By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Kirk Herbstreit might want to shoo them out of South Beach, but the Northern Illinois Huskies will nevertheless be playing in a BCS game tonight when they butt helmets with Florida State during the 2013 Orange Bowl.
Most everyone knows that the matchup marks NIU’s first-ever appearance in a major bowl game. But what you might not know is that it also counts as the ninth time a football team from the Land has played in a big-time “BCS” game.
Since 1947, Illinois has appeared in six major bowls (five Rose Bowls and a Sugar Bowl) while Northwestern has appeared in two (the Rose Bowl each time). After a 4-0 start in those games, our local squads have since gone on to lose their last four since 1964.
With NIU having the opportunity tonight to snap the Prairie State’s lengthy losing streak in postseason glamour games, I thought it would be interesting to take a glance back at the blockbusters that preceded tonight’s big Orange Bowl showdown.
1947 Rose Bowl: Illinois 45, UCLA 14
Considered the first “modern” Rose Bowl since it was the first to feature teams from the Pacific Coast Conference (later the Pac-12) and the Big Nine Conference (later the Big Ten), the game was also the first-ever postseason appearance for Illinois.
It went well as the Illini (7-2) steamrolled the Bruins (10-0), piling up 320 yards rushing and 28 first downs with six different players scoring touchdowns. Russel Steger capped the game for the Illini in the fourth quarter with a 68-yard interception return for a TD.
1949 Rose Bowl: Northwestern 20, Cal 14
The first bowl victory in Northwestern history also turned out to be its last. As the Wildcats head into the Gator Bowl today, they’re still seeking to notch their first postseason victory since winning in Pasadena 64 years ago.
During the ’49 Rose Bowl, the Wildcats (7-2) outlasted the Golden Bears (10-0) by staging an 88-yard drive late in the fourth quarter that included NU’s Frank Aschenbrenner making the only complete pass of the game for 18 yards and was capped by a Statue of Liberty play and 45-yard run by Ed Tunnicliff for the go-ahead TD.
Cal attempted a passing drive in the last minute, but NU’s Pee Wee Day intercepted a pass to preserve the victory for the Wildcats.
1952 Rose Bowl: Illinois 40, Stanford 7
Five years after Illinois played in the first “modern” Rose Bowl, it went on to play in the first nationally televised one. And during the game, the Illini put on quite a show.
Until late in the third quarter, Stanford (9-1) led Illinois (8-0-1) by a score of 7-6. The Illini, however, proceeded to then erupt for 34 unanswered points, including a whopping 27 in the fourth quarter, running back Bill Tate leading the way with 150 yards and two touchdowns. All-America Johnny Karras added 58 rushing yards and a score.
1964 Rose Bowl: Illinois 17, Washington 7
Powered by Illini legends Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski, Illinois (7-1-1) out-muscled Washington (6-4) for the win.
In the game, Washington took a 7-0 lead after Illinois fumbled at its own 27-yard line. The Illini, however, booted a field goal as time expired in the first half and then outscored the Huskies 14-0 after halftime.
Grabowski was named MVP after rushing for 125 yards and a TD, while Butkus played both ways for the Illini (at center and linebacker) recovering a fumble, intercepting a pass and leading a defensive effort that held UW to 59 yards rushing and 71 yards passing.
1984 Rose Bowl: UCLA 45, Illinois 9
On a 10-game winning streak and ranked fourth in the nation, the Illini (10-1) entered the game flying high only to have their wings promptly clipped by UCLA (6-4-1).
Bruins QB Rick Neuheisel torched the Illinois defense in the game, completing 22 of 32 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns. Interestingly, Neuheisel, the future UCLA coach, tossed two of those TD passes to Karl Dorrell, who would eventually go on to succeed him as UCLA coach.
Illinois was never in the game, falling behind 38-3 before Jack Trudeau completed a five-yard pass to Thomas Rooks in the fourth quarter for the Illini’s first – and only – TD of the game.
1996 Rose Bowl: USC 41, Northwestern 32
Northwestern’s miracle Wildcats, who stunned the Big Ten – and the nation – by compiling a 10-1 regular season record saw their dream come to an abrupt end in Pasadena against the Trojans (9-2-1).
Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson nabbed two TDs to lead USC in the game, while running back Darnell Autry powered the Wildcats with three touchdown runs.
2002 Sugar Bowl: LSU 47, Illinois 34
Illinois fans who attended the game in New Orleans probably still have nightmares during which they can hear the name “JOSH REED” booming from the Superdome loudspeakers.
LSU’s star wide receiver had his way with the Illini (10-1) as he caught 14 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns to power the Tigers (9-3) to victory. Trailing 34-7 at halftime, Illinois did put up 27 points in the second half to make the game respectable as QB Kurt Kittner finished the game with 262 yards passing and four touchdowns.
2008 Rose Bowl: USC 49, Illinois 17
Playing the Trojans (10-2) in their own backyard, Illinois (9-3) was taken to the woodshed during its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1984. Meanwhile, the game was old hat for USC, which was making its third consecutive New Year’s Day appearance in Pasadena.
In the game, the Trojans tied a record for the most points scored in the Rose Bowl and set a record for the most yards of offense (633) as QB John David Booty threw for 255 yards and three TDs. Illinois, meanwhile, was paced by running back Rashard Mendenhall’s 155 yards rushing and one touchdown.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.