Sometimes, life really can be cruel. Even in the “pretend” world of sports.
Somebody breaks your 23-year-old NCAA single-game quarterback rushing record. Your national legacy? Erased from the NCAA record book. Gone. Maybe you get the obligatory journalism reference in the game story that the previous record was held by so-and-so, the old yardage, the opponent and the date. Otherwise, gone.
Too bad, old-timer, you’re history. Gone.
Happens every day. Gone. Or does it? Not like this.
With his four-star, record-setting 316-yard rushing performance, Northern Illinois University’s Jordan Lynch morphed into Stacey Robinson last week. Or maybe vice versa. This is not about just somebody breaking just anybody’s record. This is family. Huskie family.
“You know, in a way, it’s hard to believe that this record lasted 23 years,” said former NIU coach Jerry Pettibone, who will attend Saturday’s Eastern Michigan game. “It was a tremendous national accomplishment for Stacey and our program back then, and when you consider the advances that offenses have made in the duration and, in recent years with the no-huddle, I’m proud and very pleased that another outstanding NIU quarterback broke it. What could be more appropriate?
“I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to meet Jordan this weekend,” added Pettibone, who served as the Huskise taskmaster from 1985 to 1990 and recorded the school’s initial triumph vs. the Big Ten Conference (Wisconsin in 1988). “I’ve seen Jordan on TV several times. Like Stacey, he is a consummate leader and a great decision-maker. You can tell his teammates have great confidence in him.”
Can it be coincidence, irony, or some type of football serendipity at work? Two truly great, productive NIU All-America and Heisman Trophy candidate QBs albeit from different eras, different offensive systems, different coaches, becoming “one?”
Think about it. Two competitive, goal-oriented team leaders with staggering career numbers, numerous records, honors and accomplishments. Two classic overachievers. Winners. Fighters. Using the same mid-level platform. Guys you want running your dream team, moving the chains. Lynch and Robinson have overlapped themselves.
The other similarity, I’m sad to report? Oh, wait, you’re not Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota or some overhyped future NFL franchise quarterback with a golden arm and $100 million contract? You were a triple-option QB? You play in what conference? Are you Division I? Do you think you belong in the Orange Bowl? Wouldn’t you rather play defensive back?
Talk about mutual chips on your shoulder, these dudes could be brothers. They are.
At Central Michigan, Lynch single-handedly led a mid-season revitalization of coach Rod Carey’s Huskies (yes, even when you’re undefeated and Top 25) and his own 2013 Heisman Trophy candidacy. After a listless, so-so effort against Akron at Homecoming and with rumors (emphasize “rumors”) in town about him playing hurt, No. 6 resembled Henry Cavill without the CGI-generated special effects.
Not only were his 316 yards (on 32 carries) an FBS-high for any rusher this season, Lynch contributed 477 yards total offense and four touchdowns (three rushing and one passing). In the second half of a critical Mid-American Conference road game, Lynch (232 yards on 18 carries with 28-, 40-, and 49-yard long-gainers) and the Huskie offensive front had the Chippewas’ defense on its collective knees and breathing hard.
Not only would Lynch be named as the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week, he would be cited with a Huskie helmet sticker by ESPN analyst Lou Holtz.
In the famous 73-18 Northern Illinois triumph against No. 24 Fresno State in 1990 – the most points scored, at that time, against an Associated Press Top 25 team – Robinson executed the Wishbone to perfection as the Huskies collected 806 yards total offense and led at half by a mind-boggling 50-18, against a previously unbeaten Bulldogs team that entered the game No. 1 in NCAA rushing defense and No. 2 in NCAA scoring defense.
Wearing uniform No. 7, Robinson ran for 308 yards on 22 attempts, scored five TDs without being touched (okay, somebody wearing a FSU uniform brushed against him on the final TD in the end zone). For his efforts, the “Wishbone Wizard” would be named the National Back of the Week by ESPN, the Football News, the Chicago Tribune, and Sports Illustrated. With the score so lopsided, Robinson only carried the ball twice early in the third period before back-ups Rob Rugai and Tyrone Leverett finished the game at QB.
Personally, one of the best moments came at halftime. Sports Illustrated sent a writer from New York to the game. He arrived on Friday to interview Fresno State runningback Aaron Craver. Naturally, I did what any good SID would do and asked if the SI staffer also wanted to interview Robinson. Not interested, he said (option QB, see ninth paragraph). At half, when Robinson only had 287, this same writer came up to me in the press box and whispered, “Hey, Mike, think I could talk to Stacey after the game?”
Sometimes, life can be humorous.
In their own ways, both Robinson and Lynch led the Huskies to the next level. NIU went 9-2 as a major independent in 1989 and led the nation in team rushing (344.7 ypg. average) in 1990 with no postseason opportunity.
That, like the 2003 NIU bowl snub, was a shame. If anybody would understand, it would be Jordan Lynch.
Fearless Korcek Forecast: Northern Illinois 47, Eastern Michigan 14.
Who’s Better – Robinson or Lynch?: Are you kidding me? That’s a tough question. To me, Stacey was faster. At 6-foot-1, 189 pounds, the “Wiz” had a great first step, a deceptive long stride, and once No. 7 got those shoulders squared on the perimeter, it was bye-bye (as Fresno State found out). Lynch (6-0 216) might be more solid and a tougher between-the-tackles runner. No. 6 gets the nod as a passer. Like coach Pettibone, I’m just proud to have seen both play at my alma mater.
Speaking of Great NIU QBs: Hall of Famer Tim Tyrrell, the program’s first Vern Smith Leadership Award recipient as the Mid-Am MVP of the 1983 California Bowl team, was honored earlier this month as a Distinguished Alumni of Harper College in Palatine. Tyrrell starred at quarterback at Harper for two years prior to transferring to NIU.
Jerry Pettibone Update: The former Northern Illinois and Oregon State head coach heads up The Jerry Pettibone Group which helps evaluate high school talent and counsels student-athletes and parents on the recruiting process. In recent years, the group has placed over 200 players in football programs nationwide. In 1984, Pettibone was tabbed by Sports Illustrated as “the No. 1 recruiter in America.”