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EMU football: the first 1000 games

October 13, 2010

By my count, Saturday’s debacle in Nashville was the one-thousandth football game played by EMU/EMC/MSNC/MSNS. I’ve planned some history posts for next summer when things are slow, but I thought this would be a good occassion to take a brief look at the history of EMU football. Parts of this are taken from the Wikipedia articles about EMU football.

Since their first season of football, in 1891, Eastern Michigan University has compiled an all-time record of 428-525-47, failing to field a team only in 1944. The team has achieved five undefeated seasons, in 1906, 1925, 1927, 1943 (holding opponents scoreless), and 1945 and eight perfectly bad seasons, in 1891, 1910, 1941, 1949, 1960, 1961, 1981, and 2009. The team has never ended a season ranked in any major poll and is among the worst NCAA Division I FBS schools both in all-time win percentage (42.8%) and in all-time scoring margin (-2059).

Many of EMU’s head coaches have had brief tenures with the program; 18 head coaches served for one season or less. Among the more notable head coaches at EMU have been Elton Rynearson (1917, 1919–1920, 1925–1948), Fred Trosko (1952–1964), Dan Boisture (1967–1973), Mike Stock (1978–1982), and Jim Harkema (1983–1992). Rynearson was the longest-serving and winningest coach, with a record of 114-58-15 over 26 seasons, while Vern Bennett (1894) posted the highest winning percentage, 71.4%. Tony Lombardi was the shortest-tenured coach, leading the team only for the final game of the 1999 season.

Michigan State Normal School first fielded a football team in 1891. Initially the team had no official nickname, being known variously as the “Normalites” or the “Men from Ypsi”. From 1892 to 1926, the team competed in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, winning conference championships in 1896 and 1925. (Although the MIAA didn’t recognize football as an official sport until 1894, MIAA teams competed against each other as early as 1891.)

The 1916 season was cut short after four games when Coach Elmer Mitchell and four players contracted smallpox; the last game was played October 28 against the University of Detroit. In the late 1920s, Coach Elton Rynearson led the team to what remain their most successful seasons, with perfect seasons in 1925 and 1927, and a record of 29-2 from 1925 through 1928.

In 1929, the Michigan State Normal College Men’s Union sponsored a contest to determine a nickname. A three-person committee chose “Hurons” from the contest entries; the runner-up name was “Pioneers”. The name Hurons was submitted by Gretchen Borst and George Hanner, both MSNC students. It is likely that Hanner got the idea from the Huron Hotel in downtown Ypsilanti, where he was employed.

From 1927 to 1930 Michigan State Normal College competed in the Michigan Collegiate Conference, where they won the championship every year. Rynearson coached the Hurons through 1948, and his 114 wins are more than double those of any other coach at the school. After 19 years as an independent team the school competed in the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference from 1950 through 1961, during which time the school’s name changed from Michigan State Normal College to Eastern Michigan College and then to Eastern Michigan University, and following two more independent seasons the team competed in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference in 1964 and 1965.

In 1972, Eastern Michigan joined the Mid-American Conference, in which they still compete. From the 1980 season through the 1982 season, the team lost a school-record 27 consecutive games, including a “perfectly bad season” in 1981. In the late 1980s, Coach Jim Harkema lead the team to four consecutive winning seasons, including Eastern’s only MAC championship in 1987, when the team went to the 1987 California Bowl and upset 17 1/2 point favorite San Jose State University for the only bowl game win in school history.

In October 1988, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights issued a report suggesting that all schools using Native American logos or imagery should drop them. An EMU committee considered the change and recommended three possible replacement nicknames, Eagles, Green Hornets, and Express, from which the Board of Regents voted to accept the nickname “Eagles”. The change became official on May 22, 1991. The controversy over the nickname continues to this day, as many former students and faculty were angered that a unique name like Hurons was replaced by a common name like Eagles, and many alumni have refused to donate money to the school until the name Hurons is restored. An official chapter of the EMU Alumni Association, the Huron Restoration Chapter, seeks to bring back the name and claims to have the support of Chief Leaford Bearskin of the Wyandot Tribe of Oklahoma and former Grand Chief Max Gros-Louis of the Huron-Wendat Nation of Quebec.

In 19 seasons since the change, the Eagles have managed only a single winning season, 1995, in which they went 6-5. In the Eagles era, the team has a 61-166-1 record, including a perfectly bad season (0-12) in 2009 and single win seasons in 1992 (1-10) and 2006 (1-11). They have had eight different coaches in that time, for an average coaching tenure less than 3 years, and two head coaches who stayed less than a season each (Jan Quarless coached the final seven games in 1992, and Tony Lombardi coached the final game in 1999).

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2010 11:09 am

    I’ve noticed that EMU’s press releases list the upcoming game at Ball State as EMU’s 999th, and also list 2010 as the 118th season. That’s two games and one season fewer than my count, which leads me to beleive that for some reason, EMU is not counting the first season (1891), which comprised two games.

  2. October 13, 2010 12:53 pm

    I voted for 1987 because that’s one I actually remember.

  3. Mark permalink
    October 13, 2010 4:30 pm

    A very good, informative history of EMU football. Thanks so much!

    • October 14, 2010 8:23 am

      Thanks, Mark. As I mentioned, I didn’t write most of this anew for this post; it’s from Wikipedia. But I did write most of it there, so by-and-large, I’m confident in the accuracy of this information. I’ll be posting a more in-depth look at some key periods in EMU football history next summer.


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