Play-by-play announcer and erstwhile Southern Illinois University athletics historian Mike Reis posed an interesting question after SIU’s impressive 38-14 win over North Dakota State University Saturday — where does that win rank in the annals of Saluki football history?
For a bit of context — NDSU is the three-time defending NCAA Football Championship Subdivision National Champion. The Bison came to Saluki Stadium Saturday riding a 39-game winning streak.
And, to be perfectly honest, the game wasn’t as competitive as the final score might indicate. The Bison scored their first touchdown on the last play of the first half on a deflected Hail Mary attempt into the end zone. The second came at mop-up time in the fourth quarter.
Other Saluki victories Reis offered up in comparison was 1967’s 16-13 victory over eighth-ranked Tulsa; the Salukis' 43-7 win over Western Carolina in the 1983 NCAA 1A national championship game; or the 35-28 win at Indiana in 2006.
Without question, those are all highlights for a program that, honestly, has had a checkered history of success.
Saturday’s win over North Dakota State was huge. It was historic. The 39-game winning streak was the longest in NCAA Division 1 history. But, a little context makes NDSU’s string of success feel more epic. The longest winning streak is 47 straight games by the University of Oklahoma, spanning the 1953-57 seasons. The second, 40 straight games by the University of Washington from 1908-14.
So, this is more than a once-in-a-lifetime thing, it’s a once in a century thing.
Yet, the overall importance of Saturday’s streak-breaking win is TBD. A lot depends on what the Salukis do today at Youngstown State, and in subsequent weeks this unusual spring season. If SIU builds on this success, Saturday’s win could rise to 1-A in Saluki history.
If, and that is such a huge word in the world of sports, SIU rides this momentum and makes the playoffs, the importance of Saturday’s win rises exponentially. It will be heralded as the “return” of Saluki football.
If not, it could be relegated to a footnote — albeit a glorious footnote.
In my opinion, the 1983 win over Western Carolina will stand as SIU football’s crowning achievement, at least until the Salukis win another national championship. That 1983 game was SIU’s biggest win on the biggest stage in program history.
As Saluki fans, you know the drill.
When someone asks about Saluki basketball, inevitably Walt Frazier and the 1967 NIT championship team is cited. Likewise, the 1983 national championship game is the football game’s crowning achievement.
Now, the discussion can change if you rephrase the question.
If you ask which win was more impressive, you might get different answers.
Knocking off the eighth-ranked team in the country, that’s pretty damned salty. And, having been in the pressbox and seeing SIU rally from an early deficit to win at Indiana in 2006 was one of the most emotional Saluki sporting events I’ve personally witnessed.
Again, turning to Saturday’s game, throttling the three-time defending national champion — that’s an impressive feat. Standing on its own, without the future of foresight, it’s probably a Top 5, definitely a Top 10 Saluki football moment.
Hopefully for Saluki fans, it continues to grow in significance.