|VERTUNO ON FOOTBALL: 20 years ago, Florida A&M pulled off a I-AA stunner; here's how it felt|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 05 September 2007 13:50|
And then we won.
Sometimes upsets that just can't happen do and nobody is more surprised than the winner.
M stun Division I-AA top-ranked Georgia Southern 17-14 back in 1987 won't be remembered outside of a few hardcore fans in North Florida and South Georgia, but trust me, 20 years later, I know how good it feels to be Appalachian State this week.
You need a little perspective to appreciate this. When we won, we knocked Georgia Southern from No. 1 to nowheresville, all the way out of the Top 20.
Going in, the Eagles were the two-time defending national champs. They ran the vaunted ``ham-bone'' offense and their coach was the baldheaded tough guy Erk Russell, an icon of Southern football.
To us, Georgia Southern might as well have been Michigan. And we weren't close to being anybody's Appalachian State even.
We had lost our season-opener 23-0 to Division II Tuskegee and the Dunkel Index computer rating had us as 41-point underdogs. Even Appalachian State was given better odds last week when Michigan was favored by a mere 27 by Dunkel.
As huge underdogs, you practice hard and talk about how you're just as talented, but the big talk is really just pretend.
Maybe your dad gives you a ``You can win!'' pep talk. Meanwhile, your girlfriend just doesn't want you to get hurt and you just want to survive. I wanted to kick my first college field goal and get on the local news highlights.
But weird things seemed to be happening that night and it wasn't long until we realized the potential for a shocker.
Georgia Southern committed six turnovers and we trailed by seven instead of 30 in the third quarter. But the fact we could win and I could play a part didn't hit me until I trotted on the field with a chance to cut the score to 14-10.
I had been thinking it would be nice if we kept it close. Now my knees were shaking. Heck, I was even intimidated by Georgia Southern's kicker, Tim Foley, who could kick it farther than anybody I had ever seen in my life. He still owns the I-AA record with a 63-yarder.
But he missed twice that night. My knuckleballer - even uglier than Appalachian State's game winner against Michigan - just managed to drop over the crossbar. It was a 37-yarder that wouldn't have been good from 38.
One of the local papers later credited me with this nifty quote:
``First I kicked, then there was no sound. I looked up and my heart kind of sank, then I started praying. The record book won't say what it looked like, it will just say that I made it,'' I said.
Hey, that's how upsets happen. Some kid who had never been on the field makes a play.
Another turnover set up our second touchdown and a 17-14 lead early in the fourth. It was time to hold on. Every second on the scoreboard felt like an hour.
The Eagles were desperately trying to avoid being embarrassed. We were clinging to our moment of glory for dear life and our band, the famous ``Marching 100'' was pounding its drums and blasting its horns during timeouts. To be honest, I probably still thought we'd lose.
We had our own Appalachian State moment when Georgia Southern drove for what would've been the tying field goal, but Foley's 50-yarder with 8 seconds left missed
That's when our sideline broke loose. You would have thought we beat Michigan, too. I jumped on the back of Nick Maroulis, an offensive lineman and my roommate, as we mugged for the cameras.
Georgia Southern was stunned. I remember some of the Eagles were so mad they didn't want to shake our hands, although that may have been because we were running around the end zone like a bunch of 10-year-olds on the playground.
So you want to talk about an upset? I like the story about a 41-point underdog that knocked the top-ranked team in the country clear out of the polls. And I helped them do it.
Who cares if Georgia Southern pounded us by something like 30 points the next year? I've walked in Appalachian State's shoes. It still feels good.
Jim Vertuno covers the University of Texas for The Associated Press.