Vince Dooley forever changed by first Georgia-Notre Dame meeting

Former Georgia tailback Herschel Walker rushed 36 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl after the 1980 regular season despite sustaining a dislocated shoulder on the game's second play.

In his 25 seasons as University of Georgia football coach, Vince Dooley displayed the same concern and respect for a Richmond or a William & Mary as he would for a rivalry showdown against Auburn, Florida or Georgia Tech.

Looking back, Dooley admits there was one game that changed his life more than any other.

On Jan. 1, 1981, Dooley's Bulldogs turned back Notre Dame, 17-10, in the Sugar Bowl to claim Georgia's first and only Associated Press national championship, forever making Dooley a national-championship coach.

"Now that it's all over, I think it did," Dooley said. "What everybody would like to do as a coach is have a team that would be undefeated and then the undisputed national champion, and that's what Georgia did in 1980. They always found a way to win, and there was no question that Georgia was the undisputed national champion. That was very, very special.

photo Vince Dooley

"Everything has to fall in place for that to happen. Some teams play a long time and never win a national championship, and other teams have things fall into place a couple of times just right."

Georgia's triumph in New Orleans came in the first meeting between the Bulldogs and the Fighting Irish. The second will take place Sept. 9, when the Bulldogs visit South Bend, Ind., in a prime-time contest on NBC.

Dooley went 201-77-10 guiding the Bulldogs from 1964 to 1988, but now that job belongs to second-year coach Kirby Smart, who has provided Dooley-like answers from back in the day when asked about the most unique challenge on Georgia's 2017 schedule.

"We are certainly excited for that opportunity to go, but not one guy on our team has a lack of respect for Appalachian State, who we open with," Smart said last month at SEC media days. "That is our primary concern. We know the kind of team they have, and I know the head coach (Scott Satterfield) at App State, and he does a tremendous job.

"I think it would be remiss to talk about the second game without first concerning yourself with Appalachian State, who does a tremendous job of recruiting our state and has a great senior quarterback (former Calhoun High standout Taylor Lamb) who I have a lot of respect for."


Notre Dame was the sport's biggest name in 1980, with the Fighting Irish having won the 1977 national title and having capped their 1978 season with a 35-34 win over Houston at a frigid Cotton Bowl. In his final game as Irish quarterback, Joe Montana overcame the flu and rallied Notre Dame from a 34-12 deficit against the shell-shocked Cougars.

The Irish ascended to No. 1 during the 1980 season before stumbling to a 3-3 tie against Georgia Tech, which occurred on the same Saturday that Buck Belue connected with Lindsay Scott for a 93-yard touchdown that catapulted Georgia to a 26-21 triumph over Florida. Those outcomes put Georgia at No. 1 and Notre Dame at No. 2, but a 1-2 pairing for the Sugar Bowl was wrecked when the Irish lost their regular-season finale, 20-3, at Southern California.

Herschel Walker rushed 36 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl to help the Bulldogs overcome a difficult afternoon by Belue, who completed just 1 of 12 passes for 7 yards. In fact, on Georgia's 16 offensive plays that were not Walker rushes, the Bulldogs netted minus-30 yards.

"It certainly wasn't the greatest game we ever played, but we won," said Dooley, who was a recent guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "The most significant part was Herschel, because he got hurt on the second play of the ballgame and came out with his shoulder totally dislocated. The initial reaction of the trainer was that Herschel was finished, so I'm thinking, 'An opportunity to win the national championship, and our premier player is out.'

"We go back on offense after we stopped a Notre Dame drive, and back in the game goes Herschel with his shoulder back in socket. He said, 'I didn't come all the way down here to sit on the bench.' He went in, and, to the amazement of everybody, gained 150 yards against a Notre Dame defense that hadn't given up 100 yards to a running back all season long. It certainly tells you something about Herschel. We wouldn't have won that game without him."

That Sugar Bowl was Dan Devine's final game as Notre Dame coach.

Georgia also claims a national title in 1942, when the Bulldogs went 10-1 during the regular season, with their lone blemish being a 27-13 loss to Auburn in Columbus, Ga. A 9-0 victory over UCLA in the Rose Bowl gave Georgia an 11-1 final record, and several polls at that time ranked the Bulldogs No. 1, but Ohio State was awarded the AP crown.


Is Dooley surprised the Bulldogs haven't added another AP title in the 36 seasons that have passed since 1980?

"We could have won it the following year and the year after that," he said. "We were undefeated two years later and lost to Penn State in a big game for the championship. I'm not that surprised, because it was 75 years before Georgia won its first one."

The second Georgia-Notre Dame matchup will be very different from the first in national prestige. The two programs combined to go 12-13 last year, with Notre Dame enduring a 4-8 disappointment that included seven one-possession losses.

The Bulldogs are No. 15 in the Amway coaches' preseason poll, while the Irish are unranked, but Dooley is sensing that playing Notre Dame hasn't lost any aura.

"It still means something to the Georgia people, because I think everyone who is a Georgia fan is intent on trying to go to that ballgame," he said with a laugh. "They can't all get tickets, and I think a lot of them may be going just for the experience."

Dooley knows fans who plan to watch the Chicago Cubs host the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 8, attend Georgia-Notre Dame on Sept. 9 and then watch the Chicago Bears host the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 10, which will be the opener for both NFL teams. Dooley will be throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field on Sept. 8, when he will have just turned 85.

The ageless Dooley is flattered to have that opportunity, and he is excited to see what Georgia can do the next night, as well as all season long.

"My biggest concern about this Georgia team is the best concern, which is that they've been picked to win the SEC East," Dooley said. "That's great, but the down side is that the expectations are now very high. Let's just go with it. I'd rather go with it that way than any other way.

"I think we've got a great future."

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.