Tampa V: Those Were The Days

Jan 1, 2023

Oh man I almost made a massive mistake. Once the bowl game was announced, Detlef wrote a Those Were The Days for this game. And it included bits about Mike Leach. He then (obviously) revised his TWTD after Leach's unfortunate passing. But I almost grabbed the wrong text to cut and paste here. So glad I caught myself.

Here's Detlef's TWTD:

Hey Illinois football fans! It is bowling season! Get out your shoes, ball and shirt…wait a minute! Illinois is going to an actual college football bowl game! If you had told me before the season Illinois would go bowling, I would have booked a trip to Detroit. However, let us give credit to Bret Bielema, the staff and players for playing hard all season and earning a trip to Florida.

While some may groan over failing to make the Big Ten title game, I choose to look at a half-full glass. Illinois has now set a foundation to continue to build the program. As always, can Illinois maintain excellence? Is this season a mere blip? We can worry about that in spring ball.

Meanwhile, Illinois is 0-3 against Southeastern Conference teams in bowl games. It is time to stop that misery and end the 2022 season on a high note. Alas, there will be a pall over the game after the death of Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach. I am sure he will be watching, enjoying the sight of a giant pirate ship at the stadium. My father loved his book "Swing Your Sword."

Today's tale recalls the greatest team in Illinois football history beating this year's bowl opponent.

November 17, 1923: Illinois hosted the Mississippi A&M Aggies (the former name of the Mississippi State Bulldogs) at a brand new Memorial Stadium hosting its third game. Illinois had started the season at its prior home of Illinois Field. Coach Robert Zuppke, in his 11th season, had his finest squad, led by running back Harold "Red" Grange (Wheaton). The Fighting Illini operated a single-wing offense and Grange flourished in it. Illinois entered the contest 6-0 against its opponents from "down south." Mississippi A&M stood at 4-1-2 after defeating Union College of Tennessee. The Aggies had also defeated Millsaps College and Ouachita Baptist. This is the cupcake scheduling I have demanded for Illinois football!

The game itself is a fascinating study into college football from 100 years ago. There were only four officials and the article told you where they attended college! The article printed the full lineups for the teams. Illinois dominated 27-0 despite Red Grange and quarterback Harry "Swede" Hall (Waukegan) watching from the sidelines, being rested.

Illinois ran nothing but straight runs into the line with an occasional forward pass. Emil "Heinie" Schultz (Geneseo) and Wally McIllwain (Deerfield Shields) took turns gashing the Aggie defense. Illinois also used the end around run with Rune Clark. Although two holding penalties stalled Illinois drives, the Fighting Illini finally scored a touchdown with five minutes left in the first quarter. Early in the second quarter, Clark scored on a seven-yard run. A 25-yard pass from Clark to fullback Earl Britton (Elgin) put Illinois at the 11-yard line. Quarterback Steve Coutchie (Thornton) scored from the one-yard line and Illinois led 20-0 at halftime. Zuppke substituted in the second half. In the third quarter Illinois, Schultz ran for 60 yards on the opening drive, capped off by him running for a one-yard touchdown run for the final score of 27-0. The Illinois defense faced numerous passes by the Aggies, who twice got inside the ten-yard line but failed to score. The crowd of 17,000 included almost 9,000 local schoolchildren as guests of the Athletic Association.

Illinois finished the season 8-0 overall, 5-0 in the Big Ten. Yet the Big Ten declared Illinois to be co-champions with Michigan who finished 4-0 in the Big Ten and 8-0 overall (see, the Big Ten has screwed Illinois in favor of Michigan for a century!) Red Grange and guard James McMillen (Libertyville) were named as consensus first team All-Americans. Frank Rouksek, at end, was named second team All-American. Those who received Big Ten honors included Hall and Britton.

There was no contemporaneous system in 1923 for determining a national champion. However, Illinois was retroactively named as the national champion by the Boand System, College Football Researchers Association, Helms Athletic Foundation, and Parke H. Davis, and as a co-national champion by the Berryman QPRS system, National Championship Foundation, and Jeff Sagarin (using the ELO-Chess methodology). Illinois outscored its opponents 136 to 20! Those Were The Days!

Sources: Wikipedia. "Illinois Trounces Mississippi by Top Heavy Score" Decatur Herald-Review: November 18, 1923.


Holly on January 19, 2023 @ 06:27 PM

Detlef... I just came here to say that I finally read your article. :D

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