Columbus Lions linebacker Ryan Babb finally knows the feeling.
The former Central-Phenix City and Troy player had never won a championship at any level before Sunday, when the Lions defeated the Louisiana Swashbucklers 68-13 to claim the Southern Indoor Football League championship.
When league executives presented the trophy to the team, Babb was among the first to hold it, hoisting it up for photos with teammate Damian Daniels before planting a kiss on it.
The feeling lived up to the hype, Babb said.
“It met all expectations,” Babb said. “I’ve wanted this for years, and it’s just like imagined it.”
One more year?
Several longtime Lions players said throughout the season that the main reason they chose to come back this year was to win a championship. And with that now accomplished, they were reluctant to look too far into the future.
Lions coach Jason Gibson said he plans to meet with several veteran players this week to discuss whether they will return for another run.
“I’ve never had a team where I said I wanted everybody to come back next year,” Gibson said. “I want everybody back from this team if I can get them.”
The Lions’s four-season veterans are Daniels, linebacker Justen Rivers and linebacker Ramone Nickerson. Several other players, including Babb, receivers Gerald Gales and Tirone Morris and defensive back Anthony Merritt, have spent several seasons with the team.
But possible retirement was not a popular subject as players passed the SIFL trophy around and sprayed champagne after the game.
“Right now we’re not even thinking about it,” Daniels said. “We’re just going to enjoy this and worry about when it comes up.”
The Lions got a little inspiration from a special pre-game guest, Maj. Gen. Michael Ferriter, the commanding general at Fort Benning.
Ferriter gave a brief yet moving speech before the game that touched on players representing their team and reminding them that they could wake up champions today.
As a former Navy quarterback and veteran, Columbus’ Chris McCoy has heard some motivating military speeches. He said Ferriter’s talk was about as effective as they come.
“It definitely got us pumped up,” McCoy said. “Some of the guys are already a little crazy before the games, but that really got everyone going.”
SIFL meetings here today
The championship game is over, but there’s one more important date remaining on the SIFL calendar.
The civic center will play host to the SIFL year-end meetings today as team owners and league executives meet.
Several prospective team owners and owners of teams currently in other leagues are expected to attend, too.
Among the places with owners expressing interest in joining the SIFL are the Florida panhandle; Mobile, Ala.; Biloxi, Miss.; Alexandria, La.; Chattanooga, Tenn., and Rome, Ga.; and several places in Texas.
Lions managing partner John Hargrove has said he would like to see the SIFL, which currently has five teams, grow to host up to 10 teams with geographical division to save on travel and build on rivalries.