HERSCHEL WALKER: What could have been?

Herschel Walker

CLEMSON - CUTigers talks with Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker about his memories from the Clemson-Georgia rivalry and more.

It was January 1981.

Georgia was the No. 1-ranked team in the land and playing Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. A victory meant the Bulldogs would win the National Championship.

UGA was led by a freshman running back that year by the name of Herschel Walker. Considered one of the top prospects to ever come out of the high school ranks, Walker more than lived up to the billing.

The Peach State product was masterful that night in New Orleans, rushing 36 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns to help lead the Dawgs past the Fighting Irish for the 1980 national title.

Just one year later it was Clemson's turn.

On a muggy night in South Florida, Homer Jordan hit Perry Tuttle for a third-quarter touchdown to help lift undefeated Clemson past No. 4 Nebraska. The Tigers won the 1981 National Championship and the table was set for one of the best rivalries in the deep south to take center stage.

The Tigers and Bulldogs would play nine times in the 1980's with each team winning on four occasions, plus a 16-16 tie in 1983.

Herschel Walker played in three of those contests, one of which handed him the only regular season loss on his college resume. In a recent interview with CUTigers.com, Walker reflected on a number of topics, including the Clemson-Georgia rivalry.

"That was a tough rivalry because Clemson was the only team that beat me in regular season," he said. "It was 13-3 (in 1981) and they beat me in Death Valley. I remember it like it was yesterday."

Clemson fans remember too.

The win helped put the Tigers on the college football map for the first time in forever. It also paved the way for Clemson's national title run later in the season. The Tigers forced nine turnovers

Many Tiger fans also remember the bitter recruiting war against Georgia to try and sign Walker.

The stories at this point in time are somewhat legendary. There were rumors of Clemson coaches being turned away from the Johnson County line in South Georgia, where Walker and his family lived.

Back in those days, recruiting was like the wild west. Anything and everything was pretty much doable without the weight of social-media-world weighing down on anyone.

And if that wasn't enough, Walker tells CUTigers he nearly signed with the Tigers, too.

"It was very very close. To be honest with you, the school I wanted to go to was Clemson. It was. The honest truth is I flipped a coin between Clemson and Georgia and Georgia won the coin toss.

"I was already mad at the time because I actually wanted to go the Marines and I couldn't go. Then I was mad because I wanted to go to Clemson. So I flipped it again and Georgia won it again. And that's the honest truth and I ended up going there and it ended up being a great decision for me."

Let that sink in for a moment, then imagine how the college football world could have changed if one of the greatest backs ever signed with the Tigers instead of Georgia?

To this day, Walker says he still keeps a finger on the pulse of the program.

"Clemson is a tough team. Playing at Death Valley is a tough place to play," he said. "But yeah, I've always kept up with Clemson. They always come out to play."

He'll do so even more now as ironically, his nephew, Milan Richard, plays in Tigertown as a freshman tight end.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him play up there really soon," he said. "He's going to be very good. He's got a great work ethic. He's got talent but he's willing to work. It's not about just being a good football player, you have to be a good person and a good student. And with Milan he's both. He's going to do well and he'll bring a lot to that program."

Walker says his greatest memory from the Clemson-Georgia rivalry isn't one that most fans will remember, but it came from his final season in Athens.

"My greatest memory is kind of weird. But the one thing that stands out for me personally from those Clemson-Georgia games was my junior season when I was injured with a broken hand. They put me in the game and used me as a decoy on a reverse by Tron Jackson, who's from South Carolina, and it worked.

"It had nothing to do with anything great, but it showed how Georgia worked together as a team back then. That was something I loved about all those teams we had at Georgia. We always worked together under Coach Dooley."

In terms of this weekend's matchup "between the hedges," Walker likes the Bulldogs chances at home of course. One of the keys for the orange and while will be obviously containing Todd Gurley.

Due to Gurley's size, many pundits, including the author of his very article, likened Gurley to Walker coming out of high school in Tarboro, N.C. Gurley also chose the Bulldogs in a highly-contested recruiting battle over... you guessed it, Clemson.

Walker says stopping Gurley would be big, but also dropped this little nugget as well.

"It's hard for me to remember who people were comparing me to in high school. I think it was Earl Campbell but I always thought that disrespected Earl because he was probably the best running back to ever play this game. But I think Todd Gurley is better than I am. He's bigger. He's fast. The guy is a tough kid. He's going to be tough to stop this season."

Clemson will find out first hand if it can do better against him this year. Gurley rushed 12 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns last year in Death Valley before suffering an injury that limited his touches.

For Walker, he's anxious to see how it all unfolds.

"It should be a good game between Clemson and Georgia. It always is," he said.

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