No, it's not the end of the story, there was entirely too much excitement in the nineties and the oughts (well, what do YOU call the decade from 2000 to 2010?) to stop in 1989.
But all streaks must end. Jumper's was no exception. We last left Jumper in a state of considerable excitement as his team won its 39th consecutive football game in early October, 1987. My story followed the Gang into the Olympics, but Jumper and most of the campus community was wrapped up in a football epic.
Jumper's quarterback that year was Elliott Greene, Jumper's fifth first string quarterback in eight seasons at UND. His first had been Al Beck, now a member of the Gang and Alex's partner. He'd been injured early in the season and replaced by Nate as the quarterback. Nate held that position for four years, losing only one game in his tenure as quarterback. His backup for three years was Johnny Cross, who then led the team in 1984, when they'd achieved their streak of 44 before losing a game. That year Ray Meyer was the backup quarterback, after a year of being third string behind Nate and Johnny. He led the team in the undefeated 1985 and 1986 seasons, graduating Magna Cum Laude after having led the team to game 35 of their winning streak. He'd been backed up his last two years by Elliott Greene, who was leading the team in 1987 as they aimed for their 7th consecutive national championship and 48th consecutive win!
Jumper was proud of his quarterbacks: for their performances both on and off the field. Ray Meyer's graduating Magna Cum Laude was the highest academic achievement of the five, but all had been excellent students, and active in many aspects of campus life as well as football. Jumper had continued the tradition of eating lunch with his quarterbacks several times a week. It was at those lunches that most of the strategy for the coming game was discussed. Jumper never wavered in his resolve to allow the quarterback unquestioned authority to lead the team and call the plays. Thus far, none had disappointed him. Elliott's backup was a freshman from Montana name Pete Owen. Jumper had a rich history of freshmen being the backup quarterback: Nate had backed up Al and replaced him in 1980. Johnny Cross had backed up Nate for three years, beginning his freshman year. Ray Meyer had been third string his freshman year, but usually played a different position. Elliott had backed up Ray in both his freshman and sophomore years. All had been given significant playing time as backups, and Pete was no exception in 1987.
At dinner one day that fall Tim raised an interesting issue with me. "Charlie, I think that before this year is over our football team is going to make some pretty big news. I just have a feeling that Jumper's going to manage another undefeated season."
"Yeah, I think you're probably right. So?"
"So, maybe it's time we bit the bullet and reconsidered the name of our athletic teams, before one of them become nationally famous."
"You mean, raise the question of whether our name of Fighting Sioux is inappropriate?"
"Exactly. What do you think, is it?"
"I don't think so, but what I think isn't important. Various Native American groups have challenged it. They've gone after every team with an Indian name-starting with the Atlanta Braves."
Tim said, "Of course, Atlanta insists on using the Tomahawk Chop as its official cheer, and they use the tomahawk as their logo. The logo wasn't so bad back in Boston-they used a dignified Indian profile with chief's feathers. Then in Milwaukee they used an awful caricature of an Indian brave. They have no history of respecting the Indian nature of their name. I don't think we're guilty of that."
"No, but our players aren't Sioux Indians. In fact, we have very few students who can make that claim."
"More now than a few years ago."
"Yes, you've gone out of your way to encourage Native Americans, with faculty appointments, scholarships, the Center for Native American Law, and special programs."
"I think the only answer is to ask our Native American students. I should've done that a long time ago."
From less than fifty students when Tim became President, the Native American population on the UND campus had grown to more than 200. Tim invited one and all to a meeting on campus about a week hence. No agenda was announced, but a few key leaders were informed of the subject. Tim addressed the group, thanking them for coming. There were 192 present, about 90%, an enormous outpouring of support for Tim, I thought.
Tim got straight to the point. "The Fighting Sioux football team is about to make national news when they break Oklahoma's winning streak record." He stopped here to deal with objections that the record hadn't been broken yet, etc. He simply said, "You ask Jumper whether he's going to break the record. And then believe what he tells you. I asked him. And I believe it when he tells me that it's in the bag. Now, we've been criticized for the name Fighting Sioux. I don't give a damn what liberal do gooders think of the name. I don't give a damn what AIM [American Indian Movement] thinks of the name. I don't personally give a damn, period-though I'll have to admit to a preference for a one word name. I do give a damn what you people think. You are the American Indians, some few Sioux among you, that have gotten up off your asses and made successes of your lives. You've come to this university and supported it, paid tuition, studied hard, some of you have been great athletes. If the name of the team bothers you, then it goes. If you like the name, then it stays. If you don't give a damn, then I don't see much point in making a big fuss over picking a new name. I'm here to listen to as many of you as want to speak."
The first speaker pointed out that, under Tim, the Mascot for the team was a live, living Sioux Indian, in traditional costume-no hokey stereotypes. Furthermore, it took three Sioux Indians to fulfill all of the Mascot obligations in a variety of sports. That meant good employment-by the athletic department-of three Indians. It also meant that the image of the team was never a put down to Indians or, in particular, Sioux Indians.
Another pointed out that there were damn few Sioux football players on the team; but another pointed out that the current team did have a Sioux player.
This went back and forth for a while, until finally someone stood up and said, "This group isn't going to come to a unanimous decision. We all feel a little differently. I do want to say that being asked is really important. For that, thank you Dr. Tim. Now, I'd like to ask that everyone here that's going to be really upset if the decision about the team name goes against them please stand up." He looked around the room. Three people stood up. The speaker continued, "OK, without asking whether your want the name changed or kept, are you going to be so upset that you'd consider leaving the university? If so please continue standing." All three sat down. "OK, please stand up again. I think everyone here would like to hear from you and know what you're thinking."
The first was a girl who identified herself as a member of the Sioux Nation and, as far as she could tell, was a full-blooded Sioux. She said, "I love the team name. I identify with it. I identify with the Mascots at the games. I'd be really upset by a name change, but I wouldn't consider leaving the university."
This was met with several audible voices of support.
The second was a boy who identified himself as a member of AIM. He said, "I believe that Indian names should be reserved for Indian institutions. UND doesn't qualify. How upset would I be if the name were kept? I don't know. I came here. I've done well here. But I'll admit that I don't go to Fighting Sioux athletic events, mainly because of the name."
This was met with respectful silence. Then a young man stood and said, "Thank you for saying that. I agree, but I'm not upset enough to have stood up. But I think that makes the case against the name very well."
The third student standing was virulent against the name Fighting Sioux. But he didn't make any case, just displayed his anger. It seemed that the general feeling in the group was to ignore him, let him run his course, and get back to the meeting. That's what happened.
Somebody said, "How about a straw vote?"
Tim said, "Do you think you're ready for that? It wouldn't be binding. This is a decision that can only be taken by the Trustees; but I assure you that it will be reported to them, as well as the gist of this meeting, and it will be carefully listened to."
"We're ready to vote," was the general response.
Tim said, "Do you want secret paper ballots?"
Someone said, "No. If you don't have the courage of your opinions, then we aren't interested in your opinions." There was audible affirmation of that position.
Tim took a standing vote. There were 135 in favor of keeping "Fighting Sioux." There were 57 in favor of a name change. Ten didn't vote or had already left the meeting when the vote was taken.
Tim said, "Given that you've voted by more than 2 to 1 to support the present name, I think the matter should be dropped. Now let me ask one more question. Should this meeting, and its results, be reported to the wider student body, or would you rather it be kept just between you Indian students and the administration?"
The same person that had spoken against a secret ballot stood and said, "Tell the world. Let's get someone from this group to write the story of this meeting. And let's make sure that the speakers who are mentioned are correctly quoted. It should get into the Dakota Student ASAP."
Tim asked, "Is there general agreement with that?"
There clearly was. That, and the newspaper article that followed shortly thereafter, ended the matter; permanently as far as Tim was concerned.
However, before the group broke up, Tim had one other question for the group: "Tell me honestly, do you prefer to be referred to as Indians, Native Americans, or what?"
The shouts back of "Indians" were deafening. Somebody stood up and said, "Forget this 'Native American' shit; it makes us sound like idiots. Everybody knows what an Indian is, and who we are." The cheering that followed that was clearly favorable. Tim never used the term Native American again. The stage was set for the Fighting Sioux to break the Oklahoma Sooners record.
It was the second game of the year, the first home game, when the signs began. That was in game 37, and signs with 37 on them were raised high right after the clock ran out. This pattern continued at every home game that season.
The final regular season game was played at home against NDSU. It had been a close game, with the lead passing back and forth between the two schools. It had been eight years since NDSU had beaten UND, and they were determined to end their losing streak. Further, there'd never been any love lost between the two football programs, and NDSU would've delighted in the honor of ending the UND streak, especially if they could do it before the magical number 48.
In the final two minutes of the game UND was behind by two points, 22 to 20. Both teams had scored three touchdowns, but UND had missed a kick and NDSU had made one two-point conversion. Now Elliott and the team had the ball on their own 22 yard line, after NDSU had had to punt. Tim and I were behind the bench, right behind Jumper. I was as nervous as a cat; Tim seemed almost to be shaking he was so excited. Jumper looked like he was relaxing with a beer in his back yard on a summer day! Elliott looked like he was playing intermural flag football, he seemed so casual about his situation. Slowly, inexorably the ball moved down the field. Plays were called without a huddle except when an incomplete pass or an out of bounds stopped the clock. Time out; Elliott had used his first time out. I heard Jumper's only remark to Elliott. "Attaboy!"
The downfield march continued until they were 12 yards from the goal line with 38 seconds to play. Snap. Pass. Interception. NDSU managed to run the ball back to their 20 yard line when Elliott tackled the runner-his first and only tackle in his college career! I expected Jumper's demeanor to change at least a little bit. Nothing. He calmly watched the game, almost as if disinterested. Elliott made a dramatic call; he kept the offensive team in place. I asked him later why he had made that decision, and he told me, "We screwed up and lost the ball. If we were going to get it back it was our job."
Jumper watched this, calmed the defensive squad who were upset that they weren't on the field. On the first play NDSU simply fell on the ball, losing three yards. Elliott called a time out to stop the clock. The next play looked like 22 people were all trying to cram into a telephone booth. There didn't seem to be any organization to the play-NDSU simply planned to do nothing till the clock ran out. All of a sudden, out of the mess of humanity struggled none other than Elliott Greene, a recovered fumble in his hand, charging toward the goal line. Everybody was so surprised at this turn of events that no NDSU player even tried to tackle him, and no UND player tried to block. They all just stared as he raced toward the goal line, a touchdown, a victory, game 45 of THE STREAK. Ice water may run in Jumper's veins when things aren't going the way they ought, but adrenaline flows when things go right. His leap into the air took both Tim and me by surprise; I almost knocked Tim over as I backed out of Jumper's way. We looked around for the 45 signs that would inevitably fill our field of vision. They were slowly appearing. Virtually everyone in the stadium had assumed that all was lost; the streak was over; the signs were an embarrassment. Then, all of a sudden, as the events on the field had finally penetrated everybody's brain, people had to scramble to get out the "45" signs that had been quietly dropped under seats.
Nobody made any attempt to keep the fans off the field. The NDSU team had retreated to their bench and headed for the locker room as everybody else roared onto the field and picked up every single UND player, as well as coach, president, dean of law, and anybody else that looked important. The band played "Over There" a rousing World War I sound that they had found they liked better than the UND fight song, and which the campus was slowly adopting as its own. It was an hour before the team finally got into the locker room and got everyone else out.
Never had UND had a bigger hero than Elliott. Forget the interception. He'd made the crucial tackle. He'd made the call to keep the offense on the field. He'd recovered the fumble. He'd made the solo dash to the goal line. His face would fill the front page of the Dakota Student and the Grand Forks Herald the next day, and Sports Illustrated the next week. When Jumper finally got quiet in the locker room and attention directed at him, he turned to Elliott and said, "Please, please, tell me that you didn't plan all that."
Elliott replied, "I couldn't have dreamed it in my wildest dreams, much less tried to plan it."
Jumper turned back to the team and said, "We have three more games this year. Get a good night's sleep everybody." The fact that the team would actually play three post-season games only if it kept on winning was lost on no one. If the members of his team could be only half as confident as Jumper, victory would be theirs.
The next two games were at home; UND's undefeated status, this year and the previous year, meant home field advantage. Our first post-season opponents were the Humboldt State University Lumberjacks from California. They'd only had one loss during the year, and were looking forward to ending our streak-at least that's what they were telling the press. The Jacks were taken by surprise by the press interest, but the story of the UND streak was growing bigger and bigger as the magic number 48 approached. Everybody at the University of Oklahoma that could be found to comment had been asked, and their responses duly noted in some newspaper column or another. Jumper had more sports reporters than players at his practices. By Tuesday Elliott had simply refused to give any more interviews. However, on Thursday night Elliott, Jumper, Jumper's entire coaching staff, and two or three other key players were invited to our house for dinner. We had sandbagged them: our special collection of photographers and reporters had been invited to join us for dinner-Susan Wilfield, Bill Manley, Mike Reasal and partner Brian Weeks, Mick Jacobs, and Eddie Schmidt.
We introduced our football friends to our reportorial friends, assuring all that they could trust each other, but also announcing that the conversation at dinner would be "on the record." First it was time for stories, and Eddie led off telling of the startling telephone call that he'd once gotten from a stranger, Susan Wilfield, telling him that she could provide him an inside track to a kid named Tim, in exchange for a favor or two-like arranging live television coverage of high school diving in Minneapolis on Grand Forks television!
We all laughed, and then heard stories from Bill, Mike, and Susan that easily topped Eddie's. Mick had had less personal contact, but recalled his first interview with Tim, in which Tim had behaved like a seasoned pro and totally controlled the interview, even as a high school student. For Brian this was all new, but he busied himself making a video of the dinner. He was betting that the streak would make 48 and that then the video would be easily marketable. Brian had a knack of fading into a corner with a small portable camera and hardly intruding. That way people easily became comfortable with the camera and went on with conversations quite easily. Brian knew the rule that we would have to approve the tape before it could be released, and he easily agreed to that. An edited version (his editing; we'd seen no need for any cutting) aired on ABC the night we broke the record, and Brian's reputation as a free-lance videographer was made!
OK, I've let the cat out of the bag. But there wasn't much suspense to the three games we had to play to break the record. Jumper and his crew dispatched the Lumberjacks 24 to nothing. The next week they gave the Portland State Vikings a worse drubbing, beating them 56 to 3. That set up our seventh run at the Division II national championship, this time against the Troy (Alabama) State Trojans.
If you think that having a football team named the Fighting Sioux could be embarrassing, how would you like to be a Troy State Trojan? We could hardly wait to see what the team mascot looked like. Tim got a call from the faculty advisor to the Dakota Student asking whether or not Tim thought a certain cartoon figure depicting a possible mascot for the Trojans should be censored. Tim talked to the artist and got him to kill the cartoon, on the grounds that printing it might enflame the Trojans and make them more difficult to beat. And, alas, once they were beaten there wasn't any point to printing the cartoon. I never ceased to marvel at how well Tim handled what could be very difficult moments in the life of a college administrator; certainly an administrator who didn't want to be accused of censorship or of being a prude.
The Division II National Championship Game had been moved to Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama, the previous year, 1986. Braly Stadium was the home field for the University of North Alabama. It was also in the same state as our opponents, Troy State University. It wasn't exactly home field advantage, but there was no doubt that every Alabaman would be rooting against us, and they'd be the largest part of the attendees. Tim and I knew that that wouldn't bother Jumper-nothing seemed to. And his cool seemed to have been absorbed by his team.
Jumper had been so confident that UND would be in the championship game at Florence, that he'd arranged for the Fighting Sioux Club to charter a jumbo jet to fly from Grand Forks to Florence the morning of game day and fly back that night. The plane had a capacity of 452 as it was configured for two class service by Northwest Airlines. If configured for maximum passenger capacity, it would hold about a hundred more, however there was no time for any conversion-we had to use it exactly as it came off their Pacific service. Their run to Japan that day simply employed a smaller aircraft. Needless to say, this was Fred's doing; who else could convince Northwest that the trip to Alabama was more important than increased capacity to Japan about two weeks before Christmas?
The Club absorbed a lot of the cost of the charter and tickets for 452 persons to attend the game. A campus and town raffle was held for seats on the plane and the game. Only persons who'd attended all of our homes games in 1987 were eligible to compete. Because of the interest in the streak, there were almost 2000 students, faculty, staff, and townsfolk who could make that claim and were eligible for the raffle. The cost of a raffle ticket was what you paid for your ticket to the first post-season game against the Lumberjacks. The winners were drawn by name, and the tickets weren't transferable. We sold about four times as many raffle tickets as we had seats on the plane and tickets for the game, and the total funds covered about half the cost of the trip. The Fighting Sioux Club didn't have enough cash to pay the other half, but Fred's Sports (who else?) advanced the money, and the club easily raised the needed funds in a short time after the game.
All of this set the stage for a wonderful game, Saturday, December 12, 1987. The NCAA press office told us that they usually prepare 50 press kits and have about a dozen left over. Anticipating a larger demand than usual, 100 had been produced this year, and they were scrambling to put together the third pile of 100 kits! Our favorite group of reporters had been in Grand Forks for the first two post season games, and they, along with about a dozen others that had been at both games, were invited to fly down to Florence with the team on Wednesday afternoon. Division II football players aren't used to press attention, and the interest of a dozen reports was exciting. More than 200 in Alabama was going to be even more exciting, and also very trying. But Jumper had prepared them. Nobody could've been around Jumper that entire season and retained an inflated ego-he simply wouldn't have it. Confidence was OK; excessive ego was squashed. Jumper knew the difference, and knew how to squash ego when necessary.
When the Sioux headed onto the practice field on Thursday afternoon, there were almost as many people watching as usually watched a regular game in an ordinary year in Grand Forks. But, of course, this was no ordinary year and sellout crowds had been the rule all year.
There were all sorts of events, dinners, press conferences and the like leading up to the game. All went well, except for one thing: At the main pre-game press conference, and the luncheon for dignitaries that followed, it was expected that a small number of players from each team would represent the team. Jumper would have none of that. No way did he select one group of players as more important than the others. You either invited them all, or you didn't bother to invite anybody. How about using the starters? We won't know who the starters are until the game's ready to start. How about leaving behind those that aren't expected to play? On Jumper's teams everybody played, every game, even the most important game of the season. Well, it meant adding forty additional seats at the press conference and luncheon, but Jumper couldn't be moved. You can easily imagine Tim's reaction to this! In fact, the local committee had appealed to him to overrule Jumper and just send the Captain and quarterback. You can more easily imagine Tim's reaction to that request. You took Jumper and his team on their own terms or you didn't take them. In fact, Tim did tell the guy from the local committee that he either had to make peace with Jumper or the whole team might just pick up and go home.
"You'd forfeit the game, the championship, your streak, over who attends a press conference?"
"Jumper produced a winning team by respecting every single member of the team. He'd go home before he did anything to undermine that."
Needless to day, it didn't come to that. Additional seats were found. Troy State was invited to send their whole team as well, but they just laughed, saying, "The last thing our players would want to do was get dressed up for a press conference and luncheon."
Jumper just shrugged when he heard that. It never ceased to amaze Tim and me that so many coaches could watch Jumper-the coach with the winningest record in the history of NCAA football-and so easily dismiss his practices, just because they didn't conform to conventional wisdom. Yet that was exactly what they did.
The game itself was an anticlimax. The Trojans won the toss and elected to receive. We kicked; they got two first downs; they threw a intercepted pass; and Elliott was on the move. The first drive down the field was slow, but relentless. We had our first touchdown 5 minutes and 12 seconds into the first quarter. It wasn't the last. If ever a team proved that they were truly champions, and had been for seven years running, this team was it. From the first touchdown the game was never in doubt. At halftime it was 31 to zero. Jumper's pep talk at the half was just one sentence: "You shall not needlessly run up the score."
Troy State got one touchdown and one field goal in the second half. The Sioux got two additional touchdowns, and on one of them they got a two-point conversion. Final score: Fighting Sioux 46, Trojans 10.
The game was broadcast nationally on ESPN. Division II football, even the championship game, was not the most important game for ESPN that Saturday, but they sent their premier color analyst to announce the game: Bud Wilkinson. His famous winning streak of 47 games with Oklahoma had been tied the week before, and it seemed fitting for him to be present when the Fighting Sioux sought to break the record. The folks at ESPN were as good at staging events as Tim: When there were about three minutes to play they had Bud go down to the fifty-yard line on the Trojans bench. At the end of the game Bud walked out toward the middle of the field. An ESPN functionary told Jumper to walk out and meet him. The two met for the first time in their lives in the middle of Braly Field, with all of Jumper's players gathered around, more than 14,000 fans in the sellout crowd standing and cheering, and millions more watching on national television. Bud shook hands with Jumper and then hugged him. He said, "Jumper, I don't know of any coach whom I'd rather have inherit our streak. Congratulations."
Jumper, perhaps for the first time in his life, seemed to be tongue tied. He was barely able to get out, "Thank you, Coach."
Wilkinson would soon suffer the first of a number of minor strokes that would eventually lead to his death from heart failure in 1994 at age 77.
Jumper turned to his team and said, "I think it's time to celebrate." He was immediately swept up onto their shoulders and the celebration began with his being carried to the locker room and almost drowned in champagne. Even Tim and I had some. The excitement could've gone on all afternoon, evening and night. But the team had a plane to catch, and the contingent from Grand Rapids had their charter to catch. Tim told one and all that the celebration would begin at noon on Sunday in the middle of the UND campus.
God smiled down on North Dakota the next day! It was a lovely, sunny day, with virtually no wind. There was snow on the ground, but it wasn't deep. While the day was warm, that means it was warm for North Dakota. It was in the upper twenties, which North Dakotans consider to be perfect: any warmer and the snow begins to melt and it gets slushy by day and icy by night.
The police estimated that ten thousand people were gathered on campus when the team emerged from the administration building where they'd been personally congratulated by Tim. The band played, the Coke flowed, a succession of speakers tried to find different ways to say, "Congratulations," and then Tim shouted, "Come On, Let's Do the Twist." The band was ready, I was ready, the girlfriends-and in two cases boyfriends-of the team were ready, and we all, "Did the Twist." The dancing degenerated into a massive snowball fight: the football team against the world. The world lost, as the team methodically went through the crowd stuffing snow down the shirts and pants of one and all. It was pretty raunchy, but harmless. Tim had, in fact, been aware of what the team planned and had told them it was OK provided they didn't push too far. We didn't get any complaints. Everybody was so deliriously happy that there were no negative incidents. In addition there were a few streakers including one couple who ran through the crowd holding hands. However, it was too cold, with too much snow on the ground, for many to follow in those particular footsteps. Tim made no attempt to find out the names of the streakers, though he easily could have. He considered their prank harmless, perhaps even fun for the crowd. The cold finally sent everyone scurrying inside and the party was over. Tim, Jumper, and I were almost the last to come in. We walked to Dakota House and had warm cocoa. I asked Jumper, "How do you top this?"
Jumper smiled and said, "You don't. This streak can't go on forever. I lose Elliott next year, and I don't think I have a replacement that can take us through another undefeated season. It'd be fun to make fifty, though. And it's going to be fun for me and the team to bask in a lot of glory this spring."
The Sports Illustrated cover a few days later was almost an anticlimax. It showed the team running onto the field, with an inset of the meeting between Jumper and Bud Wilkinson on the field after the game. Tim wasn't on the cover, and I don't think he even thought about it. If he had, he would have said, "It's better without me. Too many people count my covers, and the emphasis should be on Jumper, Elliott and the whole team."
As fall 1988 came upon us, and the football season opened, Jumper didn't make a big deal out of the streak. We knew that it was very important to him that they win the opening game of the season. He felt that it would've been very unfortunate to have the new team, and the new quarterback, end the streak on the first game of the season. He concentrated very hard as that first game approached. It was against Morehead State, a non-conference rival from up the Red River that we played in some years. The game was routine rather than exciting, and we won by a touchdown. It was our 49th straight win. During the week that led up to the game Jumper had asked that no "49" signs be brought to the stadium, and for the most part students complied with his wish. The next game was away, at NDSU. Jumper agreed that it wouldn't be fitting for our big rival, NDSU to break the streak. The team was so determined that that wouldn't happen that NDSU had no chance whatsoever of beating us. Our players played like supermen from the first kickoff. We won by a wide margin. The streak stood at 50. An unbelievable 50.
Let me take just a moment to reflect on Jumper's record at UND at this point. In his first year his record was 8 and 2. It ended with a streak of 2 wins. This was followed by a streak of 44 wins. It made an overall record of 50 and 2. A single loss was then followed by a streak of 50. Jumper had coached a total of 103 games in the NCAA, all at UND, and all but 3 of them were wins. It was an unbelievable record, expressed as a percentage as 97.1%. The streak had to end, and future losses were inevitable, so the percentage would go down a little. But think of it, 97% over more than 100 games. Impossible.
Author's note: Impossible? No, but improbable and it's never happened. But if you look at Bud Wilkinson's record at Oklahoma you will find that his teams had two long streaks, not one, and that his winning percentage was almost as impossible. I had the good fortune of meeting Bud Wilkinson once, and seeing him coach teenagers in a summer setting. There is no doubt he was a great man as well as a great coach.
We won game 51 as well. At this point, I'm not sure who we played. It isn't important, and it wasn't a particularly exciting game. Then came a home game against the Coyotes of the University of South Dakota. They were one of only three teams that had ever beaten one of Jumper's UND teams. I think that if Jumper had picked a team to end the streak he might've picked the Coyotes. They were a good team, played honest and fair football, and were led by a solid coach whom Jumper liked and respected. It's certainly been quietly suggested in private settings in Grand Forks that, in fact, Jumper did pick the team he wanted to end his streak. He'd gone out of his way in the week before the game to talk to the team about the inevitability that the streak would end. That playing in the losing game that ended the streak was no shame, but an honor-and honor to be part of a team that had done the impossible.
The inevitable happened. We were losing at the half by a field goal, 21-24. Jumper's halftime speech was subdued. No player in the locker room for that speech had ever lost a college football game. They'd never heard a "come from behind" halftime speech. They'd never had a coach "give 'em Hell." And they didn't hear any of that from Jumper that day. Jumper had simply gathered the team together and said, "I think that maybe the Coyotes may be better than us today. It'd be great if you all went out there and proved me wrong. But are you guys prepared to lose? It's part of life. I know it hasn't been part of your lives. Maybe that's been unfair to you. No, I don't think that. The streak's been a wonderful ride. You've handled it well. You're going to find that it's been harder handling the winning streak than dealing with a one game loss will be-whenever than happens, as it must. You'll find that having the pressure taken off is a wonderful feeling. Now go out there and play your best. And when it's over, win or lose, hug a Coyote."
Neither team scored in the second half. Just before the end of the game, with the Coyotes in possession on our 42 yard line, Jumper called a time out. Nate was sitting with Tim and me and he said, "That's the first time in history that Jumper's called a time out. The quarterback and the defensive captain always call the time outs. I wonder what's going on."
The knowledgeable football commentators, who tell everybody everything they need to know about football, were certain that Jumper was giving the team a pep talk about how they needed to grab an interception and run it for a last minute touchdown. Without that the streak was dead. Blah, blah, blah.
What Jumper did do was remind the team that when it was over they were all to hug a Coyote.
There was one more play. No interception. No fumble. Just a solid tackle and the clock ran out. The Fighting Sioux poured onto the field and grabbed every Coyote in sight, hugging them and congratulating them. Then they headed for the sidelines and did the same for all of the players on the bench. The streak was over. It stood at 51 consecutive wins. It still stands. It may still stand when we enter the 22nd century. There were no tears, just joy at having been a part of this most incredible accomplishment.
Tim led the crowd onto the field. The band banged out "Over There" again and again. Nobody wanted to leave the field; we all seemed to just need to stand there and be part of this incredible moment. Somehow the end of the streak was more exciting, more meaningful, than the 48th game that had established it as the longest ever streak. I don't think I saw a dry eye in the crowd.
The Coyotes from South Dakota were totally unprepared for the reaction they got to their winning and ending the streak. I think they were worried that they might've had to sneak out of the stadium through a back door to avoid the wrath of the crowd. Instead, they were being celebrated right along with the Fighting Sioux. It took two hours to clear the stadium. Jumper sent word to the Coyote coach that his entire team was invited to dinner. When both teams were finally dressed, Jumper and his crew headed to the visitors' locker room and invited the Coyotes to join them. They headed to the main university dining commons, where a banquet awaited them. Jumper knew that this time would eventually come, and he and the food service director had been prepared. He had sent word to be ready for the banquet at half-time!
Jumper insisted that the teams mix it up for the seating, and the places had been set with alternate color place mats. Green for us and red for the Coyotes-each player was to sit at his own color, which would be between two of the opposite color. The general tone of the conversation was animated, and the clear message that the Fighting Sioux gave was that it was both a happy and sad moment. The pressure, though they hadn't liked to admit it, had been enormous. Now it was lifted. And when all was said and done, a record of 51 wasn't that much different from a record of 55 or even 65. It was, and would remain, the best ever.
All good things must end, and so did the banquet-at which only Jumper, Tim, and the Coyote coach had spoken. The speeches had been brief, and had broken no new ground. It seemed that the only reason for them is that you can't have a banquet without a speech. Then the Coyotes boarded the busses for the airport and their charter flight home to Vermillion, and the Fighting Sioux headed off to find girl and boy friends, family, and roommates. They all seemed to realize that a new chapter of their lives had begun.
I looked over this chapter and realized that there was virtually no sex. That isn't to say that the characters in the story were without sex. On the contrary, they were, I'm quite sure, very sexual beings. But the sexual aspects of their lives weren't part of the story, and will have to be left to your imaginations. I'm sure that you aren't lacking in imagination. In case you are, I'm sure that the authors of future chapters, including myself, will adequately feed your imaginations.
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