BISHER: Perfect start for GSU, Curry adds intrigue to 'Bama matchup

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

The Georgia State Panthers threw a football party for a few friends Thursday night and 30,237 showed up. And most were still there at the end, by which time GSU was still undefeated, and its loyal patrons had even broken out into a wave. You know, the real thing, a rolling wave of Blue, the dominant GSU color.

Better beware, Alabama, for this is a bit stronger than most of us expected. You see, Georgia State plays the SEC bigshot in its last game in November, but I trust you’re not taking me seriously.

The very first college game was played in 1869 — between Princeton and Rutgers — and they’ve been playing ever since. But this was the first time I’ve ever seen any college team play its very first game. The score was 41-7, which was so inconsequential that one paper I read barely managed to squeeze it in.

The victim — not to go unnoticed here, for a victim is required — was Shorter University, a Rome institution now in its seventh season of football. Shorter has had a stretch or two of prosperity, once won the championship of the Mid-South Conference, but this season is operating on short rations.

Georgia State ... well, you begin with the coach, Bill Curry, and he has been since June 2008, at which time many startled historians of the game wondered — is he out of his mind? After playing for the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Colts, and head-coaching at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky, and 10 years “going straight” — that means plodding the civilian trail — he’s willing to midwife a football program at a school that not only doesn’t have a stadium, but has no practice facility, and doesn’t even own a football. And he, the coach, will become 68 years of age in the midst of his first schedule.

Now, sir, what say you to that?

“I can blaze a trail,” he said. “I can bring this great game to an inner-city campus of over 36,000 students, and that’s a great foundation to build on.”

And so he did, and so on this Thursday night leading into a weekend of bustling sports action in this crossroads of the South, Curry sent his first GSU team onto the carpeted floor of the Georgia Dome to begin fulfilling his mission. The Panthers received the kickoff and a running back named Parris Lee, a freshman — as are most Panthers — returned it to GSU’s 37-yard line, and the Curry project was launched.

(By the way, Georgia State has a player named Shorter and Shorter has a player named Panther, assuming you have a taste for trivia.)

Well, in the end, Curry came to the likely conclusion of a sideline dousing, lying curled in a birth position, the selected conclusion of any winning coach, and in the background, his Blue-hued followers shrieked his name in adoration. The ship was launched. The game was on, and the building wallowed in shock and surprise.

Frankly, I had suggested that if the game drew as many as 15,000 spectators, that would be a nice number. The president of Georgia State, Dr. Mark Becker, had hoped for 25,000, tops.

When the athletics director, Cheryl Levick, met a few of the attending media, she said, “Thirty thousand, two hundred thirty-seven!” she exclaimed. “I am shocked and amazed!”

You shall hear more of the leading characters on the field — Drew Little, the quarterback, Sam Burkhalter, Albert Wilson and Lee, running backs, Robert Ferguson, a linebacker, and perhaps even Demetrius Shorter, a defensive end, but for now, content thyself with the fact that the Panthers are the one team among American colleges that have never lost a game. Next, Lambuth University, of Jackson, Tenn.

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.