We Love No Other 7.1 - Illini Football, The 1980's

Jun 7, 2023

Last summer: Illini basketball history class. All in all, the eight podcast episodes totaled nearly 19 hours.

This summer? Illini football history class. I'm going to split it across nine episodes, so I'm pretty sure we can reach 20 hours of content. What's that? You're not interested 3 hours of Illini football on a Saturday, let alone nine podcast episodes breaking down every season? Well, then move right along. This series (and this website) probably aren't for you. For everyone else, here's the plan:

I'm going to approach the football series a little differently. The deep dives will start with 1991, the year I arrived on campus. And I'm going to break them down (with a guest each time) in four-year segments, not five-year segments like last year. I still wanted to cover the 1980's, though, even though my memories are from childhood and not nearly the same as the 90's through today. So I decided to do a "preview" of sorts. A preamble. A prequel. All the pre's.

That's this first episode. I got together with Loren Tate on Monday to record just under two hours on Illini football in the 1980's. We start with the arrival of Mike White for the 1980 season and we end with the month I reference all the time: November 1990 when Illini football entered the month #5 in the polls. No, not #50. Five. Fifth. 5th in the polls having already beaten (eventual national champion) Colorado. Those were the days.

These episodes will come out each Wednesday for the next nine weeks. The schedule:

1980's: Today
1991~1994: June 14th
1995~1998: June 21st
1999~2002: June 28th
2003~2006: July 5th
2007~2010: July 12th
2011~2014: July 19th
2015~2018: July 26th
2019~2022: August 2nd

There's also one more thing to announce here. This series has a presenting sponsor. Illini Football History Class is being brought to you by U of I Community Credit Union. They are sponsoring all nine episodes. Even if you don't listen to the full episode, I hope you'll listen at about the five minute mark when I explain why I've decided to partner with them.

If you want to listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, you can do that here. If you want to listen on Spotify, you can do that here. If you listen to podcasts on some other platform, just search for We Love No Other. And if you want to get all nine episodes the moment they're released, just subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you use.

If you'd like to listen right now - or if you want to just skip to the five minute mark to hear about my partnership with U of I Community Credit Union - you can do that here:


HiggsBoson on June 7, 2023 @ 04:49 PM

The most interesting parts of Illini football history were long before 1991, so I'll probably give this a pass.

Robert on June 7, 2023 @ 07:29 PM

Higgs, I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but you don't need to tell me every time you want to pass on some content. You can just... not read it/listen to it.

larue on June 7, 2023 @ 07:02 PM

I'm not as old as Tate, but I do remember most of the details of the Dave Wilson case. Important point, Wilson was an academic qualifier out of high school. He went to juco because he had only a couple of low level offers, not because of academics.

His first year at juco, before classes even started, he played in a scrimmage against another juco team. By their rules, that was perfectly acceptable, just a practice, but the Big Ten/NCAA would rule that it was a game. Wilson broke his leg in that scrimmage, and I believe didn't even attend classes that semester, just came back in the spring, then played his two years of juco, then came to Illinois.

So the real problem centered on that scrimmage. The Big Ten said he had used a year of eligibility with that appearance and, in their eyes was a senior. He had a year of eligibility left, but did not meet Big Ten standards for progress to graduation for a senior, so wasn't eligible and likely never would be since he could never catch up on credit hours.

The conference made a big deal about sending the wrong transcript, but that was actually meaningless. As noted, he was a qualifier, plus only his juco transcript had any relevance to his eligibility. Wilson played the season mostly because of court orders by local judges, which infuriated the conference.

uilaw71 on June 8, 2023 @ 06:37 AM

Local judges and my BFF the late Bob Auler, to whom the lion’s share of credit belongs.

detlef on June 8, 2023 @ 04:12 AM

1981 Illinois goes 7-4 but no bowl because of probation. that's when I knew program was on the up

detlef on June 8, 2023 @ 05:27 AM

1990 Doug Higgins did have 5 field goals vs. Michigan State. opening loss at Arizona the Wildcats executed a fumblerooski for a touchdown

Dman68 on June 8, 2023 @ 08:33 AM

Unless you watched the 1990 game at Arizona on satellite, not to many fans in Illinois were able to view the game in real time on TV. which was 9:00 PM Central. I was an undergrad at U of I then and went with a few friends to PIA's Sports Bar to watch it live. WICD TV 15 in Champaign showed the entire game on tape delay at 1:00 AM and I don't think many people stayed up that late to watch it.

At halftime, we were down 14-3 and both of their TDs were off our turnovers. They won 28-16.

16th&mission on June 8, 2023 @ 09:55 AM

Good stuff larue. Thanks for the clarification.

IlliNYC on June 9, 2023 @ 10:54 AM

I think the relationship between fans, management and their teams is so important--and goes beyond simply winning. So learning more about how Mike White came in throwing the ball and being successful was very interesting. Standing ovation for an incomplete pass! Honestly, could have used a lot more conversation with LT about the vibes of the 80's....

I can see how losing that brand by hiring a dull, defensive minded coach like Tepper would be even more damaging to our fanbase than simply losing. We went from rule-breaking on & off the field to safe, dull, mediocrity. I guess understandable since SMU had been given the death penalty in the late 80's.

Tolkien73 on June 9, 2023 @ 07:20 PM

I was at the Iowa game in 1990. If I recall correctly, in the first quarter, we would have Iowa at 3rd and 3, 3rd and 4, the crowd would be going BESERK, Iowa would hold the snap until there was literally LESS than one second on the play clock, and then gash us for like ten or fifteen yards in run play. Literally the most disheartening thing imaginable. Like Bob said, the game was over by halftime.

neale stoner on June 11, 2023 @ 04:01 PM

I was in law school, across the street from Memorial stadium, for the 3 miserable Moeller years. But I was also at Camp Randall for the Mike Bass 57 yard field goal, at Memorial for the Eason/Marino game and the Iowa shutout. And in the East Balcony when Rooks ran through OSU. Thought it might collapse. Enjoyed the trip down memory lane.

OrangeBlazer on June 14, 2023 @ 02:46 PM

1989 Michigan was an enormous game, probably equal to 1983 in terms of national hype and excitement leading in.

And it was much closer than the 24-10 scoreline indicates. It was tied 10-10 at half, and Michigan scored in the 3rd quarter (or early 4th?) to go up 17-10. In the 4th quarter, Illinois had it at the Michigan 5 on 4th and 1, and decided to go for it, and Mackovic called a pass play into the end zone, which fell incomplete. Michigan took over and drove it 95 yards for a touchdown to run out the clock and put the game away.

1990 Michigan State was indeed 5 field goals, with the final field goal coming on a game winning drive down 13-12 without about 45 seconds left in the 4th quarter.

OrangeBlazer on June 14, 2023 @ 02:59 PM

Found some YouTube highlights, and my recollection of the 89 Michigan game was a bit off. The 4th down at the 5 was in the late 3rd quarter, and the long drive to seal the game for Michigan came later in the 4th, not on the subsequent drive.

OrangeBlazer on June 14, 2023 @ 02:51 PM

Also, I would love to know more about how/why Mackovic ended up as AD. Seems like such a weird thing to have a football coach/AD figurehead (I know it was not unheard of at the time).

But in the podcast, Tate seemed to suggest that part of Mackovic's desire to leave was his dissatisfaction with having to handle the AD duties. Which is understandable, but then why did he take the position? Was the football job contingent on also serving as AD?

Because of course all of this had enormous long term consequences when Mackovic left, and the University admin decided to name Tepper the head coach before running a full AD search.

Maybe Ron Guenther still hires Tepper anyway, but an actual coaching search might not have set the program back decades.

OrangeBlazer on June 14, 2023 @ 03:06 PM

A little more digging suggests Mackovic did not become AD until after the 1988 season, about 10 months after he had taken the job. So still very curious--why would he accept the position at all, on top of being football coach?

ChampaignSipper on June 15, 2023 @ 11:18 AM

Illinois was in search of an AD in 1988 after Stoner was let go. Illinois Football's reputation under Mike White was one of a renegade program. Here comes John Mackovic, who not only starts winning, but the man exuded class. So Mort Weir thought: here's our AD...he's right here. Plus, he was given an AD salary as a carrot to stay at Illinois long-term. I believe the day-to-day AD responsibilities were turned over to Bob Todd. All was well until July, 1989 when the Bruce Pearl/Digger fiasco commenced. Mackovic was, in my opinion, put in the awful position of trying to keep Lou and Jimmy employed, yet not receive the Death Penalty for basketball. Keep in mind the SMU Death Penalty was in 1987, so Illinois Basketball was a prime candidate for that due to the multiple major violations by the football program during White's tenure. Little did anyone know that SMU would be the only time that the NCAA would exercise such a draconian measure. Weir's intention was in the right place by trying to lock in our football coach for years to come by hiring him as AD, BUT it double backfired on him because when Mackovic left for Texas in December, 1991, it opened up both the football and AD positions. That led to the direct hiring of Lou Tepper as football coach and Ron Guenther as AD. And the rest is history.

on July 3, 2023 @ 03:59 PM


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