Friday, December 12, 2014

CMU Football's National Championship

by Bryan Whitledge and Casey Gamble

Fred Jacobson with the NCAA Division II National Championship trophy

It was Saturday December 7, 1974, and the CMU football team had just defeated the Number 1 ranked team in the country, Louisiana Tech, with a score of 35-14 in the Pioneer Bowl, played in Wichita Falls, Texas. The game was one of the semi-finals of the Division II football playoff that year. The fans were going wild and the team, though some of them returned to Mount Pleasant on crutches, could not wipe the smiles off of their faces. They were moving on to compete for the national championship in the 1974 Camellia Bowl, taking place in Sacramento, California on December 14. The season was incredible, with only one loss in the opening game of the season, followed by 12 straight victories. CMU had already beaten the Number 3 and Number 1 teams, so the prospect of beating the number 2-ranked University of Delaware in the championship game was not impossible.

Daily Times-News headline about
CMU's Pioneer Bowl victory

Everyone was thrilled; even the marching band was hoping to join the team on their adventure across the country. With the help of the very spirited community, they were able to raise $30,000 in less than a week and off to California they went. More than 800 die-hard Central fans made the cross country journey. It seemed like everyone was rooting for Central - President Gerald Ford sent a good-luck telegram, and Michigan Governor William G. Milliken wired, “Your spirit and your dedication have been exemplary, and your outstanding record is a tribute to each of you. Michigan is behind you. Beat Delaware.” CMU President William B. Boyd, who did not make the journey to Sacramento, called the team dressing room before the start of the game.

Daily Times-News headline about
CMU's Camellia Bowl victory
Central took the lead from the very first play of the game – “a 68-yard burst to paydirt” by running back Dick Dunham. The team held on tight, easing into a very comfortable 52-14 win. The Delaware Blue Hens tried their best to fight back, with hopes of winning a third national championship, but CMU was much too strong. After the game, Coach Roy Kramer and the team were presented with the NCAA trophy. After one more day in California, the team returned home and was greeted by hundreds of fans and President Boyd.

Coach Roy Kramer (l) and President William Boyd (r)
in Mount Pleasant after winning the Championship.
Not only did the CMU football team win the national championship, they were promoted to Division I status within a few weeks of claiming the title. Generally, the decision to change a school’s status is made at the April or August meeting, but, as Athletics Director Ted Kjolhede noted, Central’s case was “cut and dried.” This promotion to Division I meant that the football team would have the same status as the rest of the CMU athletics programs, which were competing at the Division I level since 1973.

Forty years later, the 1974 football season still holds a special place in Central’s athletics history. Since stepping up to the national stage, CMU has won seven conference championships and played in eleven post-season games, including this year’s Bahamas Bowl.