October 27, 2009

It's debate time: Walker or Tebow?

Similar debates have been waged throughout the history of mankind.

Which is better, Coke or Pepsi? What about butter or margarine? Don't forget about pop culture's all-time favorite: Ginger or Mary Anne?

Well, in the football-crazy south - particularly those who reside in Georgia and Florida - the debate over Bulldog icon Herschel Walker and Gator wunderkind Tim Tebow regarding which is the best player in the history of the SEC continues to rage.

With good reason:

On Saturday, the Florida quarterback will attempt to break Walker's SEC record for most career rushing touchdowns. Tebow just needs one, having tied Walker's mark of 49 last week against Mississippi State with a 26-yard scoring run.

"I think they're both legends. One is still playing football and the other one of course hasn't played in quite some time," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "There is no question that Tim Tebow has made his mark on Florida football, on Southeastern Conference football and on the entire nation. He'll be one of those guys who will be remembered as long as people care about college football. Herschel is the same way."

Former Bulldog quarterback and Walker teammate Buck Belue wholeheartedly agreed.

Belue was the quarterback when Georgia beat Notre Dame for the 1980 national championship and knows Walker better than most.

Now a co-host for a sportstalk show on 680-AM in Atlanta, Belue has also seen enough of Tebow to know the comparison to Walker and what he's meant to the sport is a legitimate one to make.

"It's about the way you represented college football, the way you represented your school and nobody could have done it any better than those two guys under the scrutiny and pressure that they've had to deal with," Belue said. "To me, that's more impressive than just the pure numbers that they've been putting up, the caliber of person, the character. Even as a Georgia man, I'm not pulling against Tim Tebow. Well, maybe except for Saturday."

If Belue had a vote, both Walker and Tebow would be atop the All-SEC chart.

"They both were hyped coming into school, they both delivered with individual numbers and championships and represented the school and the sport. I don't know how you separate them. Those two are right there together," Belue said. "I guess there have been guys like Archie Griffin, at least in my tenure that could be in the conversation. But at least here in the southeast, for a long time it's going to be the legend of Herschel and the legend of Tim Tebow."

That said, Bulldogs like junior linebacker Rennie Curran would just as soon Tebow not break the record Saturday against Walker's former team.

In fact, it's a goal.

"Just knowing the type of player that Herschel was and the type of guy that he is now, we just want to represent for the guys who played before us," Curran said. "That would be so huge for us to hold their offense and Tebow and not let them score. We know they like to put the ball in his hands on the goal line so that is going to be our main goal, not just because it's going to be a record but because as a defense we just want to play our best game."

Belue believes Walker wouldn't mind that it's Tebow who will be breaking his coveted record.

"I think he's feeling some satisfaction that there's such high-character guy that's passing him," Belue said. "If you're going to see one of your unbreakable records fall, you want to respect the other guy. There's no question that there's great respect there."

But Belue sees other similarities between the two stars as well.

Tebow routinely draws raves for his toughness and desire. While Walker's personality may have been more subdued, Belue said Walker was certainly no less a competitor than the Gator QB.

"I think the thing goes overlooked is the toughness, especially when you're carrying the football 30-35 times a game," Belue said. "We were in the same cluster of suites, of dorms and there were some Sunday mornings that I would look at the man and see him all battered and bruised and you'd think there would be no way he'd be able to go the next week. But every week, there he was."

Belue said make no mistake.

Although it's been 27 years since he last wore the red and black, if Walker were still playing today, the results would have been the same.

"He would have pounded them. It would have been relatively the same," Belue said. "There would have been some things I think that I think that would have helped him, being able to incorporate some things in the passing game, things that we didn't do that would have taken the heat off of him and maybe get him the ball a little more. He would have been devastating in 2009 just like he was back then."

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