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Wartime Indiana Football

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While researching IU's historical performance I noticed many losing seasons, and a few periods of brief success.  Success during the war years.

Around the turn of the century, IU was a fairly respectable program in the old Western Conference.  Seven of the Eight teams would eventually move on to form the foundation of the Big 10.  In 1905, led by HalfQuarter Flanker Shamus "Scoots" McGillicuddy, IU stormed to an 8-1 record upsetting the favored University of Chicago Game Theories.  OK, I made up the player, his position, and the Univ of Chicago team name but the rest is true.  Indiana managed just 3 winning seasons in the next 11 years.

When WW I broke out, the U.S. instituted a policy of National Isolationism (ignore the world around us).  By 1917 we entered the war to end all wars, as our President saw a great opportunity to capitalize on the weakened position of our European allies and assert a new world order. 

** to quote Matt Damon in Goodwill Hunting, "You smart people read the wrong F-ing books.  You wanna read a real history book?  Read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States.  That book'll knock you on your ass." **

My way of recommending something worth reading for the intellectually curious, but I digress...

With America now at war, IU immediately returned to form with a 5-2 record in 1917.  The 1918 season was shortened to just 4 games due to the large number of young men fighting in Europe and/or dying from the Haskell County Flu (known to some as Spanish Influenza).  IU went 2-2 and the war ended shortly thereafter.  Over the next 23 seasons Indiana would manage a winning record just 4 times.

As fortune would have it World War broke out again and in 1942 IU Football would once again rise to prominence with a 7-3 record.  In the following three years the war continued raging on and so did IU Football.  After a brief 4-4 stumble in '43, Indiana rattled off 7-3 and 9-0-1 campaigns the next two years.  IU reached it's high watermark ranking in 1945 at #4 in the final AP poll, a feat that would be matched in 1967 but never surpassed.  Unfortunately, former Indiana Daily Student writer, IU Grad, and legendary journalist Ernie Pyle couldn't provide a write-up of IU's triumph, due to a prior engagement as America's preeminent war correspondent.  Ernie delivered the human side of conflict and stories of American courage home to small towns across the nation who were missing their sons.  He couldn't write about IU because he was busy being cut down by enemy fire and dying in heavy fighting on Iejimi during the Battle of Okinawa.  If his name sounds familiar it's probably the building named in his honor you passed many times on your way to class.

IU extended their wartime success in '46 and '47 with two more winning seasons but would fade back to irrelevancy.  1948 to 1957 brought a string of 11 consecutive losing seasons, followed by 2 .500 seasons, and then 7 more consecutive losing seasons. 

The Vietnam Conflict had been simmering for a few years but 1967 saw the beginning of a 3-year high mark for troop deployments.  1967 also saw IU achieve it's second greatest season with a 9-2 record, a Rose Bowl match-up with USC, and a #4 AP final ranking.  From this point until a few years into the Bill Mallory Era, Indiana was a mixed bag.  Mostly .500ish seasons with the occasional 8-4 and 1-10 season mixed in to keep things interesting.

While IU did go 7-4 in 1991, win the Copper Bowl, and spend some time in the rankings, I'm not going to tie it to the Gulf War.  Indiana was already 5 seasons into the greatest 8 year run our football team has experienced. It's this stretch from 1987-1994 that's our litmus test for the current squad.  I see every indication that our current "golden age" could surpass the Mallory years.

As far as the peculiar timing of Indiana's best historical seasons corresponding to the height of America's wartime engagements, I'm not sure what to make of it.  I spent my time at IU playing gigs at Jakes, Bluebird, and Frat parties in a band named Primitive Means, de-pledging several fraternities, and suffering through ROTC.  I spent the following 8 years as an officer in the Air Force and found myself stationed for two years on Okinawa, where Ernie Pyle died.  So, if you have an inkling that my first thought might have been the wartime IU Football teams were comprised of a bunch of cowards avoiding service to country... you'd be correct.

However, this is not actually the reality.  In 1917 Congress passed the Selective Service Act (more commonly known as the draft).  Public Universities were required to provide records of undergraduates and alumni who had enlisted for service.   IU reported roughly 35% of their current and past students enlisted, including members of their athletics programs.  Most notable was three-sport letterman and basketball captain Charles Buschman (pictured below holding the ball).  Also featured is former football legend and and newly transitioned assistant basketball coach, Scoots McGillicuddy, back row far left.... just seeing if you're still paying attention.



As a surprise to no one, it was the Boilermakers who were actually trying to avoid the war. 

"Meanwhile in Lafayette, a Purdue sports reporter held out hope that Purdue’s athletes could avoid military service. He wrote, “If Uncle Sam can do without several of Purdue’s basketball stars until the present season is over, Purdue should be able to look forward to a very successful season.” Uncle Sam could not do without, and Purdue lost the athletic services of several basketball players as well as basketball Coach Ward Lambert, a future Naismith hall-of-famer, to the military."

Outside of future Dirty Works at the Crossroads actor Dastardly Dan (back row, 2nd from right), none of these guys scare me.  I think our guy pictured above (front row, far left) could take him though.  One of Purdue's players (bottom row, 2nd from right) tried to get out of military service by faking a boo-boo on his knee.



The situation for IU Football during WW II was similar.

"Another loss from the 1944 team was halfback Robert Hoernschemeyer. Hoernschemeyer was a second-team All-Big Nine player in 1944, but he entered the Naval Academy after the 1944 season, played for the Navy Cadets in 1945, and then played 10 years of professional football.

On the other hand, several players returned from military service in time for the 1945 season. Most prominent among these were Pete Pihos and Howie Brown. Pihos was a lieutenant in the 35th Infantry Division, and Brown received three Purple Heart citations for his service in the European Theater of Operations. Neither had been discharged when the season began, but they were granted 60-day leaves by the Army and returned in time for the second game of the season against Northwestern."

I don't know what transpired at IU in 1967 during the Vietnam Conflict but if there was anti-war sentiment, at that point IU would hardly be alone.  It would also be forgivable, given the state of politics surrounding this situation.

I do know what IU was like in 1991 as the Gulf War kicked off.  I was getting ready to graduate and the focus of our ROTC training changed significantly.  Students were by-and-large dispassionate about the situation and protests were both minor and uneventful.  This war had no impact on IU Athletics as the days of the draft were long over.

It's generally a good idea to avoid topics that broach on politics.  I decided to write this post because I think it offers a tiny glimpse into a few unique snapshots of interesting time periods for IU Football.  I also think that our program could be on the brink of greatness and having some context of our less than fruitful history might help us appreciate it all the more.  I'm not a war hawk, and I'm definitely not intending to stir the pot for anyone with strong beliefs one direction of the other.  If anyone was offended I'm genuinely sorry, as I did consciously try and choose my words as carefully as I could.

Edited by olsontex
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I enjoyed reading your post and it is interesting that some of IU's best teams played during war times even if is nothing more than a coincedence.

The 1987-1993 IU teams are the teams I cut my teeth on as a young IU football fan and seeing the program go back to consistent losing for the better part of 20+ years after that was very tough. Hopefully what we are seeing now is the building of a winning tradition that will prove to last the test of time. 

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Those definitely were the good old days, but I'm optimistic IU is headed there again.  Hopefully in Basketball too.  The best gigs for my band were always right after an IU B-Ball win.  Automatic huge crowd of people ready to celebrate, especially at Jake's since there was a lot more room than Bluebird.

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