At times when life feels bleak and it seems as if a bad situation will never get better, you might want to think about the football team at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.
Saturday night, I watched No. 1 Morningside, the two-time defending NAIA national champion, win its 30th consecutive game, defeating No. 6 Northwestern College of Orange City, Iowa, 45-31. Everything about the previous sentence would have been unimaginable in 1989, the year I graduated from Morningside. How and why I watched Saturday night’s game also would have seemed impossible back in the day. More on that in a bit.
In 1989, I graduated from Morningside, which posted at least one winless season during my four years as a student. Erv Mondt, the head coach at Morningside went 19-46-1 from 1983-1988 for a winning percentage of .295. I remember games in which there might have been 50 fans in the stadium. For more than a decade after I left, things didn’t get better for Morningside, which had been a charter member of the North Central Conference and competed at the NCAA Division II level.
From 1990 through 2000 and three other coaching staffs, Morningside went 26-102-3 for a winning percentage of .198.
Morningside suspended its football program in 2001 as it left the NCC and Division II and moved to the NAIA and Great Plains Athletic Conference. Since 2002, under head coach Steve Ryan, Morningside has gone 98-31 for a winning percentage of .760, by far the best stretch in the history of the college.
Not many Morningsiders would have predicted that kind of turnaround 30 years ago. So no matter how bad a situation seems, it doesn’t have to stay that way.
How fans can follow a team has changed even more than Morningside’s football fortunes. I graduated from Morningside, but I am a lifelong fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes. In 1993, I moved to Bismarck, N.D. This was before everyone had an Internet connection. It was several years before I would get a cell phone. The Big 10 Network didn’t exist yet. All of this made it a challenge to follow Hawkeye football if you lived in North Dakota. I would usually wind up sitting at 10:00 on Saturday nights in the parking lot at what was then Lander’s Conoco alongside Interstate 94, listening to the scratchy rebroadcast of Iowa games on WHO radio in Des Moines. I couldn’t pick up the signal anywhere else.
Saturday night, I watched the Morningside game on my iPhone, using its Bluetooth feature to put the action on the flat-screen TV in my family room. Thirty years ago, that would have seemed more science fiction than nonfiction.
To be honest, I may watch more Morningside football this year than in any year since I was a student. For starters, it’s fun to watch a winner. But my viewing is being dictated by the pandemic. Loras College, where I work, isn’t playing football this season and I’m really going to miss Saturday afternoons at the Rock Bowl. So far, the Big 10 has canceled its season, which means no Iowa football either.
That leaves Morningside — hopefully, as an old college friend says — issuing weekly beat downs in the GPAC. That may not be as much fun for some of those teams as it will be for me and the rest of Mornigside Nation. All I can tell them is that no matter how bad things may seem now, they don’t have to stay that way. Just ask the guys in maroon. None of them are old enough to remember the bad times, but many of their fans can.