Fifty memorable years.
What Baby Boomer Northern Illinois University football fan – in Yogi Berra parlance – “woulda thunk it.”
Next week, NIU begins its 50th football campaign at venerable Huskie Stadium. The Presbyterian season-opener marks the 257th game played on west campus since Northern Illinois “baptized” the facility with a 48-6 triumph over Illinois State during Homecoming Nov. 6, 1965.
Go ahead, say it. It’s been a heckuva half century. In the duration, the Cardinal and Black have posted a 157-97-2 record and a .617 winning percentage in the fabled “House That (George) Bork Built” – including a stellar 44-11 mark (.800 pct.) the past decade, not to mention the nation’s longest home stadium victory streak (26 games).
(Note to all math majors: Remember, there’s a subtle difference between the 50th year and the 50th or golden anniversary that NIU intercollegiate athletics will celebrate next season.)
With future home dates slated with San Diego State, BYU, Utah, and Maryland on the docket, I started reminiscing. So, for fellow Northern Illinois fans young and old, here’s the unofficial Mike Korcek Ultimate All-Time Huskie Stadium Top 10 Opponents.
Enjoy the trip.
Honorable Mention – West Texas State (Nov. 4, 1967): With Duane Thomas (first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys) and Mercury Morris (Miami Dolphins) in the same backfield, WTSU was no slouch. NIU should’ve won, but threw five picks and lost 17-10.
Honorable Mention – Bowling Green State (Nov. 9, 2002): Perspectives change. BGSU arrived riding the crest of an 8-0 start, wins over Missouri and Kansas, the USA Today No. 16/Associated Press No. 20 ratings, and meteoric coach Urban Meyer. NIU led from start to finish and held the Falcons to 30 points below their high-octane 47.4 points-per-game scoring
average in a 26-17 success. BGSU wound up 9-3 with no bowl and only five All-MAC picks. Interesting.
Honorable Mention – Miami, Ohio (Nov. 7, 1998): Despite going 10-1, winning at No. 12 North Carolina, and winding up 30th in the final AP rankings, the Redhawks lost the MAC East Division tie-breaker to Marshall.The result? No MAC title game, no bowl. MU did have tailback Travis Prentice (1,787 rushing yards) and five NFL draftees. Rebuilding NIU fell, 41-10.
No. 10 – Southern Mississippi (Oct. 10, 1992): The post-Brett Favre Golden Eagles finished 7-4 with heart-breaking setbacks to No. 14 Florida (24-20) and No. 8 Alabama (17-10). NIU junior tailback LeShon Johnson out-sprinted the vaunted USM secondary on a spectacular 85-yard TD run en route to a 188-yard game in a 23-10 triumph.
No. 9 – Kent State (Oct. 28, 1972): Best KSU eleven ever? Consider the 6-5 Golden Flashes won their first (and only) MAC crown and initial bowl bid (Tangerine) under College Football Hall of Fame coach Don James (three-time national coach of the year at Washington). Kent State’s roster featured seven All-MAC players, including NFL All-Pro linebacker Jack Lambert, tight end Gary Pinkel, plus safety Nick Saban. Behind All-Century fullback Mark Kellar, NIU rolled up a then school-record 475 yards on the ground to beat it first MAC grid champion, 28-7.
No. 8 – Southwestern Louisiana (Nov. 4, 1989): Classic matchup of fledging major independents, plus dueling all-purpose QBs in NIU’s Stacey Robinson and USL’s Brian Mitchell (first NCAA player to pass for more than 5,000 career yards and rush for 3,000). Gifted Ragin’ Cajuns boasted Mitchell (Washington Redskins) and five other NFL prospects. USL (7-4) beat Rice, Tulsa, and Southern Mississippi, plus had a near-miss vs. Alabama. Robinson scored the winning TD on a 7-yard sweep with no time left in the 23-20 upset. Scintillating finish.
No. 7 – Marshall (Oct. 6, 2001): The only Thundering Herd visit during the Bob Pruett era. With a staggering 15 All-MAC performers (nine first-team), four NFL draftees (led by QB Byron Leftwich), and one All-America type, MU finished 11-3, No. 26 in final AP poll, outscored East Carolina, 64-61, in the GMAC Bowl, and proved to be too much for the locals, 37-15.
No. 6 – Fresno State (Oct. 6, 1990): One might be tempted to put the “overrated” tag on the Bulldogs, considering Northern Illinois scored the most points ever against an AP Top 25 team and produced 806 yards total offense in a 73-18 nuke-out. Rated No. 24 in the AP poll that week, then unbeaten FSU finished 8-2-1 with seven first-team All-Big West Conference performers and, ultimately, seven NFL draftees (led by third-round pick, running back Aaron Craver). Talent, yes. Discipline, no, vs. NIU’s triple option.
No. 5 – San Diego State (Sept. 12, 1970): From 1965 to 1972, the Aztecs could brag about 42 athletes (four first-rounders) picked in the NFL draft, plus 15 All-America types (nine in D-I). Combine the passing game acumen of College Football Hall of Fame coach Don Coryell and that rich West Coast JC talent. Bingo, an eight-year run with a 74-11-1 record. NIU, which gained University Division status the same year as SDSU in 1969, fell, 35-3.
No. 4 – San Diego State (Oct. 21, 1967): This intersectional College Division showdown was all Aztecs (47-6) despite Chicago Tribune columnist David Condon picking NIU, 16-14. The hosts had no answers for wide receiver Haven Moses (first round by Buffalo Bills), WR Tom Nettles, RB Ted Washington, or defensive end Fred Dryer (College Football Hall of Fame and star of the “Hunter” TV series). Note: The “myth” that ex-TV analyst John Madden worked the Huskie Stadium sidelines that day is untrue. Mr. Wham-Pow-Bam Madden was a SDSU assistant for Coryell from 1964 to ’66.)
No. 3 – Toledo (Nov. 6, 1971): Is there a better MAC squad ever to play in DeKalb? Difficult to go against these Rockets. This was victory No. 32 in the (then) NCAA’s second longest major-college winning streak (now it ranks fifth all-time). Toledo finished 12-0, No. 14 in the final AP poll, and ruled the Tangerine Bowl. Seven players made at least honorable mention All-America, topped by DE Mel Long (consensus first-teamer) and QB Chuck Ealey, a three-time MAC Player of the Year who finished eighth in the 1971 Heisman voting and, if it wasn’t for a stupid technicality, should be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Toledo prevailed, 23-8.
No. 2 – Maryland (Aug. 28, 2003): Maybe NIU’s greatest Huskie Stadium victory (20-13 in OT)? That’s another column. Most impressive fact about the Terrapins that year – Maryland was the first team in ACC history to win 10 games after losing its first two. Think about it. Ranked No. 15 by AP in August, the Terps rallied back onto the national scene – finishing 10-3 overall and No. 17 in the final AP ratings after beating West Virginia, 41-7, in the Gator Bowl.
Maryland led the ACC with 10 all-league performers. Coach Ralph Friedgen’s troops wound up No. 6 in NCAA scoring defense. Pro material? Maryland had five NFL draft selections and seven free agents the next spring.
No. 1 – Kansas State (Sept. 6, 1997): You can call coach Bill Snyder’s tenure at K-State a dynasty. The Wildcats, No. 21 in the AP poll and 47-7 winners on this day, defeated Syracuse and Donovan McNabb, 35-18, in the Fiesta Bowl, and capped an 11-1 year as the nation’s No. 7 team in the final coaches’ poll and No. 8 in the AP. K-State earned 16 spots on the All-Big 12 team and two All-America picks. Twelve 1997 Wildcats eventually were drafted by the NFL.
Impressive list, eh?
Happy 50th. Tell me what you think.
• Mike Korcek is a 1970 graduate of NIU, and was the school’s head sports information director from 1984-2006. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.