1975 Football Team (2002)
In the annals of Loyola football lore, six or seven teams leap to the fore of any discussion regarding Loyola's greatest team. No such discussion can be taken seriously without the 1975 Football Team a central part of it. The Ramblers of 1975, led by Coach Tom Powers (Hall of Fame, 1999), captured the Chicago Catholic League title in a year of uniformly strong teams, and then drove to become the first State Semi-Finalists in Loyola and Catholic League football history. On June 10, 1974 the twelve Catholic League schools formally entered the Illinois High School Association, ending the 62-year tradition of the independence of the Catholic League. This decision, though a controversial one, finally opened up the possibility of playing opponents outside the Catholic League. Thus, the 1975 season would be Loyola's first in IHSA play, and it would prove memorable. Coach Powers and a first-rate staff -- Frank Amato (Hall of Fame, 1990), Chuck Erlenbaugh (Hall of Fame, 2001), E.J. Doyle, and Jim Giovannetti had no time to waste as the Ramblers opened their football season against Evanston, an opponent in the years 1909, 1920, and 1911 years before the I.H.S.A. was formed. In its first encounter with an I.H.S.A. opponent, Loyola shut out the Wildkits, 14-0. It was the beginning of what would be a remarkable season. After a romp over Mendel, Loyola's first real test came against St. Laurence, last years City Champions. In a dominating display of defensive football, Loyola shut out the Vikings, 10-0. Obviously very confident with this important victory under their belts, the Ramblers were stopped short by Brother Rice the following week. The very next week showed them that Loyola had the will to come back. In a tremendous see-saw battle against St. Rita on their home field, the Ramblers won the ball game 23-21 with nine seconds to go in the game as Dave Finzer (Hall of Fame, 1995) kicked a thirty-yard field goal into a strong wind. After a strong win against Mt. Carmel, Loyola squeezed out another close victory against Gordon Tech. The Ramblers overcame a 14-0 deficit at the end of the first half to tie the game and send it into overtime. Gordon then scored first but missed the extra point. On the next set of downs, Loyola scored and set up to kick the extra point to win the game. A poor snap came directly to the kicker, Frank Elme. Coolly, Frank took the ball and ran to his left for two points. Final: Loyola 22, Gordon 20. After defeating Fenwick, the showdown came in the final game of the regular season against Weber. The Ramblers were to play at night while Brother Rice would play St. Rita earlier in the day. If Brother Rice won, it would be the Catholic League champions outright, because it had defeated Loyola earlier in the season. If St. Rita won and Loyola lost to Weber, then the Mustangs would be Champs. When the Ramblers took the field that night at Hanson Stadium, they had just heard the news that St. Rita had been victorious over the Crusaders. All Loyola had to do, then, was defeat Weber. And that they did with a stunning 23-0 shutout of the Red Horde. Loyola was the Catholic League champion for the first time since 1969 and the eighth time in the schools history. The Catholic League Champion was seeded directly into the I.H.S.A. State Championship Playoffs, now in their second year. Loyola's first opponent was Maine South in a Wednesday game in Sachs Stadium. The game was never in doubt as Loyola won 33-6 while rolling up 29 first downs then a state record for any Class 5A playoff game. With only two days rest, the Ramblers traveled to Hersey for the quarterfinals. In a tense game, Loyola was victorious 10-3. The semi-finals saw Loyola once again the visiting team as Deerfield was the next opponent. Ten thousand seventy-eight spectators jammed into Deerfield Stadium to witness this game, then the largest ever to witness an I.H.S.A. state playoff game. Chris Brennan, one of the speediest backs in Loyola's history, ran for a touchdown on the very first play from scrimmage. But Deerfield came right back to gain a first half edge of 15-13 as Loyola's quarterback, Don Dack, was injured on the last play before intermission. The second half was all Deerfields as they ran back the opening kickoff to the Loyola ten yard line. Loyola never seemed to recover and the Warriors went on to win 35-13, and eventually take the state championship the following week. Thus, the Ramblers ended a truly remarkable season with ten wins and two losses, at the time tied for second on the all-time list for single-season wins. The contributions of many individuals were crucial to the success of the 1975 team. Providing the leadership in the field were co-captains Mike Murnane and Gary Huber. Quarterback Don Dack, winner of the Skoglund Award, gave Loyola a formidable passing threat with his primary receivers, Mike Cardwell and Steve Smith, who also was the teams Most Valuable Defensive Back. Running back Chris Brennan led the Catholic League in scoring and was named the teams Most Valuable Offensive Back. Mark Osman (Hall of Fame, 1998) was selected Most Valuable Defensive Lineman, and was joined by Joe Battaglia as the Most Valuable Offensive Lineman. Individual post-season honors poured in, led by Coach Powers selection as the Prep Writers Coach of the Year. Loyola grabbed Six All-Catholic League spots: Mark Osman and Walt Versen (First Team); Chris Brennan and Joe Battaglia (Second Team); and Mike Murnane and Jeff Adams (Third Team). The highlighting of only a few individuals, while understandable, fails to capture the true identity of the 1975 team. Critical roles were played by individuals too numerous to mention. On the offense and the defense, on the special teams and the prep squad, along the sidelines and in the training room unsung heroes up and down the line met the challenge of greatness. In the end, the 1975 squads run to glory, like most moments of achievement, was a collaborative triumph of people committed to a single end.