Credit: Florida A&M Sports Information
TALLAHASSEE, FL (Aug.15) – If the level of spirit at Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor’s annual community kickoff is any indication, then get ready for a return of that old Rattler spirit. With over a thousand people packed comfortably into an event warehouse at the Leon County Fairgrounds today, you could feel the excitement from every one of the fans who visited the event.
When the event opened the doors at 4:30 p.m., for the 5 p.m. start, there was a line snaking around the building, waiting to get in. Everyone was there to catch a glimpse of what everyone feels is the rebirth of Rattler football. It was the latest opportunity to see new head coach Earl Holmes, his staff and the 2013 edition of the Rattler football team.
The guest list was a virtual “Who’s Who,” of local officials. Leon County Commission chairman Nick Maddox, Proctor, City of Tallahassee Commissioner Andrew Gillum, State of Florida Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee) and former Rep. Curtis Richardson were all there to wish the Rattler fans welcome. Tallahassee Chamber chairperson Sue Dick was also in attendance, as she had a hand in gathering the sponsors for the absolutely free event that featured free fish meals.
With the return of the Marching “100” on the horizon, the Rickards High School Band filled the void, allowing the FAMU band to get prepared for their Sept.1 unveiling in Orlando, Fla. at the MEAC-SWAC Challenge. Led by FAMU graduate, Quincy Griffin, himself formerly a member of the world-famous Marching “100,” the RHS band performed traditional Rattler favorites, bringing fans to their feet, bellowing out the words in unison.
Proctor, who serves District 1, of which the Leon County Fairgrounds sits square in the middle, was among his constituents and in his territory. No one was more excited than he. “It’s great to see everybody here on the south side of town. We would like to welcome you all to District 1, as we greet our new coaches and players as they prepare to strike in 2013,” Proctor said.
Maddox, Gillum and Williams all gave spirited addresses to the crowd, but the tension was building as fans finished their meals. They were ready to hear from Holmes. FAMU interim president Larry Robinson warmed up the crowd with a rousing and spirited speech. With first lady Sharon Robinson in tow, he met the fans, took photos and offered encouragement to everyone. The reception to his introduction was rousing. Robinson has been doing an applaudable job steering the university since taking over last year. He spoke of his excitement to be at the event and raised the level of excitement, ending with the Rattler charge.
Joe Bullard, the voice of the Marching “100,” presided over the event. His usual coy style was perfect for the atmosphere. He called out the names of “old school” Rattlers, pastors, business people and others who were in the audience.
Keith Miles, the voice of Rattler football for over 30 years, had the honor of introducing Holmes to the crowd that was more than ready to hear from him. Miles, who has known Holmes for most of his life, joked about Earl’s athleticism. “I first saw Earl competing as he was on the Baby Rattler basketball team. He could dunk and he was aggressive. I said to myself that he must be one heck of a football player,” Miles said. Holmes approached the podium, overwhelmed by the spirit that he had not seen in some time.
“Let me say this. I was born right here on the south side of Tallahassee. I found my way to FAMU High. I felt back then I was playing under Bragg stadium. After that I walked on at FAMU. I had a chance to go to any college in the country, but my mom (Addie) told me her money was going to FAMU, so I made the most of that. I played four years and had a successful career playing in Bragg stadium. After 10 years in the NFL, after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, I have the unique honor to coach the team so close to my heart. I know what I was brought here to do. I understand what is expected and that is to bring the pride of blood, sweat and tears back to FAMU….and we’re ready,” Holmes said to thunderous applause.
Holmes introduced his coaches and let the players introduce themselves. Loud applause came for local players, who stated their high schools in their introductions. The loudest roar came for quarterback Damien Fleming, who is expected to lead this Rattler squad. In his normal humble manner, he accepted the applause and took his seat, with little fanfare on his part.
Little did Holmes know, but he was about to be upstaged by a man he has had admiration for his entire life. Bobby Lang, a former assistant coach under the late A.S. “Jake” Gaither, was on program to give the coaches charge…and did he deliver.
Lang, who was also a legendary track coach at FAMU, went right to the core of the issue, addressing the very players that will hit the field. “I went to an event recently and it seemed nobody was afraid of the Rattlers. Now, you know there’s something wrong with that. That’s why we need that swagger…that’s why we need that swagger back! We need people inside that stadium at two o’clock. Not worrying about the heat, but there because Earl is going to need your help. These young men are going to need your help. They’re going through this blood, sweat and tears. There’s something about that blood, sweat and tears…you put it out and you give it out and you strike the first blow. You ask no quarters and you give no quarters. You make them kneel down to you. You’ve got to remember this son, there’s something about this thing called the FAMU Rattlers that makes you want to cry at night. This thing called pride…we’ve got to get this thing back. We’ve got to get away from this thing where they (opponents) are coming in Bragg Stadium talking about they are going to win. Hell, they used to come down and be scared to come out the locker room. It wasn’t a matter of who was going to win, it was a matter of what the score was going to be. They have no business coming to Tallahassee in Bragg Stadium talking about there are going to win a game! It’s a mighty poor dog that won’t fight in his own back yard,” Lang said.
In his conclusion, Lang went to back to the core of the event. “Every Saturday at two o’clock, gentlemen you’ve got to be ready to fight. You’ve got to be ready to give it. Strike the first blow.”
The FAMU Athletics team was on hand to sell tickets, give out posters and schedule cards and help with information. Tickets are on sale for as low as $18 for the MEAC-SWAC Challenge presented by Disney on Sept.1. The Rattlers open the season in Orlando, live on ESPN at 11:45 a.m. For more information, log on to the official site for FAMU Athletics, www.FAMUAthletics.com