I get e-mails sent to me from fans all the time asking questions, relaying stories and sometimes talking about their experiences at FIU games. Late last week, I got the following e-mail from long-time FIU season ticket holder and FIU engineering graduate, Bernnon Artola, who wanted to pass along this story about some classy FIU football players . . .
On Saturday, November 24, 2012 we said goodbye to approximately 30 graduating Panthers. All will be added to the growing list of FIU Football alumni. These seniors mark the last group of players (with a handful of exceptions) that participated and led young Panther Nation to its first bowl game. Many things will be written of their final year at FIU. But regardless of how history will remember this season, one thing will not be forgotten: our seniors battled until the very last second.
It was senior defensive tackle Josh Forney who caused the fumbled exchange between the ULM center and quarterback in their victory formation and recovered the ball to help FIU tie the score in the waning moments of the season finale. It was our senior who played in 42 games during his career at FIU, including starting all 13 games in the 2010 Sun Belt Championship and Little Caesars Pizza Bowl championship season. FIU went on to lose the ULM game and cap the 2012 season at 3-9. But it is the postgame that I will remember most.
After the FIU players took a knee in front of the student section as the band played our alma mater, one player walked up to a group of fans sitting in section 112. That player was No. 96 Josh Forney (above). He shook our hands and thanked us for the support. Thanked us for being there all four years. While we were engaged in conversation with Josh thanking him for battling and having pride, two more players came up to say goodbye: Wayne Times and Willis Wright. It wasn't the shaking hands or even the kind words that touched me, it was the genuine tone in which the words were spoken. We have always called for the players after the games and shook hands or wished them luck. But not this time, in fact our entire group had thoughts of leaving early after ULM had taken control and before the forced fumble. Forney gave two of us his playing gloves. The gloves will go as part of my FIU collection at home in front of the replica Little Caesars Bowl ring given to season ticket holders in 2011 and in front of the stadium replica given to season ticket holders in 2012.
The gesture by Forney, Times and Wright is a big deal to me, because at the end of it all, it is a job and a career for the coaches, but it is about passion and love for the players.
If I may, one final acknowledgement and thanks to our special teams guys: Jack Griffin, Josh Brisk, Mitch MacCluggage and our Golden Dazzlers for putting up with section 112 shenanigans for four years. Now more than ever I'll proudly wear my FIU throwback No. 96 jersey while tailgating at Tamiami Park by the big oak tree and attending FIU games.