As Buck Belue, quarterback of No. 1-ranked Georgia, approaches a car-rental booth at the Valdosta, Ga. airport, the woman behind the counter lights up. "Do you know how proud Valdosta is of you?" she says.
"Yeah," says Belue, "but tell me again anyhow." And then the all-American boy from Valdosta flashes his all-American grin. The Grin. It's The Grin that stirs the coeds who frequent The Mad Hatter bar to scribble saucy messages on the ladies' room walls, saying what they'd do to Belue, were they lucky enough to get their hands on him. And it's The Grin that has an anonymous group of girls at the University of Georgia—they call themselves the Buck-ettes—writing doggerel to Buck in the classified section of the school paper:
Most Bulldogs are red
But these three are blue
'Cause we are alone in our beds
And you had better be, too!
We love You,
"I might be glad I don't know who they are," Belue says. And he switches on The Grin, which is Buck Belue. He will be a key figure—perhaps the key figure—when the Bulldogs play Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, in their quest for a national championship, and rarely does a player ascend to such heights while seeming to rely more on style than substance. For style, give Belue an A-plus. For substance and ability as a football player, give him a C-plus, which at least shows improvement over the previous two years. Consider:
•He doesn't have a great arm. "I'm not one of the most powerful passers around," says Belue. Indeed, he didn't even throw enough to qualify for the NCAA passing rankings. No matter, he wouldn't have been high among the leaders, anyhow; for example, during the regular season he completed 77 of 156 throws for 49.4%—the seventh-best percentage in the SEC.
•He doesn't have great speed or running ability. Belue rushed for 63 yards in 95 carries (including sacks). "My forte is not my powerful running ability," he says.
•He's not big (6'1", 185 pounds) or physical. "I'd rather he was 6'3", 215 and a lot stronger, but he's not built that way," says his coach, Vince Dooley.
•He calls only the plays sent in from the bench, no audibles. "Unless audibles are done well," says Dooley, "they hurt as much as they help."
Belue's high school coach, Nick Hyder, patiently listens to this list of the quarterback's shortcomings, then smiles benignly and says, "That's real good and you're right, but you forgot to look inside and check Buck's heart." Gil Brandt, player personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys, says, "He's one of those guys who don't do much—except get the ball in the end zone."
Georgia's Offensive Coordinator, George Haffner, adds, "He's not comparable to the guys the pros are drooling over. But he's best at the intangibles, and he knows what's needed. Buck has been playing for winning teams on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons most of his life."