him. Herschel had good talent around him but he pretty much carried those teams. Florida would be great with or without Tebow.

btw, first?

Rex D

October 26th, 2009
1:04 pm

This is a great article Mark . . . But the book isn’t finished yet on Tebow, so are your conclusions premature? . . . I agree with you – IF we are judging them at this point . . . However, what if Tebow wins a second Heisman AND a second national championship (actually, it would be a third national championship team that he played and took snaps on)???? . . . At that point, isn’t it fair to say that we may be witnessing the greatest college FB player ever? . . .

the real Old Gold

October 26th, 2009
1:04 pm

second? I liked Bo Jackson. I think he was better than Walker. I also like Tebow because I guarantee he’d be an all american at nearly any position on the field.

the real Old Gold

October 26th, 2009
1:04 pm

third.. dang

dap01

October 26th, 2009
1:06 pm

Herchel played on a team that never ran up the score. He was taken out of a Vandy game with 283 yards rushing in the 3rd quarter. Tebow is still in the shotgun with 1 minute to go and up by 30 (and calling timeouts).

Herchel lost 3 games in his career. Tebow didn’t start as a freshman, lost 4 games as a sophomore and was anointed the second coming during his junior year.

Tebow completed 50% of his passes with 2 interceptions against Miss. State. Greatest of all time? I don’t think so. Not even close.

Mark Bradley

October 26th, 2009
1:07 pm

My conclusions are never premature. My conclusions are … conclusive.

Mark Bradley

October 26th, 2009
1:08 pm

I don’t think passing numbers alone are a true measure of Tebow, FWIW. I think you have to look at the whole Tebow Effect, which is massive.

Bryan G.

October 26th, 2009
1:10 pm

As a UGA alum, I completely agree. But I think if Tebow wins the Heisman and a NC this year, we may have to revisit this argument.

Bryan G.

October 26th, 2009
1:12 pm

The people that think Bo was better haven’t seen the stats. Herschel ran for more than 5000 yards in 3 years. Bo ran for about 4000 in 4. Not even close.

Jackets On Top

October 26th, 2009
1:13 pm

Tebow–clearly the better player. He’ll have 3 national titles, 2 heismans and was good enough to start his freshman year. Plus, he’s a team leader.

GeoffDawg

October 26th, 2009
1:16 pm

Good points Mark. I also think it’s worth pointing out that Herschel didn’t enjoy the statistical boost that modern players do, namely counting stats from bowl games, conference championship games, and a longer regular season to boot.

Bo better than Herschel...

October 26th, 2009
1:18 pm

…what have you been smokin’ the real Old Gold? Must be the blind loyalty that will not let you know that Mark is correct and that NO ONE compares to Herschel! Sorry, Bryan G. – even if UF wins the MNC and Tebow wins another Heisman (which he should not cause he has not played well this year), it still is not even close!

Tebow is great as a player and as a person, yet he still is not close to Herschel. Herschel should have won the Heisman his freshman year but came in second. Tebow did win as a soph, then came in third his jr. year. Just because UGA only won one MNC does not lessen what Herschel accomplished in only 3 years when compared to Tebow’s 4 years. Plus, Herschel got all that money!

Hey, Jackets on Top...

October 26th, 2009
1:19 pm

…Tebow did NOT start his freshman year, but Herschel certainly did!

Cuz

October 26th, 2009
1:22 pm

Herschel was a once in a century talent. That century is over. Tebow is a great player, no doubt. But I do not think he can compare to Herschel even after he breaks Herschels rushing touchdown record. How many rushing touchdowns has Tebow scored outside the twenty yard line. I imagine it is fewer than Herschel, just a hunch. And Tebow will get the SEC rushing touchdown record, no doubt. Then a new column in the record books shows up. Most rushing touchdowns in three years. That record will never be beat.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Tebow is one of the greatest college players of all time. Just not the greatest.

bamafan

October 26th, 2009
1:23 pm

Agree that George Rogers was ho hum…….but is it realistic to expect the Downtown Athletic Club to give the heisman to a freshman……and in 1980?? It was big news when they gave it to a sophomore for the first time not so long ago. I agree that Hershel was dynamite…..but for him, Dooley might have left sooner. 3 SEC titles in a row (1981 shared with BAMA) was pretty high cotton!

Grant

October 26th, 2009
1:24 pm

Agreed old gold. Bo Jackson was better than both.

PhoneHome

October 26th, 2009
1:24 pm

How many rings does Walker have? Tebow might have 3 after this year, and that is just staggering to think about.

Cuz

October 26th, 2009
1:26 pm

Jackets on Top, St. Timothy had a better supporting cast than Herschel. That and luck gives more NC’s and Herschel was robbed of the Heisman in 1980. No freshman has ever won it. St. Timothy was the first sophmore if my memory banks are correct. In 1980 a freshman could never win the Heisman. I think today it would be possible if said Freshman had the impact Herschel did in 1980.

Georgia is next

October 26th, 2009
1:27 pm

Ha Ha, a Quarterback has now tied the great Herschel Walker. 3 Years, 4 Years, doesn’t matter, Tebow is a Quarterback. Tebow has also led his team to 2 National Titles with a great chance at another this year. Good luck scoring a lot of points on the Gator D Cox.

Atlanta - to - Athens

October 26th, 2009
1:27 pm

How many TD’s did Herschel score when the Dawgs played at Clemson? ZERO. How can you be the best of all time when you can’t be a factor in an important road game?

CW

October 26th, 2009
1:27 pm

Jackets on top, 3 national titles, I’ll give you that even though Chris Leak was the starter on the first one, Two Heismans, well Herchel should have one it as a freshman but they gave it to Rogers on career stats. Then you say Tebow was good enough to start his freshman year?? Hey DUMMY, Leak was the starter and Walker started every game but ONE as a true freshman. Go back to watching your high school offense

DirtyDawg

October 26th, 2009
1:29 pm

Herschel should have won the Heisman every year he played…and if Jack Manton and Donald Trump had stayed the hell out of his business, he’d have had a fourth year of eligibility and records that would, forever, be unchallenged. The man was an absolute freak of nature. Yeah Bo was Bad, and there are those that say Tebow is the best ‘football player’ that ever played quarterback (which I understand and agree with), but Herschel was the epitome of strength and speed that has ever played this game.

Yeah, we still revere him. So would anybody where he would have played. And while I’m at it, I renew my call for a petition to the NCAA to allow anyone that reaches the age of, say 45, and that has any eligibility remaining, and regardless if they played professionally, to return to school to complete said eligibility. My bet is that Herschel could gain at least a thousand and score ten or fifteen more touchdowns…that ought to do it. I mean it’ll be a hellofalot easier than that ultimate fighting crap – Herschel, that’ll get you killed.

Cuz

October 26th, 2009
1:33 pm

Bo Jackson was a great running back, no doubt. I watched him break tackles from about half the team on about an 80 yard score in Sanford. He changed sides of the field three times on his way in. I stood up an cheered until I realized that everyone in my section was looking at me. I quickly sat down. Bo was great, just not as great as Herschel. Our offense was one dimensional. Every time Buck or Lastinger went back to pass the crowd would groan. We could not pass gas we were so bad. Herschel was the offense. Teams would do nothing but try and stop him and except for Clemson, none succeeded. If we had a passing game those three years we would have had three MNC titles not one. That is how dominating Herschel was to the game.

UGAV

October 26th, 2009
1:37 pm

Herschel clearly the greatest (5900 yds/3 seasons). Hard choice for 2nd. Barry Sanders was a GREAT college football running back; Staubach great college QB. I like Tebow but not more than those three. Probably have Earl Campbell ahead of him. What about Archie Griffith?. Won two Heismans but still not considered one of the ‘greats’.

Top Five:
(1) Walker
(2) Sanders
(3) Staubach
(4) Campbell
(5) Tebow

Bo Jackson probably top 10 of all time.

Mark Bradley

October 26th, 2009
1:37 pm

I didn’t have a problem with Herschel losing the 1981 Heisman to Marcus Allen. The guy did break 2,000 yards.

Reality Check

October 26th, 2009
1:38 pm

Jackets on top – I completely wrote your opinion off when you thought Herschel only played three years becasue he didn’t get to play until his sophmore year. There are very few Tech fans on here that ever make sense. You sir, are not one of them!

gdawginkalamazoo

October 26th, 2009
1:38 pm

I’ll say Herschel was the greatest running back to ever play college ball. Tebow with a Heisman and NC this year will be the greatest QB to ever play college ball. I think you do have to distinguish the positons when we get to this point in this argument. One thing for sure both teams are/were blessed to have these players. Once in a lifetime players.

Barry Sanders greatest NFL RB of all time.

Steven Daedalus

October 26th, 2009
1:38 pm

I went to Georgia, but the best college football player I ever saw in person,and I could choke myself for saying it, was Steve Spurrier.

gdawginkalamazoo

October 26th, 2009
1:39 pm

Steven, Bill Stanfill said the same thing.

GSU Eagle 91

October 26th, 2009
1:40 pm

Tim Tebow will not win the Heisman this year. He play the last few weeks has been mediocre to terrible, but the Gators “D” carries the team…Herschel never tasted an SEC loss, while Tebow has several. Tebow turns the ball over too much as well. How many fumbles did #34 have in his career?
BO Jackson was not better than Herschel, but he was close to being as good. No National titles…
I’ll take Tracy Ham over all of them….

okie guy

October 26th, 2009
1:43 pm

Your youth betrays you. How can you forget such players as Ernie Davis, Jim Brown, Marion Motley, Archie Griffin, Barry Sanders, and I could go on and on. If you were only talking about SEC players, then you have hit the nail on the head with Walker and Tebow. Walker was one of the most impressive players that I have ever seen. Tebow is a total player, whom has not given his proper credit.

GeoffDawg

October 26th, 2009
1:44 pm

I’d like to see a blog on the greatest Heisman shafts of all time. Certainly Herschel 1980 (maybe 1981), Garrison Hearst, as well as Peyton Manning and Johnny Majors at UT come to mind.

Biggest Shaft

October 26th, 2009
1:46 pm

The biggest Heisman shafts of all time is a no brainer. Ron Dayne over Joe Hamilton takes the cake!

gatorman770

October 26th, 2009
1:47 pm

Curdawg homer, your bias is really showing today.
A true measure would to post Herschels and Tims career statistics such as “touchdowns per rushes”, etc.

j

October 26th, 2009
1:47 pm

here we go again. tebow is garbage, the last two UF games prove it. the gators win inspite of him.

He wets the bed against stiff competition.

scott frost, tommy frazier, and eric couch were better.

j

October 26th, 2009
1:49 pm

ken dorsey was better than tebow.

Cuz

October 26th, 2009
1:49 pm

One road game versus Clemson. In 1982 Herschel was injured in the Clemson game “Under the Lights”. First night game since someone had a couple of Model T’s shine their lights on Herty field. Herschel was the decoy, his thumb was almost healed and we did not need him to beat Clemson that night. Just as Florida waited all year after the 2007 defeat. We waited all year after the 1981 defeat. I was so confident I sat in the Clemson section on the grassy hill. Two guys tried to fight me for some reason. Thank God I was in great shape then, not a broken down old dude like now. Clemson lost, those guys lost. One of my favorite games of all time, second to the Sugar Bowl I attended.

GeoffDawg

October 26th, 2009
1:50 pm

You can’t argue with Dayne’s stats but you could certainly make the case that his level of competition was a bit underwhelming.

Cuz

October 26th, 2009
1:55 pm

How about giving Tebow the most rushing touchdowns inside of ten yards. That is where Tebow rushed for his touchdowns Gatorman770. Your touchdown per rushes would only equal out if Tebow was the fullback he will play in the NFL. Somewhere there is an NFL Wildcat offense calling Tebow’s name.

Cuz

October 26th, 2009
1:56 pm

Geoff, you remember the Dawgs shutting Dayne down that year we played Wisconsin in the bowl?

GeoffDawg

October 26th, 2009
1:58 pm

Cuz – to piggyback off your post, a useful comparison stat would probably be average length in yards of all rushing touchdowns. We all know that Tebow doesn’t have anywhere near Herschel’s speed to break for long yards.

Cuz

October 26th, 2009
1:58 pm

Geoff, I agree with Bradley, Marcus deserved that Heisman in 1981. I remember reading the weekly stats watching him and Herschel battle it out.

John

October 26th, 2009
1:59 pm

Herschel Walker was without question the best–and I’m an Auburn alumnus who saw every one of the three games in which Bo and Herschel played against one another.

Dandy Vandy

October 26th, 2009
2:00 pm

Garrison Hearst……Are you serious? Might as well say Pulpwood Smith got robbed as well!

Cuz

October 26th, 2009
2:00 pm

I actually hope that Tebow does get a shot at playing QB in the NFL. I just do not know if he will. He will be drafted, but that Wildcat is waiting for him.

GeoffDawg

October 26th, 2009
2:02 pm

Oh yeah, I was never that impressed with Ron Dayne at the time. I was particularly resentful over the fact that he broke Herschel’s career rushing total (later to be broken again by Ricky Williams at Texas I think).

Eric

October 26th, 2009
2:02 pm

More than anything else, Tebown has benefited from wall to wall press coverage. He’s over hyped. He’s not the Greek God of Football. He may be above average but give me a break. The best of all time? That’s just silly. He never beat Auburn! I’d vote for Bo Jackson, Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley. Even Jason Campbell for God’s sake.

gdawginkalamazoo

October 26th, 2009
2:02 pm

Cuz, I remember that game. Stuffed him at the goal line. Dayne had the opportunity to run for four years in the Big Ten. No competition from most of the league.

Preston

October 26th, 2009
2:02 pm

herschel by a loooooooong shot. tebow is a teremedous talent, no doubt. but he isn’t even close to being the athlete that HW was and i mean that in terms of pound for pound talent and athleticism and in terms of team carrying ability. everyone needs to remember that HW did what he did in only three years and look how long this record has held up. the SEC has had sooooo many players go to the NFL and have great pro careers so the fact that the record is just now being threatened by a senior player on a dominant team speaks volumes for what a once in a lifetime talent HW was.

Bryan G.

October 26th, 2009
2:03 pm

If you honestly think Bo was better than Herschel or Tebow, you are too stupid to opine in this space.