What does it mean to be a Georgia Southern Eagle?

Georgia Southern FCS College Football

What does it mean to be a Georgia Southern Eagle?

When the Georgia Southern program was revived after decades of slumber in the early 1980's no one knew what to expect. It was a few foresighted men who took it upon themselves to bring anew something the people of South Georgia could claim as their own. Hiring a legendary coach in Erk Russell, the force behind the famous Junkyard Dawgs of UGA's 1980 National Championship team was the easy part. Having to run across the street to Kmart five minutes prior to the news conference to announce said hire to buy the program's first football was the harder. After competing as a club team and experiencing I-AA football (now the FCS) for a couple of years, they were ready. A national title in 1985 was called a fluke, until they won another one the very next season. Losing a championship in 1988 only fueled the fire and they responded with another two titles in 1989 & 1990, the latter with a new head coach after the legend retired. Bringing in a new level of talent and winning their fifth and sixth trophies in 1999 & 2000 turned GSU into the cream of the crop. Since then, however, it has been some dark years.

Now back on the national scene with their third straight semifinal game appearance, shows a return to the elite. But what does it mean to be an Eagle?

Having turned a drainage ditch into Beautiful Eagle Creek, home of magical waters is but one tradition started by Erk. Another was taking the beat up old school buses and making their use a journey in brotherhood for every player to suit up. Chants of One More Time and Who's House shake the seats of Paulsen Stadium, not to mention the very foundations of resolve of opposing teams who dare to visit. Whether winning was the result of or motivation for the traditions can't be determined with any certainty, but they continue hand in hand. Being a part of all of that makes one feel as if they had some minuscule part in helping things along. Any fan across the country will tell you the louder they yell the better their team plays, but very few places can point to the success that has resulted from so many voices gone hoarse after yet another win.

The all-time playoff record for Georgia Southern currently sits at 45-12 as they venture to a second straight semifinal game against North Dakota State...the last a 35-7 loss that still stings in Eagle land. Being an Eagle means that the fans take part in the victories in their own hearts, and have said hearts break with the losses. Football is serious in Statesboro, GA. It isn't about bragging rights or ammunition for talking smack to opponents, though those things matter too. Football in this area is about winning pure and simple, something that has been done better and more often here than just about anywhere else. These fans really do bleed blue.

It's about knowing all the players and their stories from Charrod Taylor who served in the Navy on board the USS Cole when it was torpedoed by terrorists to Jayson Foster who was pushed around by coaches but somehow stayed humble and kept the team first. From Tracy to Joe to ET to Taz to Raymond to Greg to JR to AP to Jayson to Jerrick, they don't need nicknames here. They are who they are and that is all that anyone needs especially when they are champions. Be the best, as they so often have been, and it is enough. Former head coach Paul Johnson when asked by another head coach about his current contract responded “All I have to do is win once a week and I get to keep my job.”

Yes, fans are hard on the Eagles and rightfully so. Any season that ends without another flag for the championship pole is a seeming waste, a feeling that is shared by fans, players and coaches alike. Rebuilding means having to win a road playoff game instead of one at home.  I've spoken with fans of other programs and traveled to many an away game to see firsthand the pulse of how others do it. Every team’s fans are just that, fans. But there is just something more with the program their followers simply call 'Southern. There isn't hope in a win, there is knowledge that a cleanly and properly played game WILL result in a win. There is being out played and there is giving it away and by far most losses over the programs modern history have been in the latter category. Certainly opponents always have something to say about the outcome of games, but rarely is a loss seen by Eagle Nation without turnovers, penalties and mistakes handing the upper hand over to those other teams. Too many times has it been heard prior to games that the vaunted triple option will be “shut down” or someone's offense will hit 50 but neither happens. Just ask Old Dominion.

So what does it mean to be an Eagle? Winning and feeling a part of that winning. After all, that's what the Eagles do better than anyone.