“I’m gonna say it one more time. We are Georgia Southern. Our colors are blue and white. We call ourselves the Bald Eagles. We call our offense the Georgia Power Company…and that’s a terrific name for an offense. Our snap count is ‘rate, hike.’ We practice on the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek and that’s in Statesboro, Georgia–the gnat capital of America. Our weekends begin on Thursday. The co-eds outnumber the men 3-to-2. They’re all good looking and they’re all rich. And folks, you just can’t beat that…and you just can’t beat Georgia Southern. And you ain’t seen nothin yet.”
– Erk Russell
Any “True Blue” Georgia Southern fan has heard (and possibly memorized) this legendary speech by the father of Georgia Southern football, Erk Russell. Fans will gather again at Paulson Stadium this Saturday, September 17th to cheer on the Eagles against the University of Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in their second home game for the 2016 football season. For those who are less familiar, the term “tradition” is the common word choice used when describing Georgia Southern Football. To help understand and appreciate the origins behind these game day rituals, here is a short overview for newbies in Statesboro attending an Eagles football game.
Mascots – The Eagles
Georgia Southern athletics’ teams have adopted several names throughout its history. In 1959, a campus vote selected the “Eagles” to represent the University. In what has become one of the most popular traditions to experience, Freedom takes flight before each home football game – known as “Freedom’s Flight.”Launching from high above the field, following the singing of the national anthem, Freedom soars over the cheering crowd to land midfield. Freedom’s majestic flight is a glorious sight to behold – it is not uncommon for it to cause goosebumps down one’s arm – even for opposing visitors!
There is possibly no more visible figure than Georgia Southern’s official Eagle mascot, GUS. Best known for his sideline anticsat sporting events, the loveable, furry mascot makes special appearances throughout the year representing Georgia Southern. He has even been an ESPN “favorite mascot” nominee.
The Legend – Erk Russell
In 1924, Georgia Southern started its first football team. However, in 1941, the program was suspended due to World War II. In 1981, Georgia Southern College hired the popular and charismatic defensive coordinator from UGA, Erk Russell, to resurrect the football program. Erk never let the fact of having virtually no budget get in the way of success. Within the first four years of the revitalized program, Erk led the Eagles to its first of six FCS (I-AA) National Championship titles in 1985, and two more before he retired in 1989.
What originally started as thrifty and minimalist practices that the Eagles adopted -born more or less out of necessity rather than modesty – has been transformed into tradition. There are several game day traditions that harken back to Erk’s ingenuity. Today’s uniforms still closely resemble Erk’s original design of plain white practice pants (that also double as game pants), and plain blue helmets with a piece of white tape down the middle. This simple, but classic look, landed the uniforms as the third best in college football by Sports Illustrated.
Another tradition formed out of Erk’s frugality are the iconic yellow school buses. Back in 1981, the football team needed transportation for practices and games, so when the Bulloch County Board of Education offered the deal of two yellow school buses for a dollar each, they accepted.On game days, cars and trucks honking their horns in the parking lot signals the impending arrival of the yellow school buses carrying the team to Paulson Stadium. Players step off the buses and make their way to the field house through a tunnel of cheering fans in the “Eagle Walk.”
Lacking spirit and tradition back when the football program started up again, Erkcreated some of his own, albeit the inspiration somewhat unusual. Inspired by the gnat-infested drainage ditch that cut across the field between the team’s locker room and practice fields, Erk convinced his players that it’s stagnant water was actually “Beautiful Eagle Creek,” a source of “magical” waters. When the Eagles traveled to Northern Iowa during the 1985 playoffs, Russell took along a jug of Eagle Creek water to sprinkle on the field for good luck. That year, Georgia Southern football won its first FCS National Championship.
Erk Russell is a hero, a legend to the Eagles. During games, Erk would butt heads with his players as a demonstration of intensity. In 2007, a bronze bust of Russell was erected near the players entrance to the field, sparking a new tradition. Today, as Eagles take to the field before games, each player butts the bust to honor Erk’s legacy.
This year, the Eagles welcome Tyson Summers as their new head football coach. Along with Summers, they made a few modifications to some of the team’s traditional appearances that they debuted at the first home game of the 2016 season against the Savannah State Tigers on September 3rd. While the team’s new “GoldRush” uniforms were well-received, the unveiling of GUS’s facelift (literally), however, did notsit too well with most, which has sparked some serious debates and outcries from fans to “Bring GUS Back.”
Despite some slight alterations to the team’s image over the years, Georgia Southern’s footballtraditions have not dissipated over the years. These football and game day traditions hold deep meaning to Georgia Southernstudents and fans, honoring their relatively short, but impressive football history that harkens back to its humble roots from Erk’s days and honor the football legacy he created.
So for those who have yet to experience the magic and excitement of gameday festivities in the Boro, make sure to blare your horns when you see those yellow school buses and snap a picture with GUS if you get the chance! On behalf of all of us from Visit Statesboro, we welcome Georgia Southern parents and family, and fans alike to Eagle Nation!
In Memory of Nate Hirsch
The original “Voice of the Georgia Southern Eagles” from 1971-2006