When Linfield College defeated Willamette, 49-7, on Saturday, it clinched a winning season for the Wildcats. For the 60th year in a row.
You’re excused for not having heard of Linfield. They play at the Division III level. But they’ve accomplished something never achieved at any level.
When the streak began, Dwight Eisenhower sat ensconced in the White House. There were only 48 states in the union. New York City had three baseball teams, California none. Bobby Dodd was the head football coach at Georgia Tech, Wally Butts at Georgia.
How impressive is this streak? Before Linfield, Harvard (1881-1923) and Notre Dame (1889-1932) shared the record at 42 consecutive seasons. Central College in Iowa tied that mark in 2002.
Linfield broke the record on Oct. 17, 1998 — exactly 17 years ago — by beating Willamette. The poor Bearcats seem to pop up at inopportune moments on the schedule. You can view the student body storming the field and taking down the goalposts on YouTube.
A liberal arts school located in McMinnville, Oregon, Linfield is located between Portland and Salem, in the heart of Oregon wine country. Established in 1858, Linfield hosts 1,680 students on a 193-acre campus. The school offers a student-teacher ratio of 11:1 and 48 majors.
Plus a football program that never turns in a losing season.
But why Linfield, of all places?
Perhaps because they’ve captured the continuity of a winning tradition based upon solid core principles.
Only five coaches have headed up the program since The Streak began in 1956. Every single one has come up through the program and been groomed for succession by his predecessor.
Joseph Smith, the current head coach, succeeded Jay Locey after the 2005 season. “It couldn’t be someone from outside to come in and run the program,” Smith told Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated recently. “We had to maintain who we are. If we lose that, we’re just another school.”
Smith has posted an 87-17 record, an astounding winning percentage of .837.
The bulk of the streak was compiled on the watch of Ad Rutschman, whose teams went 182-49-3 from 1968 to 1991. Rutschman Field House now graces the campus. Not only is Rutschman a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, he’s also believed to be the only coach to win national championships in both football and baseball.
By the way, until this year, the baseball team was coached by Scott Brosius, Class of ’88. You may recall him as the MVP of the 1998 World Series with the Yankees. The baseball team has won three national titles, the softball team two.
And football? The Wildcats won NAIA Division II championships in ’82, ’84 and ’86, and the NCAA Division III crown in 2004. During The Streak, the team has reached the playoffs 26 times.
The Wildcats have also ended the regular season undefeated 20 times during The Streak, won 30 conference titles outright and shared another seven. They’ve also posted some big wins, including 15-13 over Hawaii in 1967, 17-7 over Boise State in 1968. They’ve also amassed 10 wins over Portland State.
“The Streak is a byproduct of how you coach,” Doug Hire, an assistant head coach now in his 16th year, told OregonLive over the weekend. Hire also played on the ’84 and ’86 champions. “We don’t dwell on it. I’ll go back to work and look at the problems we had, what I can control within my group, and make them better. You want to win, the individuals have to get better.”
Today’s players have a deep sense of the history and tradition at Linfield.
“It’s an expectation for our team,” senior defensive end Alex Hoff told OregonLive. “We’re carrying it on our shoulders and doing what we can to keep it going for our brothers who have played here throughout time.”
Interesting that Hoff chose the word “brothers,” because there seems to be a deep sense of family at Linfield.
That’s the word the team uses when it breaks the huddle: family. Hoff turned down a Division I scholarship offer to play with his half-brother at Linfield.
“Dozens of former players and alumni move back to town, to raise their kids the Linfield way,” Ballard wrote last week. “So strong is the alumni support that students rarely make up more than a quarter of the fan base.”
Ryan Carlson, Class of ’98, and an outstanding defensive player told Ballard, “Once you’re in our Linfield family, you’re connected to 60 years of people who have had those core principles help shape their lives. Those life experiences continue to breed an incredible amount of love and loyalty towards the program.”
Long live The Streak.