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From Cumberland to Commonwealth to watch Herschel Walker

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.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

7 Comments for From Cumberland to Commonwealth to watch Herschel Walker

  1. bigaa69
    5:15 pm April 13, 2020 Permalink

    Great read as always Freddie!! The comment about “Leonard’s Losers” brought back memories of reading weekly book and listening to him on the radio. I too enjoyed watching Mr. Walker as he seemed to be above mortal status during his time at Georgia. Hope all is well with you and yours!!! Been a while since the days of softball at Briar Creek Park in Williamsburg, Kentucky.

  2. JATR4
    5:47 pm April 13, 2020 Permalink

    “…joined Big Fred and me.”

  3. Dr. Tom
    5:58 pm April 13, 2020 Permalink

    Great post Freddie. I also hearing the words “Leonard’s Losers” brought back a ton of memories!! Regardless of whatever team you followed by then, most everyone was a fan of Herschel Walker. He was something special.

  4. UKFanSC
    9:24 pm April 13, 2020 Permalink

    I’m with ya Freddy. Whenever I’m asked “who is the greatest football player you ever saw in person”….I don’t even have to think about it. #34 was a generational talent, a freak of nature, a wonder.

  5. goose2
    9:51 pm April 13, 2020 Permalink

    Brings back memories. I listen to Leonard’s losers every week before each game, it was on the pregame show it think. I remember many times Leonard would say, ” Leonard’s loser Kentucky” Oh except the 1977 season when the cats went 10-1 finished #7. That was the best UK team ever.

  6. east-ky-boy
    2:57 am April 16, 2020 Permalink

    I played high school for Fleming Neon. I remember us getting beat out by Cumberland in 1991. That was one of our beat teams in a while too. Good ole days. Sadly with all the consolidation, there is no more Cumberland or Fleming Neon high schools anymore.