Those Were The Days - Maryland
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Illinois and Maryland have played once. Ever. That debacle in 2018 was the only time these two teams have met on the football field. So with no win for Detlef to "Those Were The Days" this week, he decided to go in a different direction. I like the direction he went. Here's Detlef:
Illinois hosts Maryland in an Atlantic Coast Conference matchup…. Yes, I am kidding. It's the Big Ten opener for both teams and Mike Locksley returns to Champaign as head coach of the Terrapins. The team's prior meeting in 2018 was awful to watch…I should know as I was there with my tailgate crew. As we left the stadium we received free Chik-fil-A sandwiches. This represented the highlight of the game. Anyhow, today's tale recalls when a new football coach at Illinois, much like Bret Bielema, sought to make his mark on the program. BEAT MARYLAND.
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 (Lake Park) 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 (Loyola Academy). "But the ball was snapped directly to [holder] Charlie Weber (Elgin Larkin) 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 Jurczyk.
Now with an 8-0 lead, Illinois then scored on a Finzer 22-yard field goal to make the score 11-0. Missouri 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 Jurczyk 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.