Perched atop a mountain in Yosemite National Park, the 1983 NIU football team stood as one singing its school’s fight song.
Prior to participating in the 1983 California Bowl, NIU head coach Bill Mallory wanted to take his team to a place they could bond before a big game. Without so much as a game plan, the Huskies started climbing a mountain, not resting until they reached the top.
Even after capturing the school’s first MAC Championship that season, not even Mallory expected his team to climb a mountain days before NIU’s first major bowl game.
Expectations, though, were exceeded regularly by a Huskies team picked to finish sixth in the conference. Opening the season at Kansas, NIU took down the Jayhawks 37-34 for the university’s first triumph over a Big Eight Conference opponent.
After dropping the next game to Wisconsin, the Huskies would only drop one more game the rest of the year. Though, even after getting beat by 16 points against Central Michigan in week nine, Mallory thought his squad took more good than bad away from the game.
“Losses aren’t always a bad thing,” Mallory said. “Coming into that game we were a little uptight, but after that loss, the guys got down to business for the rest of the season.”
The Huskies closed out the regular season with home wins against Toledo and Ohio, respectively. NIU clinched the MAC Championship outright after trouncing the Bobcats 41-17. Huskie fans erupted after the conference clinching tilt, pouring onto the field to tear down their fifth set of goal posts that season.
The previous week against Toledo, Huskie supporters made their way to both goalposts, taking one and throwing it in the East Lagoon. With the game against Ohio the following week, however, NIU officials had to go into the lagoon to retrieve the absconded goalposts.
Regardless of how many times the goalposts came down, Mallory always remained adamant about his support for the enthusiastic NIU fan base.
“They had to pay for a few goalposts that year,” Mallory said. “Eventually they got a little uptight about it, but you want to talk about excitement we had it at those games.”
Accepting an invitation to play Cal State Fullerton in the California Bowl, NIU descended on Fresno for one of the biggest games in program history. In dramatic fashion, the Huskies sealed a 20-13 win by forcing Cal State quarterback Damon Allen out of bounds on a fourth-and-one play.
According to Mike Korcek, former NIU Sports Information Director Emeritus, there are quite a few comparisons that can be drawn between the 2010 and 1983 football teams.
“Coach Mallory was named coach of the year after that season, much like [NIU head coach Jerry] Kill could this year, because both men are similar in that they maintain focus,” Korcek said. “They don’t ever start thinking about national rankings and all that.”
Friday, the current Huskies will be looking to capture the team’s first MAC Championship since that 1983 team accomplished the feat. Not unlike Kill’s squad, the 1983 team had to go through a few building years.
Three years prior to the 1983 season, the Huskies finished 7-4 in Mallory’s first year as head coach. Following that seven-win season, however, the Huskies finished 3-8 and 5-5 in the ’81 and ’82 seasons, respectively.
Going into his fourth year, Mallory had confidence his team would produce in 1983.
“We had a lot of maturity going into that season,” Mallory said. “It was a really special group. Not only were we well-focused, but we had a really good senior class that knew they could accomplish a lot.”
When all was said and done, the 1983 team produced seven NFL-draft choices, 19 professional players and eight All-American honorable mentions.
Looking back on his tenure as head coach in DeKalb, Mallory has a hard time thinking of anything but his team perched on top of a mountain in California.
“At the bottom of the mountain, I could only think of one thing looking up at those guys,” Mallory said. “That’s a team.”