The night the goal post came down

Troy University fans tear down the goal post following the Trojans' 33-24 win over Marshall University on Sept. 27, 2003.

Troy University fans tear down the goal post following the Trojans' 33-24 win over Marshall University on Sept. 27, 2003.

“The New Year’s Eve we did the town,
The day we tore the goal post down
We’ll have these moments to remember.”

The words of the old song that are printed above come back to me every time a new football season begins at Troy University. I was there on the night of Sept. 27, 2003, when the Veterans Memorial Stadium goalposts came down following the Trojans’ 33-24 victory over Marshall University.

Because the college football landscape has changed drastically the last decade, a few words of explanation are in order. In 2003 the Trojans had just ascended to the top level of NCAA football play, Division I-A. In college football-crazy Alabama, there was a healthy amount of skepticism as to whether TROY could compete at that level.

Financial realities dictated that the Trojans face powerhouses such as Nebraska, Miami, Maryland and Kanas State to secure the large financial guarantees in order to balance the budget, which fueled the skepticism. Although TROY acquitted itself admirably, lopsided outcomes were not uncommon in those early days.

But let’s put the 2003 game with Marshall in context. The Thundering Herd had become at that time the role model for teams moving up to the Division 1-A ranks. Then-athletic director Johnny Williams even talked about a “Marshall Plan” for achieving success. Marshall’s arrival on the TROY campus for that game back in 2003 was a landmark moment. The Herd was coming off its biggest win in history, a 27-20 victory over the 6th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats.

Candor compels me to confess I did not recall many of the details of the game until I re-read the summary. Running back DeWhitt Betterson, a 2017 inductee into the Troy University Sports Hall of Fame, rushed for 114 yards and the go-ahead touchdown and cornerback Derrick Ansley returned an interception 70 yards for a touchdown to seal the win.

But the events after the game almost obscured the game itself. A tidal wave of student body humanity rushed the field, tore down the goalposts and paraded them around the field. After the game, our tailgate crew had returned to our usual spot underneath the magnolias on Shackelford Quad. We had just settled in to re-play the game when students carrying one of the goalposts paraded around the Quad in the moonlight singing the fight song. I felt like I was in one of those old movies from the 1930s that depicts college life as an endless round of freshman dances, football games and pep-rally bonfires. I also felt immense pride and satisfaction in my alma mater.

The Trojans, coming off a stellar 2016 season, will return to the field next week in Idaho against Boise State, which has become the gold standard for low-profile programs leaping into the national spotlight. A win over the Broncos would provide us with another “moment to remember,” and I can’t wait.

Given the massive amounts of attention that college athletics receives focusing on national championship wins, the latest recruiting scandal or a high-profile coach getting fired, that Saturday in September was a quaint reminder of the unifying spirit of college sports. It was a reminder of why we care, and not just care about the football team, but about the University itself. Sure it’s kind of corny, but it sure is fun.