Those Were The Days - Wisconsin
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It's the same intro every year for the first game: the oldest series in IlliniBoard history is not Stream Of Consciousness or Craig Has The Scout. It's Those Were The Days, written by Detlef for more than 15 years. Every Friday, he'll take us back to an Illini game gone by. Today: all the way back to 1971. Here's Detlef:
Illinois football season is finally here! After the announcement of a conference-only schedule in August, then the season being postponed four days later, to an announcement in September that there will be football in October, it's been a long, strange, COVID-filled trip for all college football fans. Let us all be thankful football is here!
Illinois travels to Wisconsin to start the season. Last year's game is an Illini Classic, and for me personally it was quite satisfying. I gloated for the entire ride home from Champaign while my Badger wife drove. Fortunately she didn't kick me out of the car on I-57 near Onarga! That would be an expensive Uber ride to Chicago! I even stormed Zuppke Field afterward to hug the players! ESPN made our boys the top story on College Football Final! Whenever I am feeling down, I go to YouTube, watch the highlights of the win over the #6 Badgers and I feel much better. Wisconsin will be primed for revenge this year. This week's tale recalls a solid Illini win in a strange season.
November 13, 1971: Under new head coach Bob Blackman, Illinois started the 1971 season 0-6.
However, the Fighting Illini had rebounded with three straight wins heading into this encounter in Madison. Wisconsin entered the game with a 4-4-1 record under second-year head coach John Jardine.
Illinois scored first after Larry Huisinga (DeLand-Weldon High School) intercepted a Neil Graff pass on the game's second play and returned it 16 yards to Wisconsin's 48. Wells completed passes of 18 and 20 yards to Garvin Roberson to set up a 4-yard run by George Uremovich. Wisconsin took a 14-7 lead on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Neil Graff to Tom Lonnborg and a 2-yard run by Thompson. Then the Illini special teams stood up! (I am quoting Coach Death Penalty here). Dan Darlington (Morris) recovered a fumbled Wisconsin punt return at the Wisconsin 26 yard-line. The Illini tied it at 14-14 on a 10-yard pass from Mike Wells (Normal Community) to Roberson.
Illinois then engineered a big drive right before halftime. Illinois drove 80 yards in three plays to take a 21-14 lead on a 5-yard pass from Wells to John Wilson with 1:56 left in the half. The big play came from a 50-yard bomb from Wells to tight end Jim Rucks, filling in for an injured Jim Bedalow. Of course, THIS IS ILLINOIS FOOTBALL. Wisconsin gained a 21-21 tie at halftime when Rudy Steiner passed 9 yards for a touchdown to Alan Thompson with 15 seconds left in the first half.
A Terry Masar coffin corner punt pinned the Badgers at their own five-yard line. The Illini defense held and a shanked Wisconsin punt gave Illinois awesome field position at the Wisconsin 35-yard line. Uremovich, who rushed for 116 yards on 23 carries, scored from 15 yards out to give Illinois a 28-21 lead in the third quarter. Uremovich carried the ball three times on the short drive, scoring on a power run off the left tackle.
THIS IS ILLINOIS FOOTBALL. Wisconsin then marched 15 plays on a 93-yard drive. Wisconsin closed to within 28-27 midway in the fourth period on a 13-yard pass from Steiner to Tom Lonnborg with 8:44 to play. Curiously, Wisconsin chose to go for two points. However, Steiner's pass for a 2-point conversion fell incomplete. "We wanted to go ahead right then. That was the time to take the lead." said Wisconsin coach Jardine. Fortunately, Illinois clinched the win when John Wilson took a pitchout and ran 73 yards for the clinching touchdown on a third down and three.
Blackman wore his bright orange sport coat with pride after the win. "The offense has confidence that it can go out and score." Wisconsin head coach Jardine praised the Illinois team. "They've got a good football team with a lot of youth. They have a great amount of poise and agility." Mike Wells passed for two touchdowns and George Uremovich ran for two touchdowns. Wilson gained 110 yards in eight carries for the Illini. Unfortunately, defensive tackle Willie Lee, a junior college transfer from Wright College in Chicago, was lost for the season with a knee injury. Lee played the entire game with torn knee ligaments. "Willie has done a tremendous job this season and I cannot say enough about him," said coach Blackman.
Illinois finished the season 5-6 overall and a 5-3 Big 10 record, good enough for a tie for third place in the conference. This included five straight Big 10 wins after starting the season 0-6.
Sources: "Illinois downs Wisconsin, 35-27" New York Times: November 14, 1971. "Illini Offense Clicks in 35-27 Victory" by Gary Wold. Daily Illini: November 16, 1971.