Relevant observations, pertinent notes, questions, minutiae and Huskie Trivial Pursuit from your local, retired sports information director:
Observation No. 1: Glad to read that first-year Northern Illinois football coach Dave Doeren respects history enough to call Joe Novak about Central Michigan and the rabid Kelly/Shorts Stadium environs and fans. For the gridiron Huskies, Mount Pleasant, Mich., has been anything but since 1939.
What’s the sports cliché? Running into a buzzsaw? Make that a 100 buzzsaws. It’s a challenging place to open your Mid-American Conference football schedule. Doeren knows a pivotal MAC game when he sees one.
Every year CMU appeared on our schedule, the late Bill Minnihan – the feisty Hall of Fame NIU linebacker (1946-49) – would remind me about his first trip to Mount Pleasant.
“I’ll never forget it,” Minnihan recalled. “I was a freshman. I thought we were pretty good that year (8-2 and Little 19 Conference champs). They (CMU) kicked our butts – sideways, up, down, every way. 58-7. Still can’t believe it.”
I can only report the facts. Within the Mount Pleasant city limits, the Huskies have only won eight times in 23 previous football meetings and been outscored, 739-366. Ouch. Believe me, there’s too many 69-7, 61-0, 58-7, 46-0 outcomes on the wrong side of the ledger in this series. They love their football up there.
Consider that arguably the best NIU team in modern history, the 10-2 MAC and California Bowl kingpins in 1983, got bushwacked, 30-14, in Mount Pleasant. That’s with Hall of Fame head coach Bill Mallory, seven NFL draft picks and 19 professional players overall on the roster – including the MAC’s Jefferson Trophy recipient and MVP (QB Tim Tyrrell). Aberration? Might be the ultimate one on Huskie record, but it happened.
Consider that College Football Hall of Fame quarterback George Bork needed to complete a single-game, school-record 43-of-68 passing for 416 yards and receiver Gary Stearns had to make an NIU-record 17 catches to guarantee a 27-22 NIU triumph at Central Michigan to clinch the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference crown and finish 9-0 in the regular-season en route to the Mineral Water Bowl and 1963 College Division national championship.
Consider – that despite this local futility in Chippewaville – the Novak-era teams won an unprecedented nine games in a row (1998-2006) versus CMU (and four straight at Perry/Shorts Stadium), which should have qualified for a Nobel Prize nomination. None more important or gratifying than the streak-breaking, goal post-busting and rain-soaked 16-6 victory over Central Michigan in 1998 at Huskie Stadium.
Opinion No. 1: Don’t be misled by CMU’s current 1-3 record, 0-1 mark in the MAC, or 45-7 loss to Michigan State. This would be an important victory for Doeren’s troops.
Observation No. 2: Speaking of Bork and the 1963 group, I really like the idea of the commemorative National College Division Championship flag that will be installed before the NIU-Western Michigan homecoming game at noon on Oct. 15 (southwest corner of Huskie Stadium). Best of all, with the new 63-foot (63? Coincidence or what?) flag pole, the 10-foot by 15-foot flag can be seen from most or all 24,000 seats at home. Kudos to athletic director Jeff Compher. A little NIU pride and tradition can go a long way. And, after all, that venerable 1965 facility originally was nicknamed “The House That Bork Built” for obvious reasons.
Observation No. 3: OK, maybe Maryland’s 2011 football program deserves more props for its cutting edge new uniforms and helmets (called “horrendous,” “hideous” and “Cirque de Soleil” by “Bleacher Report” online) than for its on-field performance (1-2 record) to date. But how does MAC East favorite Temple (3-1) get only one vote from them after undressing the Terrapins, 38-7, last week with decisive advantages in first downs (21-14), total offense yards (425-240), and time of possession (41:01-18:59)? Or after losing to Penn State, 14-10, in the final 2:42? Anti-MAC bias, you think?
Observation No. 4: My MAC Armageddon Game of the Week? Month? Year? No-brainer. Toledo at Temple this Saturday (11 a.m. on WPWR-50 in Chicago and Channel 8 on local Comcast cable). How upset are the 1-3 Rockets after emotional near-miss setbacks at Ohio State and Syracuse? Meaningless official apologies from the Big East Conference for the replay official offer little solace to Toledo after their 33-30, overtime loss last week. Anybody could see on the sports highlights that the Syracuse PAT kick went wide left (and I’ve had three retina surgeries). Why do these BCS conference officials suddenly go Alfred E. (“what, me worry”) Neuman when playing MAC opposition? (Don’t get me started about football game officials at Wisconsin).
Opinion No. 2: Did you watch ESPN’s “Catching Hell” documentary Tuesday night on the Steve Bartman controversy from the 2003 National League Championship Series playoffs? Well done. Poignant. Exceptional film. Four stars in my book. It stirred up some latent thoughts on Wrigley Field and Cubs “fans.”
In my lifetime, the 1969 Cubbies (with an All-Star at virtually every position) were/still are the best in franchise history. That storied meltdown hurts to this day, but not enough to throw beers and yell insults at one fan. Yeah, I get mad and curse at my TV when I watch Chicago teams. I’ve cussed at press row and said a few hyphenated words during my career. So I understand the North Siders’ frustration and the World Series drought as well as anyone. An illegal alien or someone in a witness protection program has more rights than Steve Bartman – to this day. The poor guy is a virtual recluse. It’s sad, disheartening and tragic that this man became and remains an international scapegoat – even after publically apologizing to Cubdom – over a baseball game, albeit an important one.
Let’s be real. Cubs left fielder Moises Alou would’ve had to been Wilt Chamberlain in his NBA prime to catch that foul ball (heck, even Dave Kingman was a better fielder than Alou, anyway). What about the botched double play in the same inning? I know. Life isn’t fair.
• Mike Korcek is a former Northern Illinois University sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle.