SIOUX CITY – Truth of the matter is, I’ve made more than my share of mistakes in this life, both personally and professionally.
What I’ll share today are a couple of the dunderhead notions I’ve come up with in my years as a sports journalist.
Significant blunder No. 1 came back in my days as sports editor of the Cedar Falls Record – back when I was still a college senior struggling to finish up my bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa while working a full-time job.
The UNI football coach in those days was an enigmatic fellow named Stan Sheriff. He also doubled as the athletic director, as I recall, and was far-sighted and ambitious enough to propose the school build a domed football stadium directly across the street from crusty, old O.R. Latham Stadium.
What’s that, Stan? Do you think Northern Iowa has designs on moving up to play sports with some of the big boys? Long story short, my column on this campaign called it “Sheriff’s Folly.” And, of course, that was just the beginning of my occasionally foolish opinions.
Decades passed and I had covered Morningside College football for quite some time when the college threw in the towel on the perennial embarrassments that saw them play 76 North Central Conference seasons and post a composite record of 117-351-16.
That would be 76 seasons in which the old Maroon Chiefs mustered just nine seasons with conference records above .500, had 20 winless NCC campaigns and 39 years when they managed no more than one league victory.
The faithful “Men of the M” will point to two outright NCC championships (1956 and 1923, the second year of the conference) along with a 1954 co-championship with South Dakota State.
Still, that stacked up very poorly against the combined 24 titles North Dakota and North Dakota State each piled up – either outright or shared – before the league eventually folded after the autumn of 2007.
Worse yet, when NCAA sanctions turned two pretty good years (7-4 in 1990 and 5-5-1) into 0-11 finishes, Morningside’s record over its last 15 North Central seasons was a woeful 11-122-1 in the league and 21-141-2 overall.
Reminiscent of my skepticism over the UNI-Dome, I wasn’t quick to jump on the bandwagon when the college elected to pull the plug on NCAA Division II sports after the 2000-01 school year. I argued that a charter member of a 78-year-old conference should think twice before making this kind of move.
So, here we are in 2018 and I’ve long since admitted my poor judgment in the light of Morningside’s sensational success in the NAIA athletic world. That’s an across-the-board salute to all the Mustangs’ athletic teams.
For the moment, though, I’m poring over stacks of lists and charts I have a habit of compiling to help quantify the achievements of athletes and sports teams in general. Shaking my head in amazement as I do so, I’ve been digging through my files and built spreadsheets and miscellaneous data to help bring some perspective to the remarkable run put together by Steve Ryan’s football teams.
In stark contrast to those last 15 years of NCAA Division II football, Morningside’s last 15 seasons will almost certainly boast a perfect streak of 15 consecutive NAIA playoff appearances. No other school has ever come close to that.
Morningside’s last 15 seasons add up to a 138-14 regular season record, a 157-28 overall mark and a sparkling 127-12 ledger in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
That’s the tally after a 63-21 frolic over Dordt on Saturday assured the No. 1-ranked Mustangs (10-0, 8-0 GPAC) of no worse than a share in their eighth consecutive conference title. Believe it or not, the 42-point verdict was the second closest league game this season for Ryan’s team, which did have that 42-34 showdown win over an outstanding Northwestern College team that was unfairly bumped from No. 3 to No. 6 in last week’s national poll.
Much as I hate to dispute the bookkeeping of others, incidentally, my information shows Morningside with a GPAC winning streak of 33 games, not 32, since a crazy 49-48 road loss to Doane in the final regular season game of 2013.
The average margin in those 33 consecutive league wins is a staggering 46.4 points with only three games decided by less than 20 points and no less than 20 of the 33 involving differences between 40 and 76 points.
What sticks in Ryan’s craw, no doubt, is that his 14 playoff teams have gone 19-14 in postseason play, matching their 15-year regular season loss total with an identical 14 season-ending setbacks.
The last six seasons have all ended with losses to national champions or runners-up and one of the four champs, needless to say, was the Marian University team that clipped the Mustangs 30-27 in overtime in the 2012 national title contest.
True to the recipe, Ryan isn’t thinking beyond Saturday at Jamestown, a GPAC newcomer that is one game out of the conference cellar at 2-6 with a league-worst 3-7 overall record. A win nails almost certainly nails down the No. 1 ranking in next Monday’s final regular season poll.
And, that means if the Maroon and White can keep winning they will host the three playoff hurdles they’ll need to clear to reach the championship game Dec. 15 in Daytona Beach, Fla. It would certainly seem to be their turn to win it all.