Billy Minor has a good memory. As one of the top players on Eddie Vowell’s ETSU teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s, Minor can shed quite a bit of light on what its like 25 years after a huge thrill of being selected to play for a National Championship in Football.
As one would imagine, selection Sunday was different 25 years ago ago than it is now, but Minor would have be no different, he sat through two of them. “1990 was great because we knew we were getting in. We won conference and it was a matter of who we were playing…not if. No Internet back then so we had a closed circuit feed that we watched in the Old T-Lounge. 91 wasn’t a sure thing but our big win against Pitt State and 7-3-1 record gave us a lot of confidence. We had another closed circuit feed but we were a little worried. When they anounced us and also the fact we were gonna host a playoff game we were stoked and excited…anxious to prove the naysayers wrong in our selection over ENMU who won conference.”
Of course after getting selected, it was time to get to work, but Minor said that staff stuck to the script that had gotten them to the dance.
“We went about our business as usual. We had been there the year before. Coach Vowell didn’t try to reinvent us he had a tremendous amount of confidence and exuded it to us so we followed his lead. We were definitely well prepared and Coach Vowell and the staff deserves a lot of the credit for that.”
So, what was different going into the playoffs?
“Nothing different.” Minor said. “They put a lot of work on studying GVSU as they did everyone we played and we had a great gameplan on how to attack and who their key players were.”
Having said that, the atmosphere could not have been more different from 1990 and 1991.
“1990 was in Michigan. In November so they had gotten a ton of snow the week leading up to the game but it was sunny and cool by game time. Flew into Lansing I believe…it was by far the longest airplane trip most of us had made and there were a couple guys who hated flying so that was a bit entertaining. We were straight business. This was a really good team with a lot of playoff experience and we did not want to get embarrassed. We played with fear and it kept us on our A game. Having studs like Terry Bagsby and Gary Compton made everyone else relax because they were great leaders and nothing rattled them. It was a close game but we felt in control the whole time.”
The second go around was much nothing like the first according to Minor.
“91 was a lot different. We were at home and we knew they were gonna want payback so we knew we had to get them early. It was actually colder in Commerce than it was in Michigan the year before. We felt they were not as strong a team also as the year before and we were able to establish ourselves early and often against them on both sides of the ball. Bob Bounds had emerged as a true leader that season and was brilliant.”
Game Day in Commerce, America-
Minor remembers that 1991 first round match-up in Commerce very well and in detail.
“It was the weekend before Thanksgiving and freezing cold so the crowd was very small compared to earlier games. Cold sunny day. We felt like old veterans by this time and prepared as such. A lot of guys were back who played in 90 so there were not any nerve issues. We did our normal game day routine of breakfast and meetings. Locker room was focused…no playing around for the most part. We were on a mission. The crowd wasn’t as big but they were loud and we fed off that. We hadn’t lost a game in Commerce in 2 years and there was no way we were gonna lose that one. We played a different game at home during those seasons and I don’t believe there is a team in America that could come in our house and get a win…we were that great at home. We smoked everyone in Commerce. We always come out with a vengeance and the game really wasn’t even as close as the 21 points suggested. We simply overpowered them in all three phases…ran the ball well and defensively shut them down. Special teams was stellar as well as we won the field position battle early on and were able to put the game away in the 3rd quarter.”
Even after the win, Minor described the focus that the Lions had, realizing it was the first step of a long journey to go for a National Championship. Minor, who has a close relationship to former head coach Eddie Vowell, praises his approach to the games.
“We were definitely excited for the win but knew we had a lot more tougher game ahead of us in Pitt State. Coach Vowell was a creature of habit in that we were gonna have fun after a win…but not too much fun …and we were gonna be down after a loss…but not too down. He kept everything on a even keel.”
As many Lions and former ET players love the throwbacks worn that have EAST TEXAS across the chest, Minor dissents slightly from wearing them for the playoffs. He feels it is time to win under the Texas A&M-Commerce moniker and honor the ET name, but realize it is time to move forward as a Lion. When asked if the Lions should wear the East Texas throwbacks on Saturday, Minor had a candid response.
“Is this a trick question?” Minor laughs. “I think they should wear their jerseys. This team is making their mark in history as the the A&M-Commerce Lions and they represent us all as well as the ETSU Lions. We are all proud of them and of course honored even more when they wear the Old ET jerseys. Just watching them though sends a sense of Lion pride through you no matter when you played.”
And having that kind of Lion pride, is no Minor thing.
Major Thanks to Billy Minor for his contributions and friendship to this site and to me personally.