The Collegian
Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Celebrations in city, on campus continue for football team

All together: Coach London, the Team, and the Championship Trophy
All together: Coach London, the Team, and the Championship Trophy

You know you've done something right when someone names a day after you.

That's just one of the ways the city and University of Richmond are honoring the 2008 Football Championship Subdivision National Champions now that they're back on campus. It's been more than a month since they won that title, but the celebration is far from over.

Things looked different on campus at the start of this semester. The words "championship" and "champions" were prevalent, whether it was on the banner hanging from Whitehurst, the Richmond home Web page or the football players' new hats.

On Monday, Jan. 12, the celebration started at the Richmond City Council meeting. President Edward Ayers, athletics director Jim Miller, Colonial Athletic Association Commissioner Tom Yeager and several assistant coaches traveled with players to the Richmond City Council meeting. Coach Mike London was at the American Football Coaches Association Convention in Nashville, Tenn.

In one of his last acts as Richmond mayor, L. Douglas Wilder proclaimed Jan. 12, 2009, "University of Richmond NCAA Championship Day."

Dwight C. Jones, who took office on Jan. 1, read his proclamation to the mostly full council chamber in City Hall.

"I have been a longstanding supporter of the University and its ongoing plans to build a new stadium," wrote Wilder, who called the championship a "monumental accomplishment by the University of Richmond Spiders football team and the outstanding leadership of Mike London."

He noted that the team won the first NCAA championship in school history, set a team record for number of victories with 13 and did so under London, a Richmond alumnus who is only the third rookie head coach to ever win the FCS title. Wilder also praised the school, the second-oldest in Virginia, for its 97 percent graduation rate for student athletes.

From sixth-year Sherman Logan -- one of four captains -- to true freshman Garrett Wilkins, 21 of the team members stood in the front of the room as Jones congratulated them for their season.

"We're particularly proud of these fine young men who brought honor to our city tonight and honor to the university," Jones said.

Jones commended Ayers' hard work during his two years as president, in particular his interest in being a good neighbor and a good citizen of the city. Bruce W. Tyler, who represents the West End district, praised Ayers as well.

"I must say Dr. Ayers," Tyler said, "when we first had an opportunity to meet with each other about two years ago, you said you wanted to get the University of Richmond more involved in the community.

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"But what he forgot to tell me about, what he really meant to say, he wanted to get the University of Richmond more involved in the nation. For that, we're very proud of this team."

Ayers said it was humbling to be part of a university that had existed for more than 175 years, and this championship was just the beginning of what the university could contribute during the coming decades.

"We don't have too many days prouder than this," Ayers said, "with these young men who have given so much of themselves day in and day out, basically working a 40-hour job and yet still succeeding in the classroom and setting such a good example for all of us."

Ayers gave Jones a banner with a record of the team's accomplishments, as well as hats for Jones and Kathy C. Graziano, city council president and the Southwest district representative.

In London's absence, defensive line coach Jeff Hanson spoke for the coaching staff. He mentioned the tradition London started of selecting two players for each game to run out onto the field, one carrying an American flag and the other carrying the Virginia state flag.

"We support the great United States of America and we're very proud to be in the Commonwealth of Virginia," Hanson said. "We're very proud and honored that we're here."

The honors continued during halftime of the men's basketball game against St. Bonaventure University. As AC/DC's "Thunder Struck" and Queen's "We are the Champions" played over the loudspeakers, London and the players, wearing the away jerseys they were allowed to keep, walked out onto the court.

Both London and junior quarterback Eric Ward thanked Ayers, Miller, the administration, faculty, staff and the 5,751 fans who attended Saturday's game.

"This is a complete team championship win," Ward said. "That team extends well beyond the guys standing on this court because it took a lot of people to put into this for us to have this outcome."

He invited the assistant coaches and their families to join the players on the court. As he handed the microphone to London, the Richmond Rowdies started a "Mi-ike Lon-don" cheer.

"Oh I like that," London said. "I'm so proud to represent this university, to show that you can do it the right way, with academic intelligence and athletic ability."

He encouraged people to continue to contribute to the Spider Club and the champions fund and to buy tickets, championship gear, popcorn and even bumper stickers.

"Let's turn over a new chapter in terms of supporting Richmond athletics by showing up going to games -- football games, basketball games or whatever it is," London said. "If you see me there, come up and high five me or something like that.

"Let's kind of turn this town on fire here about the Richmond fans. I'm tired of hearing about James Madison, William & Mary, U.Va. Tired of hearing about all of that. Show what kind of energy and passion we have here at UR and hopefully we have a chance to bring one more home like this."

London reiterated those sentiments last night, when the dining hall was transformed for the campus championship celebration. Dining hall employees, dressed in national championship T-shirts, handed out tickets for steak dinners at the entrance to the dining hall.

As they entered, guests walked under arches made of red and blue balloons to see that the usual wooden tables were covered in red and blue tablecloths. They went to get their silverware, and found it was already wrapped in red and blue cloth napkins.

Instead of CNN or ESPN, all the televisions played video highlights and pictures from the team's playoff games. In the middle section was the inflatable spider tunnel through which the team entered at the start of its home games this season. Across from the tunnel was a platform, under a Richmond Spiders banner, with even more red and blue balloons on either side.

Once everyone had a chance to get food and sit down, the cheerleaders lined up on either side of the Spider tunnel, and Richmond radio network's announcer Jasmonn Coleman introduced the team. London, carrying the trophy, led the players through the tunnel and took the stage with captains Logan and John Crone.

The rest of the players, once again wearing their jerseys, stood in front of the platform as various members of the university community congratulated them for their championship. Ayers talked about his experience in Chattanooga -- the spirit of the Spider fans and an encounter with Montana fans in an elevator.

"I said: 'Griz? Is that singular or plural?' They didn't think that was funny. ... I said: 'Well, you'll find out tonight. Spiders is plural, and we'll be taking it to you.'"

If you missed that win, or just want to see it again, go to the Whitehurst Living Room at 5 p.m. tonight. The celebration continues with a replay of the national championship game.

Ayers said there had been people, some with tears in their eyes, who had came up to him in Chattanooga and told him they'd been waiting 30 or 40 years to see a Richmond championship.

"Tonight is the night for Spider football," Ayers said, "and I could not be more proud."

Generra Peck, president of the Westhampton College Government Association, and Matt Whittaker, president of the Richmond College Student Government Association, presented a banner students had signed. Dee Hardy, director of Dining Services, presented London a one-of-a-kind Wheaties box with the team's picture on it.

"I can't thank you enough," London said. "The Spiders play for you."

Contact staff writer Barrett Neale at barrett.neale@richmond.edu

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