Sports

Photograph courtesy Richmond Athletics

In December 2008, the Spiders took home the Football Championship Series national championship and the trophy that went with it. The unseeded Spiders beat the playoff’s second, third, and fourth seeds along the way.

Ten years later, Mike London, R’83, still remembers it like it was yesterday.

“It’s not just one specific moment. There was a succession of moments that occurred that made the whole season special,” said the former Spider head football coach.

London, now head coach at Howard University, is recalling Richmond’s 2008 national championship season. In his debut season at the helm of his alma mater’s football program, London was replacing respected coach Dave Clawson, and despite lofty preseason expectations, the campaign started out rocky.

The Spiders began the 2008 season with a 4–3 mark, but their final setback — a loss to rival James Madison University on an improbable last-second touchdown — set the stage for an unprecedented run of nine consecutive wins, culminating with a dominant 24–7 victory over the University of Montana in the NCAA Football Championship Series title game.

“The whole resiliency thing — the guys who were on the team and in the locker room — was a mindset instilled in us,” London said. “You think about the [championship] game itself, but more important to me is the memory of the journey that we had, and those games.”

With no room for error after the JMU loss, the Spiders strung together memorable victories — beating William & Mary to secure their playoff spot; avenging the devastating 2007 playoff loss to perennial power Appalachian State in the quarterfinals; and winning the semifinal in frigid weather against Northern Iowa. They made the season’s final result feel predestined.

You don't realize how special certain moments are when you're in the moment.

“We kicked it into gear and came together — that’s what I remember most about that season,” said quarterback Eric Ward, ’10, now coaching at his high school alma mater, Southwest DeKalb High School near Atlanta. “Midway through the season, we had a team meeting — no coaches, just us as players — and said we were going to do this. We knew we were good enough to make it happen.

“You don’t realize how special certain moments are when you’re in the moment. That season went so fast. When we won the championship, it was just elation. But you really don’t get time to sit back and marvel at what we overcame and what we were able to accomplish.”

Backup quarterback Will Healy, ’09 — who took the final snaps in the championship game, which was played in his hometown, Chattanooga, Tennessee — has similarly fond recollections.

“I just watched the game the other day on YouTube,” said Healy, who is now the head coach at Austin Peay State University. “Probably the greatest sports accomplishment I’ve ever had was being a part of that team. Our group was hungry. We loved being around one another. We loved playing for Mike London. We wanted to keep playing, and I think that goes a long way.

“That experience, especially my senior year, was really special, and I got to do it around some of the best people I’ve ever been around.”