Those Were The Days - Northwestern
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I am a bad Illini fan because I honestly did not know this story until I just read the article Detlef wrote. I should have known this story. I was only 1 year, 11 months old when this happened, but still, I should have known this story. Here's Detlef to tell the full story.
(And yes, there's a ~wink~ in the image I chose. If you know, you know.)
This week Illinois plays Northwestern for what used to be called the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk trophy. It's now known as the Land Of Lincoln Trophy. The proper name, of course, is LOLHAT (Land Of Lincoln HAT). Illinois has not won this rivalry game since 2014. Come on Lovie! It is time for the LOLHAT to come home! I am writing this before the season so hopefully Illinois is already bowl-eligible….or needs to win to become bowl-eligible. Are there going to be bowl games this season? This is similar to this week's story, when Illinois achieved bowl eligibility but did not go to a bowl game. Sad!
November 23, 1974: Illinois hosted Northwestern in search of a win to clinch the program's first winning season since 1965. Bob Blackman's lads entered the game with a 5-4-1 record. Illinois had started the season 3-0 and was ranked 14th at that point. Alas, the boys lost to California and future Illinois head coach Mike White but defeated Purdue and tied Michigan State to be 4-1-1 before losing at Iowa, at Ohio State and to Michigan 14-6 on a controversial call (sound familiar?). In the Michigan defeat, it appeared that tight end Joe Smalzer caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Jeff Hollenbach in the right corner of the end zone, but officials ruled him out of bounds. The films showed otherwise. Had the officials ruled correctly, Illinois would have gone for two points and the tie with 37 seconds left in the game. "In 26 years as a head coach I have never seen a game so poorly officiated," said Blackman. "Our films show clearly that Joe's feet touched three times in bounds."
Further, the night before the Michigan defeat, defensive end Greg Williams was murdered at the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity house. The fraternity was hosting a party when some local youths tried to enter. When the fraternity turned them away, they returned and one of the youths opened fire, killing Williams. Sadly, Williams had fallen down the ramp at the Varsity Room that prior Monday. Doctors placed his leg in a cast. Without that injury, he would have been with the team at Allerton instead of being at his fraternity house. The team learned of his death just 1 ½ hours before kickoff. "Greg was such a fine, modest young man," said Blackman. "He was an innocent bystander and that makes it all the more tragic." "How can you realize one of the guys who plays next to you has died? Even the strongest ones were crying," said offensive guard Revie Sorey. In a 1975 trial, four Champaign youths were acquitted of murder. Illinois then won at Minnesota. Northwestern entered the game at 3-7 under head coach John Pont.
Dan Beaver kicked field goals of 27 yards and 42 yards for a 6-0 first quarter lead. Then Illini legend Chubby Phillips took over. Phillips, who ended the season leading the team in points, rushing and kickoff returns, gained most of the rushing yards on a 59-yard touchdown drive. A two-point conversion worked for a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Illinois ended the half with another touchdown drive, capped by quarterback Jeff Hollenbach throwing a touchdown pass to tight end Joe Smalzer with just 44 seconds left for a 21-0 lead at halftime.
However, Northwestern scored two touchdowns in the third quarter and trailed 21-14 entering the final quarter with momentum. With ten minutes left, senior safety Bill Uecker intercepted a Northwestern pass. Blackman replaced injured quarterback Hollenbach with sophomore quarterback Jim Kopatz. The Illinois offense sealed the victory with a six minute drive that went 63 yards for the clinching touchdown to make the final score 28-14. Chubby Phillips ended the game with 107 rushing yards behind the blocking of offensive guard Revie Sorey. Hollenbach ended the game with three pass completions for 51 yards.
Illinois, at 6-4-1 not only had a winning season for the first time since 1965; it had a 4-3-1 record in the Big Ten, good enough for fifth place. The program now showed signs of progress after the awful seasons suffered post-Slush Fund Scandal. "It took us four years to get the winner we came here for. This senior class is going out a winner," said defensive back Bill Kleckner. Several Illini seniors played in post-season all-star games. Linebacker Tom Hicks, defensive end Mark Petersen and center Joe Hatfield played in the East-West Shrine game. Defensive back Mike Gow, linebacker Ty McMillin and Sorey headed to the Blue-Gray game. Blackman had recruited all of these seniors in his initial recruiting class in 1971.
Sources: "Greg Williams' death difficult to accept" by John Grochowski. Daily Illini: November 12, 1974. "6 Illini Seniors to appears in post-season games" by Jeff Metcalfe. Daily Illini: November 25, 1974.