1 JAN 1991: A GENERAL VIEW OF THE CITRUS BOWL DURING THE GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS 45-21 VICTORY OVER THE NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS IN THE 1991 FLORIDA CITRUS BOWL IN ORLANDO, FLORIDA. Mandatory Credit: Scott Halleran/ALLSPORT
This football season has not turned out as planned for either local team. With their bowl games set for next week, and Santa visiting in a couple of days, I thought it might be a good time to appreciate a pair of largely unheralded names from happier times.
This year represents the 30th anniversary of Georgia's 1980 national championship, and the 20th anniversary of the most recent title for Georgia Tech in 1990.
The 1980 season saw a freshman by the name of Herschel Walker burst on the scene. Everyone old enough well remembers Walker flattening Bill Bates in the Tennessee game. Each SEC team knew that Herschel was going to get the ball. Everybody stuffed the box daring Buck Belue to throw. Coach Vince Dooley called just enough passes to almost keep defenses honest, and the famous "Run, Lindsay, Run!" call saved the Florida game.
Going into the Sugar Bowl, Georgia had the better record and the No. 1 ranking. However, Notre Dame was favored due to their size on both lines and their defense. Georgia jumped out to a lead, taking advantage of Fighting Irish miscues. They were extremely dependent on giving Walker the ball and eating clock. He separated his shoulder on the first offensive play, finished with 150 yards, scored a touchdown, and won the game MVP award. Everybody remembers that, right?
For years I raised eyebrows by saying Walker was not the most valuable player that day. I know this would be sacrilegious to most UGA fans, and I would be reluctant to tell Mr. Walker to his face. However I would like to raise Scott Woerner for consideration. Who? An often over-looked safety that took points off the Irish's side of the scorebord all game long.
In the first half Woerner intercepted the Irish in Georgia territory. Then in the third quarter he knocked away a pass in the end zone. Early in the fourth he dropped a Notre Dame running back for a loss on third down in the red zone. And with three minutes to go Scott came up with an interception in the end zone, thus snuffing out the last threat and preserving Georgia's 17-10 victory.
How about the Jackets?
As Georgia was enjoying the strongest run of success in the early '80's, Tech was suffering through it's worst. School president Joseph Pettit actually had proposed dropping football, or at least dropping down in classification. A dark cloud was hanging over North Avenue. Tech faithful trudged onward.
Coming into the 1990 season, coach Bobby Ross had Tech on an upward path, but no one had any serious thoughts about becoming a top-tier program ... except for safety Ken Swilling. During the summer Swilling had raised eyebrows and become the brunt of numerous jokes because he had said out loud he thought Tech could go undefeated.
Coming into the Citrus Bowl, Tech still felt as though they were not getting the respect they deserved. Many had said their schedule was soft. However an AJ-C article showed that Tech's '90 schedule was tougher than UGA's '80 schedule.
Tech showed early they could move the ball and stop Nebraska. However late in the second quarter, the Cornhuskers had grabbed the momentum and pulled within a touchdown, 21-14. Tech was forced to punt and the ball was muffed, then touched by three Huskers. Jacket safety Jay Martin recovered for the Jackets. Scott Sisson kicked a field goal to go up 24-14, and Tech never looked back.
Who was Jay Martin? Jay's dad, Billy, was an All-American for Tech in the 60's and went on to the NFL as a tight end. You have seen his name on the side of the east stands of Bobby Dodd Stadium. Jay had a well-earned reputation as a ferocious tackler. However his college career was not to turn out as successful as his dad's.
He had three major surgeries in his first three years, missing his sophomore and junior seasons. He never stopped competing, though, and returned to the field four months earlier than expected after his last surgery. However he did not have quite the same demeanor. He wanted to continue the career he started, but the injuries had taken a toll. He did fill in for Swilling and start two games during the season.
William Bell and Sean Jones received all of the well-deserved Citrus Bowl notice. Bell finished with 126 yards and three touchdowns. Jones passed for 277 yards and a pair of scores, and ran for 41 yards and a touchdown. But to Jay Martin, the work to get back on the field was fulfilled with that punt recovery.