Champion Red Wave honored Saturday
Forty years ago America was a different place, yet still the same. Forty years ago Troy University was a different place, yet still the same. “Hey Jude” by The Beatles was the top song on the Billboard Charts. A GTO was one of the hot cars to have, and Troy State’s Red Wave football team was the best in the land.
“It’s hard to believe it,” ‘68 Red Wave quarterback Sim Byrd said. “I’m standing here looking at what a beautiful stadium this is now. When we played here it sat about 7,000, and the press box was about the size of a luxury suite upstairs. We feel like we’re a part of the foundation of what we have here today. We’re a tight knit group.”
Byrd was one of many Red Wave players on the field to be recognized last night during half time of Troy’s 65-0 victory over Alcorn State.
“It’s quite an honor,” cornerback Darwin Fowler said. “The best memory was beating Texas A&I. It’s just such an honor to be here tonight, and I’m especially excited to come back and get to see all of my buddies.”
The ‘68 Red Wave shared more than just friendships, they shared a common bond instilled in them by coach Billy Atkins.
The respect and fond memories of Atkins were being shared among each other as the team prepared to walk on to the field during halftime.
“Atkins was the difference for us,” defensive tackle Gary Loggins said. “In four years, we went from being 1-9 to the national champions. My favorite memory was just winning it all.”
There were many fond memories shared between the teammates, but the greatest of these was the championship and coach Atkins.
“It’s just a real thrill to be here,” defensive end Steve Crowe said. “Some of these guys I haven’t seen in 40 years. I just remember that the championship game at Cramton Bowl was the thrill of a lifetime.”
The players said playing for Atkins changed their lives.
“Coach Atkins was way ahead of his time,” Jimmy Hedrick said. “Our chemistry was excellent. It’s the greatest feeling in the world just to be here tonight.”
The players last reunion was in 1988 celebrating their 20th anniversary, and Andy White said they have not skipped a beat since then.
“It’s great,” White said. “We just picked up conversations like we had been together the whole time. I haven’t seen a lot of these guys in 20 years. It’s cool to be a part of this. Coach Atkins was a perfectionist. I still use stuff he taught me day to day.”
Ace Atkins, the son of coach Atkins, was in Movie Gallery Veterans Stadium Saturday night to represent his father’s place on the team.
“I wasn’t even born when they won the title,” Atkins said. “I was born in 1970, but this team was such a large part of our family. He won a national championship at Auburn, he played in the NFL, but this was his proudest achievement. He’s more proud of this team than anything he had ever done in his life.”
The 1968 NAIA National Championship team is forever carved into the stones of Troy football history.