For awhile, they thought people might forget them.
Members of Butler Community College's 1981 national championship football team admitted as much. They assumed that after they were gone, old newspaper clippings and beat-up cassette tapes would have to serve as the only evidence of their accomplishment.
Then something happened.
The Grizzlies started winning titles. Lots of them — five since 1998, and they get to play for another one on Sunday.
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Forget 1981? Impossible. They were legends.
Their story was now the first chapter in the greatest book about junior-college football ever written.
"People used to ask me after the '98 team won if we were worried it would take away from our accomplishment," said Fayne Henson, the coach of the '81 team and a Butler color commentator for KNSS, 1330-AM. "Are you kidding me? It's the greatest thing that could've happened... it's created a dynasty that we're part of.
"Every time they put another year up on that national title banner, you look to the top and tell me what you see."
Jeff Sanders, a defensive back on that 1981 team, doesn't have to look far to see the connection from past to present.
His son, Jasper Sanders, is a freshman running back out of Kansas City Piper and is second on the Grizzlies in rushing with 489 yards and seven touchdowns. Top-ranked Butler (11-0) takes on No. 2 Navarro (10-1) in the Citizens Bank Bowl at Pittsburg — the NJCAA title game.
And Jeff Sanders isn't scared to give specific advice about what his son has waiting for him Sunday.
"When we played Northeastern Oklahoma A&M for the title, they were ranked first and we were second," Jeff said. "I think (Jasper) has been in some big-time environments this year, but nothing like this yet. I always tell him to remember that football is a team game first, and that you always need to be well-prepared for your assignment."
Butler fell behind NEO 14-0 in the first half of the 1981 Rodeo Bowl in Arkansas City, but forced six turnovers in the second half and rallied for a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter. With time running out, Sanders intercepted a pass deep in Butler territory but fumbled the ball on the return and gave the Norsemen the ball back inside their own 10 with just seconds to play.
"I thought I was smart, that I would run out the clock," Sanders said. "I should have taken a knee."
Butler safety and Wichita Northwest product A.C. Poynter intercepted NEO on the next play and took a knee. The Grizzlies finished 12-0 for the first national title in school history.
Sanders said Poynter's pick saved him from a lifetime of regret if Butler had lost. Henson told his wife, Angie, the same thing on their drive home after the game.
"I suppose everybody's perspective is a little different," said Poynter, a teacher and football coach at Maize South Middle School. "The way I saw it, I was a little out of position when they scored those first two touchdowns and I felt responsible. I was able to redeem myself, too."
With the 30th anniversary of the title coming up next fall, plans are already set for the team to get back together in El Dorado when the Grizzlies host Coffeyville. There's no specific date yet because the schedules for 2011 have yet to be released.
They just all agreed it had to be Coffeyville. Some rivalries die hard.
"Coffeyville won the national title in 1980 and we were 5-3 that year, a complete afterthought," said Mike Nardone, Butler's quarterback in '81 and a high school teacher and football coach in Hermitage, Pa. "And that next year, our group was so blue-collar, so tough... when you see (Butler) winning today you can't help but think back to that first title team and feel like we started it, that we set that bar."