The first football game of the re-started football program at Georgia Southern was an intra-squad game played in Dublin. A caravan of cars, trucks and buses full of families, friends, students and staff followed the Eagles to the game.
They played the next two scrimmages in Florida. First, they played against the Florida State University Junior Varsity Team (and lost), and then against the Fort Benning Doughboys in Columbus, Georgia (and won).
Their third scrimmage was at Womack Field on the Statesboro High School campus. They played “the Magnum Force,” made up of law enforcement officers from the Jacksonville area (the Eagles won here, too).
Dr. Bucky Wagner was brought in to run it and Ken Winstead of the University of Houston’s Cougar Club was brought in to organize the new Southern Boosters. The Bulloch County School Board agreed to allow the Eagles to use Womack Field until the school could prepare a field for their team.
In 1982, the team played in Division III (6 wins, 3 losses, and one tie); then in 1983, in Division II (6 wins and 5 losses); and then, in 1984, played in Division I-AA (8 wins and 3 losses.)
In 1985, the Eagles won their first national championship against Furman (44-42); in 1986, they won their second national championship against Arkansas State (48-21); and then in 1989, the Eagles won their third national championship, with a victory over Steven Austin (37-34.)
It was several days after this game that Coach Erk Russell decided to retire. His final record with the Eagles was a remarkable 83 wins, 22 losses and one tie, for an overall percentage of .788.
Russell was replaced by his offensive coordinator, Tim Stowers. The Eagles went on to win three more national championships (1990, 1999 and 2000); amassing a record of 15 wins and no losses (from their 1989 season.) No other college team had achieved this in the 20th century.
Russell was named to both the Georgia and the Alabama Sports Halls of Fame, and as both the USA Today Coach of the Decade and the CBS Sports Coach of the Year in 1991. He ran as a torch-bearer at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Russell died on Sept. 8, 2006 as a result of a stroke he had while he was driving the family car in Statesboro. Ironically, he had just spoken with all of the 2006 team members the night before, saying he was quite excited about the football game, and indeed the entire upcoming season.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. E-mail Roger at email@example.com.