Next year’s homecoming will mark the 20th anniversary of the creation of arguably the greatest football team FAMU has ever produced, a team that should be celebrated and remembered by the time the special anniversary comes around.
“Those years were exceptional,” said Alvin Hollins, the Assistant Sports Information Director. “It was a lot of fun covering (that team) and watching them play.”
He was, of course, talking about the legendary 1998 team.
During the 1998 football season, the Rattlers won 11 games in a row, including a playoff win against Troy University, before losing in the playoffs to Western Illinois. That streak of 11 wins was the first time the Rattlers had won more than seven games since the 1977-1978 season where they went 23-1.
That season, the potent FAMU passing attack broke many school records. Quarterback Patrick Bonner set season records for 4,128 yards, 329 completions, and 42 touchdowns. On the other end of Bonner’s record-breaking throws were the RAC Boys (Run After Catch).
The RAC Boys, named for their amazing ability to run after the catch, received credit from their quarterback for doing most of the work. “They did the tough part. … My job was to give them the football to use their God given ability to make the plays that they made,” said Bonner in a recent phone interview.
The RAC Boys gained a total of 5,029 yards, 217 first downs, and 54 touchdowns that season. Five players were the most prominent of the receiving core. Jacquay Nunnally broke the school season records for 109 catches, and 1,504 yards. Tariq Qaiyim broke the single season record for 17 touchdowns. Along with Cainon Lamb, Cedric Mitchell and Demetris Bendross, these wide receivers made up for almost 70% of the team’s total yards.
“Those RAC Boys, they really set the tone. The receivers made it easy for whoever the quarterback was. … Once they caught the ball they did a good job of getting extra yardage,” said Hollins.
William “Billy” Joe, who coached the team, also acknowledged the RAC Boys’ importance. “They were the most prominent RAC Boys that popularized the term.”
Joe applied for the head coach position in 1973, but he did not get it because of his lack of experience. Jake Gaither was the Athletic Director at the time and did not think Joe was ready. “He’d tell me go back and get yourself ready for the job,” said Joe, recalling the conversation he had with Gaither.
The head coach position reopened in 1993 and Joe was appointed for the job. After being given the job, Joe eagerly went to tell Gaither, who was bedridden.
“At that time he was in a home and was extremely ill. … I went to visit him to tell him I was the new head coach and he opened up his eyes, and his mouth was moving, but no sound was coming out. I could see that he gave his approval.”
A week later coach Gaither passed.
FAMU started the season unaware of who would become the starting quarterback.
“We had lost that first game, but the coach had decided to put each quarterback in for a game so he could make a decision,” elaborated Hollins. “When we played Jackson State Bonner was like a video game (character). …unbelievable numbers.”
“The weak link was me. Those guys were already there embarked as a Rattler,” said Bonner, speaking on his transfer from Temple University to FAMU. “I was fortunate enough to transfer into a situation, school wise, that welcomed me with open arms.”
From then on, Bonner started every game for the Rattlers except the second playoff game against Western Illinois because he caught the flu.
Bonner credits all his success to his teammates and his coach who he saw as role models.
“Coach Billy … and my teammates were the role models for me. I looked up to them and how hard they worked. That only made me work harder.”
After their magical season, the 1998 team was crowned the Black College National Champions by the Sheridan Broadcasting Network and went on in 1999 to go 10-3 before losing a playoff game to Youngstown.
When asked to give advice to the current FAMU football team, Bonner said they had to “trust the process, trust themselves, and trust that they have each other’s back. The most important component of winning is that they have to trust each other.”
“Remember the five D’s: drive, desire, dedication, determination, and discipline,” said Joe when asked the same question. “Just by being a rattler, you’ve already won the game.”
If coach Joe’s words are true, then Bragg stadium will be full of winners during this year’s homecoming game.