Those Were The Days - Iowa
Today, Detlef takes us back to the 1960's. To the year immediately following the Slush Fund Scandal. That's probably something I need to cover in the offseason. That scandal led to perhaps a full decade of pain for both the football and basketball program. I should do a deep dive during the summer months.
Here's Detlef to take us back to 1967:
Illinois travels to the land of the Black and Gold Huns on Saturday. I will not be there as I am flying with Mrs. Detlef on a much-needed vacation to Vietnam and Cambodia! I am going to burn up the Wi-Fi on the flights following the game! I missed last year's game to attend a wedding. Who schedules a wedding during football season? Oh, I did…November 12, 2005. Purdue 37 Illinois 3….and for Mrs. Detlef, Barry Alvarez lost his last home game as Wisconsin head coach…hey at least we are still married!
This week's story recalls a happy ending to a tough first season for an Illinois head coach.
November 25, 1967: Illinois football was entering a dark and depressing place in the wake of the infamous Slush Fund scandal. Illinois sacked Head Coach Pete Elliot, basketball coach Harry Combes and assistant coach Howard Braun. Illinois suspended several players who transferred. Illinois football would head to the Big Ten basement. Illinois named Jim Valek (JOLIET!) as its new head coach and unsurprisingly the team struggled in his first season.
The game marked the first time Illinois played Iowa in football since 1952. That year featured a post-game brawl that cause both schools to cease playing each other. Illinois traveled to Iowa City and defeated Iowa 21-19 to end the season at 4-6 overall, 3-4 in the Big Ten for a fifth-place finish. The loss marked Iowa's 16th defeat in its last 20 games!
A 41-yard field goal fell short as the gun sounded to end to a thrilling fourth quarter rally in which the Illini saw a 21 point lead dwindle to a mere 2 points. Illinois enjoyed an early 14-0 lead that became a 21-0 lead in the third quarter. When Iowa scored its first touchdown, it tried a trick play to get two points. "We tried to catch the Illini off-guard by using a special play," Iowa Head Coach Ray Nagel said. "Normally Ed Podolak would try a rollout option, but we tried to cross them up with the spread formation." The play Nagel was referring to was a formation where halfback Silas McKinnie was split wide with two blockers also split to form a blocking wall for him. McKinnie received a pass and followed his blocks, but was hit and dropped short of the goal line. Two failures at two point conversions caused the Hawkeyes to resort to the desperation field goal. Further, Dave Tomasula intercepted a Mike Cilek pass during a crucial fourth quarter drive that helped Illinois stop Iowa.
Although Illinois held the statistical advantage and scoreboard advantage at halftime, by game's end Iowa had flipped the script. Iowa outgained Illinois on offense 382 yard to 377 yards. Iowa threw for 391 passing yards against a stubborn Illinois defense. Regardless, Illinois held on for the win, thanks to the Iowa coaching decision to go for two early (and to keep going for two).
The Champaign Rotary Club hosted the Illini football banquet the following Monday, Carson Brooks (Rochelle) and Tony Pleviak (Zion-Benton) were named co-captains for the 1968 season. John Wright (Champaign) was voted Illini Most Valuable Player and Ken Kmiec (Chicago Mt. Carmel) was awarded the Bruce Capel Award for courage and leadership on the field . The honor is given in memory of Bruce Capel (Glenbard), an Illini center from 1961 to 1964 who was killed in Vietnam in 1965. George Lofton, a linebacker from Downers Grove, and Doug Dieken, an offensive end from Streator, were named honorary freshman co-captains.
At the banquet, senior Larry Jordan stunned the crowd by speaking very critically of the football program. "I started my career as an all-American in high school at split end. I had offers from schools all over the country, and when I chose Illinois, everyone connected was happy. Throughout my freshman year, I played split end and everything went fine. The coaches continually praised me and I felt that I had finally made it."
When Jordan began his first varsity season, sportswriters began looking at the sophomore as a potential great. In his first game, he scored the only touchdown of the game and his second contest saw him bringing the Illini another six points. "I was really riding high," smiled Jordan. "Then they started on me. The coaches approached me with the idea of playing tight end because of my blocking ability. I didn't mind the switch. Then my troubles began."
Throughout the remainder of the season, Jordan did not see one pass tossed to him. The next season saw the coaching staff switch the letterman to the interior line, a change not appreciated by Jordan. "From then on, I was just shuffled around from one position to another, but never back to end. In all, I've played five starting positions and have worked both on offense and defense. I feel that I have been discriminated against at times and been treated like I was something other than a man. Some of the techniques used by the coaches were very degrading. There was a time when they had put me on the second string behind a man who couldn't even walk because of injuries. When he was forced to leave practice, I still wasn't moved to the first team and had to play second string to a non-existent blue shirted varsity man. It was instances like these that provoked me to say what I did. I don't want to be a hero, but I felt that someone had to say something about this situation. I think that a football player should be given a fair chance to show what he can do, and that football is much more than the parlor game some people make it out to be," Jordan concluded.
On that down note, things would only get worse. In the four years before the Slush Fund Scandal, Illinois football went 24-14-1. In the four years after the scandal, 8-32.
Sources: "UI Gridders End Season" and "Nagel Eyes '68 After Hawk Loss" by Larry Weindruch. Daily Illini: November 29, 1967.