Rummaging through a box of memorabilia collected throughout years sitting under the north basket in Blue Devil Gym, I came across a plastic bag full of buttons celebrating the greatest team in Quincy High School basketball history.
Immediately, it felt like 1981 again.
The buttons were fundraisers for student council or Beta Club or one of the service organizations and sold throughout the season. Luckily, my sister, Theresa, was a senior in 1981 and made sure I ended up with nearly every button produced.
Put them together and they tell an incredible story.
Some were emblazoned with "Once more like '34," which became the unofficial mantra of a team ranked No. 1 in Class AA from beginning to end. The only other QHS boys basketball team to win a state championship was the 1934 squad.
After the Blue Devils beat Proviso West 68-39 in the title game, the mantra changed to "It's done in '81." Banners and posters with that slogan were plastered everywhere.
The buttons celebrated the players who made history possible.
One read "Follow Payne to Champaign" and the Blue Devils did. Michael Payne, the 6-foot-10 forward who went on to the University of Iowa, was a McDonald's All-American, an imposing presence at the front of the 1-2-2 press and the best big man in the state.
Alongside him was the best point guard in the state and "Silki Smooth is on the move" was one of the buttons celebrating Bruce Douglas' ability and impact. There also were buttons saying "Slammin' Bruce tears baskets loose" for good reason.
Douglas could do it all, which is why he was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois his senior season and became an All-Big Ten selection during his four years at the University of Illinois.
Although just a sophomore that season, Dennis Douglas had a major impact as a burly post player and tough rebounder. He earned the faith of Blue Devil nation, which wore buttons saying "Big Brown Bear will get us there."
The other names are just as legendary.
Richie Hawkins and Scott Allen were starters. Joel Myers, Dave Sandercock, Mark Kaufman and Mark Sparrow provided minutes off the bench in the backcourt, while Tim Huseman and John Lepper buoyed the frontcourt.
It was a complete team, the most complete team this tradition-rich program has ever seen.
They'll gather again this weekend to celebrate, reminisce and relive a time when basketball was king and this was their kingdom.
The 1981 team will be honored Friday night during the Blue Devils' Western Big Six Conference game against Geneseo and a banquet Saturday night will provide ample opportunity for storytelling. This isn't just a celebration of the past. It's embracing greatness.
The Blue Devils didn't just win a championship in 1981.
They brought a community together. They were the inspiration for future Blue Devils to work to achieve similar goals. They set the standard for success every team since has tried to replicate.
Every team moving forward will try to do the same.
That's legendary, and there's a collection of buttons and memorabilia to remind just how powerful that legacy is.