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My Take - Eagle fans are coming to life

My Take - Eagle fans are coming to life

My Take - Eagle fans are coming to life

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the trip up north to watch Georgia Southern’s quarterfinal win over Wofford Saturday.

Fortunately for the Eagles, it seems as though I was in the vast minority as thousands of blue and white-clad fans made their way to Spartanburg — or perhaps, as I heard a few people refer to it, Spartanboro — to show their support for the team.

Even after the game, the party kept on going.

Walking into a few businesses around town, GSU’s win was just about the only topic being discussed and over a thousand fans flocked to Paulson Stadium just before midnight to welcome the Eagles off of their busses.

Georgia Southern followers have always been some of the most loyal and involved fans that I’ve seen, but — along with the team’s return to the semifinals for the first time since 2002 — it looks as though all of Eagle Nation is reaching the fever pitch of the championship years from not too long ago.

Fall of 2003 was the first football season that I spent in Statesboro, and it didn’t take long for me to receive a crash course in GSU football history.

All it took was a casual question to a longtime Statesboro resident or an older student and there would be story after story about how crazy the crowd was for a certain game or how many people showed up for a playoff contest on the road.

While the last eight years have always seen a great atmosphere at Paulson, those who had seen GSU achieve bigger and better things always seemed to give off the impression that even the big wins in recent years didn’t have the same spark to them as before.

Then, just as I was about to discount those stories as simply a way to cope with the Eagles’ recent struggles, everything started to change.

First, the Eagles upset No. 1 ranked Appalachian State on homecoming. The subsequent storming of the field seemed to ignite the students, and when GSU rolled into Greenville for the regular season finale with a potential playoff spot on the line, things started changing.

On Facebook, groups were springing up left and right urging more support for the team. Message boards and student groups were organizing trips, stopping just short of escorting students from straight from class onto the bus to ensure that there would be a strong showing of Eagles fans no matter where the game was being played.

Once Georgia Southern was in the playoffs, the support of Eagle Nation finally hit a tipping point, spilling from the general support of the last few years to something that is becoming more like a cult phenomenon with each passing day.

Charged with the task of showing up to Paulson for a game scheduled for the middle of Thanksgiving break, the students responded. Paulson was packed with its second largest first round attendance in history as the Eagles notched their first playoff win since 2002.

The next week, a few thousand more loyal fans packed up shop and made the eight-hour trek to Virginia to watch GSU take down No. 2 seed William & Mary.

And then came Saturday. All of GSU’s students were officially done with the semester and there were countless Statesboro residents who were likely running low on personal days after the Williamsburg road trip, but none of that mattered.

The overwhelming sense through the GSU community was that this season’s team is a special one and that the fans should be there for them through the long haul. And so on a chilly afternoon in Spartanburg, the Eagle faithful hit critical mass.

GSU fans outnumbered Wofford fans at their own stadium by estimates as high as 2-to-1 and the Eagles kept on rolling with another win.

Having taken over Spartanburg the night before, Eagle fans continued the party on the road while back in Statesboro, chants and cheers were breaking out from houses, businesses and plenty of bars which were showing the game.

In the past few days, I have encountered a number of fans who were around for all six national championships. Many of them thought that the days of huge crowds seeing the team on and off the busses or starting random GSU chants in the middle of the grocery store were a thing of the past, but were taken aback by the spirit that has been coursing through town for over a montg.

With the old guard of Eagle fans looking revitalized and an entire 19,000-plus enrollment of the university finding new and creative ways to show their support, it seems like the good old days are back in town… and on the Internet… and in the opposition’s stadium.

After their most recent win, GSU coaches and players couldn’t have been more appreciative of the support that their fans have shown.

Now, with another national championship appearance just one win away, it looks like a sleeping giant has finally risen.

Georgia Southern is playing like a team of destiny, and there is an entire army of fans behind them that are ready to turn this brand new spirit into the same old thing in Statesboro once again.

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