When former Georgia defensive back and Atlanta Olympics super salesman Chris Welton was deciding on where to go to college in 1977, it came down to the Bulldogs or Duke.
“My mother was an English teacher,’’ he said. “She couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t take a full ride to Duke.’’
But the Bulldogs had won an SEC title in 1976 and Welton wanted a chance to play for a national championship. He also had an invitation to join Georgia’s honors programs, which softened his mother’s stance.
Four years, a “Run Lindsay Run” miracle and a happy momma later, Welton had his national title. He was already in the MBA program and would eventually enter UGA’s law school before playing a major role in the Centennial Olympic Games.
Welton played in a few games at quarterback as a freshman. He went into his sophomore season as the No. 2 quarterback to Jeff Pyburn, but the Bulldogs had brought in freshman Buck Belue and coach Vince Dooley asked Welton if he would move to defense.
He quickly became the starting rover. The Bulldogs went 9-2-1 in 1978 and lost to Stanford in the Bluebonnet Bowl. Then the Bulldogs opened the next season 0-3, but finished 6-5, setting up the arrival of Herschel Walker.
Welton was one of many experienced seniors who led the Bulldogs to a 11-0 regular season, an SEC title and a win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
He was already enrolled in the MBA program, and four years later, had his law degree. But in the late 1980s, a neighbor of Welton’s family during his high school days came to him with an idea. It was Billy Payne and the plan was bringing the Olympics to Atlanta.
Welton thought he was crazy, but after Payne secured the Games, he signed on and became instrumental in landing big sponsors.
Welton then started his own company (Meridian Management), which managed the sponsorships and marketing for the International Olympic Committee. He sold the company and joined Helios Partners, a sports marketing and consulting firm which represented cities and countries looking to bring in major sporting events.
Then in 2014, he was named chief executive of the struggling U.S. Equestrian Federation, which he turned around in the 19 months he was there.
Where he lives: Now 58, Welton lives in Buckhead with his wife Michele of 28 years. They have a son Conor, who played baseball at Georgia, and daughter India, who runs track at Ole Miss.
What he does now: He is working in real estate and his new passion is conservation.
On committing to Georgia: “I was going around to a lot of those awards dinners and I was meeting all these really good players like Scott Woerner, who were going to Georgia. I really hit it off with those guys and Georgia had just won the SEC.’’
On the importance of academics in his family: “My mother was a teacher and her father was a high school principal. I know she had a hard time understanding how I could turn down Duke, but I got comfortable with the honors program in Athens and I believed I would get a chance to play for a national championship team.”
On his thoughts about Walker: “He signed late and I remember we were all in the TV room at McWhorter. We didn’t have televisions in our rooms back then and a news flash comes on and it says Herschel is coming to Georgia. I remember some of my teammates throwing stuff at the screen and saying he is just going to be another freshman. But I remember when he reported. The freshmen came in a couple of days before us and they had to help us carry the bags in from our cars when we got there. I remember Herschel being the first one out there grabbing the bags, first one up and down the stairs and he had a smile on his face. … It took him a little while to get his footwork straight and the coaches probably gave him the benefit of the doubt when he was listed as the third string running back going into the Tennessee game. He knows how to treat people, no matter who he is around. That is why he is so beloved.’’
On the Lindsay Scott touchdown: “I was standing next to coach (Erk) Russell and he had his back to the field. He was talking to me about what we needed to do if we had to punt. I remember seeing Lindsay catch the ball and I grabbed coach Russell and said we have the first down. Then coach Russell said, ‘Hell, he is going to score.’ I didn’t get to go down to the end zone because coach Russell was squeezing the life out of me.’’
On coach Russell: “He was mean and fierce looking, but I never heard him raise his voice. He used to say that being a good coach is the same as being a good parent. Also, he got people to perform not because they were scared of him, but because you didn’t want to disappoint him. When he left after the national championship and went to Georgia Southern and won a title, I wrote him a letter and told him nobody could be prouder of him than his former players at Georgia.’’
On joining forces with Billy Payne: “I had known Billy because he lived in Dunwoody. Then in the spring of ’87, he pulled out a loose leaf notebook and put it on the hood of his car and showed me his plan to bring the Olympics to Atlanta. I thought he had lost his mind. But then Atlanta gets the Olympics and 14 months later, he asked me if I wanted to run the domestic sponsorship program. I figured why not, and it was incredible. ’’
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.