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Some advice for today's spoiled sports stars: Be Like Herschel

A friend of mine went to Las Vegas for a couple of days last week. Now I know and he knows that what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, but he couldn't help but share his good fortune with all his buddies around the lunch table.

No, he didn't win big at the tables - or, at least if he did he kept it to himself. But he did meet a celebrity at one of the restaurants in the Bellagio.

"You won't believe who I met in Vegas," he teased when I saw him Monday morning. "You'll be impressed," he assured me and then left me hanging until lunch.

All morning I tried to figure out which A-list guy my buddy had run across. My first thought was Elvis, of course, but I have it on good authority that he hangs out on Maui these days. Barney Fife and Chester both died last week, and Willie Nelson was in New Orleans celebrating Mardi Gras - so I couldn't even venture a guess.

Finally the noon hour arrived and it was time for the great revelation.

"OK," he told us. "My brother and I were eating dinner at a bar in one of the Bellagio restaurants and the bartender pointed to a small table over in the corner where three people were having dinner and asked, "Know who that is?"

Herschel Walker and his wife, Cindy, were having dinner at the Bellagio.

While I was in Orlando last week, rubbing shoulders with Mickey Mouse, my friend went to Las Vegas and got to meet Herschel Walker. I guess nobody said life is fair.

Want to feel old? Yesterday was Herschel Walker's birthday. He turned 44, y'all. That's right. The fresh-faced kid out of Wrightsville, Ga., who burst upon the national sports scene in 1980 turned 44 on March 3. Now I know what a lot of you are thinking. "That's nice," but why are you bringing all of this up at this time in this space?

Well, I'm fixing to tell you.

Like a lot of society - the sports world is going slap-dab crazy. Take a look at the sports page any day of the week and the lead stories are as likely to be about salaries and contract negotiations as they are about scores and statistics. This school had three student athletes arrested for underage drinking last week; that school was busted for playing ineligible players.

A major league baseball player is about to break all existing home run records, but his achievement will forever be tainted because of whispers of illegal steriod use. One high-profile quarterback is dismissed from his team and his school for grinding his heel into an opponent's leg during a bowl game and follows up that act by waving a gun around after an altercation at McDonald's. And he and his brother publicly insist, "He didn't do anything wrong."

Athletes in every sport have abandoned the team concept; sadly, in 2006 it is, too often, all about "me."

Football players score touchdowns and stand up and crow like they've never been in the end zone before or sack opposing quarterbacks and preen like gorillas at the zoo.

Basketball players worrying more about style than substance and baseball players, who are asked to scrape by on about a million dollars a year, are actually talking about another work stoppage near the end of this season.

Too many players have become pampered spoiled brats and to heck with the fans.

Now try to remember how Herschel was.

There has never been a person who better exemplified sportsmanship, scholarship, athletic ability and the team concept than Herschel Walker. Yeah, I know he skipped his senior season to play for pay with Donald Trump and the New Jersey Generals - but not a single person who ever criticized him for it would have turned down that amount of money.

Herschel arrived in Athens in the summer of 1980 as one of the most heralded athletes in the history of this state - or any state for that matter. He was valedictorian of his high school class and could have gone to any college in the land.

He was the epitome of the big man on campus, and yet, when the upper classmen arrived on campus, Herschel was the first person in the parking lot, helping them with their bags.

Herschel didn't disappoint - from his first dramatic carry against Tennessee until his last carry in the 1983 Sugar Bowl, he played as hard as he could play - outgaining virtually every athlete who had ever played the game, and yet he never called attention to himself and after every touchdown he ever scored, Herschel simply handed the ball back to the official.

He never forgot that there is no "me" in team, and to this day conducts himself with a grace and degree of class that would make anyone proud to claim him as their own.

I just wish the athletes of today could learn a lesson from his example.

Happy Birthday, Herschel. And thanks for the memories!

Darrell Huckaby is an author and high school history teacher who lives in Rockdale County. Visit his Web site at www.darrellhuckaby.net. His column appears on Saturday..