SXU Community Celebrates National Football Title
January 17, 2012
By Steve Metsch
Mike Feminis has a track record for making good on his word.
The St. Xavier University football coach, who guaranteed victory as the Cougars left their campus in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community to play in the NAIA national title game in December, had another sure thing up his sleeve Tuesday. Speaking at a rally for the champs before hundreds of fans at the Shannon Center, Feminis uttered the words many may have been thinking: “I’ll make one more guarantee. We’ll be right back here next year.”
The crowd saved its biggest cheer for the guarantee.
Feminis also noted that the team finds itself in rare company.
“There are only five national champions,” he said, referring to college football’s different divisions. “There are more than 700 colleges that play football in the United States. There are only four other teams who have the feeling we had that night, the greatest feeling in the world.”
The towering trophy, capped with a regulation-size football helmet, sat on a table in front of the team, which was lined up on the basketball court.
Steve Murphy, a football fan and vice president of university advancement, recalled the program’s humble beginnings.
“Heck, we didn’t even own a football,” he said of the team’s 1993 inception.
The hiring of Feminis before the 1999 season was a turning point, he said.
“From Day 1, ‘Fem’ started talking about a national title, and every step he and his staff made had us pointed in that direction,” Murphy said.
Feminis thanked the administration, his wife, children, players and coaches, some of whom are volunteers who “only get gas money” for their troubles.
State Sen. Ed Maloney (D-18th) and State Reps. Kelly Burke (D-36th) and Bill Cunningham (D-35th) took turns praising the program. But U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), who changed travel plans to attend the rally, brought down the house.
“Next year can you make it a little easier? I though I was going to have a heart attack,” he said.
The nail-biting championship game saw St. Xavier hold off six-time champ Carroll College 24-20 with a goal-line stand to end the game.
Lipinski’s nerves were eased, he said, with “two six packs from the finest microbrewery in Montana waiting for me in Washington.” Lipinski had wagered with a congressman whose district includes Carroll College.
“To play them, the team that’s the standard at our level, is a dream come true,” said Feminis, who last week was named NAIA Coach of the Year.
The team presented university president Christine Wiseman with an autographed helmet that she said “will have a place of honor on top of my desk when I don’t need to wear it.”
Wiseman read a letter from President Barack Obama, who talked of the dedication exhibited by St. Xavier’s student-athletes, saying their “commitment to excellence sets a powerful example for all Americans.”
Adjunct business professor Bob Cyborski, who wore a St. Xavier hoodie, said he is proud of the team.
“This is incredible. It’s especially great for me because I’ve had several of the players in my class. The one thing that characterizes them is they’re not only athletes, but they are students, too,” he said.
After the rally, Feminis said: “I just believe in our guys. We certainly have a lot of work to do between now and next season, but I believe in my heart we can do it. We probably have more starters returning than any team in the country, 10 on offense and eight on defense.”
Sophomore receiver John Fredrickson, of Evergreen Park, one of the many Chicago-area players on the team, said winning the title “was the best feeling a person can ever have” and one he’d love to experience a few more times.
Asked about Feminis’ guarantee, he said: “We have big pressure on us, but it’s pretty cool that he thinks we can do it again.”
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