Dec 10, 2019
The McCully Stadium Crowd was Thunder-struck
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 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.
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…
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”.
BREAKING: Mike Swider announced his retirement today after 24 years as Wheaton HFBC… while this column was “under construction”. Just a coincidence?? ???
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.
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!
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.
#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
TOUCHDOWN THUNDER !!
… McCully is A Madhouse …
ExtraPoint will send it to Over Time… BUT
#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. …
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 …
Game Over … Season Over
The McCully Crowd was Thunder-struck..
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.