History doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes.
The "Internets" disagree with who coined the metaphor above, but whoever said it probably would have been impressed with the 2010 edition of the Georgia Southern Eagles.
The path of this year’s team to the FCS semifinals hasn’t exactly mimicked past playoff runs by the Eagles, but it has contained more rhymes than a Jay-Z joint.
Or, for the more esoteric, a fistful of Shakespearean sonnets.
Start with the obvious. Head coach Jeff Monken is the fourth head coach at Georgia Southern to reach the playoffs in his first year at the helm of the program. Every one of those coaches reached the quarterfinals and Monken is the third to reach the semifinals.
The other three? Mike Sweak (2002), Paul Johnson (1997) and Tim Stowers (1990). Johnson fell in the quarters, Sewak in the semifinals and Stowers won the 1990 national title back when the division was still called I-AA.
Erk Russell’s first batch of Eagles to compete in I-AA failed to make the playoffs in 1984. They were pretty solid afterwards, though.
A pretty disturbing rhyme with the past has to be called out here, though—Johnson’s first playoff run ended on the road at Delaware. Like Russell’s effort after 1984, Johnson’s next few years were pretty good. In 2000, Georgia Southern avenged the 1997 loss to Delaware by beating the Blue Hens — again on the road — to advance to the 2000 national title game.
Both games were played in bitter cold, by the way — conditions the Eagles are forced to confront again this week.
More rhyming with a Blue Hen theme:
In 2001 the Eagles beat Delaware in the only meeting between the two schools in Statesboro. In 2002, the Eagles lost to the Blue Hens in a Thursday night game in Newark but reached the I-AA semifinals (as you may have already noted).
Also worth noting: Monken was an assistant coach under Johnson during three of the four previous meetings between the Blue Hens and the Eagles (’97, 2000, ’01).
So far, the 2010 playoff run by Georgia Southern also has a certain rhyming quality with the 1985 national title push, too.
That year the Eagles squeaked into the playoffs with two losses (it was a smaller playoff field in 1985) and opened the postseason with a win at home over Jackson State, a historically black college (HBCU).
The 2010 Eagles opened with a win over HBCU South Carolina State.
The 1985 Eagles hit the road and knocked off powerhouse Middle Tennessee State in the second round of the playoffs. Georgia Southern toppled second-seed William & Mary two weeks ago on the road.
In 1985, Erk Russell brought the magical water of Beautiful Eagle Creek to help make Northern Iowa’s domed stadium a bit more like home for his Eagles. Last week, Georgia Southern brought 5,000 fans to Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, SC, for the same effect.
If Georgia Southern beats Delaware this weekend, the comparison with 1985 will certainly be alive.
For the Eagles’ first national title, the team had to travel to Tacoma, WA, to play for the title. Should the Eagles advance to the title game this season, they will be routed to a suburb of Dallas, TX, for the big game.
Neither of those locations are as familiar as Chattanooga, TN, where the Eagles played in three straight title games from 1998 to 2000.
If the Eagles fall in Delaware, the season most apt for comparison is 1997.
The Eagles played well that year and earned a playoff spot, but the team was still a work in progress. Georgia Southern fans hope that if the Eagles should fall in Newark, the rhyme does play out like the next three years did after 1997. If you have a short memory, just re-read the previous paragraph.
First-year success as a head coach has met with mixed results after the inaugural season.
If Monken can match his next few years with the efforts of Russell and Johnson, he’ll be known as the next great coach of the program. If the team takes a step back next season, fans will think anxiously of Chris Hatcher, Sewak and Stowers. Hatcher never made the FCS playoffs. Sewak and Stowers followed great rookie efforts by missing the playoffs the next year.
Fairly or unfairly, Monken will be judged by this rhyming view of Georgia Southern football history.
For now, all the lines are coupling sweetly and the fans are enjoying the poetry of the moment.