Relevant observations, pertinent notes, questions, minutiae and Huskie Trivial Pursuit from your local, retired sports information director:
Fact No. 1: Smile, Mid-American Conference football fans. There’s good reason for some late holiday season cheer. Big Ten and BCS envy? Who needs it? With a Northern Illinois victory over Arkansas State in Sunday’s GoDaddy.com Bowl, not only would the MAC wind up an unprecedented 4-1 in this postseason, the league’s four bowl triumphs would double the previous best (2-0 MAC bowl record in 2001 and 2003, 2-3 in 2004, and 2-2 in 2010) and equal this year’s Big Ten bowl win total (4-6). Eat your heart out, WAC (0-3), Pac-12 (2-5) and ACC (2-6) fans.
Opinion No. 1: Whatever you think about Arkansas State and the Huskies’ all-time 6-1 series lead (1990-96), flush it. As much as I respect history, that Arkansas State is history. In 1996, I still can remember escaping from Jonesboro, Ark., with a 31-30 win in the last meeting between the schools – Joe Novak’s first “W” as a 1-A head coach – thanks to TB Charles Talley’s two fourth-quarter TD runs and PK Brian Clark’s PAT boots. Without that victory, the infamous NIU 23-game losing streak would’ve grown to an even more painful 32.
Opinion No. 2: These Sun Belt Conference champion Red Wolves are much, much tougher. For sure. All ex-SID hype aside, this Northern Illinois-Arkansas State matchup could become an ESPN Classic (pun intended) and the mid-major (read non-qualifying BCS) showcase of the year. Order the pizza or make the popcorn early.
Question No. 1: If and when Huskie senior QB Chandler Harnish becomes the first NCAA FBS performer to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,500 yards in the same season this Sunday (not to mention being a repeat All-MAC First-Teamer, MAC Player of the Year, Humanitarian Bowl MVP, Walter Camp Award semifinalist, and National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete, etc., etc.), will the indifferent Chicago print and electronic media finally admit who the best quarterback in the state is? Hint: That No. 12 all-purpose guy at Northern Illinois.
Gripe No. 1: Look, I’ve been a “civilian” for five plus years since my retirement and I know the metro media climate has changed drastically in that time. That said, all you read (or hear) in Chicago is how great Nathan Scheelhasse, Dan Persa, and anybody who takes a snap behind center at Notre Dame (you mean, South Bend isn’t in Illinois?) is. Pardon my indignation.
Gripe No. 2: After 34 years promoting mid-major athletics (and academics) and student-athletes, I would never disparage any individual or school publicly. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped fighting for the old alma mater. But, I do believe the so-called “big-time” media must come to the realization that smaller programs will eventually produce a Reino Nori, Larry Brink, George Bork, John Spilis, Tom Wittum, Mark Kellar, Jim Bradley, Kenny Battle, LeShon Johnson, Donald Whiteside, Michael Turner and now Chandler Harnish all who transcended the dreaded mid-major “tag” or stereotype and could play at the Big Ten level. Have an idea. Ignoring such performers on the basis of their school, conference, or perceived level of play has often proven to be uneducated.
Gripe No. 3: The average print media consumer doesn’t hear about knowledgeable sports copy desk people getting laid off. But it’s happening more and more. The “suits” (read corporate executives) just want to cut costs and the 30-year salaries at the expense – sorry to say – of the reader and content.
This week one Chicago paper had a four paragraph obituary on Gene Bartow, the highly successful coach who followed John Wooden at UCLA and also lead Memphis (State) to the NCAA Final Four. Nowhere in this wire story was the fact that Bartow served as a D-I head coach at Valparaiso and Illinois (plus UAB). One sentence would have conveyed that fact. Local news ties? Editing? What for? This is the digital age, dude. Relax.
Question No. 2: Does anybody on the Left Coast go by their real name?
Guess Hollywood and Los Angeles are interchangable in that regard. Had to chuckle when I read about L.A. Lakers’ forward Ron Artest legally changing his name to Metta World Peace this season. Reminded me of wild-and-crazy guard World B. Free (nee Lloyd Free) of the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980s. Coolest sounding pseudonym of all-time? Easy. My winner: Flower child guitarist Mars Bonfire (nee Dennis Edmonton) of the 1960s Top 40 rock group Steppenwolf and the writer of their hit single “Born to Be Wild.” Mars Korcek? Just doesn’t work.
Opinion No. 3: How do all these people get on the sidelines at bowl games? Watching the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium, I swear they were two or three-deep behind each end zone and lined up all around the field (despite all the empty red seats in the upper deck). To me, that’s a lot of credentials, not to mention potential liability and security problems. Again, this was an NFL facility (Tampa Bay) with plenty of suites for VIPs, dignitaries, and media. Just curious.
Gripe No. 4: I do like ESPN football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who is pretty sharp, articulate, and media savvy.
After Wisconsin TB Montee Ball rushed for his NCAA record-tying 39th TD against Oregon in the Rose Bowl, he went to the sidelines and talked to his UW position coach who happens to be former Northern Illinois TB Thomas Hammock. To be honest, I did not see the short conversation, but heard the audio and recognized Hammock’s voice immediately. In essence, Hammock told Ball something like “...see what waiting a second did?” Perfect time for Herbstreit – who was now explaining how the second delay helped the play work – to mention Hammock’s (who had his back to the camera) name and give him some network props. Sadly, Herbstreit did not. Watch your monitor and learn your personnel, Kirk, that’s your job.
Fact No. 2: Yes, it was another era. Decades ago. The good, really old days I guess. For whatever it’s worth, Wednesday (Jan. 4) marked the 40th anniversary of the greatest single-game triumph in Huskie men’s basketball history. Final score: Northern Illinois 85, No. 5-ranked Indiana 71.
Chick Evans Field House rocked like only it could that night as the Hoosiers and first-year coach Bobby Knight got bushwhacked by future Hall of Famers Jim Bradley (24 points, 20 rebounds), Billy Harris, and Jerry Zielinski. Coach Tom Jorgensen who helped lead Michigan to three consecutive Big Ten titles as an assistant in the early 1960s said: “I’ve never had a bigger victory.” Neither have the Huskies.
• Mike Korcek is a former Northern Illinois University sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle.