Finishing on top

Kyle Hightower

It was the Jack Harbaugh that not many have ever seen.

In the moments following Western football’s finest 60 minutes, the 62-year-old pigskin scholar tripped over the kind of banter he’d waited nearly 20 years to hear as ESPN mics listened in and cameras captured his silent satisfaction.

“Coach, how does it feel to be the national champion?!?” the ESPN commentator asked Harbaugh as a melee waned in the background, under a scoreboard that read “34-14” in Western’s favor.

“I … well … uh … say that again?” Harbaugh responded, clinging to anything that sounded like English, in an obvious moment of speechless elation.

But with that rare misstep by the usually sure-footed coach, so began the tickertape shower of praise and celebration for Western football’s first-ever national title. And with students returning to classes yesterday, red and white remnants of pride still dot the Hill.

The official celebration to honor the 2002 I-AA national champions is set for 11 a.m. Saturday in Diddle Arena.

Here is a list of other things done over the past few weeks to honor of the Toppers:

* The first of seven road signs placed at the entry points of Bowling Green which welcome visitors to the “Home of the 2002 I-AA National Champions.”

* Players Buster Ashley, Sherrod Coates, Chris Price and Jeremi Johnson named College Sporting News All-Stars for 2002.

* Harbaugh named American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year at the group’s 2003 convention. His honor earns him an invite to the 2003 Hula Bowl as an assistant coach.

* U.S. House of Representatives passes resolution to honor the Hilltoppers’ accomplishments.

And now the old coach, who has long thought of himself and his career as more mediocre than special, celebrates. And a city is left to savor his first championship.

A commemorative Football Special Section of the College Heights Herald honoring the I-AA national championship team will be published Jan. 21.