May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay……forever youngBob Dylan
40 years ago, they were lean, tough, battle tested. They bonded through a tough and demanding camp, made more difficult by a record heat wave that gripped the country. They often get overlooked because they didn’t hang a championship banner, but they were one of the greatest teams in school history.
At a school that prides itself on winning, they won. They had a complete team. A rock solid, hard hitting defense, worthy of the Blue Gang name. An NFL caliber quarterback that is still in the debate as the greatest ever in Commerce. A massive and dominant offensive line, with a blend of speed and power in the backfield and receiver positions, all guided by one of the most forward thinking and brilliant coaches at any level of college football.
They came out of the gate with six straight wins, then stumbled against NCAA member Texas State, and dropped a bitter rivalry game against Texas A&M-Kingsville, also a first year NCAA member. They rebounded with a decisive win against SFA, then fought to a tie against Angelo State.
After a tense wait, the playoffs began against top ranked Central Arkansas. In a scene reminiscent of the 1972 championship run, the Lions went into Conway, Arkansas, and came away with the upset of they year in a 27-21 victory. They were set to come home and host a national semifinal. They were primed and ready to win……
Then it all came crashing down. On one of those beautiful, magical fall afternoons in northeast Texas, the magic ran out. As well as they had performed all year, on that December afternoon, everything that could go wrong did, and the Lions fell, 14-6.
There was no one to blame. They weren’t like that, and they had been taught to be a team. Just heartbreak and disappointment. It was an ache that would never seem to go away, until….
Until 37 years later. In another national semifinal, another Lion team was primed and ready. Unlike the heartbreak of 1980, the 2017 Lions advanced to the National Championship game, and in that process, erased all the bad memories, and that heartache did finally go away.
So, where have 40 years gone? Most are still here, maybe a little thicker around the middle, and the hair may be graying, if it’s still there. Most are grandfathers now. I still see people like Blake Cooper. Joe Spinato. Bobby Wolfe. Jimmy Buster. Curtis Ray. Chuck Jaggers. David Lowe. Cary Noiel. Bishop Spencer. Brian Barnes. Chris Flynn. Ben Boston. Assistant coach Jim Walker.
As the years pass, the ranks have grown thinner. Our All American, Wade Wilson, passed due to complications of diabetes. Danny Kirk was tragically murdered. Cancer and heart disease claimed the likes of Kennis Miles and Rickey Spence. They have been joined by coaches Ernest Hawkins, Boley Crawford, Bobby Fox, and Ron Newsome.
They were and are my friends. My teammates. My brothers.
They are Lions.
The 1980 East Texas State Lions finished the season 8-3-1 and finished as NAIA National Semifinalists. The team featured an immense of talent such as future starting NFL Quarterbacks Wade Wilson as the starter and a Freshman future NFL starter Kyle Mackey as his back-up, in addition to All-Americans such as Cary Noiel. Wilson was named the best quarterback in the country in the NAIA ranks. Two years later, ETSU would leave the NAIA and join the NCAA. They finished ranked 4th in the nation. They are members of the TAMUC athletic hall of fame and are considered one of the best teams in both school and Lone Star Conference history.