E.A. Sports Today

Savoring history

Members of the Jacksonville State’s 1992 football team will gather Saturday to commemorate the 30th anniversary of winning the national championship

Several players from Jacksonville State’s 1992 national championship football team gather with the championship trophy during the team’s 20-year reunion in 2012. On the cover, Vincent Horton and Tim Sudduth prepare the welcome tent for the festivities.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

There are two bottles of bourbon sitting on Tim Sudduth’s bar that the former Jacksonville State safety looks at every day just waiting for a special occasion.

They’re the first things he’s seen in the morning for the last three months and the last things he sees at night. He won’t have to wait much longer to crack them open.

Truth be told, he’s been saving them for this weekend when his teammates from the 1992 JSU football team get together to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their winning the Division II national championship.

The Gamecocks beat defending champion Pittsburg State 17-13 that day in Florence in a game that wasn’t decided until Eric King knocked down a fourth-down pass in the end zone with less than 30 seconds to play.

For the JSU seniors like Sudduth, it was truly a do-or-die moment. This was their last shot to win a national title. The next year they would be gone and the program would start its transition to Division I, a move that was the farthest thing from coach Bill Burgess’ mind as he savored the championship moment in the middle of UNA’s Braly Stadium.

More than 50 former players, coaches and staff – some coming from as far away as Texas and Pennsylvania – are expected to gather for a reunion on Dillon Field Saturday in the run-up to the current team’s final home game against Eastern Kentucky. It won’t be long into the festivities that first toast will be coming out of Sudduth’s bottles.

“I can’t believe it (has been that long); it still feels like it was yesterday,” Sudduth said. “We still relive plays.”

The team will gather from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Dillon, make their way into the stadium and then be recognized at the end of the first quarter of the game. Afterwards, they’ll retire to Sudduth’s regular spot in the RV lot for some post-game tailgating, a lot more revelry and even more stories.

There’s even a documentary in the works by local producer C.J. Gilbert that promises to contain stories Sudduth says have never been heard before. It was hoped the film would have been completed in time for the reunion, but there is at least a trailer for the players to see Saturday.

Players come by Sudduth’s RV to relive the championship game almost every home game, but this week is special. It’s a landmark anniversary year – like the 10th and 20th they celebrated together before – so the stories will be especially poignant.

“I’ve been tailgating since they started the RV lot; I’m pretty much there every home game,” Sudduth said. “Some games we might have two teammates come by, some might have 10 or 15 depending on the game. I never know who’s going to show up.

“Those home games are always fun. They’ll stop by and tell stories and some of the people who are there to tailgate are hearing these stories for the first time and are just amazed at what we did.

“This week those stories are going to be flowing. To see everybody together in one place, that’s what’s going to make it special. Once you start seeing coaches and players and teammates you’re just going to start hugging them and relive stories. It’s going to be really exciting.”

The commemorative bourbon was the idea of 1992 teammates Slade Stinnett and Brandt Dooley. They ordered 100 of the specially labeled ‘WON’ bottles. Many of the former players already have jumped on them, but there are still a few available for purchase.

Sudduth made sure he wasn’t left behind and can’t wait to crack his open Saturday.

“Some of those other guys probably cracked them as soon as they got them,” he said. “I’m saving mine until Saturday. I’m going to crack mine there.”

Bill Burgess (C) coached Jacksonville State to the 1992 national championship. He’s flanked by Scott Peavey and Keith Maple.

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