by Chuck Pool (cpool@edu) -
They first met at the start of training camp in 1989, two members of Fred Goldsmith's first group of recruits to Rice, accepting the challenge to turn around a program that was in the midst of an 18-game losing streak.
|Army West Point||31|
West Point, New York
Rice Falls at Army West Point, 31-14
Rice struck early, but was not able to sustain the lead as the Owls fell, 31-14, at Army West Point, Saturday afternoon.
On Saturday, Trevor Cobb and Matt Sign will return the field at Rice be recognized as the Owls 2017 Honor Jerseys as the Owls host Army. Kickoff is set for 5:30 as the Owls celebrate Military Appreciation Day.
Beginning in 2012, the Honor Jersey initiative has sought to directly link great Owls from the past with current players on the squad, by having the new players change their number to that of the former player honored.
The first year saw King Hill and a teammate of this year's duo, O.J. Brigance, selected by Rice head coach David Bailiff as the first two Owls honored, matching them with running back Turner Peterson and linebacker Cameron Nwosu.
This year running back Samuel Stewart set aside his original number 24 to don the number (45) worn by Cobb during a four-year rampage through Southwest Conference defenses that allowed him to win the 1991 Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back as well as the 1992 SWC Offensive Player of the Year. He set standards for Rice running backs that no one has come close to threatening, and his 4,948 yards remains in the NCAA's career to 25.
Sign, who now serves as the COO of the National Football Foundation, defied any preconceived notions that his 5-10, 220 pound frame would not hold up in the middle of Rice's defensive front wall, fending back weekly assaults from their Southwest Conference foes. He led Owls' linemen in tackles in each of his four years and currently ranks fifth in school history with 36 tackles for loss and sixth with 14 sacks. The Owls didn't have to look far for the perfect candidate to honor Sign, as current Rice nose tackle Zach Abercrumbia already wears #96.
Cobb and Sign knew early on that the other was going to be a part of the rebuilding job both had signed on for in 1989.
"Matt was a feisty guy who was all over the field," Cobb said. "He packed a lot of talent into a smaller body. I didn't know what to make of him when I first saw him, but once I saw him on the field, I thought `OK, I see why he is here.' It was pretty obvious from the first practice that he was going to be a player for us," he added.
"The thing that stood out right away about Trevor was that he ran to the end zone on every play," Sign recalled. "It didn't matter where we were on the field during practice, he ran all the way and then came back. I remember our first game was against SMU. It was their first game back after the Death Penalty and we were coming in with a 18-game losing streak. Trevor fumbled the opening kickoff, but the defense held them to a field goal and things got better from there.
"He was a really good teammate," Sigh said. "Everything was always a positive with him. He is arguably the best player in Rice history when you look at the numbers he put up."
Cobb gained 47 yards on seven carries in his debut, while Sign was credited with three tackles, one of them the first sack of his career.
Fast forward four years and the two walked on to the field at Rice Stadium for Senior Day in 1992, individual honors already secured, but the opportunity to secure the first winning season since 1963 just 60 minutes away.
The opponent that day was Navy, coming in 1-8 and not quite the consistent force they have become over the last 15 years. But fueled by a visit from Navy legend Roger Staubach, who had spoke earlier at an FCA event at Rice Stadium, the Middies were not willing to play the part the Owls had in mind.
On an unseasonably steamy November day, the two teams went toe to toe, with the Owls clinging to a 10-7 lead when a line of severe thunderstorms, which spawned at least one tornado in the area, sent teams and fans scurrying for cover.
"When we came back out, the temperature had dropped, the high winds had blown the pads off the goal posts and the fans who had stayed were huddle under the decks on the concourses or under the R Room," Sign recalled.
Two Jimmy Lee touchdowns and a Darrell Richardson field goal provided the winning margin and as Navy scored on the game's final play, the hardy Rice fans who stayed spilled on to the turf to celebrate the end of the streak and quickly tore down the north goal post while the two teams watched.
Only problem was there was still the matter of the extra point, which added one last, unique twist on a memorable day.
"Navy wanted to go for two, so we had to move to the other end of the field," Sign recalled. "The fans were all standing on the field around the 50 while Navy converted the two-point play and then they picked the celebration back up."
On Saturday, the current 0wls will again face off against a service academy. Rice and Army will meet for the eighth time in history and for the fourth consecutive year.
For Cobb and Sign, it will be a chance to stand together on familiar grounds as the newest member of a select group of former Owls.
"I was honored and excited when I got the call and I've been looking forward to this day," Cobb stated. "It was a really big deal to me when they called."
"I was surprised when they called me," Sign stated. "I was not expecting anything like this, but to be able to do it with Trevor makes the honor more special. What it does it brings back the work that all of our teammates over those four years did to allow us to find success. It was a long road to bring Rice back to its first winning season in 30 years. "