Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why Ga. Southern Beating Florida Means More to Me Than It Does You

By now if you are a College Football fan, you know that Georgia Southern beat the University of Florida 26-20 Saturday afternoon.

And yes, anytime an FBS (Div-1AA) team beats a FCS (Div-1) team, it's a big deal. It's even bigger if they beat a team from the once mighty SEC.

It also gives the SEC bashers (everyone who lives outside the Southeastern U.S) more fuel to argue the SEC isn't what people think it is. Especially this year.

You can argue that Florida had so many injured players and was playing their 3rd string QB. And for what it's worth, Ga. Southern was down 16 scholarship players with injury too.

But no, the reason it means more to me than you: I went to Georgia Southern. I was there when the program was in year 2 (1983--I'm old). I was there for the first two National Championships the Eagles won (1985, 1986).

GaSouthern vs. SCState 1985
Going to a smaller school is different than going to a big one. Especially if you live in the south. Sports talk radio, TV and others don't pay attention to the little guys. Ever. They consider games like this a joke.

It's tough when your whole life you get asked "You Georgia or Florida?" or growing up in Florida it was "Florida or Florida State?".

How 'bout neither?

Me…and most of my friends don't consider ourselves bandwagon jumpers. Living in the South, there are millions who claim to be fans of schools they never attended. And many of them are the psychotic ones with the tricked out decorated buses or traveling all over the southeast going to games or doing crazy stuff degrading or trying to embarrass their opponents. Not us.

No, sorry, if you went to a small school like Georgia Southern, that's your team. It's always your team. You don't get to pull for anyone else.

When I graduated from Southern (1988), my friends and I tried to go to all the "Big School" games we played afterwards. We were there in 1986 when we played Florida, in a thunderstorm and set a "Then" stadium record for most yards rushing. We lost 38-14, but we were hoarse for a week.

I didn't get to go to Tallahassee in 1988 when we led FSU 10-6 after 3 quarters. I was working my 1st TV job in Lynchburg, Virginia. And when I came back from working a UVA football game late that afternoon, my Sports Anchor told me "You guys are beating FSU", my 1st response was "I call bullshit". We didn't win, we lost 23-10. But we scared them.

Fast forward a couple years. We were in the stands, at Jordan-Hare stadium when the Eagles walked to the locker room at halftime, leading Auburn 17-3. We all made a pact if we won, we were going to get arrested. We didn't win, but we scared the crap out of them.

It's hard to explain the attachment that I have to the football team. I'm not a crazed SEC type fan who's entire life in the fall revolves around going to or stopping the day to watch every second of the game. I haven't named my dog Eagle or have blue and white painted stuff around my house. I have one Georgia Southern t-shirt and a GSU sweatshirt. But Southern always has a place in my heart.

Heck, how could it not? When I was there, I was at every game. In 1986, I was a DJ on the campus radio station, WVGS. My shift was 10 a.m-1 p.m. And at the time, we started all our games at 1:30. That gave me just enough time to get across campus and make the game.

In 1987, I actually worked the games. I was a Broadcast major and we traditionally shot all the games from the top of the press box. I took it one step further. We scrounged up a second set of gear and while we took turns shooting up top, I would spend the second half and eventually the whole game on the field.

That's where I really got hooked.

Before long I was going to practice on Monday's and interviewing coach Russell and some players about the upcoming game and shipping it to TV stations around the state. By midseason, we started traveling to the games we could drive to. I got to know some of the players and had a couple of them play on my intramural basketball team. And the coolest thing to me, when I saw Erk Russell, he would always say hi to me.

True side story--Every Monday, when I interviewed him, we'd start the same way. "So coach, talk about last Saturday's game. How did the team play and how does it get you ready for next week?" "Well, Phil, 38 is more than 17, we won, they lost, so I guess it was a good week. It should help us be ready when ______ comes to town".

I always have kept up with Georgia Southern Football and always made it known they're "My Team". But I sort of bent my own rule. Some of you know I worked in Sports for a long, long time. And covered the University of Georgia for some 10-years. Got to know some of the behind the scenes folks there and had a nice, cordial relationship with coach Richt. Heck, Brother Jon, Brother Wilkie and I wrote a book about Georgia Football.

And admittedly, I like to see them win.

But Georgia Southern is always in my heart. My 4.5 years there were some of the best--and worst times of my life. I'm so thankful I went there instead of a big school.

True side story--I was accepted at the University of Florida coming out of Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Florida. But it was conditional--I would have had to go to summer school and do well before being accepted for a fall term.

I never went.

And if I did, I would never have made it through the core curriculum. I barely made it through my 1st two years at Southern.

So that's why Georgia Southern beating Florida means more to me. Southern had played 20 games against Division 1 schools, we'd never beaten one. Florida had played 47 games against non-Division 1 schools, they'd never lost.

Neither of those statements will ever be said again.

Here's the TV story from fellow Georgia Southern grad Frank Sulkowski of WJCL-TV in Savannah who also knows just how big of a deal this is:

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