Those Were The Days - Charlotte

Oct 1, 2021

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Sometimes I open Detlef's emails with trepidation. Is he going to suggest that a former coach be excommunicated and sent to prison? But this one I was excited to open. We haven't played Charlotte before, so he had to pick a game against another school. And he picked one of my favorite Illini games of all time. The 1994 Liberty Bowl.

Here's Detlef:

This week Illinois hosts Charlotte! It's the first meeting between the programs! Fortunately, this 49ers team won't have Joe Montana throwing to Jerry Rice all over Zuppke Field. Illinois doesn't have too many victories against teams from the state of North Carolina. Anyhow, this article recalls how the most disappointing Fighting Illini season of my lifetime (putting aside 1985, 2000, 2002, 2008, 2009, 2011….) ended on a good note in Elvis's hometown against a school from Greenville, North Carolina. Or, as former Illinois Governor and Elvis fan Blago would say: "Today was an up day."

December 31, 1994: The 1994 feces-stained season (editor's note: see what I mean?) included highs like winning in Columbus thanks to Dana Howard's guarantee, a 21-0 lead against #2 Penn State. It included lows like losing at home to Purdue with Ken Dilger tackled at the one-yard line and a 10-9 loss to Washington State at Soldier Field. But as an addendum, Illinois ended its regular season with a difficult 19-13 loss at Wisconsin where Johnny Johnson played very badly. Illinois ended the regular season 6-5. I recall an article after the game where Lou Tepper (a/k/a Coach Death Penalty) told the team about the Liberty Bowl matchup against East Carolina and no one cared. Coach Death Penalty certainly lived up to his name! He was the murderer and undertaker that season! (editor's note: {does shrug motion with palms in the air shaking head back and forth})

Trying to put law school out of our minds, my friend & I drove from Chicagoland in poor weather, down Interstate 57. We stopped in Champaign to pick up another alumnus and headed south. We stopped in Cairo and we were greatly impressed by the confluence of the Ohio & Mississippi rivers. We then went into Kentucky and stopped at a shack for cheap booze and cigarettes. Finally, we entered Memphis and found a cheap hotel in West Memphis, not far from a Waffle House! After drinking Jim Beam and smoking a bunch of Marlboros, we passed out. The next day we enjoyed the sights of Memphis. This included visits to Sun Studios, Graceland (they wouldn't let us upstairs, so now you know Elvis is alive and well), B.B. King's bar, Silky O'Sullivan's bar, and of course, Rendezvous BBQ! Beale Street represent! We also enjoyed seeing the ducks walk at the Peabody Hotel.

The weather on game day was brutal: cold, windy and rainy at the Liberty Bowl stadium. Before the game, we visited the Mid-South Coliseum where the Memphis basketball team played. We hoped that Illinois would make this a worthwhile trip before a crowd of 46,212 against 7-4 East Carolina, an independent. (Remember when the independent teams numbered more than just Notre Dame and Army? Even Navy is in a conference now!) East Carolina brought a fair number of fans, chanting "PURPLE! GOLD!" during the game.

Illinois took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter with Johnny Johnson touchdown passes of 17 yards to Ken Dilger and 73 yards to Jasper Strong. In the second quarter, Illinois continued its dominance. Chris Richardson made a 21-yard field goal. Then, Jason Dulick caught a five-yard touchdown pass to give the beloved a 24-0 halftime lead. Offensive lineman Jonathan Kerr of Chicago St. Patrick, in his final game, swiveled his hips like Elvis for an end zone celebration! He got penalized for it. Tepper threatened to bench Kerr in his final game. He didn't.

In the third quarter, the Fighting Illini tacked on a Johnson touchdown pass of thirty yards to Ty Douthard for the final score of 30-0 (Richardson missed the extra point). This was the only shutout in the 1994 bowl season and the most lopsided win in Liberty Bowl history.

Illinois' performance was total domination. Johnson had his finest game as an Illini: four touchdown passes, 18 of 30 passing for 250 yards, earning the MVP award. Ty Douthard had 13 carries for 52 yards and Robert Holcombe ran 12 times for 46 yards. Strong had three catches for 96 yards; Dilger seven for 60 yards; Dulick three for 30 yards. The defense pwned the Pirates: four interceptions, a forced fumble and allowed only 271 total yards. Simeon Rice finished with 10 tackles.

A few things stand out from that day: At the end of the game, the ECU fans had already left. Many had brought foam swords to wave at the game. They left those behind, so we plundered them as booty from the victory! (We brought those to the 1995 ECU-UI game, won by UI 7-0 as Robert Holcombe ran 49 times thanks to Paul Schudel). The next day, the Memphis newspaper ran a photo from the game and we saw ourselves on the front page, in our own section of the Liberty Bowl stadium. We visited the team hotel and I got to shake hands with John Holocek and Kevin Hardy! Finally, we had an enjoyable drive home after the win but we all had a nagging feeling of "what if?" after the 7-5 season.

Sources: Wikipedia. News-Gazette, October 23, 2004.


Tolkien73 on October 1, 2021 @ 06:08 PM

I was at that game, too. My first ever solo road trip. I had graduated in spring of '94 but still lived in Champaign. I had gone to the Illinois Mercer basketball game a few nights before when they announced that tickets were still available. So I loaded up the trusty 1974 Buick Regal, left around midnight, drove down, watched the game, and drove all the way back up in one caffeine-fueled day.

Totally worth it.

CapitalCityOutlaw50 on October 3, 2021 @ 07:51 AM

Was also at that game. Local Memphis media thought they were absolutely gonna dogwalk us.

My favorite part was getting back to the Hampton Inn at about 5 AM while the somber-faced ECU fans who had so much to say 14 hours ago wouldnt even look up at us form their french toast sticks as they got ready for the drive home. . .

'98 on October 5, 2021 @ 11:36 AM

5 losses. 22 points.

What should've been...

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