Those Were The Days - Northwestern

Nov 26, 2022

I did it AGAIN. I have Detlef's TWTD. All I have to do is cut and paste it into an article and hit the publish button. But because it's the Friday after Thanksgiving, I always forget. It's 11:54 PM, I sat down to write the SOC in my Chicago hotel room, and... I realize I forgot to publish TWTD.

So here's Detlef with TWTD.

Illinois closes the regular season at Northwestern. I am writing this before the season so I hope that Illinois has already clinched bowl eligibility so I have somewhere to go over the holidays. If not, I hope Illinois is playing for bowl eligibility. If Illinois is bowl-ineligible…perish the thought. But Illinois could do what it did last season while bowl-ineligible and give Northwestern a beat down and win the Land of Lincoln HAT (LOLHAT) Trophy. This week's tale recalls when only the Big Ten champion went to a bowl game, the Rose Bowl. It also recalls the end of a legend's time in Champaign.

November 21, 1959: Illinois hosted Northwestern knowing that it needed to win and have Wisconsin lose in order to get to Pasadena. Illinois had previously defeated Wisconsin but needed the Badgers to lose at Minnesota. Northwestern was no slouch, being ranked 8th in the Associated Press poll with a record of 6-2 under head coach Ara Parseghian.

The game marked the 167th and final game for Illinois head coach Ray Eliot. The team certainly did not want to let him down. If you need to get fired up before Illinois football season, go to YouTube. You will find Eliot's "The Proper State of Mind" speech and run through a wall afterwards. "If you think you can, you can; if you think you can't, you won't." Eliot, although born in Massachusetts, was a true Fighting Illini legend. He played guard on the football team; was an assistant coach; head football coach; associate athletic director and finally the interim athletic director. Eliot was truly "Mr. Illini" and a member of Sigma Phi fraternity.

A Memorial Stadium crowd of 32,390 saw Illinois dominate the Wildcats 28-0 led by the twelve Illini seniors playing their final game. They included Dave Ash (Alton), Dejustice Coleman, John Gremer (Bloomington Trinity) and quarterback Bob Hickey (Chicago Lindblom). The Illinois defense, best in the league and tenth overall in the country, stuffed Northwestern. Once Illinois got the lead, Northwestern had to pass and failed. "I thought at the end of the season we were the best team in the conference," remarked Eliot. "There's no question in my mind, you, the 1959 football team, are the finest ball team in the conference. You led the Big Ten in defense which means in my book you lead the United States of America in defense because you play the toughest schedule--week in and week out--of any team in the country. I honestly can say I never have been associated with such a fine bunch as you in 18 years of coaching."

Alas, Wisconsin defeated Minnesota to win Paul Bunyan's Axe and win the Big Ten title. Illinois finished 5-3-1 overall, 4-2-1 and in a tie for third place in the Big Ten. Guard Bill Burrell (Clifton) was named the Chicago Tribune's Silver Football winner as MVP of the league. Ray Eliot, in his 18 years as head coach at Illinois, compiled a record of 83-73-11 at Illinois, winning the Big Ten thrice (1946, 1951 & 1953) and won the Rose Bowl twice (1947 & 1952). He also coached the Illinois baseball team from 1933-37 and the ice hockey teams from 1937-39! Eliot died of a heart attack in Urbana in 1980. Today, the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association give an award to a high school coach named after Eliot.

Sources: Wikipedia. Daily Illini.


Dan Allen on November 26, 2022 @ 08:00 AM

Wait-you buried the lede there, Detlef: Illinois had an ice hockey team in the 1930’s?!

jfinsocal on November 26, 2022 @ 09:25 PM

The old timers are still talking about that ‘59 beat down.

Altenberger with cheese on December 5, 2022 @ 01:46 PM

Eliot is buried at the rough equivalent of the 50 yd line in the Roselawn cemetery across from the east side of the stadium on 4th st.

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