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.
Game-day coaching lummox Gerry DiNardo followed Cameron with more serial ineptitude, which led to the hire of Terry Hoeppner, whose infectious enthusiasm brought a new excitement campus-wide. Hoeppner tragically succumbed to brain cancer after two seasons, and Bill Lynch led the Hoosiers to the Insight Bowl the following fall. He was gone three years later.
There was plenty of excitement when Kevin Wilson was hired away from Oklahoma in 2010, but it didn’t take long to cool. In addition to having some of the worst defenses ever fielded, people who I trust in coaching and media say he’s an unlikable horse’s-you-know-what. I’ve never met him, but between the trusted opinions of others, his 5-19 Big Ten record and his schizo quarterback switching, I see nothing that indicates he’ll turn IU into a winner.
Some say you just can’t win at IU. That’s nonsense, not only because it’s happened before, but because other once-awful Big Ten schools have done it consistently. Wisconsin used to be terrible, and now they compete for titles. Northwestern had the longest losing streak in D-I history (34 games), but has been to eight bowl games since 2000 (IU has one). And it definitely should be easier to recruit kids to Bloomington over Minnesota, which has eight bowls in the last decade.
Each fall brings new hope, that maybe it’s the year the Hoosiers will turn the corner. Usually a bad loss in the first month leads even the most optimistic fans saying, “Same old IU.”
There’s little reason to think 2014 will be any different.
– Brent Glasgow is a sports writer for the Westside Flyer. He can be reached at email@example.com or (317) 272-5800, ext. 183. Follow him on Twitter @BGlasgow37