Friday, December 19, 2014

UNH Wildcats (1975)

On Saturday, the University of New Hampshire will play Illinois State in the NCAA FCS semifinals, the third time the Wildcats have reached an NCAA semi. Here's a look at the first UNH team to achieve the feat.


When you hear the phrase "Rice Bowl," you probably think of a side dish that makes you hungry again in 20 minutes. But that was the name of a pseudo-bowl game that featured UNH in 1975 -- the Grantland Rice Bowl, to be precise.

The Rice Bowl, named for the legendary sportswriter (although as Bill James once remarked, can you read his stuff today without getting purple ink on your hands?), was really a fancy way of saying "NCAA Division II Semifinal." 

In the years before the formation of Division I-AA/FCS, New Hampshire and the rest of its Yankee Conference brethren were designated by the NCAA as Division II teams, at least for football. (Basketball, baseball and other sports were still D-I.) The Rice Bowl, which had been around since 1964, morphed into an NCAA playoff semifinal in 1973, when D-II began using playoffs instead of polls and bowls to determine a national champion. (The other semifinal, for trivia's sake, was the Pioneer Bowl in Texas, and the Camellia Bowl in Sacramento, Calif., was the name of the D-II title game.)

Led by the ground game of Bill Burnham (1,170 yards rushing), UNH won the Yankee Conference title with a 5-0 mark and an 8-2 overall record heading into the playoffs. After UNH defeated UMass 14-11 in a season-ending, winner-take-all showdown for the YC title, the Cowell Stadium fans tore down the goal posts as UMass coach Dick MacPherson personally presented the YC Beanpot trophy to UNH coach Bill Bowes. (UMass shared the '74 title with Maine; the nugget about the UMass game comes from the 1976 UMass Index.)

Bill Burnham cranks up the REAL MAN factor
in UNH's opening-round playoff win over Lehigh.
Strept throat??

More UNH-Lehigh action. Both these pix are from the
Lehigh Brown and White newspaper.

After riding Burnham's 162 yards and two TDs to a 35-21 win over Lehigh in the first round of the D-II tourney, the Wildcats earned their first-ever trip to an NCAA semifinal -- and last until 2013. Alas, the Rice Bowl came up empty for UNH in a 14-3 loss to Western Kentucky.

These Associated Press photos show UNH (in dark jerseys)
against Western Kentucky before a rousing throng of fans
at the Grantland Rice Bowl in Baton Rouge, La.
Is it me, or do UNH's pants look off-white here,
unlike in the Lehigh pictures? Hmmm...

Ah, yes, the uniforms. This was the end of an era for UNH -- the helmets with big, blue block numbers, used since 1967, were retired after the season and the "classic" UNH uniform, with the iconic "NH" helmet logo and red-and-white jersey trim, was introduced in '76. With only minimal changes, it stuck around through 1999. The plain blue jerseys with white stripes shown here were worn for only two years (1974-75). The '74 uniforms were very similar to the '75s, only the pants had stripes and the socks used a different striping pattern. Both black and white shoes were used during this period. The white jerseys were worn from 1972-75.

Burnham, tight end Mike Moroney, linemen John Merrill and Kevin Martell, linebacker Dave Rozumek and safety Mark Etro were named all-YC. Rozumek was taken by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 15th round of the '76 NFL Draft and played for the Chiefs from 1976-79. Jeff Allen -- who still occupies spots on the UNH top-10 all-time passing lists -- was the quarterback, and was named all-YC in '76 and '77.

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