Back UGA, Now More Than Ever, is ‘RBU’

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UGA, Now More Than Ever, is ‘RBU’

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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When measuring the success of the Bulldogs as "Running Back U", be sure to count in roman numerals.

We went into practices, pretty much every day, trying to outdo one another and that right there just fueled everyone's fire. It's one of those things that is still being carried on at Georgia.
~Patrick Pass

From the bright lights of college football's best conference to the big stage of the big game, Georgia's distinction as "Running Back U" has never been more clear. Program greats include the SEC's first-ever Heisman Trophy winner, a number one overall NFL Draft pick and a league MVP; Frank Sinkwich, in just a three-year span in the 1940s, did all of that by himself. The incomparable Herschel Walker remains the game's all-time standard. Terrell Davis, one of just seven members of the NFL's 2,000-yard club, adds a Super Bowl MVP to the collective credentials. The next generation is poised for more of the same.

With Super Bowl LIII set for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the run there started right down Highway 78.

First only the fourth time in history, starting running backs for the opposing big game participants will be from the same school. Back-to-back NFL All-Pro Todd Gurley leads the Los Angeles Rams, while rookie Sony Michel, fresh off 242 yards and five touchdowns through two playoff games, has emerged as a key playmaker for the New England Patriots. With 4,773 yards and 48 touchdowns on the ground and 1,899 yards and ten scores through the air, Gurley is arguably the modern-day prototype. Michel already has the most rushing touchdowns ever for a rookie in the postseason. 

In 2014, Gurley, Michel and Nick Chubb were all part of the same Georgia backfield. The trio combined for 2,868 yards rushing yards and 28 scores for the Bulldogs. Chubb, recently debuting with the upstart Cleveland Browns, finished a stretch shy of 1,000 yards in breaking the franchise's rookie rushing record. He was named one of five finalists for the NFL's Rookie of the Year Award. Gurley, Chub and Michel rank 3rd, 10th and 15th on this season's rushing yardage list; of league backs with at least 930 rushing yards, 20% of them played at Georgia.

Gurley and Michel, specifically, step into the spotlight as centerpieces in the most important football game of the year. Though historic, their upcoming participation is, in some ways, a continuation. Since Super Bowl XXIV in 1990, ten championship teams have had a former Georgia running back on the roster. In that span, Keith Henderson, Rodney Hampton, Terrell Davis (2x), Patrick Pass (3x), Verron Haynes and Danny Ware (2x) have all won rings. Soon, either Gurley or Michel will push the total to 11 winners in 30 years, 12 if you count the brief stint Pass had with the 2007-2008 New York Giants.    

When measuring the success of the Bulldogs as "Running Back U", be sure to count in roman numerals.

"I'm very excited to see both of those guys in the big game on Super Bowl Sunday," Pass, a three-time winner with the Patriots explained. "I am a big fan of running backs and, coming from the University of Georgia...I think it all started with Terrell Davis. I watched Todd Gurley and Sony Michel at Georgia and they did awesome jobs."

The Bulldogs' running back reputation is at an all-time high. This is a brand that spans generations and individual greats. One year after Chubb and Michel famously left Athens as college football's most-productive running back duo ever, D'Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield promptly stepped in with 1,049 and 1,018 yards, respectively. Georgia became the the first program in FBS history with two different 1,000-yard rushing tandems in back-to-back years. Holyfield, the next-in-line for the Bulldogs, is one of the top tailbacks in the upcoming NFL Draft.

A culture of competition is the starting point for success at Georgia. Even in the SEC, the toughest challenge some Bulldog running backs may face is their own positional depth chart. Lining up in the offensive backfield in Athens is a truly special opportunity, reps that are very much fought for and earned. As carries are often shared, so, too, is a bond. There is a pride that can't be measured in production. The end result, Walker and beyond, is a standard beyond compare.       

"I think that it's the competition and it's not in a negative way. When I was there with Robert Edwards and Olandis Gary, and a few other backs, Brett Milican, a five star, we just loved to compete against one another. We went into practices, pretty much every day, trying to outdo one another and that right there just fueled everyone's fire," Pass explained. "It's one of those things that is still being carried on at Georgia. A lot of the four and five star recruits are coming in and they competing against each other and that makes them better."

Some of the biggest names in football are byproducts of that logjam. Such a talent compilation for the Bulldogs has long prepared players for the next level. Of the six aforementioned Super Bowl-winning running backs from Georgia this generation, only Hampton had more than 170 carries in a single season. These are stars that work for, and make the most of, each and every one of their chances. Tenacity, between the hedges, is a tradition.     

Soon, Gurley and Michel will be part of an absolute global showcase, far and away the premier event in American sports. The lights could not be brighter. Even still, they somewhat stand in the shadows of those who came before. Recent and current Bulldogs are obviously shaping the national narrative; with each step forward, they continue to tell a story.

"It's really an honor that the older guys, and I'm talking about Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi and Horace King, all of those guys who played before I did and helped get that legacy started, it really is a tribute to them," former UGA and Bears standout Willie McClendon added. "And then the coaching staffs picking up that path recruiting those athletes to get that offense moving and establishing that 'RBU' moniker we so proudly use and talk about." 

There are four jerseys retired at Georgia, all of them were worn by running backs. Here, leaders follow in the footsteps of legends. Wherever paths may go, tracks are left in red clay.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports