EMU Football's Comeback Should Begin with Switch Back to Hurons

Greg Eno@@GregEnoSenior Analyst IDecember 9, 2013

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 17:  Alex Gillett #8 from Eastern Michigan Uiversity Eagles talks with his teammates in the first quarter of the game against the University of Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on September 17, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan defeated Eastern Michigan 31-3.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

They sold the t-shirts on campus, a few bucks a pop. It was a clever play on words, though no less powerful.

“I Survived the Big MAC Attack.”

We slipped those over our shaggy heads and wore them to fraternity parties, class, out to eat—wherever and whenever we could.

I was a 20-year-old junior at Eastern Michigan University when the Mid-American Conference (MAC) threatened to kick my school out into the cold.

The MAC didn’t want EMU anymore. We had become the conference’s red-headed stepchild.

The football program was in the conference’s crosshairs.

EMU had been a successful football school in the early 1970s. Coach Dan Boisture took his team, which at that time was not Division I, to something called the Pioneer Bowl after the 1971 season. Eastern lost, but that was OK. It wasn’t the first time a school from Michigan would go out and lose a bowl game, nor would it be the last.

Boisture had quite a defense in those days. Two of his linemen, Dave Pureifory and John Banaszak, would go on to play in the NFL. The latter would win three Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a USFL title playing for the Michigan Panthers.

But when I arrived on campus as a freshman in 1981, EMU was in the throes of a losing streak in football that would eventually stretch to well over 20 games.

The student body president even tried to submit a petition filled with signatures of students, alumni and maybe even the owner of Ted’s Pills ‘n Things, asking school president Dr. John Porter, to fire football coach Mike Stock. Porter’s people didn’t let the young man into the doctor’s office.

But we went to the football games on Saturday afternoon, anyway—despite knowing what the result would be before spinning the turnstile. It was a social thing, especially being a member of a fraternity, as I was.

Yeah, so the Hurons would go out and get pasted. We were getting pasted, too, in the stands.

There’s a key word in that last paragraph, by the way. More about that later.

But there weren’t enough of us in the stands to please the MAC. The losing and the poor attendance, combined, wasn’t a cocktail that the conference brass wanted to pour down their gullets.

So the MAC issued an ultimatum: Either attendance spikes, or you can’t be in our conference anymore.

That did it.

We were aghast. Students took the MAC’s threat personally, even those who weren’t particularly football fans.

So everyone mobilized—the university, the athletic department, the alumni and the students.

There was a push by the university administration, through the folks in athletics, to get as many fannies as possible into the seats at Rynearson Stadium. This was in 1983.

Halftime “acts” were brought in, as dubious as they were. If you want to know what their quality was, let’s just say that you get what you pay for. And EMU couldn’t afford to pay a lot. So there.

Buses were sent to campus dorms, asking students to pile in. Ticket prices were slashed or ignored altogether.

“PLEASE come down to the football game this Saturday,” the message from the university administration said. “PLEASE.”

But it was a message well-received, because once the recipients of that message found out what was going on and why, they became indignant.

WE can say our football team is lousy and WE can make fun of all the empty seats inside Rynearson, but nobody else better do it—especially a bunch of pencil-necked geeks in suits in the MAC offices.

So we mobilized. The MAC had set a threshold for what attendance should be, on an average (I believe it was at least 10,000 people, but my 50-year-old memory is fuzzy on this one). And we were damned determined, all of us associated with EMU, to meet that figure.

The thought of capitulating wasn’t an option. There was no way we were going to let the MAC kick the Eastern Michigan University Hurons out of the conference.

Whoop, there’s that word again.


The MAC didn’t win; EMU did. We got enough folks into Rynearson to stave off the conference’s threat. Hence the clever t-shirts, printed up after the MAC was vanquished.

“I Survived the Big MAC Attack.”

Terry Foster of the Detroit News, who seems to be the only newspaper columnist in town who gives two you-know-whats about EMU football, wrote this past week about a forum held on campus, featuring students, professors, staff and alumni.

The focus of the forum was a simple question, really.

Should EMU drop the football program altogether?

Such a question, during the throes of the Big MAC Attack of 1983, would have been unheard of.

But according to Foster’s piece, that’s not the case anymore. After a second straight 2-10 season in which the coach got fired before this season ended—canned in disgrace, really, thanks to a leaked audio tape filled with disgusting language toward his players—Foster says that there is a faction on campus, growing in fact, that would like to see Eastern drop football.

The reasons for dropping football were laid out in the forum. EMU’s football facilities lag behind others in the MAC. Attendance, of course, is down again. Apathy appears to be spreading like cancer. And so on.

A few weeks ago, longtime pro and college coach Jerry Glanville let it be known that he was tossing his cowboy hat into the ring to be Eastern’s next football coach. His interest isn’t a joke. Glanville is dead serious.

EMU should be dead serious about Glanville, by the way. Hiring a big-name guy is about the only thing the school hasn’t tried. Glanville’s hiring would put EMU football on some people’s radars again—and that by itself is a great start to resuscitating the program.

Besides, Glanville is the only big-name coach who appears willing to come to Ypsilanti. I’d hire him in a heartbeat.

This column’s kicker is for EMU President Susan Martin.

President Martin, you want to know another way to bring football back at your university? You want to know what you can do that would bring alumni checks flowing into your mailbox once again? You want to know what you and your Board of Regents could do to put a heap of salve on some still-open wounds?

Give us our nickname back.

It was in a fit of overreaction to political correctness that the EMU Regents switched the nickname from the stately Hurons—the school lies on the banks of the Huron River, for goodness sake, and no one has changed the name of the river—to the decidedly generic and high school-sounding Eagles, back in 1991.

Now I don’t believe in curses—never have—but since the change from Hurons to Eagles, the football program has gone into the toilet. You can look it up.

Bring back the Hurons nickname, President Martin. I promise you no one will put up much of a fuss. Hurons was never in the same category as Redskins or anything else that could be taken as derogatory, in the first place.

Give us our Hurons back, forthwith. You do that, President Martin, and you’ll have so many people on board for your football program, it will make your head swim.

As for the apathy on campus currently, a return to Hurons is a great opportunity for your slick minds in the university’s PR and marketing departments to spin stories of grandeur, setting the stage for a big comeback in football.

Yes, you still have to recruit and you still have to win football games. A marketing campaign by itself won’t get it done.

But what you need right now is interest. And right now, there isn’t much of that.

Hire Jerry Glanville to coach. Bring back Hurons. Get the marketing folks working overtime.

It’s a start.


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