Football flashes back to 1983

By Gus Bode

As he sat in the stands of McAndrew Stadium watching the SIU football team advance to its first semifinal playoff berth since 1983, Joe Lenzini was disgusted with what he saw.

Lenzini, a 1984 SIU alumus, had no problem with the Salukis’ performance on the field during their 34-27 win Saturday. In fact, he said it was one of the greatest wins he’d ever witnessed in the stadium.

The most disturbing thing about the game, Lenzini said, was the visibility of the bleachers.

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For the most significant game in McAndrew Stadium in 24 years, only 6,560 fans were in attendance – the second-smallest number of fans in attendance at a home game this season.

The lowest figure came in the Salukis’ second most significant game, the first-round playoff victory against Eastern Illinois, which garnered only 6,124 fans.

More than 3,000 more fans attended the Salukis season-opening blowout against Quincy, an NAIA team.

The most disappointing segment of the stadium was the bleachers normally reserved for student fans, which Lenzini said made him flash back to a similar game nearly a quarter-century ago.

Lenzini was an SIU student in 1983 when the SIU football team made a similar postseason run on the way to its only national championship in school history.

More than 8,000 fans attended the Dec. 3 quarterfinal victory against Indiana State that year despite 34-degree temperatures and pouring rain, according to DAILY EGYPTIAN archives.

Lenzini said it seemed like there were more fans than that in attendance at the game, as the student bleachers were packed to the brim and the stands shook up and down by what seemed like a foot with the collective excitement of the crowd.

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The celebrating fans even rushed the field to tear down the goalposts, despite discouragement from university administrators, according to the archives.

For the Salukis’ next home game that season, a semifinal matchup with Nevada-Reno Dec. 10, more than 12,000 fans came out to support the team despite similar conditions in a regional broadcast on CBS.

Several fans carried signs featuring the CBS logo as they watched the team rally to a championship berth, according to the archives.

Lenzini said he hopes to see a similar turnout for the nationally televised ESPN game at 3 p.m. on Saturday at McAndrew Stadium regardless of the weather.

“This is football weather,” Lenzini said. “This is just getting in to the best time of year.”

Also encouraging student turnout is the athletic department, which set aside an unlimited amount of free tickets for students with a valid student ID, athletic director Mario Moccia said.

Roughly 20 donors contributed the money for the tickets, Moccia said, to encourage a large turnout for the ESPN opportunity.

Students must pick up tickets at ticket offices in advance or pay the $6 student admission at the gates on gameday.

SIU football coach Jerry Kill said the opportunity to fight Delaware (10-3) for a shot at the NCAA Championship game in Chattanooga, Tenn., could display the school on a national level and is important for the region.

“It’s an ESPN game,” Kill said. “It’s not ESPN2 or anything like that, it’s ESPN, 3 o’clock, national televised all over the country, and this a great opportunity for southern Illinois to show what the fan base is and how excited they are about athletics.”

Sean McGahan can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 269 or [email protected]

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