The year was 1982. I was a sixth grade quarterback at Cumberland Elementary proudly representing the Harlan County Champion Redskin football team. Georgia’s Hershel Walker was bigger than life. You see, there was only one, maybe two, college football games on television on Saturdays back then. Walker was THE name, a mythical figure constructed in grainy highlights choreographed to the sweet voice of Keith Jackson.
Sports were my life at twelve years old. My heroes wore blue and white as well as Steeler gold and black. My dad had UK season tickets and I’d seen plenty of UK games. But, I’d never experienced watching a player with the accolades, expectation, and lore that Hershel brought to Commonwealth Stadium.
My dad always liked to arrive to the stadium several hours early to get a glimpse of the Wildcats getting off the bus prior to walking into Commonwealth Stadium. Who knows, we may have been the founding family of the modern-day Cat Walk. On that particular Saturday, my buddies Chris Hernandez and Lance Jones joined Big Fred and I as we departed Cumberland extra early because Hershel was coming to town.
We stopped and picked up a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken but we didn’t eat too much. Must have been the nerves and excited anticipation. We listened to Leonard’s Losers and watched the Cats disembark the bus. As usual, we hustled for autographs. After that, the Wildcats were an afterthought. Our day was all about Hershel.
My boys and I were the first to get into the stadium when the doors open. We sprinted to the gate outside the visitor’s locker room hoping to get a glimpse of our day’s LeBron James. Giddy in the way that only young boys can be, our eyes opened widely as we witnessed the most impressive sight that our youthful eyes had ever seen.
Hershel Walker was standing in the tunnel. He had his game pants on while wearing a half-shirt. Standing in time, we had been witness to our first superstar. Our hero was more impressive than our wildest dreams could have imagined. I guess you could say that our lives changed that day. A mythical star presented himself in human form. Well kind of. Hershel didn’t look human. Number 34 was a chiseled god like figure. We stood there silent. We stood there astounded.
Walker went on to rush for 154-yards off 34-carries. He scored one touchdown. My dad was not too happy with us. For the first and only time in my lifetime, I cheered when an opponent ran over and through the Cats for a first down. We didn’t want the final horn to sound. With only a few seconds remaining, we again sprinted to the gate outside the visitor’s locker-room. We got another close look at Hershel Walker. My memory is that he walked in slow motion. We screamed his name. He didn’t look over. That’s ok. We have that memory. To this day, we still speak about it some thirty-eight years later.
After a stop at Jerry’s for a J-Boy Plate, the ride home to Cumberland was strangely silent. Usually we wrestled in the back of the Bronco, but that night was different. Our youthful dreams had taken a step into the reality. Hershel Walker was a real person and we go to see him. I miss my youth. I miss my friends. For me, the memory of Hershel Walker ties in all that was good, fun, and pure.
You can listen to Herschel Walker’s surprise guest appearance on Kentucky Sports Radio here.