As Illinois State University's football Redbirds prepare for an unprecedented third consecutive appearance in the NCAA-Football Championship Subdivision post-season tournament, a central Illinois native has written a book on the history of the program.
Dan Verdun grew up in Odell and is an Eastern Illinois graduate. He's written books about his alma mater, which has a rich football history, and also for Northern Illinois. His latest book is titled "Illinois State University Football" published by Northern Illinois University Press and should be available soon for holiday giving.
During GLT's Sound Ideas, Verdun said the ISU football program goes all the way back to 1887.
"There was a team formed at the time. A guy named Henry Williams was the captain. Ironically, they played three games, all against Illinois Wesleyan University. Each team won one game and the two teams tied the third," Verdun said.
In the early 20th century, Illinois State (Normal) played other college teams, but also YMCA teams, town teams and even high school teams, Verdun said.
The first "modern" landmark in Redbird football came in 1950, when the team competed in the Corn Bowl.
"That team is the last Illinois State (Normal) team to go unbeaten. Essentially, the Corn Bowl was a game developed by local leaders who wanted to have an Illinois team play in a bowl game around Thanksgiving time," Verdun said.
Verdun interviewed more than 100 people in preparation for writing the book. He spoke with relatives of late former stars, and more recent ISU players, among them Dennis Nelson, who had a long NFL career with the Baltimore Colts and played on their 1971 Super Bowl team.
Verdun is impressed by recent ISU football success, led by Rockford native head coach Brock Spack. The Redbirds travel to Conway, Arkansas to meet Central Arkansas in the opening round of the NCAA FCS championship series. Game time is 2 o'clock Saturday.