There are only a few moments in life that people can look back on and feel like were a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For the players of the 1977 team that won the OVC Championships first, 42 years ago, that was their moment they would remember forever.
During this recent flashback to history, with APSU winning another OVC Championship, there is the same kind of magic in Fortera Stadium’s air.
“It was like a fairy tale, for me, coming true,” Bob Bible, linebacker of the 1977 champion football team said. “I was thinking we really don’t have that big of a team, but guess what everybody else in the OVC has a bunch of big guys and they have pretty good teams too.”
Bible remembers starting freshmen year with 60 team members, and how each year members would quit for different reasons.
“There was ten people out of those 60 left that got there as freshmen,” Bible said. “There was a group of us that used to sit around in a dorm and kids would be playing cards and stuff, studying. We sat around and talked about,’What is it going to take for us to win?’ We just wanted to win.”
As Bible described this historic moment and what led up to the team’s success so long ago, there were similar perspectives from the reporters who got to cover that historic APSU win. APSU had been more of a silent team at the time, and not as noticed in athletics, at least in football, by the media.
“This year (2019 Championship win) there were some expectations, this team had been pretty good since Coach Healy,” Larry Schmidt, a previous All State sports editor, and reporter at The Leaf Chronicle and The Paducah Sun who formerly covered OVC media said.
The 1977 team had just had Coach Boots Donnelly hired on; Donnelly was previously a high school coach at Father Ryan in Nashville, TN. Schmidt described how Donnelly had taken over for the previous coach Jack Bushofsky, who only had a win of 13 games. Schmidt talked about the doubts of what could be expected from a high school coach, coming in to coach college-level football.
“There was nothing really to foreshadow that this would be the year that Austin Peay would win a championship,” Schmidt said. “It just took off. Maybe it was coaching, maybe there were a lot of seniors who ended up to be very good football players. I mean they really just got fire and won the championships.”
“That really was a Cinderella story,” Schmidt similarly said about this OVC championship win as Bible had. “Like I said, nobody expected that.”
Looking at the two teams, there are many things to acknowledge, as to the spirit that contributed to these winning teams. In 1977, there were players who achieved many awards and a championship, as there has been this season.
In his senior year, Bible was one of the team members to receive awards. He was selected to the AP All-America team and would achieve the Joy Award in 1978, for being recognized as as APSU’s most valuable senior athlete.
“It was almost embarrassing to me to accept a lot of it, because I was always a team guy. It was always one for all, all for one,” Bible said. “What do you do when those guys went through the same crap I did? It was team effort and that was what I kept pushing back. I was tickled to get some awards, but I would trade them tomorrow for us to win and that’s what we did.”
This season’s 2019 team has also taken home recent awards and statuses following their OVC Championship win. Coach Hudspeth has been named the Roy Kidd Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year, and is a nominee for the Eddie Robinson Award, given to the FCS National Coach of the Year.
JaVaughn Craig Rivers received OVC Offensive Player of the Week for the third time in the 2019 season, being the first in APSU history to have reserved this status three times in the same season. A total of a seven Governors, a program record, earned first team all OVC honors.
According to letsgopeay.com, this included: Craig , running back Kentel Williams, Blake Mitchell, Josephus Smith, Kordell Jackson and safety Juantarius Bryant. In addition, defensive end Shaun Whittinghill and wide receiver DeAngelo Wilson earned second-team All-OVC honors, with guard Bucky Williams and defensive tackle John Wesley Whiteside earning All-Newcomer honors.
This goes to back up the picture of these OVC Championships being like something out of a fairy tale story you read, overcoming all doubts.
“Dreams do come true,” Bible said. “None of us were superstars but you put us all together, that is what we did. We played as a team and Boots kept on parking on ‘being a team.'”
Now with Hudspeth’s guidance the 2019 team, 42 years later, worked hard and endured together to become champions again, and the spirit of the ’77 team win can be felt in the air again. There are hopes for that adventure to be taken even further as APSU starts off in the playoffs.
“Those guys that are there right now, were looking for the same goal that we were, and I am tickled to death for them,” Bible said. “They are getting to experience something in life that most people never do, getting that many people going in the same direction.”
Bible described how he was “happy for them” and that Hudspeth really got a great team handed to him, after Healy left, and how he kept them going in the same direction. But he also adds, “but I can still say we were the first.”
Now APSU’s Govs are faced with the opportunity to make more history as the team takes on Furman on the home field; for the first time ever, APSU will host a playoff game. This game will be impactful for APSU records, regardless of the outcome. Alumni, like Schmidt and Bible, have a new chapter in the stories they started coming soon. They are also witnessing the development of what the athletics program looks like as a champion team starts to gain coverage in the news.
“Everybody wants to join a winner,” Schmidt said. “Prior to that success, you didn’t have as much confidence, and that builds that confidence.”
He explained how he wondered when he had previously attended a large university first, where football Saturdays were a big thing. The students were involved and it was a huge part of engagement there. He feels that he “has started to see that at Austin Peay and it’s great.”
Bible, who remembers the feelings of being a champion team, encourages further family-like behavior between the players as they face the playoffs.
“Just hold hands, and go as one. That’s all I can tell them,” Bible said. “You are about to get into some tough stuff as the weeks go by. Hopefully, we get in there and mix it up with them.”
Govs will continue into the search for a happy ending to this “fairy tale come true” as the team faces off against Furman, Saturday, Nov. 30 at 12:30 p.m. at Fortera Stadium for the first round of the FCS playoffs.