In honor of Furman winning 1-AA National Championship 25 years ago today, I’m reposting a blog from a few years back (2010) in which I sat down to watch the VHS tape of the game that my parents recorded and transcribed my thoughts.
Twenty-two years ago this December, the Furman Paladins defeated the Georgia Southern Eagles to win the 1-AA National Championship in Pocatello, Idaho. I pass a VHS cassette of that game nearly everyday. I was too young to stay up late and watch the game live and so when I was younger I used to watch that tape a lot leading up to football season. Now it has probably been ten years since I’ve watched it. With another football season begun, I decided it was high time to fire up that video tape. Who says that we have to celebrate the past only on anniversaries that end with five and zero? Watching the game over the course of several mornings and afternoons, I decided to jot down my thoughts on this journey back in time. Join me on a sprawling blog of late 80s college football and cable TV, will you?
ESPN is coming to you live from the Sam’s Club in Pocatello, ID aka Holt Arena, home of the Idaho State Bengals.
Now we’re showing the introductory highlight package for the game. Sweet glory, it’s awesome. Jaunty 80s sports instrumental over footage of Furman and GSC (yes, they were Georgia Southern College back then) players throughout the season. Now there’s a shift. We have the grim faces of Furman players as we recount Georgia Southern’s last minute, come-from-behind victory over the Paladins in the 1985 championship game. Football games are always more tense when revenge is in play.
Our commentators tonight are Tim Brando and Stan White. Tim asks Stan his thoughts on the game. Stan says both teams have high-powered offenses but each defense is too good to have a repeat of the ’85 game’s 44-42 final score. Stan is obviously hedging his bets.
We’re now talking about Georgia Southern head coach Erk Russell. He looks like Gene Hackman playing Lex Luthor. Russell was an incredible coach that built the Eagles from the ground up. The commentators are mentioning how UGA head coach Vince Dooley wants Russell—his former defensive coordinator—to take over when he retires at the end of the season.
Furman’s Glen Connaly is kicking off with one white shoe, one black shoe. Let’s get this started.
I’m coming to realize how spoiled we are with our football viewing experiences today. In 1988, there’s no first down line, it doesn’t say what down it is, what the score is, how much is left on the play clock or game clock.
Eagles run on all three of their first plays and didn’t even think about passing. Glad to know some things don’t change. Well, they don’t change until their athletic director decided to run a wildly successful program into the ground. Worked out well for us though. Southern punts and Furman will start from its own 20.
Furman QB Frankie DeBusk (#22) goes play-action deep to Donald Lipscomb for a 48 yard pass. Man, he was awesome. I always pretended to be Frankie DeBusk when playing backyard football.
Tailback Jeff Bagwell fumbles on a Furman 3rd and 8 from the Eagles 30. A big start is spoiled. Meanwhile, many Georgia Southern players have a towel hanging over their butt with a number on it. A terrycloth #56 if flapping around as a player celebrates.
Georgia Southern ball again and the Paladins are snuffing out the option. I feel like that should be a cornerstone of Furman defenses every year. Even in years where no one runs the option.
Eagles QB Raymond Gross pulls a Jayson Foster on a 3rd and long. I hate it when they pull off that triple option voodoo.
Woo! Stopped the Eagles on 3rd down. Jeff Blankenship and his awesome orange neck guard get the stop. 7:18 is left in the first. Time for a commercial break so John Madden can shill for Ace Hardware.
Great Scott! Southern kicker David Cool lives up to his name and nails a 55 yard field goal to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead. The field goal posts, by the way, are suspended from the ceiling. More on this later.
We’re back from a commercial break and the commentators are talking about the path each team took to Pocatello. Furman defeated Delaware, SoCon co-champion Marshall (whom defeated Furman in the regular season), and the Vandals of Idaho. I know I attended at least the Delaware game, maybe the Idaho game too. GSC knocked off El Cid, bane of my childhood Stephen F. Austin, and Eastern Kentucky.
Furman continues to shoot themselves in the foot by getting flagged for clipping on the kickoff return.
On 3rd and 3, Dwight Sterling and his awesome name get the first down on a solid run.
Wow, I’m witnessing the 1988 version of the ESPN bottom line. The Philadelphia Flyers are crushing Toronto 6-1 right now.
With 4:00 left in the quarter, DeBusk hits George Quarles (now head coach of perennial Tennessee high school powerhouse Maryville) at midfield for a first down.
DeBusk scrambles around and finds Jeff Bagwell for another first down at the Georgia Southern 30.
Furman is doing tailback and fullback by committee. That last run was by Bobby Daugherty, son of Cleveland Cavs player Brad Daugherty. Don’t get me started about how we should’ve done tailback by committee in the 2001 championship game when Louis Ivory was obviously gimp.
Touchdown! 19 yard play action pass to Brad Key. DeBusk is owning the play action pass. PAT gives Furman a 7-3 lead with 54 seconds left in the 1st.
The clock just died with a siren wail. They are going to have to keep time on the field.
I miss having the star pride stickers on our helmets.
Commentators are talking about a Georgia Southern tradition of sprinkling water from the nearby Eagle Creek onto the field at road games. The Eagles are undefeated with this tradition. How did Furman counter the water works? Jimmy Satterfield’s dad, Rev. Walt Satterfield led the team in the Lord’s Prayer in the end zone. Jesus owns water. Round 1: He turned it to wine. Round 2: He walked all over it.
On the first play of the 2nd, Jeff Blankenship gets his less famous interception on a tipped ball at the GA Southern 18. This is the most lopsided 7-3 game I’ve seen.
Daugherty comes this close to busting through the defense for a TD. The safeties trip him up at the seven yard line. 1st and goal for the Paladins.
1st and goal: Daugherty dropped for a loss.
2nd and goal: DeBusk sacked at the 18.
3rd and goal: Eagles pick off DeBusk in the end zone (his first incompletion of the game). We should be starting to run away with the game at this point, but we’ve spoiled two great scoring opportunities with turnovers.
Game stats thus far:
Total yards: Furman 141, GA So 50
First downs: Furman 8, GA So 2
Score: Furman 7, GA So 3
Furman just sniffed out a reverse and dropped the Eagles for a huge loss. I think that shutting down a reverse is one of the most satisfying plays in football.
Another 3 and out for the Eagles. Furman’s defense is playing stellar football right now. Pat Turner calls for a fair catch at the Georgia Southern 42.
I am going to try to convey what just happened in a commercial for Acclaim’s VCR Quarterback. Two grown men (one with the white guy ‘fro) trash talk one another and then press play on the VCR. They watch high octane football clips and move a card shaped like a football up and down a game board that looks like a field. The commercial ends with one guy sprawled out on the floor after a particularly vicious VCR hit. John Madden Football had just come out on the Apple II that year so this was the cutting edge technology of the day for the mainstream. It was a different world, my friends.
Another Sterling run by Dwight down to the Georgia Southern 35.
Daugherty rumbles ahead to the 13.
3rd and 7 from the 10: DeBusk is forced to throw it away and Furman will have to settle for a field goal.
Blocked! Connaly’s 28 yard attempt is stuffed. Paladins have only one score in three trips to the red zone.
Now we have a commercial in which commies exile a scientist to Siberia for not getting them a Bud Light. Ah, the Cold War.
Young John Saunders is giving us some NCAA basketball scores. Hey! South Carolina upset #16 Tennessee 83-81.
They’re showing a replay of the blocked field goal attempt. Mark Giles, who blocked the kick, came in from the right side untouched.
Eagles QB Gross escapes from a sack and Jayson Fosters his way to a first down.
ESPN Bottom Line again: Philadelphia is up 7-1 now.
The Eagles are starting to find a rhythm as they make their way into Furman territory.
Our Army Student of the Game is Furman’s Chris Roper. He has a 3.5 GPA and is majoring in Physics/Pre-Engineering.
It’s alive! It’s alive! The scoreboard is back on and showing 7:00 left in the half, which is the incorrect time. Meanwhile, the Furman D stops Georgia Southern cold on a third down attempt.
David Cool shanks a 48 yard attempt to the right. I guess being 7 yards closer than his last attempt caused him to relax too much.
We now have a commercial for the Sea World Holiday Bowl featuring Wyoming vs. Oklahoma State. Not exciting until they show that OK State is led by Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders.
4:15 left in the half.
Commentators are explaining the Sam’s Club rules concerning field goals. If the ball hits the brackets suspending the goal posts from the ceiling, they will do a re-kick (I know! A re-kick! It’s like playing football in the backyard). If the ball hits the ceiling, the officials have to determine whether the trajectory of the ball would have made the field goal attempt good or not. Hopefully, they have a protractor handy.
A DeBusk to Heath Swilling pass takes Furman down to the Georgia Southern 33.
Daugherty with a great run to the 18. Furman is now in the red zone. You know what that means.
If you guessed 3 plays and -2 net yards then you would have been correct. Field goal redemption opportunity coming up for the Paladins.
Conally’s 36 yarder is good! We learned our lesson and put an additional man on the corner where the last kick was blocked. Furman leads 10-3.
One thing that I’ve noticed in watching this broadcast is that there is not the subtle to outright belittling of 1-AA football from the commentators. Today you’d think that the Little League World Series features greater athletes than the 1-AA with the way that ESPN treats both. Not the case back in 1988.
56 seconds. Eagles are trying to drive down the field for a score before halftime. Whoa! My tape just skipped ahead to halftime. Young John Saunders tells us the Paladins are up 10-3 at the half.
We have some NFL highlights. First up is Denver (in their orange crush unis) vs. New England (with Pat Patriot on their helmets). There is a funky, minor key, drum-machine-and-synth-heavy music bed playing under the highlights. Elway leads the Broncos to the 21-10 win. The Fighting Sam Wyches beat Washington 20-17 in OT to claim the AFC Central crown for the Bengals.
We’re now talking about the 1-AA awards. Lafayette’s Bill Russo wins Coach of the Year and Dave Meggett won the Walter Payton Award. Hey, I remember Meggett when he played for the Giants. I thought he was kind of cool because his name sounded like nugget.
College basketball highlights accompanied by some light rock elevator music. Now Young John Saunders is telling us about the serious sanctions the NCAA leveled at Oklahoma’s football team.
It’s a local commercial for the Kentucky Fried Chicken in Spartanburg. It’s all new! It looks like a sit-down restaurant! In Spartanburg, they do chicken right! That restaurant was torn down several years ago and replaced with another KFC!
More b-ball highlights with Young John Saunders. This is getting a bit tedious.
Dick Butkus: Commercial Pitchman for Aqua Velva.
More b-ball scores and now we’re going back to Pocatello.
Georgia Southern kicks off to Furman and it is kneeled for a touchback.
DeBusk sacked! Dwight Sterling down! An inauspicious start to the half.
Furman gets flagged for a false start on 4th down. Georgia Southern’s #42 is celebrating more than I have ever seen anyone celebrate after a false start penalty. He’s running and jumping around, pumping his fist. Perhaps this is why the Eagles lost: they were too easily satisfied.
Eagles fans are doing the Georgia Southern chant. It was as obnoxious and unoriginal then as it is today.
GA Southern goes for it on 4th and inches at midfield and the gamble pays off. If I was watching this game not knowing what would have happen, I would have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that we were going to lose. That’s always what happens when you statistically dominate a game but it doesn’t show up on the scoreboard. You let the other team hang around and then they get you. I’ve seen Furman on both ends of many of those games.
Eagles fumble but recover the ball in the backfield.
Georgia Southern gets their first passing yards of the game with a throw close to the first down marker.
Eagles go for it again on 4th and inches and get it again.
3rd and long. Gross is getting pulled down for a sack, but chucks the ball right before his knee hits the ground. The duck is caught for the first down. What a fluke play. Regardless, the Eagles are moving the ball and I’m starting to get worried that some Georgia Southern fan had access to a time machine.
Southern gets flagged for holding. There is 7:08 remaining in the 3rd. This has been a crazy long drive for one with not a whole lot of yards.
They used freon to cool down the clock. That’s why it’s working again. Just thought you should know.
Sammy Walker sacks Gross on 3rd and 18. Cool coming out for the field goal attempt.
Cool nails the 48 yarder. One of the commentators states that Furman’s missed opportunities could come back to haunt them. Furman 10, Georgia 6 with 5:07 left in the 3rd.
Energizer Bunny commercial. This ad would have sent me fleeing to another room when I was five. That pink rabbit terrified me. But you don’t own me anymore, Bunny. You hear me? I’m free of you!
Cool’s kickoff goes out of bounds. I forgot that the rule used to be (as it is here) that there would be a five yard penalty and then you would re-kick. Cool’s second kick dribbles through the front corner of the end zone for a touchback.
On 2nd and 6 from the 24, Sterling tears off a great run to midfield. I am continually impressed by how deep our running game was that season.
Beautiful option pitch from DeBusk to Bagwell results in another first down. Word on the street is that Furman will be running the option more this season. That makes me happy. I need more Furman option in my life.
Bagwell takes a toss on 3rd and 5 at the 20 and rumbles inside the 10 for a first down.
Duh Duhhhhh Duh-Duh Du Duhhhh Duh Duh Duh Duh Duhhhh! Dwight Sterling, injured earlier in the game, dives over the goal line for the score. Still injured, his teammates carry him off the field. Commentators miss a great opportunity to throw out the “heart of a champion” cliche. Connaly adds the PAT and Furman is up 17-6 with 38 seconds left in the 3rd.
Furman’s TD Drive: 9 plays, 80 yards in 4:29. You could say that the Paladins answered the bell.
Eagles field the kickoff and the five and are stuffed at the 12. Furman is hyped right now.
And that’s the end of the 3rd Quarter. Your score: Furman 17, Georgia Southern 6.
Paladins stuff an option keeper on the first play of the quarter.
On 3rd and 16 from their own 8, GSC QB Gross chunks the ball long. Way too long. It’s as if he is unfamiliar with the concept of passing the ball.
Southern punts and Furman will start their drive at their own 45.
DeBusk goes deep and GA Southern intercepts it…wait, no he didn’t. Donald Lipscomb strips the ball out as he and the Eagle defender fell to the turf. Good D, Donald.
3rd and 4 and DeBusk gets sacked. Three and out when the Paladins could have slammed the door shut with good field position.
Block! Mark Giles, the same guy that blocked the field goal attempt earlier, blocks the punt and returns it all the way for a touchdown. Not exactly a great night for Furman’s special teams.
GSC fans celebrating in the stands. The camera zooms in on a man that looks exactly like Will Ferrell. This is kind of trippy.
Eagles go for a two point conversion but Gross’s pass sails out the back of the end zone. Furman leads 17-12 with 12:24 left.
Georgia Southern puts another kickoff in the front corner of the end zone for a touchback.
On first down, the Eagles shut down the Paladin option play. Plus, Furman gets flagged for clipping and we’re going half the distance to the goal line. This is the most concerned about an assured win I’ve ever been in my life.
Daugherty runs to the 15 on 1st and Googleplex.
On 2nd down, DeBusk only gets a yard or two. A Georgia Southern linebacker that looks like Chris Farley is celebrating wildly (especially for a 2nd down stop) in a Chris Farley kind of way. Is this just a ridiculously elaborate SNL skit?
3rd and 13. DeBusk passes to an open Bagwell but the pass is just barely overthrown. Paladins to punt. I imagine we’ll be paying attention to Giles this time. Georgia Southern brings the house and the punt barely gets off. Eagles ball at midfield. 10:37 left.
Fumble! But Gross recovers the ball before any Furman players can get to it.
Gross pass on 2nd down is incomplete. The commentators are talking about the fact this Georgia Southern team cannot really throw the ball. The lesson as always kids, is to never play for a one-dimensional team.
Nice. Dean Williams sacks Gross on 3rd and long.
Pat Turner calls for a fair catch at the Furman 13.
1st and 2nd down runs don’t yield much yardage. Clock is at 8:38 and moving…slowly.
DeBusk is sacked on 3rd and 5. I don’t know if Georgia Southern’s defense has finally gotten it together or if Furman’s offense is out of sync. Either way the last couple of drives have been a far cry from the earlier domination.
Furman seemingly gets the punt off, but gets flagged for delay of game. So they’ll have to punt again. From the end zone. If I were Bruce Light, our punter, I would be in the fetal position.
Light gets the punt off despite pressure and the Eagles return it to the Furman 40. Really glad I know the outcome to this game.
Another botched snatch by GA Southern. Another GA Southern recovery.
2nd and 10. Gross runs a play action fake and then scampers ahead for four yards.
3rd and 6. Well, well, well. Georgia Southern completed a pass for the first down. Barely. But give credit where credit is due.
Another pass for a first down. My trashtalking has apparently gone back in time and motivated Gross.
Georgia Southern is inside the ten. This is where the defense needs to make a huge stop.
Fumble! On the most important play of the game, the Paladins pounce on the ball at the 2 yard line. Gross does a poor job protecting the ball, a Furman player knocked it out, and then everything seemingly went in slow motion as a gang of purple swarmed to the ball. Furman fans all remember the Jeff Blankenship interception, but this was the play that truly saved the game.
Fullback Billy Stockdale gets a huge 10 yard run for a first down and gets Furman out of the shadow of its own end zone. 5:23 to play.
Wade Sexton was the player that came up with the critical fumble recovery.
Great shades of Jerome Felton! Stockdale busts through a few tackles and rumbles to the 30 for another first down.
Bagwell gets stuffed on a run up the middle on first down. Stockdale gets a few on second down. 3:40 left and Furman is facing a 3rd and 7.
Great pitch play to Bagwell, but it’s not quite enough for the first down. Paladins must punt, but they at least tilted the field position more in their favor. Commentators are questioning Furman’s call to run the ball on that long 3rd down.
Video interview with Jeff Blankenship in which he talks about Tracy Ham’s winning TD pass in the ’85 championship and how the ball went right pass him as they show the highlight. ESPN is apparently trying to completely mortify Furman fans at this point.
Nice punt, Light. Eagles return the kick seven yards to their own 22.
On first down, GA Southern tailback runs it six yards up the middle.
2:36 left. A pass squirts through an Eagle receiver’s hands and at first it looks like Wade Sexton picked off the deflection. But it barely squibbed on the ground before he brought it in. That inch is probably the difference between Paladin fans talking about Sexton rather than Blankenship all these years later.
Hey look! It’s young Steve Martin…I mean Bobby Johnson.
Georgia Southern must go for it on 4th and 6 and the pass is nearly picked off by Julius Dixon. Furman ball.
First down run for eight yards. One of the commentators states, “Furman is two yards away from a national championship.” For some reason we decide to make it a bit more interesting.
Jim just woke up. He wanted to join me for this last part.
Furman has 2nd and 2 at the 20. Bill Stockdale gets dropped for a loss and GSC calls a timeout.
They’re calling Kelly Fletcher stripping the ball from Gross inside the five the Turning Point of the Game, which is a bit of an understatement.
Lots of shots of Georgia Southern players kneeling and looking super serious.
3rd and 6. Furman runs it up the middle to the 19, just shy of the first down marker.
Bobby Johnson and Jimmy Satterfield are discussing what to do in this situation. The logical thing to do would be go for the field goal and an eight point lead, but the special teams have not been exactly stellar thus far.
More Georgia Southern players kneeling.
Furman decides to go for it. Dubious decision. Granted I have the benefit of hindsight.
Run to the left side and it’s short. Furman players know it and are walking back to the sideline dejectedly.
1:29 left. Georgia Southern ball at their own 19. Gross looks to pass, gets in trouble, and runs out of bounds at about the 22 or 23.
4-15, 51 yards, 1 interception. Those are Raymond Gross’s passing stats.
2nd down. Gross is sacked at the 18. Clock rolling at one minute.
3rd down. Gross scrambles, dumps the pass off to a receiver who bounces off two Furman defenders and finds his way to a first down.
46 seconds left. Gross back, he looks, he throws. Jeff Blankenship! The All-American picks it off with 40 seconds on the clock! He is finally dragged down at the 15 yard line. On the ground, Blankenship raises his right fist up in the air. That right there is one of the indelible images of my childhood.
Victory formation. DeBusk goes back a few yards and then drops to the ground. Georgia Southern will not use their last timeout.
Ballgame. Ladies and gentlemen, your 1988 1-AA National Champions: the Furman Paladins!
There it is. The game was tighter than it should’ve been thanks in part to some Furman turnovers and some incredible special teams play by Georgia Southern. The 1988 graphics and commercials were a sight to behold. But more than that, it was great to re-live this great moment in Furman history. Go Paladins!