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Sport Scene Zimmerman's football days Fall football remebered

Winter 2005 • Volume 11, Issue 1

Fall football remembered
by Edward C. Murphy ’56

Difficult to believe, but nearly a quarter of a century has now passed since Bradley University fielded its last football team. It was a warm autumn afternoon on Saturday, November 14, 1970, when the last Braves’ gridiron heroes took the field at Hancock Stadium, home of their archrivals, the ISU Redbirds. I happened to be one of the five-man officiating crew on the field that day — the back judge, to be precise.

As usual, Coach Billy Stone’s charges gave a good account of themselves. Still, as happened so often that season, it was not enough. ISU triumphed by the score of 17-7, ending a 1-8-0 campaign. It was another disappointing season for the charismatic, 16- year coach who also taught a full schedule of classes each day before spending countless hours at practice.

In May of 2004, Coach Stone passed away. Most know of Stone’s NFL career with the Chicago Bears after a brilliant career at Bradley. Many know of his great career at Springfield Lanphier before that. Few, however, know that while at Lanphier, he was the catcher for future MLB Hall of Fame hurler, Robin Roberts. He was a gifted athlete, a caring coach, a great man, and that’s the way I will remember Billy.

It may surprise today’s students to realize that at one time the football program outshined the basketball program. Pre-WWII was the pinnacle! A 1938 scoreless tie with Illinois at Champaign was part of the 21-game unbeaten record. The 1941 team missed a major bowl bid by losing the last game of the season after two stars were ruled scholastically ineligible. When the war was won and the students returned from service, 148 candidates competed for the 32-man Hilltop football squad. But, the school could not compete with larger schools that offered full scholarships. The program was dead.

I shall never forget those games of my youth, played on the campus athletic field behind canvas-covered wrought-iron fences, nor the football coaching staff visiting local grade schools to hawk “Knot-Hole-Club” memberships, which allowed the “12-and-under” crowd to gain entry at steeply reduced prices. And, I wish once more to witness those fantastic house decorations in front of the Sigma Phi fraternity at Main and University, the floats parading through downtown streets, and the marching bands.

Much as I miss it all, I shall forever be grateful that fate placed me on that field on that particular day.

Edward C. Murphy ’56, of East Peoria, refereed
football, basketball, and baseball for decades.


Ron Hall and football

Ask Ron Hall ’53, the 2004 President’s Award recipient and former Bradley football team captain, to share a few memories of his football experiences, and his quick smile and easy laughter make it obvious that the question brings back warm memories. His first response focuses on the opportunity playing football gave him to make friends for a lifetime. “As a matter of fact,” says Hall, “Several of us still talk regularly, visit together, and eat meals. I think that’s probably the biggest thing you take away from involvement in sports.”

Hall, who started off as an offensive tackle and ended up playing middle linebacker and some center, said he sometimes even played defensive tackle. “But most of the time,” he says, “I played middle linebacker. I recall we started our practices the last half of August. After the morning practices we’d feel like we were half-dead. When the aroma from the breweries came rolling up from the river valleys, it just about knocked us out. We kind of recovered from that, took a shower, and headed to the cafeteria for lunch before the afternoon practice. I’ll never forget one of the main dishes they served was tuna casserole; and it had an odor. Between the breweries and the tuna smells, nobody could eat much.

When Hall played, Bradley was in the original Missouri Valley Conference. “Probably the most formidable team we played in my four years was the University of Tulsa during my sophomore year. They beat us rather badly, but they went on to win the Sugar Bowl, so they were the top in the country. They were completely out of our league, but we had a pretty successful season,” he says proudly. “We played the University of New Mexico and beat them, and then we went out to California and played California Tech and won that. We had a good football team – good football players. And unfortunately, we lost our starting quarterback my senior year before we played Kansas State; so we had to go with a freshman quarterback, and that just didn’t work.”

“I was here during the heyday of basketball,” adds Hall. “Bradley had the number one and two teams in the country. Football was played off-campus, and there wasn’t the kind of transportation that kids have today. When the program ended, I think one of the problems was not having the activity on campus.”

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