Not long after Mike London accepted the head coaching job at Howard — leaving the college football big-time as a University of Maryland assistant to take over a program that had won three games in two years — he coined a phrase for his first season. “Mission Possible” would be the team’s slogan this fall, even if the mission didn’t actually seem possible.
“That’s all we talk about,” London said Sunday afternoon. “We break every huddle down with that. We break every meeting with that. People are moved by the way you make them feel.”
What feels possible for Howard suddenly looks quite a bit different than it had before this weekend began. The Bison went to UNLV as 45-point underdogs late Saturday night. They left with a 43-40 win that goes down as one of the biggest upsets in college football history.
A $100 moneyline bet on Howard to win would have paid more than $50,000. And Howard was actually paid $600,000 for the honor of beating UNLV, according to USA Today, which reported that “Howard had to arrange for its band and cheerleaders to arrive in Las Vegas by noon the day before the game to participate in various events” to receive the full guarantee. In an opening weekend that saw plenty of stupefying surprises — Maryland winning at Texas, Liberty upending Baylor — Howard’s was perhaps the most jaw-dropping.
“It’s a very humbling experience to be a part of something that you can talk about forever,” London said, between responding to “a gazillion text messages” and also breaking down the win on the phone with his mother. (“And you know when your mom calls, you can’t get off the phone real quick,” the coach added. )
“My players, the guys, I’m telling you, they are sky high right now in terms of confidence, in terms of belonging,” London went on. “We talked about how this was a business trip. This wasn’t the old typical I-AA, it’s your money game, and we’re gonna be cannon fodder for this team. We came here to win the game, and that’s what happened.”
It might sound easy to have such confidence the day after that historic upset actually happened. (Or the day of, really; Howard’s win came at about 12:35 a.m. on Sunday.) But within the first few days of preseason practice, the Bison were already speaking London’s language.
“I mean, coming to Howard, it’s not a football school right now,” Caylin Newton said last month. “It will be.”
The undersized freshman quarterback — whose brother happens to be a former NFL MVP, guy named Cam — wasn’t trying to make headlines with that line. He was speaking matter-of-factly about his decision to attend a school that had recorded just one winning football season since 2005. He hadn’t even been named the school’s starter yet, although he was confident that moment would arrive. But Newton seemed absurdly certain that his new school — which he selected after not getting offers from any Power-5 programs — was ready to take off, and soon.
Newton later became the starter, and his first game went far beyond any rational preseason rhetoric. The Associated Press said it was the largest upset of any game with a point spread in college football history, topping Stanford’s win over USC as a 40-point underdog in 2007.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Dan Steinberg