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Hens remember 2003 title during halftime ceremony
“It was bliss.” That is what former Delaware quarterback Andy Hall said he felt as the final seconds ticked away on Dec. 19, 2003, in Chattanooga, Tenn. On that night, Delaware defeated Colgate University 40-0 in the National Championship Game to win the Hens’ sixth title in football.
Hall was among the 60 members of the 2003 team—some of whom were in town for the first time in years—to reconvene in Newark over the weekend, as the university celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the championship season.
Players and coaches from the team were honored both before and during the game Saturday. Dozens of participants met at Klondike Kate’s Friday, and on the following day, they followed the current members of the football team on the pre-game walk through the parking lot to the locker room.
The players, coaches and their families then attended a reception held in the Bob Carpenter Center. The event featured speeches by university President Patrick Harker, Athletic Director Eric Ziady and former offensive lineman Jason Nerys, a co-captain for the 2003 team. They then attended the game and, during halftime, came onto the field to receive an ovation from the crowd.
In his speech, Harker pointed out the back of the Delaware football jerseys, where six stars represent the university’s six national championships. That final star, he said, belongs to those in attendance, and it is that star that burns brightest.
Hall, a senior in 2003, said winning the title was the greatest moment of his football career, a journey that took him to the National Football League and the Arena Football League. Part of the reason the 2003 championship was special, he said, was due to his teammates.
“When you have a special group of guys that accomplished something like that, it feels like we’re just at the locker room again,” Hall said. “It’s been 10 years, but you have such a special bond with everybody, it’s not like, ‘Who are you?’”
Germaine Bennett, a senior running back who scored 21 touchdowns in 2003, said he still keeps in touch with some teammates and enjoyed seeing so many guys at the reunion. “We’re a tight-knit group,” Bennett said.
Bennett said he knew the team had a chance to be special at the start of the 2003 season, while Hall said he thought the Hens had a great opportunity after a win the year before. A 24-point win over a highly-ranked Maine team gave him confidence to believe the Hens could enjoy a tremendous year in 2003, something that did in fact come true.
The Hens began the 2003 season with nine straight wins, including a 21-17 victory over Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Navy, which finished with a bowl appearance.
Dave Cohen, defensive coordinator for the Hens in 2003, said the victory over the Navy Midshipmen helped open his eyes to the talent the team had and the possibility the Hens could win a championship.
“It was a comeback win, and just the high character that our players showed to come through in that great comeback win,” Cohen said.
The team suffered its first and only loss of the season against Northeastern, but bounced back, entering the postseason with an 11-1 record. In the ensuing four playoff games, Delaware outscored its opponents by a cumulative score of 149-23. Sean Bleiler, a junior tight end in 2003, said the postseason run was his favorite memory from the year.
“You had Andy playing with a blown-out shoulder, and I don’t think anybody could stop us in that postseason run,” Bleiler said. “A couple hiccups during the season, but that postseason, we dominated.”
Everything came to fruition in Chattanooga. The Hens won 40-0 over Colgate, recording what is still the only shutout in the history of the Football Championship Subdivision National Championship.
For Hall, relief came along with joy as the clock hit zero that night.
“I had a separated shoulder, so all of the ligaments that hold your collarbone to your scapula, they were gone,” Hall said. “I played five weeks like that, so for me, I was just thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m glad it’s over.’”
Mike Adams, a senior co-captain defensive back in 2003 and a current member of the Denver Broncos, said the Hens were very confident about facing Colgate. Delaware players made each other better in practice, and the team used that to succeed, he said.
“Going into that game there was no doubt that we were going to win,” Adams said. “I still joke with the coaches. They were so uptight.”
The title, Delaware’s first since 1979, came in head coach K.C. Keeler’s second year. Keeler was also a player on the 1979 team, and he brought confidence to the team, Hall said. The quarterback transferred to Delaware from Georgia Tech before the 2002 season because of Keeler, he said. Upon visiting the university, he saw immediately the team had talent and was just a quarterback away, he said.
Little did he know at the time how right he was.
By MATT BITTLE, UD Review