Herschel vs. Bo: Who ya got? (Flashlight & A Biscuit, No. 25)
It's Dawg vs. Tiger in a battle of SEC sledgehammers
Welcome to Flashlight & A Biscuit, my Southern sports/culture/food offshoot of my work at Yahoo Sports. Thanks for reading, and if you’re new around here, why not subscribe? It’s free and all. Today: Georgia’s playing Auburn, so let’s cue up a couple of their champions.
One hit like a cinderblock dropped from a plane, the other like a jackhammer to the chest. They singlehandedly changed not just whole game plans, but the entire reputational arcs of their universities. They both wore the same number, and if you tried to tackle them, that number 34 was the last thing you were going to remember for awhile.
They were Herschel Walker of Georgia and Bo Jackson of Auburn, and on a day when Georgia and Auburn are playing again, let’s take a moment to remember these two titans.
Walker was a huge slab of muscle — 220 pounds even as a 19-year-old — who hailed from Johnson County, Georgia, where he carried his team on his back — yes, almost literally — to a state championship. One legend holds that when he had a 50-yard run nullified by a clipping penalty, he barked at his teammates, “If you’re not going to block them, just get out of the way.” Pretty much everyone, friend or foe, eventually did.
Following a long, contentious and I’m-sure-not-at-all-suspicious recruiting battle, Walker signed with the University of Georgia. Here’s his very first college touchdown, a route which went directly through the spleen of a Tennessee defender:
Larry Munson’s “Oh, you Herschel Walker!” remains one of the old Dawg color commentator’s legendary calls. Walker would go on to stomp the Dawgs to the 1980 national title, a mark they haven’t hit since. Walker would go on to win a Heisman Trophy and come within sight of setting the NCAA rushing mark in just three years.
Two years after Walker stormed the SEC, Bo Jackson laced up for Auburn — an act tantamount to treason, given the fact he’d grown up an Alabama fan. But Bear Bryant didn’t play freshmen, and Bo didn’t want to wait around. From the jump, he was faster, stronger, smarter and sharper than pretty much anyone else on the field, and Auburn learned quickly to give him the ball and let him create.
Jackson couldn’t quite lead the Tigers to a national championship — the closest Auburn got during his tenure was No. 3 — but he shone where it mattered: the Iron Bowl. Jackson had a way of stepping up when playing Alabama, starting with the 1982 game. Down 22-17 with less than three minutes remaining, facing a fourth and goal at the 1 yard line, Jackson hit coach Pat Dye with a simple proposition: “I was a 7 foot high jumper in high school,” he said. “Why don't we go over the top?”
You can guess what happened next:
It was Auburn’s first victory over Alabama in a decade, and it marked Jackson’s debut on the national stage. He’d go on to win the Heisman Trophy three years after Walker, wrapping a college career that still makes Auburn fans weep.
Their post-college lives are more newsworthy, if not necessarily more poetic. Walker left Georgia under a cloud of controversy when a certain New York real estate developer enticed him with a monster contract to come play in the nascent USFL. When that developer vaporized the league trying to compete with the NFL, Walker then signed with the Dallas Cowboys. He later became the centerpiece of a trade between the Cowboys and Vikings that would lead to the creation of the dominant mid-’90s Cowboys.
Jackson, of course, transformed into a superhero, a two-sport icon for the Raiders and Royals. An injury suffered in a playoff game snuffed out a career that was on track for at least one Hall of Fame; he’s still one of the great what-ifs in sports history. Oh, and he’s also the greatest video game character ever.
They’re both still icons on their respective campuses and in the SEC as a whole; I saw them on the field in Atlanta for an SEC championship a couple years back, and both looked like they could suit up and go for 150 yards. And they probably always will.
So. Herschel. Bo. Who ya got?
When the game takes a break, here’s a few ways to occupy your time. It’s either this or the to-do list, your choice.
There aren’t many bands still carrying the flag for rock n’ roll, but the Drive-By Truckers wave that thing like they’re trying to signal a ship from shore. They spent the last few months of quarantine putting together a new album just 10 months after the release of their last one, and it’s exactly the kind of propulsive rage-against-the-dying-light you’d expect from one of the South’s very best. (Oh, there might just be a political message or two in there also, I dunno.)
In this three-part, two-hour podcast, Wright Thompson digs into the tragic and vast deaths of horses at Santa Anita racetrack, and from there traces the lineage of horse racing backward through American history. Along the way, you’ll find out how genetics, investment trickeration and some good ol’ high society “death under mysterious circumstances” shaped the Sport of Kings. Well worth calling up on a long drive.
My stuff: Yahoo & Fight Scene!
Over at Yahoo this week, I wrote about how we’re in the midst of the greatest sports week in American history. I also wrote on how the NFL’s hardest of hardcore fans — the ones with quarter-century-long games-attended streaks — are handling not getting to see their beloved teams, including this guy:
And in the FIGHT SCENE! podcast this week, the boy and I talked about the playful little romp that is JURASSIC WORLD. Listen & subscribe right here!
And in conclusion …
There’s no finer sound on an autumn weekend than a good marching band. Just don’t get too close:
That’ll do it for this week, friends. Stay safe and watch out for random tubas, and we’ll see you back here soon—
This has been issue #25 of Flashlight & A Biscuit. Check out all the past issues right here. And if you dug this, share it with your friends. Social media truth: Facebook shows it to about 5 percent of my friends (seriously), and on Twitter, it’s visible in any given timeline for about 15 seconds. So word-of-mouth is how we’re gonna grow this bad boy. Invite others to the party, everybody’s welcome.