DE PERE — Before the 1992 season, the De Pere football team had struggled for several years. Coach Jim Finer knew he had to change the culture if things were going to be different.
"Changing the culture and understanding that when you change the culture to a positive you'll have great results," said Finer.
That season, the team had a large group of seniors who also were determined to turn things around. One of those seniors was starting center and current defensive coordinator Jason Sullivan.
Sullivan and Finer both knew that this season could be different after a game against a Seymour team that was the favorite to win the Bay conference.
After the Redbirds managed to pull off the upset, the team gained confidence. They managed to go undefeated and clinch their first-ever playoff spot. Before their first playoff game, Finer took the team over to the school's trophy case to show them the golden basketballs and soccer balls from prior state championship wins.
There was only one thing missing for the Redbirds: the coveted golden football.
"This is the thing that's missing here. We have a great opportunity to bring something here to this community," said Finer.
Sullivan said he's never seen a high school football atmosphere quite like what he experienced during that first postseason game.
"First time into the playoffs this place was just rocking. We played Southern Door. This whole field had ropes around it, there were fans it was an unbelievable environment. It was surreal," said Sullivan.
After a close win over Southern Door, the Redbirds eventually made it to Camp Randall Stadium for the state championship game.
"It was a business trip. We were there with one goal in mind, take care of business and come back with the gold ball," said Sullivan.
The Redbirds went on to dominate with a 35-6 win over New Richmond. Decades later, the team still rallies around each other in times of need.
"I had cancer and every Sunday these guys would get on a zoom call and cheer me up, you know who does that," said Finer.
Sullivan's experience with Finer drove him to become a coach. He's now been with the program for 29 years now.
"It's fantastic to relive it because there's not a day that goes past that that experience doesn't play a role in what I do each day," said Sullivan.