The McCully Stadium Crowd was Thunder-struck

Wheaton Agony of Defeat
BobLee
December10/ 2019

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Dec 10, 2019

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The McCully Stadium Crowd was Thunder-struck

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It didn’t qualify for any highlight show.  Well, it DID qualify, but no way it would ever make the cut.  I would never have seen it had there not been a personal connection.

When I say “seen it” I mean “streamed it” on computer.   The Wheaton Thunder Football Network isn’t quite as fancy as The Swofford Network.

The #3-ranked Wheaton Thunder played The Saint John’s College (Minnesota) Johnnies before a sell-out crowd of around 4,000 in Historic McCully Stadium in Wheaton Illinois – a Chicago suburb.

Edward McCully was a former Thunder player.  He was killed by a spear (?) from a “Native Amazonian” in 1956 while on a missionary trip to deepest darkest Ecuador.  A young missionary in 1956, it is very unlikely that Edward McCully owned any slaves so no need to apologize for naming the stadium for him.

.McCully Stadium

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McCully Stadium does not have even one Jumbotron – much less the two / three that “Big Time stadiums” have – but their concession stand does offer a jumbo hot dog that is very popular.  No IPF and as for “charging stations”… there might be an available wall outlet in the trainer’s room.

Very few, if any, D-III schools have IPFs.  On rainy days they use the gym and practice in tennis shoes.  Most play in “cozy” antiquated stadiums that Texas high schools would scoff at.

Oh… those 4,000 fans in attendance were augmented by the passengers in the ChicagoLand commuter trains that continually roar by about 100 yards from the end zone where It happened.

“It” was as bizarre an ending to a football game as I’ve ever seen.  And I saw “TA’s Knee”… and Gio’s Punt Return … and Auburn / Alabama Kick-Six … and a bunch more over the years.

If there was a Clearinghouse for Bizarre Endings for Football Games, it might / might not qualify for inclusion… unless you add “… that BobLee has ever seen” as a qualifier.

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It was the quarterfinals of the 2019 Division-III National Football Playoffs.  Thirty-two teams make the D-III Playoffs which means fans of teams #33-34-35 bitch and whine that “we were robbed… the committee always cheats us because they are jealous that our school is so cool”.

Div-III schools may not have Jumbotrons and IPFs but they DO have a sub-species of delusional nut-job fans that “major colleges” do.

“Big Time College Football” has its Traditional Elite programs – Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, recently Clemson, et al.   So does D-III and Wheaton is one of’em along with Muhlenburg, Mount Union, Saint John’s, UW-Whitewater, North Central(?), and something called Mary Hardin-Baylor... and others.  As the annual five round playoffs proceed, the traditional elites usually prevail.

Eight teams remained going into Round 3 last Saturday.  By Saturday night, it would be down to Four … then the Finals on Dec 20.

Thunder faithful – including a certain Presbyterian minister in Madison WI – expected undefeated Wheaton to be playing for The National Championship in Houston on December 20.

Son-In-Law “Pastor Danny” was a 4-yearnWR for The Thunder twelve years ago.  His groomsmen were his Thunder teammates.  Danny was “emotionally invested” in the game.

Blondie and I had promised Danny that we would send him to Houston for The Finals as a special Christmas present… (1) IF Wheaton made it that far… and (2) IF “Kid” would let him go. … “Kid” would claim later that she would’ve indeed “let him go”.   Yeah, well, we’ll never know…

.Mike Swider

D-III coaches fall into two primary categories – Lifers and Young Guys.  Wheaton’s Mike Swider (a Lifer) has coached at Wheaton for 35 years.  24 years as Head Coach.  His record – 197-51 – ranks him 8th among active D-III head football coaches.  Occasionally his hair will grow out to where he ties it into a ponytail.  “They say” he reads books without pictures and has heroes other than Patton and “that Art of War guy”.

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BREAKING:  Mike Swider announced his retirement today after 24 years as Wheaton HFBC… while this column was “under construction”.  Just a coincidence??  ???

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His staff is a combination of “young guys” and “lifers” who have been with him “forever”.  None of them have agents or “buy-outs”.  Are some/many of these guys “as good as” Big Time Coaches”?  Sure, “football is football” but for as many reasons as there are coaches, they prefer “where they are”.

Likewise, many D-III players have Big Time skillsets but prefer the unique atmosphere of “small college football”.  There are no scholarships in D-III but various financial aid options are available based on circumstances.

… so… heres what happened last Saturday.

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Wheaton had blown out its first two playoff opponents with over 50 pts each game.  They knew “The Johnnies” would be much tougher. The Johnnies are a big play offense with a gunslinging QB with a rifle for a right arm.  The Thunder a more balanced / very potent offense.

The Johnnies led 21-7 at the half.  Uh Oh.  “Pastor Danny” streaming the game in Madison was NOT happy.  Kid wisely relocated ReRe and YaYa to another area of their apartment. … but The Thunder roared back in the 2nd half with the two teams swapping the lead as the clock ticked down.

The Johnnies went ahead 34-27 with less than two minutes to play.

Like those fans in Mighty Casey’s mythical Mudville… “Hope Sprang Eternal” among the McCully Stadium faithful as The Thunder began The Final Drive… alternating runs and passes with a couple of nail-biting 4th down conversions…

Then “The Football Gods” took over… Uh Oh!

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00:11 … The Thunder had 2nd down on the Johnnies 5-yard line.  Two TimeOuts to play with.  Coach Swider signals for his Jumbo backfield.

Jake Hibben

#61 – Jake Hibben 6’0 / 280 O-Lineman (Center) … Senior from Littleton CO – lined up as the lone set-back.  Think “Refrigerator” Perry for the Bears in that Super Bowl in the 80s.

00:07 … #61 off right tackle to the 3 … TimeOut … 3rd down.

00:03 … #61 off left tackle to the one … TimeOut … 4th down.

Undefeated season on the line.  Swider is known for unorthodox play-calling.   #61 again or fake to Jake, and a bootleg?  What will it be ?

It’s #61 AGAIN …  Off Left Tackle... INTO THE END ZONE !! … 00:01

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TOUCHDOWN THUNDER !!

… McCully is A Madhouse …

ExtraPoint will send it to Over Time… BUT

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#61 – Jake Hibben – an O-lineman scoring his first TD ever…  jumps high into the air … AND SPIKES THE BALL.  Noooo Jake… Nooo!

A Flag … for Excessive Celebration.  “Spiking the ball” is specifically A NO NO.

A 15-yard penalty assessed on the extra point try.  Instead of a chip shot extra point… it’s now a 34 yard “field goal” effort.

Saint John’s calls TimeOut to “ice the Thunder kicker”.  It works… Wide Right… Game Over?… Johnnies Win? … NO! 

A FLAG!…  Johnnies Rough The Kicker. 

WAIT!

A 2nd FLAG!…   Wheaton has 12 men on the field.

Replay The 34 yd “extra point”,

Johnnies call another “ice the kicker” TimeOut .  It works… Wide Right … No Flags …

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Game Over … Season Over

The McCully Crowd was Thunder-struck..

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There was no joy in Wheaton, Illinois … or on Van Buren Street in Madison, WI.

During the high drama described above… a commuter train to Chicago was rumbling by 100 yards from that End Zone… taking 100s of people from somewhere to somewhere else.  A prophetic reminder…

The shattered dreams of The Wheaton Thunder Football Faithful notwithstanding… Life goes on for the rest of Humankind.

As “Dean” might say:  8,000,000,000 Chinese didn’t give a damn.

But 4,000 Thunder Faithful sure did… sigh.  Proving, alas, that:…

… God Loves Johnnies Too.

 

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More of BobLeeSays – LINK

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WildatHeart
WildatHeart
9 months ago

Almost the same ending as the Ole Miss – Mississippi State game, except poetic justice was done due to the nature of the Ole Miss “celebration”. I have commented many times that I wish all college football was like Division III. I’d love to just be able to adopt a Division III team and follow them (do we even hhave one in North Carolina).
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Great story

WildatHeart
WildatHeart
9 months ago
Reply to  BobLee

That is what made the Miss St win so poetic.
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I looked up Division III Football schools in North Carolina. Brevard College, Greensboro College, Methodist University, Guilford College, and NC Wesleyan.
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My sister went to Greensboro College and her husband played football at Guilford so I have some connection after all.

Queen City
Queen City
9 months ago

Great article. I am going to go out on a limb and assume neither team had created a turnover chain celebration or something similar. This was a heartbreaking story with important life lessons minus a participation trophy. . If you want to have a chuckle with D3 athletes, look up the University of St Thomas. They were involuntary removed from their conference citing “ parity concerns”. Apparently they were wining too much and had attracted big bucks from the alumni that were dumped into athletics that was deemed unfair to the competing members that did not have the same resources..… Read more »

Robert P Kennel
Robert P Kennel
9 months ago

BL, excellent story and writing. We all need some agony from time to time, but hope the coach didn’t leave because of disappointment. Kinda’ feel for the excitement of any lineman approaching glory.
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Some of your commentators can be “ugly” :>)) It’s basketball season now. Reading former Mayor Smedes York’s book on “Growing Up With Raleigh”. He played for Coach Case and knows the Walt Bellamy story first hand along with commentator Coach.
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Wondering how serious the Smith basketball issue will be. Shouldn’t be too damaging. Sure shouldn’t be too serious.
Go Pack !!

former96heel
former96heel
9 months ago
Reply to  BobLee

Story online said Coach Swider decided before the season this would be his last year, and informed the AD, but kept it between themselves all season because he did not want this season to be about him at all. Which goes to the heart of the story about D-3 football. Great icing on the cake. if you gotta lose somehow, may as well have the lost glory and shot at winning that sounded like it carried. Chances are that Kicker and Center will be working on someone’s teeth or leading a congregation one day living full and wonderful lives, telling… Read more »

Jim wilkins
Jim wilkins
9 months ago

Great, you should have been a sports writer for the n&o!

Jim wilkins
Jim wilkins
9 months ago
Reply to  BobLee

Ha, had you rather have been with the squirrel ….. Durham herald….?

Doug
Doug
9 months ago

Gee whiz. For me spiking the ball in the heat of an emotional TD doesn’t rise to the same level as kicking one’s leg in the air to pee like a hound dog but rules is rules.

Babs.N.Derm
Babs.N.Derm
9 months ago

Football as it should be.

former96heel
former96heel
9 months ago

Did the massive surge in interest from the BLsays readership force Coach Mike Swider into retirement, or is this just a coincidence? Inquiring minds want to know!
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And to think, I expected to hear that BK was sent by Coach Case to recruit his dad from a cornfield converted into a half court, instead he just walked off into the sunset. I’m betting he gets a better reception than Coach Drink leaving App.

Doug
Doug
9 months ago
Reply to  BobLee

BK a few years ago ~ “Just hoping we don’t act like other schools that have lead some ACC schools to “Unpleasantness”.
I have saved many more doozies just in case.

Chris.79
Chris.79
9 months ago

As commentors on TheAthletic.com are always saying… “and this is why I subscribe…”. THIS is why I ALWAYS read BobLeeSays. Thanks for a neat story.

NCSU68Grad
NCSU68Grad
9 months ago

Very good story, BL. Thanks for sharing I thought you were gonna post about the drama in Boone, “Away From These Hills” seems apt Used to coach at NCSU Drinkwitz celebrates ASU victory and winning the Sun Belt title with, presumably, an adult beverage and conversation late into the evening with the MIZZOU equivalent of the BOG Chair, BOT chair, AD and at least one other MO regent or almighty potentate AND a cadre of MIZZOU FC. They met at a local Wilkesboro speak easy that was probably one of Jr. Johnson’s prime customers Drink headed to MIZZOU. Next day… Read more »

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