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Richard Hyatt: Time to bring the Stagg Bowl home

The Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl introduced us to grassroots football and for years provided an education on Midwestern geography and conferences that don't make our sports pages.

Fans from all over the country came to Phenix City to watch their schools chase after the NCAA Division III title. Beginning in 1973, the national championship was decided 15 times in our community.

We watched athletes without scholarships and without the dream of the NFL. They didn't have size or speed, but they had desire and we applauded them.

We met coaches with small staffs and small budgets, and we appreciated these lower level legends. Jim Butterfield brought Ithaca here six times and took home two titles. Dave Mauer and Wittenberg won two of the first three games that were played here.

Teams represented communities that even MapQuest would have to look up. We learned that Augustana was from Illinois, Saint John's traveled from Minnesota and Widener represented Pennsylvania.

It gave me a lesson in local geography. I hadn't been in town long when I wrote that the Phenix City Lions Club was going to sponsor an NCAA championship game. At that time, the newspaper included datelines on stories from our sister city, so I included one on my front-page story.

The dateline would have been appropriate in Arizona but not here. I spelled it Phoenix City. Editors were kind to me after they stopped laughing.

I was there for the inaugural game in 1973 when Wittenberg defeated Juniata 41-0 and for the finale in 1989 when Dayton defeated Union of New York 17-7 in a game when the Flyers' colorful band stole the show.

The wildest Stagg Bowl came in 1982 and involved a team whose bus ride here took less than two hours. West Georgia College was in its second year of intercollegiate football and the Braves were on a roll.

They blanked Augustana 14-0, sacking the quarterback eight times and stifling an offense said to be the best in Division III. A record 9,000 people piled into the stadium, and what makes the story more interesting is the decision after that game to relocate the event to Kings Island, Ohio. It stayed there two years before returning to Phenix City in 1985.

The Stagg Bowl attracted live network coverage and made memories for thousands of players and fans. It filled up hotels and was an entertaining spectacle.

Twenty-five years later, Phenix City announced that on Sept. 13 the first White Water Classic between Tuskegee University and Albany State University will be played on the newly installed artificial turf at Garrett-Harrison Stadium.

The Stagg Bowl has been played in Salem, Va., since 1993 and the NCAA has contracted to stay there until 2017. That gives Phenix City time to prepare an invitation asking Amos Alonzo Stagg to come home to where it began.