Friday, December 13, 2002
1981 Georgia 17, Notre Dame 10
By Jordan Burchette
The seventh-ranked Fighting Irish entered the 47th Sugar Bowl angling to prove that "unbeaten, untied and unbelievable" top-ranked Georgia had escaped the regular season 11-0 as a matter of luck. The Bulldogs, before former President Jimmy Carter and 77,894 other fans, sought their first national championship.
Freshman sensation Herschel Walker and his undersized 'Dawgs were determined to hush the detractors who were skeptical of their chances.
|In a rare display, fans get the party started early in New Orleans' Superdome.|
"During our stay in New Orleans, the only people there who thought we could win were the Georgia fans," said the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner. "Playing Notre Dame, everyone thought we were going to get killed."
With the game's first possession, Notre Dame got out to an early 3-0 lead, when Irish booter Harry Oliver sent a 50-yard field goal through the uprights following the 48-yard Notre Dame drive.
The ensuing Bulldogs drive saw Georgia's championship hopes nearly dashed on the first play. Walker was tossed the ball on a sweep to the right side, and received a bruising introduction to Notre Dame football.
"The doctor said I dislocated my shoulder, and they told me it was over," reflected the embattled workhorse. "I looked at the doctor, and said 'You've got to be joking me. You've got to put it back in place.' I told myself, 'I didn't come this far to dislocate my shoulder and not play.'
"So, they put it back in place, and I (went) back on the field."
While Bulldog team doctors were furiously toiling to fix their bread n' butter back, Notre Dame moved the ball to the Georgia 31-yard line, but no further. From the 48-yard line, Oliver again set up for the kick, however, this time, Georgia freshman Terry Hoage breached the line and thwarted the ball's trajectory, leaving the score 3-0 Irish. The failed attempt served as a portent of things to come.
Taking over from Notre Dame's 49-yard line, the 'Dawgs voyaged 20 yards on six Walker runs, when Georgia All-American foot man Rex Robinson thumped the 46-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3 with less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
"I remember (our offensive lineman) watching me trying to put my shoulder back in place on the sideline," said Walker of his estimable return to the game. "I think (they) decided that they were going to give a little bit more, and not let me get injured anymore. At that time, I think we took the momentum of the game over."
On the resulting kickoff, a miscue between Notre Dame return men Jim Stone and Ty Barber resulted in a recovery for the Bulldogs by Bob Kelly at the Irish one-yard line. Two plays later, Walker soared over the pile and the goal line for the first touchdown of the game.
|The embattled Walker overcame a dislocated shoulder on the game's second play to rush for 150 yards and two TDs.|
The Bulldogs' tightfisted defense came up big again on the following possession when Notre Dame fullback John Sweeney fumbled the ball on a Frank Ros tackle. Bulldog rover Chris Welton descended upon the displaced pill deep in Irish territory.
The 'Dawgs had little land left to claim in their quest for the end zone. Three plays later, quarterback Buck Belue once again handed to Walker, who took it around the end untouched for his second score of the game.
The mood on the Georgia sideline was dramatically different than the one that had gripped the Bulldogs only moments earlier.
"I think we knew then that we were going to win this game," recalled Walker. "We hadn't lost all year. We didn't know how to lose."
With the Bulldogs up 17-3 early in the second quarter, it appeared as though the Irish were in for a pounding. However, there would be no further scoring in the first half. The Irish had finally halted the 'Dawgs' end zone loitering, but hadn't yet been able to decode Georgia's defense. The Irish would take their dissatisfaction into the locker room, down 17-3.
Walker evoked the Bulldog locker room sentiment at half time.
"We knew we had to continue to pound them with the football, and the defense had to continue to stop them because they had such a large team. We thought they would just try to wear us down."
On their second possession of the third quarter, the Irish drove from their own 40-yard line to the Georgia 13. On third down, quarterback Blair Kiel spotted flanker Pete Holohan in the back of the end zone, but his pass was batted away by All-America cornerback Scott Woerner, who already had an interception on the day. Oliver was again given the call to salvage the Irish drive with three points, but his kick sailed wide right, making that his second spoiled effort of the game.
On its next possession, Notre Dame finally found the stripe. The Irish traversed the Superdome turf 57 yards in 10 plays, culminated by a Phil Carter touchdown run from the one-yard line. With but a period remaining, the score was now 17-10 favoring the Bulldogs.
Georgia's offensive woes compounded to start the fourth quarter, with the Bulldogs unable to penetrate the red zone. A bigger, stronger Notre Dame defense was taking its toll on Georgia's outsized O, as they had feared.
Down only a touchdown with momentum weighing heavily in their favor, the Irish reached the Georgia 21-yard line, striking on five quick plays. However, the 'Dawgs were able to rally in the red zone once again, as Woerner wrestled Carter to the turf for a one-yard loss forcing the field goal attempt. Oliver once more swung for the uprights, this time from 38 yards, but shanked the kick wide left. Yet again, his leg had failed him.
With five minutes to go in the game, Notre Dame embarked on their final effort. On second-and-three from midfield, Notre Dame showed pass, but Bulldog defensive guard Eddie Weaver infiltrated the backfield, dragging the beleaguered quarterback to the unforgiving Superdome turf.
Third-and-seven saw Kiel shoot for receiver Nick Vehr, connecting just short of the first down with mere inches remaining.
On fourth down, the offense remained on the field. The Irish were going for it. With the expectation of a running play, Kiel took the snap and, instead, dropped back, and set up for an open Dean Masztak, who was running up the sideline. Kiel released the ball, but it never reached its intended target, instead finding the hands of Woerner, who stepped in front of the big tight end for the backbreaking interception.
|Georgia's Mike Fisher expresses his approval of the Bulldog win.|
The Bulldogs took over with three minutes remaining, hoping to exhaust the clock. Highlighting the game's waning minutes was Belue's first completion of the day to flanker Amp Arnold. The Bulldogs would go on to run out the clock on the game, and their national championship season.
No longer would skeptics attribute Walker and his 'Dawgs' successes to chance.
"People said that we were lucky, but you're not lucky when you have people that perform," remarked the game's 'Most Outstanding Player.' "We were a team that was never going to quit. We were not big size-wise, but we were big at heart."