Commemoration set for ‘Humdinger’ of a squad

By David Lance

When thinking of college football juggernauts of yesteryear, schools like Notre Dame, Oklahoma and the Northern Illinois State Teachers College immediately come to mind.

The Northern Illinois State Teachers College?

The year is 1951, and NIU is not NIU. Instead, it is NISTC. Its team went 9-0-0, winning the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Association title.

“It was a great four years down here for me,” said split end Fran Cahill, now the NIU physical education department equipment manager.

“The school was small when I got out in ‘52,” Cahill said. “You knew everybody. It was a nice and friendly place. It was a big family.”

Some of the family will be present at the NIU Hall Of Fame banquet in the Holmes Student Center Friday at 6 p.m. There, the ’51 Huskies will become the fifth team enshrined into the NIU Athletic Hall of Fame.

It is yet to be seen if this commemoration will make up for the team being denied a bowl appearance.

At the end of the regular season, the Huskies were rewarded a Tangerine Bowl bid. The players accepted the invitation wholeheartedly. The State Teachers College Board, the school’s governing body, did not.

Accepting the bid would lengthen the season from Nov. 17 to Jan. 1, and in the words of the board, might “even become a detriment to the educational program.” They forbade the team from participating.

It left a bad taste in the players’ mouths.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” said fullback Jack Pheanis, now the NIU men’s golf coach. “There weren’t many bowl games in that day. To receive a bid was a major accomplishment.”

For the most part, the memories do remain pleasant.

“There are so many, it’s hard to pick one,” Pheanis said.

The team relied on the arm of quarterback Bob “Huskie Humdinger” Heimerdinger, and the innovations of head coach George “Chick” Evans.

“We were built around the forward pass,” Pheanis said.

“We felt Chick was many, many years ahead of his time,” said Heimerdinger, the current NIU football team’s equipment manager.

“George Evans was like a father to me,” Pheanis said. “I think all the other players felt the same way. He was a tough man. He was what you’d expect a coach to be.

“We had a great quarterback in Heimerdinger. He was big, but quick.”

In the final game of the year, Heimerdinger led the Huskies to a come-from-behind 27-26 victory over Nebraska-Omaha.

“It was a very cold day,” said Pheanis. “Omaha was a very good team. We pulled it out in the last few minutes.

“We took the train home. The whole school was out to meet our team. We were a close-knit school.”