Indiana’s lopsided win in the Old Oaken Bucket game ended yet another disappointing season for those unfortunate enough to call themselves Hoosier Football fans. As a member of that tortured lot, the climactic victory over hapless, one-win Purdue offered little solace.
At 39 years old, I’m used to losing seasons filled with embarrassment at IU, but it doesn’t make it any less sickening.
IU has had many seasons worse than this year’s 5-7, but this lame effort added to the program’s absolute irrelevance. The Hoosiers had the No. 2 offense in the Big Ten and one of its most prolific all-time, but only one player earned any kind of all-conference honor (receiver Cody Latimer, second team). Wideout Shayne Wynn led the conference with 11 touchdown catches, but didn’t even get honorable mention.
Essentially, that says that to most, IU football doesn’t exist.
It wasn’t always that way.
Along with my parents and brother, I was a season ticket-holder and grew up during the Golden Age of IU football – the Bill Mallory years. Mallory went 0-11 in 1984 and 4-7 in ‘85, then went to six bowl games between ‘86-’93. The Hoosiers challenged for a Big Ten title in ‘87, had a Heisman Trophy runner-up (Anthony Thompson) in ‘90 and Memorial Stadium in Bloomington was a place no team wanted to visit.
To me, the signature moment of that era came against Michigan in ‘87, when IU beat the Wolverines for the first time in 20 years (and only time since). In front of a national TV audience, Michigan coach Bo Schembechler refused to call plays on the field because of the crowd noise.
Seems impossible, right? It actually happened.
IU’s administration lost patience with Mallory after just two down years, and canned the winningest coach in program history in ‘96. In came Cam Cameron, a whiz of an offensive coordinator but a laughable leader of young men. Despite having the nation’s top overall athlete in Antwaan Randle El, Cameron failed to make a bowl game in his five years. His players got in trouble, and while some others quit, he made the sport miserable for many who decided to stay despite his unpalatable demeanor.