There are many moments in a football season that provide the difference between a good season and a great season. We fans go to the games to root for our favorite teams, win or lose. A streak of bad luck and we shout the proverbial "We'll get ‘em next year!" Then every once in a while, everything seems to go right. Bad breaks just a year or two before start going the other way. Whether this change in fortune is the result of extreme work during the summer by talented student athletes, innovative playcalling by imaginative coaches, just plain luck, or perhaps a combination of all three is irrelevant; the reality is that something magical is occurring. It's that once in lifetime magic that has players and fans alike dreaming of a possible national championship. Many schools, many players, many coaches and many fans never experience it in their lifetime.
1980—exactly 25 years ago this football season. It seems a long time ago while at the same time seeming like yesterday for many. For the fans that were there to witness it. Memories for Georgia fans and Boise State fans that will never die—they are as vivid as the computer screen in front of me. I am sure that Georgia fans can and do talk about 1980, recalling special plays out loud to friends as if they were doing the play by play announcing that very day. Mention those four numerals 1-9-8-0, and it holds special meaning for fans of both schools…for that was the year that the Bulldogs and Broncos captured national championships!
GEORGIA BULLDOGS—12-0…TALENTED, RUGGED… PERFECT! DIVISION I-A NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!!!
1980. Georgia had gone 6-5 the previous year. But hoped arrived in one of the greatest recruiting coups in history. Herschel Walker was a high school sensation, gaining over 6,000 yards and scoring 86 touchdowns. He was recruited heavily by Clemson and USC. Clemson had gone 8-4 in 1979 with a Peach Bowl appearance. USC was 11-0-1 the year before, with a Rose Bowl win over Michigan. The Trojans had recorded a 12-1 mark the year before that. Yet Coach Vince Dooley and his staff won over the star running back—he inked with the Bulldogs!
Walker was far from the only star. Frank Ros was team captain of the 1980 squad and according to Coach Dooley, one of the greatest leaders he's ever had in 25 years of coaching at Georgia. The entire defense was loaded with aggressive, tough-nosed football players.
Against Tennessee, the Volunteers were on the 5 with 2 minutes left and down by 1 when Nate Taylor knocked the ball loose leading to a Georgia recovery on the one. Georgia rallied from a 15-0 deficit, beginning with a 16-yard touchdown from Walker, who flattened future Dallas Cowboys teammate Bill Bates on the way to the end zone. Walker then hit paydirt again with a 9 yard run, giving the Bulldogs a 16-15 lead that held up the rest of the game.
Walker scored 3 TD's, including a 76-yarder in Georgia's 42-0 win over Texas A & M. Quarterback Buck Belue atones for his subpar performance in week one with two touchdown passes as well.
On September 20th, the Bulldogs entertained Clemson for an interconference game. Georgia had no first-half production at all. Walker had been held to 12 yards. The entire Bulldog offense mustered 33 yards of total offense and no first downs. Clemson meanwhile picked up 239 yards and 15 first downs. This was "bend but not break" defense at its best. With those statistics, what do you suppose the first half score was? Georgia 14, Clemson 10. It was all defensive back Scott Woerner, who had a punt return of 67 yards and moments later an interception return of 98 yards to the one-yard line. It was a tough struggle, but Georgia held on to beat Clemson 20-16.
Next, Georgia downed TCU 34-3. After a 41-yard run, Walker was hurt, an injury that would keep him out the next game as well. In his place, freshman Barry Young rushed for 86 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown.
Carnie Norris was the star of game 5 in Walker's absence with a sterling 150-yard rushing effort against Ole Miss, leading the Bulldogs to a 28-11 win.
Walker came back against Vanderbilt and promptly racked up 207 yards by halftime. He finished by breaking a 35-year-old school record by totaling 283 yards and 3 touchdowns as Georgia humiliated Vanderbilt 41-0.
The Georgia defense made it eight quarters in a row of shutting out opponents, as the Bulldogs blanked Kentucky 27-0. Woerner picked up another interception and runback while Belue and Arnold hooked up for a 91-yard pass play and Buck ran in another score.
A pivotal game with South Carolina was next on the agenda. South Carolina came in at 7-1 and ranked 14th in the nation, having beaten Michigan in Ann Arbor. . Their only loss had come to USC. The game pitted the two top running backs in the country, South Carolina's George Rogers and Georgia's Herschel Walker on national television. With Georgia leading 13-10, Dale Carver knocked the ball loose from eventual Heisman Trophy winner Rogers as the Gamecocks were inside the Georgia 20 driving for the go-ahead score. The day was saved and Georgia had won a key contest. Walker gained 219 yards in his national TV debut against Rogers and South Carolina. With the win came more good news for 4th ranked Georgia. #1 Alabama and #2 UCLA also lost that day, and the 'Dawgs slid into the #2 spot right behind Notre Dame.
A monumental twist of fate was about to take place, the kind referred to in the opening of this story. Georgia was in the lead for the entire game until just under 7 minutes remaining when a Brian Clark field goal put Florida ahead. It was the first time Coach Dooley's team had trailed since the opener against Tennessee. With just over a minute left against Florida and the Dogs trailing 21-20, Georgia was backed up inside its own 10. Clearly, a miracle was needed. Magic—a miracle was delivered. Quarterback Belue dropped back in the end zone and Lindsay Scott, an anchor for the Bulldog track team, streaked in the open. Belue hit him and Scott ran in untouched for a 93-yard touchdown. That made the Georgia record 8-0 and they moved to #1 after the win over Florida.
But there was no time to rest on their laurels; a key SEC showdown with Auburn loomed next. Auburn got on the scoreboard first with a second quarter touchdown. The Bulldogs came back for a Robinson field goal to make it 7-3. Then, Greg Bell put momentum squarely on the side of the 'Dawgs. Late in the first half, he rushed in and blocked an Auburn punt, which Freddie Gilbert scooped up and took in for a 27-yard touchdown. Georgia was never headed after that, and they defeated Auburn 31-7 to clinch the SEC Championship.
Coach Dooley's team closed out the regular season in style with a 38-20 win over Georgia Tech. Walker was gunning for the all-time freshman rushing record of 1,586 held by Tony Dorsett. In the 4th quarter, Walker was 41 shy of Dorsett's mark when he sprinted 65 yards for a score that would not only break the record but also secure the win. He finished with 212 yards against Tech to wind up with 1,616. Georgia had moved into the #1 slot in the nation and to prove it, they would have to defeat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
Notre Dame, a school steeped in tradition and football greatness. The Fighting Irish….what football fan didn't know about Notre Dame? The Irish had put up a 9-1-1 record themselves, with their only loss at the hands of the USC Trojans in the final regular season game. Notre Dame was big and quick and very talented. Four of the starters in the National Championship game for Georgia were walk-ons, Robert Miles at defensive end, Nate Taylor at linebacker, Mike Fisher at cornerback and Dale Williams in the nickel defense. The Irish strike first, clicking on their first possession as they drove the ball to the Georgia 30. But the ‘Dawg D stiffens and Notre Dame kicks a field goal to go up 3-0.
Then, on his second carry of the game, Walker's shoulder hangs down in a peculiar way. The game had just started, and the fabulous freshman running back had dislocated his shoulder. Quarterback Belue recalled Carnie Norris coming into the Georgia huddle that was deathly quiet. Meanwhile, doctors on the sideline work on Walker. Amazingly, the shoulder popped back into place with only slight pain. To the amazement of the Superdome crowd, Walker entered the game on the very next series. Notre Dame came back with another drive, but a key field goal block by Terry Hoage halted the scoring threat.
This enabled Robinson to come back with a 46-yarder of his own to knot the game at 3. Then, more magic as on the ensuing kickoff, the ball bounced around between Notre Dame players, and Georgia's Bob Kelly gets to it first, scooping up the football on the Notre Dame 1! Two plays later, Walker dove over the line, hurt shoulder and all, for a Georgia 10-3 lead. The mighty Irish were stunned. They fumbled again on their own 22 and Walker churned up all 22 yards in three plays as the Bulldogs extended their lead to 17-3. Georgia was a half away from winning the national championship. But no one expected the Irish to go down without a fight. They are able to get a touchdown of their own late in the third quarter to narrow the margin to 17-10. Georgia's offense could not move the ball, but neither could Notre Dame's. Chris Welton would say later, "Coach (Erk) Russell would come over and say, "Just one more time. I swear that he said that 15 times in the second half, but we did it every time." Walker's heroic performance of 150 yards and 2 touchdowns and the play of the entire defense helped Georgia hold on to defeat Notre Dame 17-10 to cap the perfect 12-0 season and win the National Championship!
BOISE STATE BRONCOS—10-3, UNDERDOGS, DETERMINED, THE ULTIMATE DEFINITION OF "TEAM"…DIVISION I-AA NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!!!
Boise State's run to the I-AA National Championship, was not the story of a perfect season but more a determined group of guys who fought through adversity and wound up on top at the end. That story actually began at the end of the 1978 season, when Boise State was cited for an illegal scouting incident on the campus of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. For the first and only time in their history, the Broncos were sanctioned by both the Big Sky Conference and the NCAA for the violation. They could not use game films to prepare for opponents in 1979, were put in Big Sky probation, and were ineligible for the conference title and postseason play.
As one can imagine, morale had sunk to a low at that point and some players left. Coach Jim Criner hung a sign by the Varsity Center door that read, "Those who stay…will be national champions." Despite the restrictions, probation and low morale, the Broncos stormed to a 10-1 record in '79, holding opponents to just 12.7 points per game. Until the recent run of success in Division I-A, many fans believed that the 1979 team was the best ever at Boise State. This success despite the odds gave reason for hope that in 1980, Boise State could put its problems behind them.
The preseason poster that year was called "The Four Horsemen", patterned after the famous backfield of Notre Dame and featuring the amazing backfield of quarterback Joe Aliotti, running backs Cedric Minter and Terry Zahner and fullback David Hughes. The first game on the schedule was with Division I-A Utah in Salt Lake City. It was the first-ever meeting between the two schools in football, and the Broncos shocked the Utes 28-7. Zahner was the offensive star with 113 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Dan Williams led the defense with 15 tackles. A huge Bronco group of 3,000 fans made the trip.
With every high moment comes a low moment, and the sky high Broncos were brought down to earth quickly the following week by Southeastern Louisiana 17-13, in Bronco Stadium no less. A tough game on the road at NAU followed, but led by Minter's 171 rushing yards, the Broncos prevailed 20-18. No matter what the year, no matter the records, Boise State had always found the road trip to either Montana or Montana State to be a tough one. Would there be more adversity in Bozeman for the MSU game? Yes, the Broncos were stymied 10-0 at halftime. They rallied for three unanswered scores to make it 17-10 with five minutes left. But alas, Montana State drove the length of the field to score, tacked on a two-point conversion, and the Broncos were 2-2.
With the probation, the helpless feeling of going 10-1 and not being ineligible in 1979, and the two losses already in the young season, many teams would have folded. But an emotional postgame meeting in Bozeman lit a fire in the hearts of the Broncos and they rebounded for a five-game winning streak. Montana came to town and left with a 44-10 loss. Up next was a battle with Idaho, which was ranked #9 in I-AA. A then-record crowd of 21,812 filled Bronco Stadium for the intrastate clash. Minter went over 4,000 yards in career rushing and punctuated four drives with touchdowns, as the Broncos were victorious 44-21. Boise State then topped Cal State-Fullerton 26-11 and shut out Weber State 24-0.
Another key meeting was another rivalry game, against the Wolfpack of Nevada-Reno. The game would feature the top two running backs in I-AA and two future NFL players, Minter of Boise State and Frank Hawkins of Nevada-Reno. People expected offensive fireworks but what they got was a great defensive game in which the Broncos won by a 14-3 score. After everything that had happened, Boise State was just two weeks away from winning the Big Sky. First, they had to take care of Cal Poly-SLO on the road. Cal-Poly was a very good Division II team and proof that you never take teams lightly. A last-minute field goal propelled the eventual Division II national champions to a 23-20 upset. Another loss and Boise State was 7-3 heading into Pocatello.
The Bengal program was on the rebound under first-year coach Dave Kragthorpe and they were ready for Boise State. Hungry to get the title that had eluded them in '79, the Broncos took care of business, capturing a 22-13 win and the Big Sky Championship.
With their 8-3 mark came an invitation to play in the I-AA playoffs and a date with the Grambling Tigers in Bronco Stadium. At the time, the playoffs consisted of just four teams, so a win would put the team in the national championship game. Grambling was led by legendary coach Eddie Robinson, one of the most successful head men in the history of college football. Former Grambling players were on nearly every roster in the National Football League. ABC would nationally televise the game December 13th. It was a very cold foggy day typical of Boise inversions. Grambling's defensive line was known as the "Trees of Terror"; they were tall, huge physical specimens and had insulted the much slimmer Broncos at the dinner the night before. They featured one of the top athletes in the country in wide receiver Trumaine Johnson as well as future Dallas Cowboys star defensive back Everson Walls.
When they ran out of the locker room, several Grambling players broke away from the group and ran all the way out on the track making slashing motions to their throat and trying to intimidate the crowd. The Bronco crowd would have nothing of it; this instead energized the crowd who had braved the conditions to root on their team. Grambling scored first to make it 7-0 and completely dominated the first half. They drove the ball at will between the 20's, and held the Broncos inside their own territory. However, every time it seemed Grambling was destined for the end zone, something to kill the drive would happen, as if by magic. Four times the Louisiana team, perhaps bothered by the icy cold, coughed up the football on the way to a score. Boise State stopped drives with three interceptions. And several times when Robinson elected to go for it on 4th and goal rather than kick field goals, the Bronco defense shut them down.
So despite the domination between the 20's, Grambling was only up 7-0 late in the 2nd quarter. As the game went on, the crowd could sense that despite all the talent of Grambling, despite its famous coach, this game was winnable. Finally, Aliotti hit Minter for a 31-yard touchdown pass and the game was knotted at 7 going into the locker room. The second half went much the way that the first half did, with Grambling again controlling field position but failing to capitalize. At the end of the third quarter, it was still Grambling 7, Boise State 7. It was winnable—the hometown Broncos had hung with mighty Grambling for three quarters. On the second play of the fourth quarter when Aliotti hit wide receiver Kipp Bedard on a 63-yard flea flicker to give Boise State a 14-7 lead, the crowd went berserk. And they did not stop being berserk for the remainder of the game. Grambling continually appealed to the officials to quiet the crowd. Nothing was going to do that. The Broncos had their first lead but back game the determined Tigers.
Again and again they struck at Boise State's defense with the running and catching of Trumaine Johnson. Somehow the great Bronco defense held them at bay, keeping them out of the end zone with two goal line stands and key turnovers. Grambling's only other score was with 38 seconds left in the game when Aliotti scrambled around in his own end zone before intentionally running out of the end zone. A Rick Woods interception thwarted Grambling's final chance—the Broncos were 14-9 winners and headed to the national championship game in Sacramento against defending national champion Eastern Kentucky!
The effort on defense that day cannot be stressed enough, for without it, Grambling would have won by a lopsided score. To understand the national champions, you had to understand that they were a true team. No way should they have won the game with the talented Tigers. But a look at the defensive statistics that day tells the story: Linebacker Dan Brown led the team with 13 tackles, Dan Williams, Dan Lukehart, Larry Lewis and Ron Chatterton had eight each, Michel Bourgeau, Randy Trautman and Ralph Espositio each had seven, while Jeff Turpin, Mike Bradeson and Ray Santucci had six apiece.
Although warmer, the morning in Sacramento was much like that left behind in Boise, extremely foggy. The field was in terrible condition from the season's worth of games that had been played. Everything else that day was classic, an afternoon filled with excitement. The Broncos struggled to a 14-10 lead at halftime. Aliotti tossed a 5-yard pass to Bedard for Boise State's first touchdown and then right before the end of the half, the Broncos put together an impressive drive that ended in a Hughes dive in the end zone for another score.
The Bronco offense took control in the second half, picking up big chunks of yardage led by Minter, Hughes and Zahner and passes from Aliotti mixed in. Minter hit paydirt from a yard out, Kenrick Camerud booted a 24-yard field goal, and Boise State was up 24-16. An EKU interception and subsequent touchdown reminded the Broncos that it wasn't over until it was over. With eight minutes left, the lead was now a slim 24-22. The Broncos held the Colonel offense on two possessions, including stopping a fake field goal with three minutes left in the contest. But the Bronco offense all of a sudden had become ineffective in the fourth quarter, and Boise State punted the ball again. Then, it happened. With just 55 ticks on the clock separating Boise State from a national championship in a game they had led nearly throughout, Eastern Kentucky's David Booze got deep into the Bronco secondary and hauled in a long touchdown pass to immediately sink the hearts of the Bronco players and fans. Eastern Kentucky now led 29-24.
A touchback left the ball resting on the 20 and it wasn't hard to do the math. Boise State needed a miracle drive of 80 yards in 55 seconds to win the game. Out came the proud Bronco offense, which believed they could score at any time. The confident field general Aliotti pumped up his unit and the team strode to the line. With three heart-stopping catches by Bedard of 19 yards, 13 yards and 34 yards, the Broncos now found themselves in striking range, on the EKU 14 with 35 seconds left. In this game of continual ebb and flow, three consecutive incompletions now meant a last gasp attempt on fourth down. Aliotti had thrown for a career high of 344 yards, but needed 14 more. The snap of the ball, and EKU's Buddy Moore raced through the line to get Aliotti. But Joe scrambled to his right, looking to hit Bedard for yet another completion. But Kipp was covered by the tenacious Eastern Kentucky secondary. Then, Aliotti looked to the left and there was tight end Duane Dlouhy wide open in the end zone. The pass officially was 14 yards but from Aliotti's spot near the right sideline to the left end zone was a good 35 yards. Joe let it fly and the ball floated perfectly into Dolly's waiting hands. The Bronco sideline erupted with joy as the Broncos had done it—they had won the Division I-AA National Championship with a dramatic 31-29 win!
Two national championships that year, one in Division I-A and one in I-AA. One by Georgia and one by Boise State. This year marks the 25th anniversary of those championships and celebration plans are underway at both schools. The past linked with the present. Two proud schools with incredible success at different levels that will meet for the first time on the football field at Georgia's historic Sanford Stadium. Two champions will meet on September 3rd in a nationally televised game by ESPN. The silver anniversary for both of these schools is something special, and neither would mind if some of that magic that helped Georgia and Boise State win national championships in 1980 rubbed off on the current Bulldog and Bronco teams.