For more than nine months the memory of a 31-point state championship game loss fueled Tyner's offseason football workouts. Burning in the back of each players' mind was the memory of watching Memphis Melrose players in their gold shoes, high-stepping and taunting their way to a state-final record for penalty yards - most of which came from unsportsmanlike conduct.
So when the 1997 season kicked off, Tyner needed to regain its swagger and make a statement to the rest of the state. A season-opening 95-3 whipping of Boyd-Buchanan served both purposes and catapulted the Rams to become Hamilton County's first public school to claim a state football title.
"We got pushed around by Melrose," said Windarek Stewart, who played running back and defensive back for Tyner from 1995 to '97. "Ain't nothing like being on the field and feeling helpless. They beat us to a pulp and we had to walk off tasting our own blood. I never wanted to walk off the field with my head down again.
"We had gotten embarrassed, and that feeling pushed us all through the offseason."
The '97 Rams outscored opponents by an average of 45-8, including six shutouts, and rank fifth in the Times Free Press sports staff's list of the area's top 10 greatest state championship teams, behind Cleveland's 1993 team at No. 1, the 2000 Red Bank Lions, Baylor's 1973 mythical national champs and Marion County's 1995 squad.
Tyner beat its first four 1997 postseason opponents by an average of 33 points. When Stewart caught a 29-yard pass from Rory Hinton in the back of the end zone late in the fourth quarter, Tyner had a 13-10 win over Union City for the Class 2A title.
"Other than my kids, that's one of the proudest moments of my life," Stewart said. "It's the one thing I accomplished that nobody can take away. That's proof that at that time we were the best and I don't even have to discuss it."
Seven of the 27 players on the roster signed college scholarships, including Mr. Football Lineman of the Year Kelvin Hughley with Georgia Tech, receiver Anthony Jones with Vanderbilt and offensive lineman Cortez Stokes with Memphis.
"Those guys set the standard for what our program has become," said Rams coach Wayne Turner, whose program has been to the playoffs every season since its title. "That '97 team was extremely close and unselfish. We scored first in every game that year except one, and we usually scored the second and third and fourth times, too.
"That bunch could play with anybody."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.