Recently, history was made when it was announced that Eastern Michigan will play Old Dominion in the Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl on December 23 and Eastern fans, alumni, and faculty couldn’t be more thrilled.
Eastern’s bowl game appearance marks its first in 29 years since facing San Jose State in the California Bowl in 1987. The then 10-2 Eagles beat the Aztecs 30-27. Flash forward to 2016 and 7-5 EMU has accomplished what no other team before them could – – ending an almost three decade long drought. The bowl bid is a fitting reward to overcoming a tough season and challenging playing schedule. The Mid Atlantic Conference Champion came out on top leading the nation in 12th-fewest sacks in addition to the second-fewest tackles for loss on offense. On the flip side, the Eagles’ defense forced 23 turnovers, ranking 20th in the nation and an impressive second in the MAC Conference.
Retired Detroit Lions safety and Eastern alumnus Ron Rice is especially ecstatic about the bowl invitation.
“I am excited to see all the work from the athletes and coaches pay off,” said Rice, the Detroit NFL Alumni president. “It’s been so long since there was something to celebrate and this season has been great for the alumni. For our football program to be considered to be on the chopping block just weeks prior to the start of the season, it’s a really good feeling. It’s been a joint effort by the administration, coaches and players to bring the program to respectability. Former players like myself, LJ Shelton, Charlie Batch, Lionel Dalton, and Barry Stokes who spend time in the NFL and even Ron Adams who quarterbacked the ’87 California Bowl team and all our teammates can continue to stand proud.”
Ex-Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, Charlie Batch shares Rice’s sentiment: “As a proud alumni of EMU, I am excited that our football team will be playing in the Bahamas bowl. Can’t wait to cheer my Eagles on Dec 23rd. GO EAGLES!!”
Former student body president, Edward Davis II remembers a time when the Eagles had no winning record and a chance at the playoffs was fleeting: “As an alum with two degrees from Eastern, I think that it’s great that we finally made a bowl game. We never had a winning season when I was there as a student but when I worked for Eastern in 2011, we were 6-6. If we would have one our last game that season, we would have been invited to a bowl game sooner. I just wish that it would have been a closer one so that more alums could go but just to be able to cheer them on and break the curse is a cool experience.”
“I am excited for our kids,” said EMU football assistant and offensive line coach Ryan Grubb. “Our young men have withstood a virtual flood of information telling them what they and this program could not do…..never what they could do. People are so quick to tell young men what they are not….instead of telling them what they can be….and these kids are winners. Very proud of their resolve and desire to make all EMU alumni proud. Part of me taking this job was the idea of making a great place like EMU reach its potential….we have not hit that completely yet but we are definitely on the right track.”
The stage has been set and the invitation accepted, now all Eastern has to do is set sail for the Caribbean and the chance to make history yet again. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Ypsilanti, Michigan — home of the EMU Eagles.