When Georgia football fans think back to the school’s national championship season in 1980, a few names roll off the tongue immediately.
Vince Dooley. Herschel Walker. Erk Russell. Lindsay Scott.
Notably absent from that list, however, are any Bulldog defensive players.
But Georgia did have them back in 1980 — with one of them even being named an All-American that season.
That man is Scott Woerner, who was an All-America selection as a defensive back for that legendary Bulldog team and made the championship-clinching interception in the 1980 Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame to seal Georgia’s 17-10 victory.
Woerner still ranks among the University’s all-time leaders in many statistical categories, including interceptions (13, fourth all-time), interception return yards (303, second all-time) and longest interception return in a game (98 yards against Clemson in 1980).
Along with being a standout performer on defense, he also made a significant difference in special teams returning punts and kickoffs. In fact, Woerner still holds the single-season record for the Bulldogs in punt return yardage, tallying up 488 yards in 1980.
Woerner now resides in Rabun County and is a physical education teacher at South Rabun Elementary School. This is his 22nd year teaching physical education after stints in professional football in both the NFL and USFL.
Even though his playing days are now behind him, how often does Woerner get asked about the national championship season?
“I don’t know,” he said. “Depends on what I’m doing and where I’m going. But it’s often enough that it’s nice to live in the state of Georgia, that’s for sure.”
Woerner also makes sure to wear the ring he and the rest of the team received after capturing the Sugar Bowl and the national title.
“[I wear it] every time I put on a tie,” Woerner said. “It still fits well, and it’s a beautiful ring.”
Although memories occasionally become blurred over the course of thirty years, Woerner has not forgotten a certain collection from his college days.
Three games in particular still register in his mind when he thinks back to that magical 1980 season.
“Tennessee, to begin with,” he said. “That’s what got the whole deal started. Then Clemson, right after Tennessee. And [after Clemson] all of the games are pretty much mushed together until you get to Florida, you know where Buck [Belue] and Lindsay [Scott] got together. Then we beat the crap out of Georgia Tech, and it was on to the Sugar Bowl to play for the national championship.”
Looking back, Woerner said there was never a “lightbulb”-type moment during the 1980 campaign when he and the rest of his teammates knew they were on a team capable of winning the national championship.
The former All-American was adamant that the team took “one game at a time” but the thought of going undefeated never weighed too heavily on the players’ or coaches’ minds.
Part of what helped Woerner and the rest of the team stay so focused was playing under the watchful eyes of Dooley and Russell.
“Erk Russell is the greatest motivator in the history of college football, no doubt,” Woerner said. “He was just phenomenal. Not having the opportunity to play for him would have been a tragedy in my life. Dooley and Russell, they are who I am. Dooley had such great ethics and integrity.”
Along with two Georgia coaching legends in Dooley and Russell, Woerner also played with arguably the greatest running back in the history of college football — Herschel Walker.
“You know, Herschel, as a freshman, had one of the finest seasons a running back could ever have,” Woerner said. “But the thing is, he did that three years in a row, with a lot of different guys. The offensive line was good all three years, and he was even better. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone since him that is quite as fast as he was from the running back position. I’ve watched a lot of them, and he could flat turn the jets on. Unless you’ve seen him go by you or try to catch him, it’s hard to explain. He’s definitely the best I’ve ever seen.”
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore showed off his best Walker impression last Saturday against the Georgia defense, running past and through would-be tacklers.
Like many other Bulldog fans, Woerner was miffed at his former unit’s performance in Columbia, S.C.
“I was shooting off text messages the whole game, and the guys on defense not being able to tackle, that’s a coaching problem, a motivation problem,” he said. “It’s not that the guy [Lattimore] wasn’t a good running back, but we just missed so many tackles, and that shouldn’t happen. You’ve got to put your nose in there. I know what would have happened at practice on Monday if we had played like that: we’d been hammering each other unmercifully.”
But now that Woerner is 30 years removed from “hammering” away at the Herschel Walkers of the world during football practice, the Georgia legend is just happy to have had so many experiences to affect young kids’ lives.
“I’ve done it all,” he said. “From kindergarten, to an alternative school, and then back around to kindergarten again. What can I say? I’m just a teacher.”