Now certainly this moment does not match up to the rise of Marshall after the horrific tragedy that befell them.
Even then, a group of young men that not many people paid attention to took the campus, and part of the country, by storm. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Golf powerhouse, consistent success in basketball, great field hockey program, pretty good everything. Except football. Bad football. Sometimes, very bad football.
I came to Wake in 2003 with no idea about the football program. However, very few students seemed to care whether we won or lost, so I took an immediate interest and became a huge fan. My first three seasons at school ended with a combined 13-21 record and gave me more headaches and heartbreak then I care to share.
Every year I had optimism about our team's chances. Optimism is relative, however.
At Ohio State, every year there is optimism that the Buckeyes will win the national title. At Wake Forest, optimism is hoping to sweep our non-conference opponents and beat Duke and one other ACC team to become bowl eligible. I wanted to go to a bowl game as a student, even if it was in Boise. The genius media department came out with the slogan for the season.
It was "The Time is Now." I remember joking with friends before the opener about exactly what that meant. Was it the time to fire the coach? The time to go 5-7 again? Turns out the media department knew something we didn't.
In the first game of the season against Syracuse, an ad came on the scoreboard during a timeout. The ad hyped the ACC's new agreement with the Orange Bowl, where the ACC Champion would play after the season, followed by the inevitable sarcastic "See you there" comments from the students.
From there the story became known: lose the starting QB in the season opener and then beat Duke by one on your average block of a 28 yard FG on the final play of the game. Wins followed at UConn (24-13), at Ole Miss (27-3), and against Liberty (34-14). A 5-0 start and a home date with Clemson had Winston-Salem more excited for one game than it usually got for an entire season.
You all know what happened from there. All I have to say on the matter is damn Gaines Adams. Damn. Thoughts of a 6-0 start quickly turned into fears of a 5-7 finish. How would Jim Grobe get his players off the mat after this knockout punch.
Something strange happened after that.
The Deacons started winning again. NC State and UNC were taken out the next two weeks. A primetime home showdown with Boston College was next. First in the division and an inside track to the ACC title game was at stake. All day Saturday, I had a different feeling.
For the first time I felt like I was at a big time college football game. The game was sold out and the stands were filled with fans of the Deacs, and not wearing Clemson Orange, NC State Red, or Tar Heel Blue. I thought to myself in the stands before the game, 'I could get used to feeling like this.'
We won the game and improved to 8-1 with three regular season games left. All of a sudden, a win versus either FSU or VTech and then a win at Maryland would send Little Old Wake Forest to the ACC Championship Game, where Georgia Tech would presumably to be the opponent.
Now, the Georgia Tech game was great, and so was the Orange Bowl, despite the loss.
Three moments really meant more than any other and still send shivers through my body, all of which happened before we even got to that point.
The first was after the BC game. We had won, everyone was going crazy, and the place to be was on the Quad where kids were throwing their body weight in toilet paper into the trees (I know, real original). Just sitting back and watching the festivities was unreal. If for only ten minutes, I felt like a fan of the Floridas, Michigans, and Texases of the world. I felt like I was at a school where football mattered, where for a few hours on Saturday every student was more concerned with the result than trying to figure out at what point was it better to head back to the parking lot and resume tailgating (a definite staple of Wake Forest football). It was a wonderful experience.
The next week at Florida State, Wake played the best game in school history. Even though the Seminoles struggled in 2006, they were still Florida State and it was still at their building.
The 30-0 win was incredible (and historic), but there was one moment that really stuck out.
A bunch of friends and I were out at a sports bar and the whole game the place was going crazy with Deacon fans cheering on their team. Interestingly enough, I was at the same establishment during the 2005 Wake-FSU game, and I was one of four people who paid a bit of attention to the screen.
In the second half, a camera focused on the crowd showed a sign saying nothing but "Wake Forest is for Real." The Wake fans at the bar literally stood as one and started clapping and cheering. People were high-fiving the strangers next to them as we realized indeed that Wake Forest was for real. No one walks into Doak Campbell Stadium and wins a game like that.
It was a once in a lifetime result.
The proof of that happened two weeks later, when Florida struggled throughout and escaped Tallahassee with a much closer than expected outcome.
When the Deacons clinched the ACC Atlantic Division Thanksgiving weekend at Maryland, I was lucky enough to be there with friends and family. Celebrating this landmark win with those close to me was a feeling that cannot be repeated. As Wake fans celebrated as one, and we made our plans for Jacksonville, it dawned on me that the events of the previous three months had actually happened, that the ACC Title game did not include Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, or Clemson. Just Little Old Wake Forest.
It always feels great to root for a team that wins. My father went to University of Texas, and watching the Rose Bowl victory over USC was great, but not totally unexpected. In a way, it is never unexpected when a powerhouse wins. USC, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, etc...these teams are supposed to win. They almost always have the talent to. With all due respect to those teams and their fans, I don't want them.
I'm proud to cheer for Wake Forest. I am proud to be one of the comparative few that bleed Old Gold and Black. It will be tough for anything that Wake ever does to top last year. I mean, Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl? Are you kidding me? And for all the years it could have happened, I was lucky that it was my senior year in college, the best time it could ever happen.
The Bleacher Report opener about sharing the Marshall moment dictates about the We are Marshall Moment: "Maybe it made you cry. Maybe it made you stand up and cheer. If nothing else, we're betting it certainly made you feel. And hey, that's why we watch, isn't it?" Well, I am man enough to admit there were some tears of joy (and maybe a couple of sadness when it was all over), I certainly stood up and cheered, and I still do feel. And yes, that's exactly what I watch. Go Deacs.