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A ray of hope

Spurgeon speaks to Statesboro Kiwanis Club

A ray of hope

A ray of hope

    Between Georgia Southern, Youngstown State and Ohio State, Pat Spurgeon was involved in 10 national championship games in an 11-year stretch.
    Needless to say, when he talks football, people listen.
    Spurgeon was the guest speaker at the Statesboro Kiwanis Club luncheon Thursday, and he spoke to a crowd that hung on every word he had to say about GSU’s past, present and future.
    Known by some as the “Man in Black,” he dressed in the same black shirt and pants ensemble he wore when on the fund-raising and recruiting trail during the resurrection of Georgia Southern College football in the 1980s, and started his talk by showing the crowd his first-ever Georgia Southern Football hat.
    “This is the first hat that we had when we started football here at Georgia Southern,” said Spurgeon, who still works with OSU but resides in Statesboro. “I still have it, just as I still love Georgia Southern.”
     Spurgeon stayed on two themes throughout his talk — “You can’t forget where you came from. You can’t forget who you are,” and, “Through suffering comes wisdom and strength.”
    He talked about the last four years of the program, the “almost years” as he called them, and the fact that this isn’t the first time the program has faced adversity.
    First, he mentioned the young program missing the playoffs in 1984 after a 42-7, season-ending loss to Middle Tennessee State. Spurgeon said it was the largest margin of defeat he has ever been associated with, and described how he challenged the Eagles after the game.
    “We need to sit here and look at the scoreboard,” he explained what he told the team after making them stay on the field after the loss, “and make up our minds that this will never happen again.”
    He challenged the Eagles again in 1988 when they lost 17-12 to Furman in the national championship game.
    “‘We can’t go to the dressing room yet,’” he told the team after a fumble on the goal line ended GSC’s chances at a third title. “‘We have to stay under this goalpost and watch Furman get that trophy. We’re going to make up our minds that we’re going to do something about that.’
    “I don’t think I need to remind you about 1989.”
    Spurgeon talked about the losing season in 1996 and the similar state of the program today, and pointed out how Georgia Southern has always found a way to bounce back.
    “We suffered in ’84,” Spurgeon told the crowd. “We came back in ’85 and ’86 to win the national championship. We suffered in ’88. A tough loss to Furman — gosh, I hate to lose to those Paladins. … What do we do? We come back in ’89 and ’90 to win the national championship. 1996 was a very difficult year — 4-7 — and Paul Johnson returns. That leads up to ’99 and 2000. Then, we kind of got away from things. In all honesty, we lost just a little bit of our toughness. But I’m going to tell you this — as far as I’m concerned, we have the right man, the right system, and we’re getting the right players. … I do not know how many games we’ll win this year, but I think I can tell you that our fans will be proud of Georgia Southern every game, because they are going to play hard. I promise you that.”
    Spurgeon’s belief in the system run by Johnson and first-year GSU coach Jeff Monken comes from first-hand experience.
    “I’m in Montana,” Spurgeon said of a 1989 semifinal playoff game against the Grizzlies which Georgia Southern entered with a 13-0 record and won 45-15, “and the media people — these media people all do stuff like this — they said, ‘I understand you run the option.’ I said, ‘Yes, we run the option.’ He says, ‘What do you do when you get stopped?’ I looked at him and I said, ‘We lose.’ He said, ‘You mean you don’t do anything else?’ I said, ‘If you’re going to run the option, you don’t do anything else.’ But I did tell him this — I was very nice — I said, ‘We’ve never been stopped yet.’”
    Spurgeon added, “That’s the way we want to be now.”  
    He went on to explain that, while he no longer works for Georgia Southern and hasn’t talked with Monken about such things, he sees what Monken has been doing with the program. It reminds him of another program — one of his current rivals.
    “Of all things, someone from Ohio State is going to give credit to Michigan people,” Spurgeon said. “Bo Schembechler came in to change the climate in Michigan. It was tough, and I think 20 or 30 of the boys left when he came in. One of the boys, who was very articulate, said, ‘Those who remain will be champions.’ I think that can be said for Georgia Southern today.
    “I am a firm believer that you don’t break a tradition,” he said, “you build on tradition, and we have some rebuilding to do right now. But I want to give you some hope.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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