Those Were The Days - South Florida
We've only played South Florida once. Last year. And it didn't go very well. So for his weekly Those Were The Days post this week, instead of talking about that game, Detlef takes us back to the 1970's and a game against Missouri. Yes, it's time to fondly remember the Gary Moeller era. Here's Detlef with his trip back to 1977:
Illinois plays South Florida at Soldier Field in Chicago. Yes, I will refer to this game as "Whitman's Folly" because I believe all home games should be played at Zuppke Field. South Florida is coached by Charlie Strong, who might be the shortest head coach at the FBS level. Instead of writing about last year's debacle in Tampa, let's go in the way back machine to the days of bell bottoms and disco! BEAT SOUTH FLORIDA.
*Illinois vs. Missouri, September 17, 1977: *Gary Moeller took over the football program from Bob Blackman, whom Athletic Director Cecil Coleman unceremoniously fired. Blackman did a solid job at Illinois, considering the brutal nonconference schedules he faced yearly and the "Big 2/Little 8" status of the Big 10 in those days. This included a winning record in 1974, the first since 1965. Regardless, Coleman hired Moeller who promptly installed a Michigan-style power running game offense. This made for some hard feelings among team members whom Blackman recruited to play a totally different style of football. There would be growing pains for the team.
This is my earliest memory of Illinois football. I had just started kindergarten at good old Taft Grade School in Joliet (ironically, nicknamed the Tigers). I sat in a lawn chair in the backyard listening to the game on the radio with my father, a loyal UI alumnus who has seen as much bad UI football as Loren Tate. My father did yard work, drinking Olympia beer and muttering "Michigan man at Illinois" and "darned Bo Schembechler protege." Illinois played Michigan the prior week and lost 37-9.
Quarterback Kurt Steger opened the scoring with a three-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. The extra point made for interesting strategy. "Coach told me to kick the extra point," said kicker Dave Finzer. "But the ball was snapped directly to [holder] Charlie Weber and he ran over for the two-point conversion. I got the idea that coach didn't appreciate it at the time, but I guess he's happy now." The play stunned his teammates also. "I still don't think we were supposed to run for the extra point," said guard Gary Jurzyk.
Now with an 8-0 lead, Illinois then scored on a Finzer 22-yard field goal to make the score 11-0. Missouri then scored a touchdown before halftime, making the score 11-7. Finzer starred this day, with two punts in the scoreless second half that Illinois downed inside the Missouri three yard-line. He finished his day by avoiding a block attempt and booming a 67-yard punt. The game ended 11-7 with 12 fumbles, eight by Missouri. No work of art, but the Illini took the win and Gary Moeller had one of his six wins as Illinois head football coach. After the game, everyone remained puzzled by the extra point. Did Moeller call that play or was there a mix-up as Finzer and Jurzyk claimed? Weber claimed that he called the play. Finzer said "The coach tells me whether to kick it, or fake it. I take the play in." Moeller played things close to the vest. "Frankly, I'm evading your questions. Let's just say that the situation was suddenly there, and we took advantage of it."
*Sources: *"Illini 'mystery play' helps whip Missouri" by David Condon. Chicago Tribune: September 18, 1977. Credit to Detlef's parents for the research and to Mrs. Detlef for copy editing.