Day 1 of the FCS championship trip
We landed in Dallas mid-afternoon on New Year’s Day. From there we went straight to Toyota Stadium. As the team did a walk-through, the broadcast team went walking around the stadium. It is a very nice facility, perfect for an FCS Championship. We walked down onto the field, which looked great. Little did we know what was to come. From the stadium, we headed to our home base for the week, Embassy Suites.
Thursday was a busy day. The team got up for an early practice. Before they went out to the practice field, the players gathered in the stands of Toyota Stadium for the team’s official championship photo.The photographer noted afterwards that this was the easiest team he had ever worked with.
From there, the Tigers had their final full practice before the championship. Practices were held on fields adjacent to Toyota Stadium. No one was allowed to practice on the stadium field. Good thing.
The Miracle League and Main Event
That evening, the Tigers and the Bison held a football clinic for a group of very special youngsters. Both teams enjoyed sharing their expertise.
From there, both teams made their way to a place called the Main Event. The only way I can describe it is a Dave & Busters on steroids. It was 65,000 square feet of billiards, bowling, mini golf (don’t ask Zach “Junior” Maskavich about mini-golf), video games, and laser tag.
The teams played each other in billiards, bowling and bull riding. Towson won the billiards and bowling, while NDSU won the bull-riding, and the Tigers were deemed the Texas BBQ Bowl champions. I had heard Sam Houston State, the Bison’s opponent in the previous two FCS Championships, had won this event. I was hoping the Bison would win the competition.
On Friday, the Tigers had a mid-morning walk-through on the practice field open to the public. From there it was back to the Embassy Suites for the NCAA championship banquet. Both coaches spoke, and former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown gave a nice speech. It was a nice affair where both teams were able to bask in their accomplishments of the 2013 season.
Friday night, the Tigers met for their final team meetings. The team breaks up into offense and defense, with the two coordinators running their final plans to the players. After those meetings are done, the whole team gathers.
Normally, Coach Ambrose will run through the next day’s schedule and then gives the team his thoughts on the next day’s game. This time it was a little different.
Coach asked if anyone from the team wanted to speak. Close to a dozen of the Tigers got up to talk with their teammates. What struck me was everyone of them spoke of their love for their teammates. How they would be brothers for life.
Running through my head was something that former Raven Head Coach Brian Billick told me in an interview the week before the Ravens played the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. He said that no matter what happens, this will be the last game this team would play together. Obviously, all the seniors on this Towson team will not be back next year. The love felt in that room was tremendous.
Saturday morning the team got up for its pre-game meal, and then it was off to Toyota Stadium. When the team arrived, they weren’t dropped off right in front of their locker room. Instead they were dropped off about a quarter of a mile away. This was done so the fans, cheerleaders and marching band could form an aisle for the team to walk through and be given pre-game encouragement. It was at this point it struck me how much these young men had galvanized the program.
As we walked towards the stadium, I saw current player family members, former players from every era of Tiger football, and past and future alums.
Some stood out to me: my favorite player of all time and probably the greatest wide receiver in Towson history, Mark Orlando; two Tigers from the NFL, one current and one past, Jermon Bushrod of the Chicago Bears and Chad Scott; one of my former football broadcast partners, Tom Judd; and most surprisingly, Mark and Maria Ryan, the parents of former Towson wide receiver Tom Ryan. Those two didn’t miss a game home or away when Tom played. We missed seeing them on the road this season. Finally, Ed and Jacki Molen. Ed and Jacki hadn’t missed a Towson football game since Bill Clinton was president until bad weather cancelled their flight to Eastern Washington two weeks ago. Bet they don’t miss one for the next 15 years.
As for the game itself, I won’t go rehash it. I did notice while the teams were warming up the field could become a problem. Huge divots were coming out while the guys were getting loose. Obviously, before this game goes back to Frisco, Texas next year, they need to address that field. But as Coach Ambrose said after the game, both teams had to play on it so you can’t use it as an excuse.
Some final thoughts about the 2013 season
What this band of brothers accomplished this season will be remembered for a long, long time. They gave us thrills many supporters of other universities will never experience.
This group of Tigers woke up many alums who hadn’t thought much about Towson football. Let’s just hope we can carry over this enthusiasm into seasons to come.
As Coach Ambrose has said many times this season, the seniors on this team that helped to lead the Tigers to heights they had never seen at this level came to this university with a dream to lift this program up. They lived that dream and more. For what they have done for our university, we can never say thank you enough.