Greatest Bulldog ever? Do you even have to ask?

Everybody who saw him play college football has a Herschel Walker story. Here’s mine.

Sunday, Oct. 19, 1980: I’d gone to Commonwealth Stadium — I was covering Kentucky for the Lexington Herald-Leader — to nose around the football offices and maybe get a quote about the next opponent, which was Georgia. I got a video tutorial.

Charlie Bailey, the defensive coordinator, invited me back to watch film with his staff, which consisted of George Catavalos, Dan Coughlin and Bill Glaser. (Staffs were smaller in those long-ago days.) Bailey flipped the switch and I got my first long look at the Goal-Line Stalker.

I’d seen highlights of Herschel running over Bill Bates in Knoxville, but that was one play. This was the film of Herschel’s performance the previous day against Vanderbilt. He gained 283 yards, breaking Charley Trippi’s single-game school record, on 23 carries and scored touchdowns on runs of 60, 46 and 53 yards. (That’s 159 yards and 18 points on three totes.)

But it wasn’t just that he ran for big yardage. It was that he ran as if no defenders existed. The enduring highlight — in my mind, more breathtaking than the trampling of Bates — came when he broke through the line, stormed through two Commodores and carried a third, who was clinging to the bottom of Herschel’s shoulder pad, for 5 yards before shrugging him off.

I’d never seen anything like it, but I was a 25-year-old reporter who might have been prone to gushing. I might have been, except that the four seasoned football men in the room were yelling and laughing the same way I was. (And they, I reminded myself, had to try to stop Herschel six nights hence.)

About that time, coach Fran Curci appeared at the door. This was unusual. Being a former quarterback and an offensive schemer, he pretty much left the defensive guys alone. This Sunday he had a request: “Show me this guy.”

Bailey reran the film. Curci oohed and aahed the way we had, and when the shoulder-pad moment arrived he shouted, “Look at that guy hanging there! That’s unbelievable!”

Georgia would beat Kentucky 27-0, but the Wildcats made Herschel work. He gained 131 yards on 31 carries, which by his standards was a pedestrian night. (For the record, Charlie Bailey was a splendid defensive coordinator.)

No longer 25, I’ve been hanging around the sport a while now. I’ve never seen grizzled football men go gaga the way those Kentucky coaches did. Yes, Herschel Walker is the greatest player in Georgia history. He’s also the greatest player in the history of college football.

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