What does FAU football, a hurricane(s), and a 2004 pool party have to do with one another? Read on to find out.
UPDATE: Watch the FAU vs Hawaii game via YouTube. A special thank you to Ross Devonport (@thatrossbloke) for digging out the VHS tape and posting it.
FAU at Hawaii (Part 1 of 2)
FAU at Hawaii (Part 2 of 2)
Setting the Scene
Recently Hurricane Laura crashed into the coast of Texas and Louisiana. Watching the news reports I was struck by a feeling of loss and grief. Being a lifelong Floridian, many of my memories are marked by the names of hurricanes and the years they hit. Furthermore, ongoing protests in the country over police actions and community responses have prompted many athletes to boycott games to bring awareness to the ongoing struggle of African-Americans for equal treatment. On top of all this, being that this is 2020, the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many colleges to alter or postpone their fall sports.
As I consider all these factors I do what most do, try to make a connection to myself and utilize my experiences help me make some meaning out of it all. In making sense out of all the recent events I keep coming back the 2004 Florida Atlantic University Football season. I realize some reading this may not see the connection, but keep reading and it’ll make sense by the end.
I’ll start with the hurricanes. The 2004 hurricane season was truly unlike any other in resent memory, and for Floridians especially who endured four separate hurricanes in the span of six weeks. Those six weeks began in mid August and lasted until the end of September. The hurricanes that hit Florida were named Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. Frances and Jeanne came onshore at nearly the same location, and all names have been retired by the World Meteorological Organization. Life for many in Florida was significantly altered in the aftermath of these hurricanes.
The 2004 FAU Football Season
The 2004 FAU Football season set up to be a memorable one for several reasons. First, the team was coming off a run to the final four of the NCAA 1-AA playoffs and it was transitioning into the NCAA Division I-A. Secondly, the team had an uncharacteristically high number of seniors. It is typical to have 15-20 seniors on a team, but this team had more than 25. This was in part due to the fact the 2004 was FAU’s fourth season playing football, but the team had began organized practices in the year 2000. Thus, the players from 2000 did not play any games, and many from the first season in 2001 were starters as freshmen. Many of these remained starters in the 2004 season. Lastly, the schedule was to be the most challenging to date. This was done to prepare the team for the move up in classification, which would be finalized in the next season.
The effect of the hurricane season on the season was immediate. As the team traveled to face Hawaii (6,000+miles away), Hurricane Frances neared the Florida coast. The timing of the hurricane was impeccable, as its 12:30 a.m. EST landfall occurred just after the game in Hawaii kicked off at 6:00 p.m. HST. Read “The Unknown Conquest” by Chuck King for more on that game. My mother an sister were able to travel to the game, but my step-father and other sister remained in Florida. Needless to say, our experiences of that night differ tremendously.
The team would return to South Florida the next day, but not to campus for over a week due debris clean up and power outages. Near the end of September Hurricane Jeanne came along to alter the season further. The fourth game on the schedule was to be Illinois St., but that was postponed because of Jeanne, and team hunkered down while the storm passed.
As the team got back on track and the season progressed, arrangements were made with rival FIU to reschedule their game from November 20 to December 4. This also allowed for Illinois St. to be put back on the schedule for Nov. 20. This point is crucial to understand the next part of this post. The original final opponent was to be Edward Waters, a program out of Jacksonville that competes at the lower NAIA level. The original final opponent was to be a gimme game, a game that the players knew they would win before the season began.
The Pool Party
As the game against Edward Waters approached, with knowledge in hand of the type of opponent they were facing, the seniors on the team enacted a plan that was years in the making. During the week of game preparation, all of the seniors skipped a scheduled practice. This wasn’t a boycott, this was a celebration. I have it on good authority that one of the best pool parties ever took place that afternoon. Needless to say, with head coach Howard Schnellenberger in charge, practice went on with the remaining players. Why would they skip? You must remember that many of these players came to FAU before there were games, they put in hours and years of their lives. Consequently, there was a high level of camaraderie from their shared experiences, and what better way to show it then to have one final group bonding session.
The seniors returned for the next practice, but it had been decided that they would sit the first quarter of the game against Edward Waters. By all accounts except those of the Edward Waters fans and team, the first quarter was a mess. It ended in a 7-7 tie, and they the starters were put back in and the team easily pulled away for a win. In the history of college football I’m certain that players have skipped practice before, maybe even a few who did so together. However, I’m am asserting that never had an entire class, comprising a majority of starters, ever skipped a game week practice to hold a pool party. This group was special, and this aspect of their history should not be forgotten. And if you’re wondering, yes I’m still upset that I wasn’t invited. Yes, I’m still upset that I had to take what felt like all the practice reps. Yes, I’m still thankful that I had the opportunity to play with those guys.
Bring It All Together
As the 2020 football season nears, the current edition of FAU football is planning to play an adjusted schedule. The team has been practicing, and it has also had to cancel a few practices due to COVID-19. The team as of this post has resumed practices. Undoubtedly the players are endeavoring to stick together, its what great teams do.
But how to make sense of it all? On one level, my story of the 2004 season can explain how teams produce the best in one another. On another level, the 2020 season seems to be an even more powerful iteration showing how meaningful progress must be made. Just as the 2004 season is serving to help me make some sense out of our current society, I know too that each new lived experience helps to shape our words and actions. Maybe you’re using sports to help make sense of it all, so am I. Maybe your using some other experience to help you make sense of it all, so am I. We should all strive to a greater good, and that’s the thought I keep coming back to. That’s the though that is helping me make sense of it all.
How about you?