BALTIMORE -- Forgive me readers, for I have lost my mind.
It has been 31 days since my last column. During that time, I have traveled across 10 states and slept in six different beds to watch the football team's last five games of the season.
I lost my wallet at a rest stop in Dinwiddie, Va., on the way back from the quarterfinals against Appalachian State University. On the way back from the University of Northern Iowa, I was pulled over for the first time in my life, but I wasn't going fast enough to get a ticket.
I then lost my replacement debit card at a rest stop in western Pennsylvania. I might have left the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Holiday Inn for the Football Championship Subdivision title game without my new license, except for a kind man who called after me to remind me that he hadn't given it back to me yet.
But I promised myself and everybody who read that last column that I would witness the last play of the University of Richmond football season in person, and nothing was going to stop me. This last month has been the most fun I have ever had as a sports fan.
I would like to thank the following people who helped me make my trips to the playoff games: Emily Baltz, my mom, my dad, my sisters, Mike DeGeorge, Jana Ross, Bob Black, Will Black, Matt Smith, Duncan Phillips and his family, Megan Wilson and Harlean Owens.
But most of all, I would like to thank the 2008 Football Championship Subdivision National Champions. When I looked at colleges, one of my biggest priorities was being able to watch good sports teams, and now I know I made the right choice.
You have done what I never thought possible -- turned my mother into a football fan. I've been trying for years, and the best I had ever done was getting her to quote "Remember the Titans" with me.
Anyone who has ever spoken to my father received weekly e-mails with updates on the team's wins. People who have never cared about sports or Richmond were cheering for this team, and I am incredibly proud to go to school with these players.
Last year, when Dave Clawson left his position as head coach, I worried how it would affect the team. But when the sports anchor where I worked this summer found out that I went to Richmond, he immediately started praising Mike London, whom he had known since high school.
Each week, I became more convinced that London was making a difference. I admire both his passion on the field and his compassion off of it.
The players have said he is someone they can talk to about anything, not just football. He is a graduate of this university, which makes the school's first national championship even more special.
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After the championship game, he said he didn't think that anyone outside the Richmond program thought that this team could be national champions. That may be true, but as someone who followed this team every week, I had no trouble envisioning a victory on Dec. 19.
Every word that came out of sophomore wide receiver Kevin Grayson's mouth at the press conference during the week before the Appalachian State game made it clear how excited this team was to return to Boone, N.C., where its season ended the year before.
The thought that Richmond could lose this year never crossed my mind until I was on the bus down there, and I realized what a long, depressing trip back it would be if Richmond did lose.
But I never had to face that reality, because neither the Mountaineers nor the freezing weather could stop the Spiders. At the next weekly press conference, sophomore linebacker Patrick Weldon was practically shaking with excitement about the victory, and it seemed as if the team was ready to face the challenge of playing at Northern Iowa.
That game showed how far the team had come since Oct. 11, when it let James Madison University score 15 points during the last minute of the game. On Dec. 13, the Spiders got the last-minute win thanks to Joe Stewart's touchdown and junior kicker Andrew Howard's extra point.
The players seemed relaxed the morning of the national championship, spending time with each other and their families before the 8 p.m. kickoff. But at about 6 p.m., when they did the Spider Walk into Finley Stadium, they looked different, focused and determined to win the national title.
The only real way to describe their first-half effort is domination. They built a 21-0 lead, but unlike at the College of William & Mary when the Tribe tied the game and the Spiders didn't win until overtime, they kept their lead during the second half.
To be national champions in 2008 when the 2004 team finished with a 3-8 record and was almost moved to the Patriot League is an amazing accomplishment. To the seniors who fought that change, thank you.
You have left this program so much better than you entered it, and I cannot think of a better way for you to end your careers. Whether you play at the next level, we will always remember what you did for this school at this level.
There will be changes between this season and the next, but after seeing how this team responded to the changes at the end of last season, I don't think that's any cause for concern. For now, the Richmond Spiders are national champions, and that's something to celebrate forever.
Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at firstname.lastname@example.org
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