MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 15: Edward Wright-Baker #7 of the Indiana Hoosiers fumbles the football in the end zone while being pressured by Konrad Zagzebski #74 of the Wisconsin Badgers in the fourth quarter at Camp Randall Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. The fumble was recovered for a Wisconsin touchdown as the Badgers won 59-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Those of us who are hopelessly devoted to IU football know all the particulars: one winning season in the past 17 seasons; a losing record against every Big Ten program (except Nebraska, for now); the fewest bowl appearances of any Big Ten program; the second-most losses in college football history (and we're only seven behind Northwestern for the dubious honor of leading that category); ahead of only Wake Forest in all-time losing percentage among major conference programs. It would therefore seem that it's impossible to overstate IU's historic ineptitude.
Nevertheless, it would be foolish to underestimate the Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz in this regard. I try to ignore Kravitz as much as possible, rather than add in any small way to the disproportionate degree of influence he has in Central Indiana's sports media. Still, today's column in the Star requires some pushback. Here's how it began:
A request for Indiana University football:
Just once in my natural life, be better -- even a little better -- than anybody had a reason to expect.
As I said above, I know that IU's football history is about as bad as it gets. But that doesn't mean that IU has never done anything worthwhile on the football field. Kravitz, as best I can tell, is in his early 50s. He graduated from IU in 1982, and according to his public LinkedIn profile, was at IU from 1978 through 1982. Other than his four years at IU and his tenure at the Indianapolis Star, which began in 2000, Kravitz has no apparent connection to Indiana, so I'm not going to be pedantic and point out that IU's miraculous run to the Rose Bowl during the 1967 season was during his "natural life." Still, if Kravitz began at IU in 1978, then he would have been a sophomore in 1979-80. At that time, the football Hoosiers were eleven years removed from their last winning season, but in 1979, IU finished 7-4 in the regular season, earned an invitation to the Holiday Bowl, and upset previously undefeated BYU, 38-37. It was IU's first-ever bowl win, only the third time any Big Ten school had won a bowl game other than the Rose Bowl, and was an exciting, back-and-forth game against a heavily favored opponent. This happened not only during Kravitz's lifetime, but during his time as an IU student.
Of course, Lee Corso didn't capitalize on the success of 1979, and a few years later, Bill Mallory became coach. After beginning his career with an inauspicious 0-11 record, Mallory led the Hoosiers to a bowl bid in 1986, his third year, and in 1987, Mallory led IU to its best season of the post Rose Bowl era, beat Michigan and Ohio State in the same season for the first time in history, and kept the Hoosiers in contention for the Rose Bowl until a loss at Michigan State in mid-November. While Mallory never quite got the Hoosiers over the hump, they were consistently respectable during the nine seasons from 1986-1994: seven winning seasons, six bowl bids, two bowl wins, no season with a record worse than 5-6, and an overall winning percentage of 58 percent (good enough for 31st nationally during that span). During that time IU had a Heisman runner-up (Anthony Thompson) in 1989 and another running back, Vaughn Dunbar, who led the nation in rushing yards in 1991.
Finally, in 2007, after IU finally appeared to be on track with a charismatic and competent new coach, Terry Hoeppner died of brain cancer following his second season, a season that came with surprising, perhaps even amazing home wins over Michigan State and Iowa. All of the pundits guaranteed doom for the 2007 Hoosiers, but they stayed strong and finished with a 7-5 regular season record, earning their first bowl bid since 1993.
Of course, I'm aware that these accomplishments would be footnotes even for a middling Big Ten program and would be a letdown for the Big Ten's elite programs. But they happened, and they happened during the time that Bob Kravitz was either an IU student or alumnus. I realize that Kravitz isn't in his job to cheerlead for IU. As my first paragraph should make clear, I'm well-aware of where IU stands historically, and unfortunately, the 2007 season has been the only glimmer of respectability during the living memory of IU's current students. I think that's why this article bothers me. A reader who doesn't know IU's football history and who reads Kravitz's article would think there has been absolutely nothing to cheer about at all during Kravitz's middle-aged lifespan. That simply isn't true, and Bob Kravitz should know that.
Later in the article, Kravitz derides IU coach Kevin Wilson for acting like a "punk" on a radio show, but the sort of attitude that Kravitz displays in this column is exactly what inspired Wilson's reaction against Jack Trudeau and the other guy last summer. It's simple. If you don't want IU football to be a punchline, then don't make IU football a punchline. Don't ignore IU's few but existent high points because it makes for a neater, if misleading, column.