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  • Synopsis: Introduction
    Keywords: 125th Anniversary Project; DeKalb Library
    Transcript: DVORAK: Two, one, go (countdown that got caught in the recording.)

    POTOCHNIK: My name is Ryan Potochnik. I’m here with my fellow interviewer Alice Dvorak and our narrator Michael Korcek. Today is Tuesday, October 1, 2019. We are here today in the DeKalb Public Library, located in downtown Illinois— DeKalb, Illinois, to conduct an oral history interview with Michael Korcek, for Northern Illinois University’s 125th-anniversary oral history project. Thank you Mr. Korcek for participating in this project.

    KORCEK: You’re welcome. Mike’s fine.

    POTOCHNIK: Mike? Okay.

    KORCEK: Michael was 23.
  • Synopsis: Life Leading Up to NIU
    Keywords: Mount Prospect; Reading; Athletics; Journalism
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: Now let’s start off by asking if you can tell us a bit about your background prior to NIU, such as where you grew up and how you found out about NIU?

    KORCEK: I grew up in Mount Prospect. My parents moved there in 1947 and I was a preemie and I came along a month later. I was born in Chicago. I don’t think there were hospital— Mount Prospect was the boonies then. I grew up, I loved reading once I got my vision fixed. Actually, I’m not ashamed to say that I learned to read through comic books. Because I had eyesight problems my reading comprehension was very poor. The teacher recommended to my mom, “Give Mike some comic books.” So I inherited some Walt Disney, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and then I advanced, elevated my reading level to Superman. Then by the third grade, a teacher asked, “Mike— does anyone in the class know a multi-syllable word?” I raised my hand and a couple of people knew that I was a comic book geek. Again, this is 1956 now. I said, “Invulnerable.” Teacher says, “Mike, that’s amazing. Where did you learn that word?” She asked the definition and I told her, “In the latest issue of Superman.” She wasn’t too happy. Then you know, watching the TV series and this sounds stupid, but it’s just like, “Wow, Clark Kent and the reporter thing.” I’m a storyteller and it fits my entire life. I get to high school and I walked by the art classes at Prospect High School, where I graduated in 1966, go Knights. You’d see the art projects and drawings and I’m going, “Oh, I’m not that good,” I was just aping the comics. I mean, I wanted to be a comic book artist. At that time I got into high school sports, and particularly basketball, Prospect was very good. I got on the school paper, my sophomore year, and I was the assistant sports editor my senior year. In our senior year, and again, I wasn’t on the team, but this is an example of the good side, a positive side of athletics that the team we were 21 and 5. We were ranked for about a month in the state, there was only one class in boy’s basketball. We won three championships that year, not the big one, the state championship. We had two major league baseball players. One of them was Dave Kingman, who played for the Cubs. The whole school went gaga over basketball, and Prospects’ a good, it’s still top twenty academically. But again, the school spirit, and this sounds corny, but this is just like, when the Huskies did well in 1983, the Cal Bowl year or the Orange Bowl year or the Blackhawks winning three Stanley Cups or the Bulls winning six championships with Michael. Everyone has a Bulls cap or a Blackhawks cap or a bumper sticker. And so on a smaller scale I was impressed by this. At the same time going back to my sophomore year, and this is ‘63- ‘64. I started reading the local paper which did a great- The Herald. It was the weekly Herald, now it’s the Daily Herald. They did a great job doing high school sports. I kept reading about this guy who was also from Mount Prospect named George Bork who was one of the all-time great quarterbacks at NIU, and our first player in the National College Football Hall of Fame and George Bork throws for seven touchdowns. The band made a tribute to Bork at halftime at NIU. Subliminally, I’m going, “Gee, maybe I should go to NIU.”

    Now I’m a senior and I had three choices, the U of I, Illinois, Chicago, and NIU. I eliminated the U of I because, yes, it’s the flagship institution of higher education and all that but it’s too big. Back then there were probably 35,000 kids. My goal was to emulate the Sports Editor of the Herald, Bob Frisk, who was the sports editor of The Daily Illini, the student paper at the U of I. He was a journalism major, so I figured, “You know what, I’ll go to Northern. It’s big, but it’s a little smaller scale.”
  • Synopsis: Student Life at NIU
    Keywords: Northern Star; Athletics; Army
    Transcript: Freshman year, I lived at Gilbert, the Animal Farm. It was all guys, self-explanatory. The Star was in Kishwaukee Hall. It’s torn down now but there was a little house by the East Lagoon on College Avenue. I walked from Gilbert, Monday of my classes started, I’d made a little resume and I had some clips from high school. I was hired at the Northern Star to be the men’s cross country beat writer. In that little house, not only was the offices of the Northern Star, which was a four day a week paper, then and then was the five days a week and a prize-winning newspaper, my sophomore year, the Northern yearbook. We had a yearbook then. There were two radio stations, WNIUFM and then the student station, which somehow was distributed through the current in the dorms. I don’t know how technically that worked. This building was like, glowing, it was radioactive with kids who wanted careers in the media. Now I’m covering the Huskies. Then in 1967, a gentleman named Bud Nangle came back to Northern. He was the Executive Sports Editor of the Toledo Blade and Times. He had been with the Chicago Daily News, which was probably the best sports section in Chicago when Chicago had four daily newspapers. He came back as sports information director and he knew everybody. He introduced me to Jack Brickhouse, who was the Cubs and White Sox broadcaster on WGN. It’s like, what a thrill, He knew everybody. He knew Jim Murray in Los Angeles and Red Smith in New York. He covered World Series, he had covered Muhammad Ali when he was Cassius Clay. Toledo was about an hour from Detroit, so he covered the Detroit Tigers and Big Ten Football and it’s just like— so now you’re a young man thinking, “Wow, this guy’s been there,” and this is the guy. So, I was a sports editor, the ‘68- ‘69 school year. Then I had a choice, my senior year, you couldn’t hold the same position for a year. They wanted to make me editorial editor, and “I don’t see, I don’t know.” There was a job opening for a student assistant in Mr. Nangle’s office. It’s probably one of the hardest decisions I had to make to leave all my good friends, majority of them were J majors. I went to sports info my senior year. I graduated in 1970 with that Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. Then Uncle Sam called me, and I was in the army for three years. I was very fortunate because I was assigned to European Stars and Stripes in Darmstadt, Germany in a military paper, and I was a sportswriter for two-and-a-half years.
  • Synopsis: Return to NIU as Assistant Sports Information Director
    Keywords: Sports Information
    Transcript: Then by that time, Mr. Nangle had lobbied for an assistance position. Again, you got to remember, in sports publicity terms that this was the dark ages and most mid-American, mid-major level schools like NIU, they didn’t have assistant sports information director. I was the first here full-time and probably one of the first among the Mac schools. There might have been a young man from Ball State. I came back in December of ‘73 as Bud Nangle’s full-time assistant. I was his assistant for 11 more years. Then he kind of groomed me for the position and I had a lot to learn, but it was cool working for your alma mater. Then in September 1, 1984, I was named to succeed him. I was the boss until I retired in the summer of ‘06. I worked part-time as SID Emeritus for three years and then I hung it up. Occasionally I write a column for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. I enjoy following the, my two alma maters, the Huskies and the Prospect Knights and here we are.
  • Synopsis: Roles at NIU: Archivist, Journalist, Storyteller, Statistician, Historian
    Keywords: Northern Star; NCAA; Big Ten
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: Well, you mentioned being a sportswriter for the university. You mentioned coming back for sports info. What were all your roles you played at NIU, in terms of involvement, would you say?

    KORCEK: I think Ryan, the perk of the job was always the student athletes. Because you can get old and jaded. I’m 71 and old and jaded, but it’s fun to deal with students because you look back and you go, “God, that was me when I was 20.” Particularly the Northern Star kids, I’m also on the Northern Star alumni board. It’s just like yes, it’s a different time, the technology is different, but you share the same interest decades apart. Roles as a sports information director. Well, first of all, you’re a storyteller. You have to be a journalist, you have to be able to write, write under deadline pressure, disseminate the information to the various sources. Back then we were faxing or calling and now you send an email, so the technology has changed. You’re a statistician, you have to follow NCAA rules, as far as statistics and their definitions. You’re archivist, you’re a historian. I mean when you do a media guide or a project, yes, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the regional History Center researching things. Oh, God, took me two summers, I did the Letterman’s list in football. We had never had it. We had a list of the Letterman the Letter winners in football from the present time, I think I started at about 2000 or 1999. It went back to 1929 and then from ‘29 to 1899, I had to look— I had some rosters. I had some programs, I would look at the old yearbooks. It took me two summers to do it. It was just like— it was something that we saw in the Big Ten media guides and you thought, “Well, we should have this because this is important. This is documentation.” You’re a photo editor, now you’re a computer geek. We became desktop publishers. Now, people aren’t printing media guides, like I have on the table here. Media guides are digitally on your— on your website. I’ve been on the Hall of Fame committee since the mid-1980s, the Athletics Hall of Fame and so it’s like, you’re also the institutional memory. I’ve been in the community for— including my student years for 50. I think I know the history the school pretty well, or athletics.

    POTOCHNIK: Well, you mentioned being a sportswriter for the university. You mentioned coming back for sports info. What were all your roles you played at NIU, in terms of involvement, would you say?

    KORCEK: I think Ryan, the perk of the job was always the student athletes. Because you can get old and jaded. I’m 71 and old and jaded, but it’s fun to deal with students because you look back and you go, “God, that was me when I was 20.” Particularly the Northern Star kids, I’m also on the Northern Star alumni board. It’s just like yes, it’s a different time, the technology is different, but you share the same interest decades apart. Roles as a sports information director. Well, first of all, you’re a storyteller. You have to be a journalist, you have to be able to write, write under deadline pressure, disseminate the information to the various sources. Back then we were faxing or calling and now you send an email, so the technology has changed. You’re a statistician, you have to follow NCAA rules, as far as statistics and their definitions. You’re archivist, you’re a historian. I mean when you do a media guide or a project, yes, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the regional History Center researching things. Oh, God, took me two summers, I did the Letterman’s list in football. We had never had it. We had a list of the Letterman the Letter winners in football from the present time, I think I started at about 2000 or 1999. It went back to 1929 and then from ‘29 to 1899, I had to look— I had some rosters. I had some programs, I would look at the old yearbooks. It took me two summers to do it. It was just like— it was something that we saw in the Big Ten media guides and you thought, “Well, we should have this because this is important. This is documentation.” You’re a photo editor, now you’re a computer geek. We became desktop publishers. Now, people aren’t printing media guides, like I have on the table here. Media guides are digitally on your— on your website. I’ve been on the Hall of Fame committee since the mid-1980s, the Athletics Hall of Fame and so it’s like, you’re also the institutional memory. I’ve been in the community for— including my student years for 50. I think I know the history the school pretty well, or athletics.
  • Synopsis: Challenges as Sports Information Director
    Keywords: Newspaper; Chicago; New York; ESPN
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: Well, obviously sports info director requires you to master a lot of different things at once. What would you say were some of the biggest challenges in that role?

    KORCEK: The biggest challenge is reality and your boss and admin— “Everyone, Mike, we need to get in the Chicago Tribune,” because the tribune was the largest media entity. Again, all newspapers have shrunk in circulation and people are reading online, I don’t take offense. I wonder what young people are reading. When I was a student, I would get the tribune every day and read it from the cover to back. There wasn’t the internet, we did have electricity. Newspapers are an amazing package. The biggest challenge was trying to break into the Chicago market. When in reality, Chicago is a professional town. Cubs, Sox, Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls. Then we would have take a step down from Northwestern in the U of I, or if DePaul was good in basketball or Loyola. Again, it helps to have a winning team, and if you didn’t have a winning team, maybe you had an all American on your soccer team or something like that or a national champion in gymnastics. You had to push, you can’t push 1 and 10 football team. That’s the challenge. Then educating people. Over the years, people would ask me, “Northern Illinois, are you Division One?” Yes, since the late 1960s. Again, here’s some media person calling from New York and I will say this, yes, people on the other side of the Hudson River have their noses up in the air. I get it, New York is— I’ve been to New York three or four times and yes, I understand. Chicago is not the minor leagues either. Now they may look and go, “Oh, DeKalb, Illinois. You’re surrounded by cornfields.” It’s just like, “No, but there’s 20,000 students here and there’s 170,000 living alums” or whatever the number is. You develop credibility and legitimacy with people. You know, you’re part Barnum and Bailey as far as they used to call SIDs tub-thumpers, beating a drum for the Huskies and it’s just like, but you have to have a little cred. I think our office, yes, we knew how to do releases and disseminate them properly on time, accurately. You have to spell, again this is the university you can’t be having grammatical errors in your copy. We’d make some. Everyone does. You can pick up the paper, you can pick up the New York Times and see mistakes. That was probably the biggest thing, but it was fun. I think the thing that I miss most about retirement is that I missed the contact with the media people. When you’re in a— When you work in an office for, again, from my senior year in 1969 to 2009, so that’s a long time to deal with people. Yeah, I knew people on the first name basis at the Trib and the Sun Times. Eventually, particularly at the end when I retired and we got good at football in the early 2000s, yeah, I started getting to know people in New York and at ESPN. Hey, there’s some Northern guys, Dave Albright is a Northern Illinois grad. He worked for ESPN for 25 years. I think he got laid off. Rick Cerone, another NIU grad who was the PR guy for the Yankees, he helped me many times with media in New York. Again, you don’t miss the work, you don’t miss the hard times, but you miss the friendships and the people knew what you were trying to do.
  • Synopsis: NIU Sports Teams and Athletic Performance
    Keywords: Football; Basketball; NCAA
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: Earlier you said that it also kind of involved being an amateur historian. Can you name some of what you would consider the best NIU teams in the university’s history?

    KORCEK: Oh boy. Firstly, you probably start with the ‘63 football team and George Bork. That was probably the team that got us into university division being a major college. They were in the college division then. If you look at that ‘63 season, they’re 10 and 0, they win their conference… championship. We won the bowl game against Southwest Missouri State, which is now Missouri State. They took off the two directions from their name. We were the mythical champion of the AP, the Associated Press in the college division and the NAIA. I still can’t figure this out. We were a member of the NCAA and the NAIA in men’s sports. Ten days after that bowl game, they broke ground for Husky Stadium. Then Husky Stadium built in… finished in 1965. Homecoming was moved back, I think it was November 6. We beat Illinois State like 48 to 6. Then we became University division in 1969. Then in 1973, we joined the Mac. We were integrated into the football and men’s basketball schedules in the academic year ‘75, ‘76. That ‘63 team spurred all of that, if you see what I’m saying. Then, you’d have to go ‘83 football team, the Cal Bowl year. We won our first mid-American conference championship. We were 10 and 2. We beat Kansas, which was a big A team. That team ultimately produced nineteen professional football players and seven NFL Draft choices. For a mid-major program that is pretty good. Bill Mallory was the coach, tremendous coach, one of our best coaches. Then you would go to maybe ‘89 and ‘90 when Jerry Pettibone was here. Stacy Robinson was our quarterback, and again, I’m going football here. We led the country in rushing. Stacy Robinson was USA Today— He was a triple option quarterback. He’s more of a runner than a passer. USA Today did an article about the top six all-purpose quarterbacks of all time and he was one of them. Then you’d have to skip to ‘03 when Joe Novak was here and when we started off 7 and 0. First game we beat nationally ranked Maryland in Husky Stadium, and there was 28,000 people at the game. People were standing, the stairways in between the seats. There was no room to move. They turned away 500 people. There were people on Annie Glidden Road, scalping tickets for a Northern Illinois game. Think about it. We were 7 and 0. We were ranked twelfth in the associated press, which is the highest our football team has ever been and tenth in the BCS poll, the BCS playoff was going on then and so people are speculating, “Wow, we’re going to be on the BCS.” Then we went to Bowling Hreen and the game is so big that ESPN and Game Day were at bowling green. We had Urban Meyer, the former coach at Ohio State was at Bowling Green then and they’d beat us. We started to have some injury attrition, so we lost two games down the stretch. It’s probably the most— we finished 10 and 2. The mid-American only had three bowl game tie ins and this team didn’t go to a bowl game. It is undoubtedly the most egregious bowl snub in the history of the NCAA. I’m not playing the violin for myself; although I am a grad, but our last bowl game, like I said, was 1983, so it was a long time. What about the 105 kids on the roster who worked all season? That was pretty terrible. Then you go to the 2012- ‘13 team with Jordan Lynch and they’d go to the Orange Bowl and I think as an old-timer, and again, when you look back to the ‘30s and 1920s, and Northern is playing Wheaton college and North Central and Wisconsin Whitewater. Please, I’m not demeaning those schools, and now we’re in the Orange Bowl playing Florida state and with a guy who is a Heisman Trophy finalist.

    Men’s basketball, you would have to go, in my opinion of the ‘71, ‘72 men’s basketball team. We were better in basketball at that period in time. Here’s ‘71, ‘72 we became major in men’s basketball in ‘67, ‘68 so was it that? Five years, five years we went from the college division to the top twenty. We beat Indiana and Bobby Knight in the field house, 85-71, when the Hoosiers were number five in the country. We had a kid named Jim Bradley who was in sports illustrated full-page color picture of him standing in a cornfield holding a basketball in his 24 Huskies uniform and the corn stocks, and the picture was taken where the convocation center is now, believe it or not. That team had four draft picks. We played in the Chicago stadium, the next year we played in Madison Square Garden. It is the zenith of men’s basketball, there’s no doubt in my mind. ‘81, ‘82, that was our first men’s basketball team to go to the NCAA. Alan Rayhorn, great memories. We had a good game with Kansas State. We won the Mac post-season tournament and then we went to the NCAA in ’90- ‘91. That team is being inducted into our athletics hall of fame this fall and then we went in ‘96, when Coach Brian Hamel and TJ Lux was a freshman. Women’s basketball, we went to the NCAA five times in a stretch of about seven or eight years. Most of those under Jane Albright, was the coach. Some great players, Carol Owens, Lisa Foss, Tammy Hinchey, I’m going to forget somebody here when I start mentioning names. At that point, women’s basketball set the state attendance record and they were outdrawing the men.


    KORCEK: The fans of the women’s basketball team were called Hoop Troopers. After every game, they would ring the court and then the team would go around, and the coaching staff and would shake everybody’s hand. It’s just like, “This is the PR move of the century.” Here’s the thing I learned. I had a sister, she’s deceased, but I never thought this way. I guess I’m a male chauvinist pig. The little girls in the line in that ring, and so Denise Dove was our point guard. A little cute blonde. Her father was a high school coach. She had a ponytail. She was about 5’6”, and she ran that. She was the boss and she had great players. I’m looking in the little girls and they’re looking up to her and I’m thinking, “Oh my God, Mike, what– you dummy” I was making my calls and the post-game from press role, and I’m going, “My God, these little girls want to emulate Denise Dove that in 10 years they’re going to be in college, and ‘I want to be a point guard. I want to be in charge.’” It’s just like I learned something that day, and I was probably 50 some years old.

    God, there’s been so many good teams. In the early ‘70s, baseball went to the NCAA regional, men’s soccer. Men’s gymnastics, a sport we don’t have anymore. We have about four or five national champions individually. We qualify twice as a team to go to the NCAA. One year I went to Penn State with the team and the other was at Nebraska and again we were really good. We had a gymnastics meet in the Fieldhouse against Indiana State men’s gymnastics. There were six thousand people at a gymnastics meet. Indiana State had a kid named Kirk Thomas who was an Olympian, maybe you’ve heard of him. He was one of the best gymnasts in the world and there was a classroom off the floor in the field house and that’s where we had our posts game things. He came in after the meet and we had to have security because there were women wanting to give him flowers and rip his clothes off probably, I’m not exaggerating. We had a kid, Mike Burke, who was a two-time national champion on the pommel horse and he beat him on the pommel horse. Mike was a specialist, he only worked one event. He’s one of our Hall of Famers. We had another pommel horse champion, Doug Keeso, who grew up in DeKalb, his father was an accountancy professor. I’m forgetting a lot of teams, but that’s a quickie.
  • Synopsis: College Football Hall of Fame
    Keywords: George Bork; Heisman Trophy; NCAA
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: Yeah, Thank you. Have you been involved in the college football hall of fame in regards to NIU inductees?

    KORCEK: Yes. I was the person that nominated George Bork 1999, and it was a long shot. I did the research and probably the most important statistic for George, and again, remember this is 1963 that football back then was the cliché three yards and a cloud of dust when Northern was throwing the ball. George was the first passer and nine regular-season games. I told you we were 10 and 0, but the NCAA did not count bowl game statistics then, but he passed for over three thousand yards in a single season. He is the first quarterback in the history of college football to do that. It’s just like making a speech in speech class, you have to make a presentation, you have to make your case and it’s like, “Wow. The first quarterback to throw for three thousand yards.” I made my case, he was a little all American. He received votes for the Heisman trophy, even though the Heisman trophy usually goes for someone from a major college team. We got George in and at that time, the college Hall of Fame was located in South Bend, Indiana where Notre Dame is. It was cool to meet a lot of people and then I went to New York to the Waldorf Astoria. I’m in a tux, it’s just like, “Oh God, what am I doing here?” There all these football coaches and I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s so-and-so.” A guy comes by with a tray of hors d’oeuvres, and, “Excuse me,” and I stepped back and now I stepped on somebody’s toes. I turned around and the guy is wearing Adidas or whatever, these are Nike’s [pointed at own shoes.] I look up and he’s wearing sunglasses. Yes, it was a previous hall of fame inductee named Jim McMahon. What a small world. That was neat. We have two former players. George got in as a player, and then Tom Beck, who played a few years before George, he’s in as a college coach. I didn’t have anything to do with that. For someone to get into the College Hall of Fame, that’s quite prestigious. Yes, it is.
  • Synopsis: Homecoming Traditions
    Keywords: Homecoming; U of I; Michigan
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: You’ve also indicated that NIU’s homecoming is a bit of a tradition.

    KORCEK: Well, I think a lot of people don’t know this. You talked about earlier, Ryan, about battles. Our homecoming originated with a series of eleven alumni games. One day, I’m reading in the paper, the NIU News Bureau or University Relations, and again, this is when newspapers and this is— I took over in ‘84 and they said, “Mike.” They subscribed to all the daily papers in the State of Illinois, or prominent ones, Springfield State Journal-Register, Elgin Courier News, Aurora Beacon News. I would get the Tribune sometimes, Northern Star, and Daily Chronicle here. I’m reading Champagne News. They gave me the sports section because they wanted to see how these papers covered higher education. They gave me the sports page. I said, “Sure.” I would take them home at night when I had a night off. I’d watch TV. I’m reading in the Springfield State Journal-Register. It was a Sunday edition covering the U of I, their homecoming game. It was a typical coverage. Got a picture and a game story, a sidebar, the statistics, and then there were some notes. The first note said, “This was the U of I’s homecoming. The U of I invented homecoming on a national basis in 1910.” Well, I may not be a Rhodes Scholar or a Ph.D., but it’s just like 1903 is before 1910. I had an Illinois Football Media Guide. I look through it, sure enough, “Illinois invented homecoming in 1910.” I’m going, “How could this be?” Now I’m a rookie. This is early in my career as the boss. We had the homecoming scores from 1903 on I think our ‘85 media guide. It’s like, “Well, this is kind of strange.” It finally came to a head where…[pause] Well, I expanded that list of scores to a full page about our history, and I called all the schools and the Big Ten and the MAC. “When is your first homecoming?” Again, you learn something every day. I called Notre Dame too. Michigan’s first homecoming is 1897. Indiana’s I think was 1911, and they claimed to invent homecoming. I knew the SID at Indiana, Kit Klingelhoffer. I said, “Kit—” We’re about the same age. He’s retired too. I said, “Kit, you guys and the Big Ten talk to each other?” I said, “We have MAC meetings, and if we have problems, a guy from Bowling Green or the girl from Miami, we talk.” “What do you mean?” I said, “Illinois claims to invent homecoming in 1910.” “No. Our homecoming was—” I’m going, “Oh, God.” A friend of mine, Northern grad, he works for Pioneer Press in the suburbs. It was August and we had just sent our media guides out. We used to mail them. This is the Dark Ages again. This is the early 2000s. He says, “Hey, I got your media guide in Illinois. Hey, your book looks great. One of the best ones you’ve done.” “Thank you.” He says, “I got a question,” he says, “Who invented homecoming?” I go, “You’re not going to do this one.” I said, “Well, you know what, Chuck?” I told him the story just like I’m telling you. I said, “You’re a media person. Why don’t you call the U of I? Ask them?” 20 minutes later, Oh God, what was her name? Cassie Arner, the assistant SID at Illinois. “Mike, the guy from the Pioneer Press, we’ve got to do something.” I said, “Cassie, I’m not trying to big-time you. Have your boss call me, Kent Brown.” Kent is a great SID, a good professional friend. He calls me and he says, “Mike, what’s this deal with homecoming?” I said, “Kent, you know the deal?” “Well, you can’t count those alumni games.” I said, “Yes, we can.” I said, “Kent, take off your alumni cap and I’m going to take off my Huskie cap, and you and I are just talking.” I said, “What’s the definition of homecoming?” “I don’t know. Gathering of alumni?” I said, “What’s an alumni game?” “Oh, I see.” The next year they changed it to the earliest homecoming with an intercollegiate opponent, because we had 11 games— The Alumni Association, I believe in 1906, put something in their constitution that the second Saturday in October on our campus would be something called homecoming, in 1906. Again, Illinois, “We invented homecoming on a national basis.” Yes, right. Sure. Then I found out again, Michigan. Now this got into a debate, “What criteria?” This was a fifty-five-minute lecture. I did a lecture on homecoming two years ago at the Regional History Center. It was a fifty-five-minute lecture, trying to explain all this. Northern Illinois did not invent homecoming, but credit those kids and that staff and faculty in 1903, because we have one of the earliest— I believe this year is our 113th. Now, it doesn’t go mathematically because during World War I, we suspended our football program because there weren’t enough men on campus. In 1917, ‘18 and ‘19, we didn’t have football or homecoming. Doing research, Baylor’s homecoming was very early, but they didn’t do it on an annual basis. Our alumni games, every year we had one. Michigan is up there, but they didn’t call it homecoming. Same thing with Indiana, it was like the gala weekend. This is something that Northern should be very proud of, and when a university on their website has points of pride, this should be one of the top ten things on there. Nationally, Northern Illinois is one of the first people to start a homecoming tradition.
  • Synopsis: Changes to Campus; Decreased Enrollment
    Keywords: Construction; Enrollment; Minorities; Tuition
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: I’d like to switch gears a little bit and move a bit towards more general info about NIU. From your perspective, how has NIU changed over time?

    KORCEK: When I was at school, this was a construction site. In the late ‘60s, they put the tower to the Union. The lower portion on the east side was built in the early ‘60s. Being a journalism major, my classes were in Reav— I was a Poli-Sci minor, so majority of my classes were in Reavis, Watson there. They were building what I call the grain elevator, that ten-story, ugly office building for the faculty. Then they were adding on DuSable. It was all fences and plywood and you were walking around. The enrollment, when I was a freshman in ‘66, ‘67, the enrollment was fourteen thousand. Four years later, by the time I graduated, it was over twenty. They were making projections— In fact, David Condon, who was a columnist for the Tribune, In the Wake of the News column in the sports page, he said, “By 1985, Northern Illinois will have 35,000 students and be a member of the Big Ten.” Well, I don’t know where he got that or what he was smoking. The baby boom stopped, funding stopped. Now it’s kind of a different period. I think the thing that hasn’t changed is that, and there’s nothing wrong with this, Northern is a middle-class school. I don’t know about you and Alice, I was the first, my family, to go to college. My parents didn’t have that opportunity. Again, that was a way to a better life, a better job, get a college degree. I think that hasn’t changed. I think there’s a lot of first-generation students at Northern. Maybe the hues and backgrounds are a little different. There’s more minorities, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, than there were in the ‘60s. I think that that is the change, but I think the philosophy. I knew a recruiter for a Fortune 500 company. They loved coming to Northern and interviewing our business students. Our College of Business has been very successful. He says, “I like Northern kids because they’re not born with a silver spoon in their mouth.” He says, “They’re just as bright as the kids that go to the U of I or Northwestern, but they work harder.” I look at myself and I look at other Northern people that I know, and yes. Yeah, the enrollment is down, I can’t figure that one out, particularly when nine million people are to the east of us here. I think that’ll turn around. I think President Freeman, they’ll work on retention and some recruiting. It’s very competitive. The other thing is that, yes, it was easier to go to school back then financially. Tuition when I was in school, I hate to admit this, was like $135 a semester. I lived in the dorms all four years, dorms might’ve been $500 a semester. I think New Hall is like $7,000 a semester, to me that’s Hugh Hefner [laughs]. Again, I would not trade my experience at NIU for anything. I had great opportunities as a student, tremendous opportunities for growth as an adult in my career here, but when you see Northwestern cost like $100,000 a year and you go, “Wow, how do people afford that?” It’s tough. I went to this show this spring at AMC on Sycamore road and a girl says, “Hi Mr. Korcek.” I’m getting some popcorn, and I go “How the hell does she know who I am?” She was a Northern Star gal. Like I said, I’m on our alumni board, she told me she has three jobs. The Star was one of her jobs, she worked at Burger King, and she worked at AMC, all to get through. That is a different part. Yes, you still need the degree to get yourself up to the next level or whatever, to get a better job, but it costs more. You see all these students going into debt, that’s tough problem, it is. I don’t know the solution to that.
  • Synopsis: Gaining National Attention from the Press
    Keywords: Sports Illustrated; USA Today; Chicago Tribune
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: Can you share any experience that occurred during your time at NIU, either as a student or a faculty member, that might be of significance?

    KORCEK: [laughs] Oh God. I’m drawing a blank, there are so many. Again, when I talked about convincing people— Here we are, we’re playing Fresno State in football in 1990. Fresno State was undefeated and nationally ranked. Our quarterback, I mentioned was Stacy Robinson. We ran the wishbone offense. We were great at running the football, option football. Phone rings, it’s a guy from Sports Illustrated, he wanted to do a story on Aaron Craver, the running back from Fresno State. He was in New York, DeKalb was the furthest east that Fresno played. He figured, “Okay I’ll talk to this guy, he’s going to get drafted by the NFL.” I said, “Okay, I’ll get you credentials, I’ll put them in FedEx.” I said “Hey, by the way,” again, you got to think, you got a guy from Sports Illustrated— “You want to interview Stacy Robinson, he’s the best triple-option?” No, no. We’re not in— See most magazines and media people, they want to see a 6’4” quarterback throwing footballs, he’s the next Peyton Manning or Bart Starr, whatever. Half time of the game, we’re ahead 50 to 18. Stacy Robinson has almost 300 yards rushing by himself and five touchdowns. Four of the touchdowns he wasn’t touched, the fifth one they might’ve bumped him in the end zone. This big timer from Sports Illustrated taps me on the shoulder at halftime and he says “Mr. Korcek, do you think I could talk to Stacy Robinson?” I said “Yeah.” Again, you tell a person and they don’t believe you.

    That Monday went— two stories for one. That Monday, our score is not in USA Today. Fresno— there were two polls, the AP which is a media poll, USA Today sponsored the coaches top 25. Fresno was in both polls. Usually you see in the paper on a Sunday or a Monday, in the agate section you see a thing and you go, “Number one, Nebraska defeated so and so. Number two, it was—” There was no score or anything about the Fresno game in the national newspaper. To be honest, we never called them because they would get our stuff trunked to them by the Associated Press. At the game was The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Herald, the Rockford Register Star which was owned by Gannett, which is the same company that owned USA Today. My boss calls me in, he says, he chews me out, “How come the score is not in USA Today?” I said [laughs] “That’s their fault.” The final score of the game, excuse me, was 73 to 18. We had like 806 yards total offense, we set a national record for rushing. You mean to tell me— Ryan I’m sure you’ve looked at scores, if you saw a score 73 to 18 wouldn’t you go “Wow, what happened in that game?” ESPN was in existence, but this is print media. I’m busy Monday morning, I get editor and publisher out, get the phone number for USA Today and I called the sports center. I’d never talked to them and I said, “Hi, my name is Mike Korcek. I’m calling from Northern Illinois.” A lot of times it was who, where? It was like, “Well, Mike, I’m busy.” I said, “So am I.” I said, “I’m just a little miffed because in the Monday’s edition of USA Today our score’s not in there” “Aren’t you Division 1?” I said, “Yes, we are, since 1969. Plus we beat a team in your top-25, 73 to 18.” There’s this silence on the other end of the line. My blood pressure started rising and I said, “You know what, if I ran a sports page like this I’d be selling insurance.” He used the f-word, I used it right back. I said, “Look, I’m here to try to fix the problem.” I said, “You screwed up, you’re going to make it up to us.” He says, “You’re right. Send me a picture of Stacy Robinson.” In the middle of the week they ran a nice little feature about Stacy. Again, you’ve got to stick to your guns. A lot of people don’t know these stories. It goes to show you that, yes, I stood up many times for NIU or Northern Illinois. I’m not a hero I was just doing my job. Yes, the fact that this was my alma mater. Yes, I had a couple job opportunities at other schools and I thought, “Wait a minute, I’m a Huskie, if I go to some other school I’d be a fish out of water. I’m a Northern Illinois guy.” There were things, even when I was Bud Nangle’s assistant, that we wanted to accomplish. I think I accomplish many of them by staying here for the duration. Again, there’re a lot of stories like that, it’s kind of funny and we won that one.
  • Synopsis: Advice for Current Students
    Keywords: Northern Star; Organizations; DeKalb; Jobs
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: Nice. What would you tell someone like yourself coming to NIU in 2019? What about the university’s past should they understand?

    KORCEK: Like I said, it’s a middle-class school, but I think there’s a lot of opportunities. I’m forever flabbergasted. I understand, I can’t remember when I was 18, but there’s so many kids, “Well, we’re going home this weekend,” I did that when I was a freshman. Two reasons, there was a bunch of guys from our prospect basketball team that were underclassmen, so I went home a lot to see them play, but then I got involved with the Star. You have to get involved in something. You have to get involved with Northern Star, or the Northern Television Center. I’m talking about communications where journalism students are, there are so many organizations, the SA and clubs. You know what, when I got older, yes, I like to drink beer too, “We have to go back to Saint Charles.” I was like, “Wait a minute, the beer is probably cheaper in DeKalb.” Again, you can’t tell people what to do. At the same time, if it’s a different generation, like said that one young lady had three jobs, I’m sure that’s pretty standard for a lot of kids, or maybe they have a job at home, we have a lot of non-traditional students. I think students need to look and experience the campus and DeKalb. You go, “God, there’s nothing here. God, downtown is terrible. Whatever.” There’s a lot of nice things and if you took the time— The first thing I did and again, I’m dating myself. I walked all the way to downtown DeKalb. Downtown DeKalb in the ‘60s was a vibrant— there were men’s stores, women’s clothing stores, shoe stores. It was before things kind of scattered on Sycamore road. Retail is tough now. I would tell young people to take advantage of every opportunity you have. You may fail at something. I knew when I was in high school what I wanted to do. Journalism was a— Well, I was a Poli-Sci major but I can write, so I’ll be in journalism. That’s not necessarily the case. Writing research papers is a little different than the inverted pyramid or things in journalism. There were people who were in journalism that I was in class with for four straight years. They weren’t on the yearbook, they weren’t on the Star, they weren’t on the radio station. A couple of them had media jobs. One guy, oh God, Neil... Can’t think of his name. He turned out to be Hub Arkush’s number one assistant in Pro Football Weekly for thirty years and he was from Joliet. He would go back to Joliet and work for the Joliet Herald News. That was a lost cause but there were just so many kids. “What are you doing on the weekend?” “I’m going home.” You need to get some clips, you need to develop some experience. I think they need to take a closer look, what’s available here on campus and in DeKalb. It may sound stupid, but I still think it’s the case.
  • Synopsis: Vietnam Riots
    Keywords: Vietnam; Demonstrations; Police
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: What else about NIUs history might deserve attention for this project?

    KORCEK: I think probably the most traumatic thing was the riots in 1970. This is not one of the— Well, being on 125, the key moments’ history was a very nice honor and I was flattered to be asked. The spring of 1970 was unforgettable. You’ve got to remember Vietnam was going, I had a low draft number. My hair was starting to get long, I’m listening to The Doors and the Jefferson Airplane and The Seeds. This kid who grew up on Mount Prospect, in a right area. All of a sudden, I’m moving to the left. All guys, they’re worried about their draft status. This was a time where you had the Kent State shooting where 4-5 kids were shot by the national guard. It was young people shooting because they were protesting about Vietnam and the escalation of the Vietnam war and meeting more American soldiers who were going to go to the South East. Then they had the shootings at Jackson State. During the day— the academic calendar was a little different. We started in mid-September and we got out in mid-June. Now you get out in mid-May or May 10 or whatever. All that extra month, you had warmer weather, so I’m walking around in cutoffs and a t-shirt. The girls by Neptune, they’re sunbathing. I’d always walk through there, check out the chicks [laughter.] It’s just like during the day, guys are playing intramural softball, they’re playing volleyball there by Neptune. Then during the night, police cars. They broke every window in the Union there. The lower parts of the Union, they took over Laudin Hall which was where the administration was before they remodeled Altgeld. It was a riot, they tried to— I think there were some members of the students for democratic society who were imports. They closed SIU Carbondale and they were trying to close NIU. There were riots in Madison, there were bombings and it was a little more serious there. One night, I went out and I lived in Lincoln Hall in my last three years. Here we are, the pow-wow room and the lower level, all the windows there facing Neptune are all broken and I just can’t believe this. I was in the mob, I wasn’t doing anything, then the cops started chasing us back into the dorm. There is that sidewalk in front of the field house, it kind of goes up on an angle there to Lincoln. I lived in the B wing of Lincoln, which is the one that sticks out facing the field house. Kids are running up that sidewalk and kids are falling and panicking and running all over each other. It was like the running of the bulls in Spain. “Hey guys, stop running,” and a kid runs by me and he says, “You better start running because there’s a guy right behind you.” I looked behind me and here’s a cop with a billy club and he was about to take my head off. I’m going, “Son of a gun.” So I set the NCAA sprint record from the front of the field house to Lincoln Hall. An hour later, we were calling a place to order some pizza. Only in DeKalb can you riot, almost get hit in the head— This is a true story.

    The other story, when the demonstrations started, I didn’t work on the Star anymore, but my best friends were there. I lived in Lincoln and my roommate had a little color TV, it’s June now. I’m watching the NBA playoffs, I’m a big basketball guy. Well, I take it back. I did march. The march snaked around the residence halls and Grant and Stevenson and whatever. Then I went by Lincoln and well, “I’ve done my thing for social consciousness. I have to have priorities, I’ve got to watch the NBA finals.” I watched everyone go past me. Now, this is Lucinda, I am looking east. I’m Lucinda, on the corner of Annie Glidden road. It was solid protesters from Annie Glidden road all the way to Neptune. That’s probably four or five, maybe six thousand people. Now I go and watch the playoffs and it might’ve been a different night. I’m watching the playoffs again and the phone rings. It was my good friend, Ray Gibson, who was the editor-to-be, the Northern Star for the fall of 1970. It’s the spring of 1970, but at the end of the semester, they put you in your role for the next year so you get a kind of feel. He says, “Hey, do me a favor. There’s some type of disturbance in front of Grand South.” I said, “I’ll call you back in five.” I went up the stairs on Lincoln you could go up to the top of the stairs and you could see across to Lincoln— across to Grand South. Again, it’s three state cars turned over and burning. Maybe 200 kids around the cars and the state cars had State of Illinois seals on them. They were all painted turquoise and I’m going, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I ran back downstairs and I said, “Hey, there’s three state cars burning, a hundred, two hunderd kids”. I said, “Do you want me to over there just now?” “You can’t, you’re not with us. We’ll send a photographer.” They sent a photographer nicknamed Tiny, except he was 6’8” and weighed about 300 pounds. Now it’s starting to turn dark, he’s shooting with flash, and all of a sudden, the kids— He’s just shooting for the Star because this is news. All of a sudden, he had to fight off a bunch of kids who, “Hey, you can’t take my picture.” Now about a week later, my friend Ray Gibson calls me. I was doing baseball stats— Here’s the difference too. I was doing baseball stats manually, we didn’t even have a calculator in the spring of 1970. I was doing it manually and he says, “Get over here right away.” I said, “Why?” “I can’t talk, get over here right away to the Star.” I ran from the field house to the Star and I get in the office and there was a retinue, a line and all of a sudden, the Chief of Police walks in with the state’s attorney who had a subpoena for those film negatives of the burning cars and all the rioters. They wanted to identify the protesters, rioters, the people through the negatives. The Star, of course, said, “No. Those are our negatives.” The editor, it wasn’t Ray, was Ken Trantowsky, who’s deceased. He graduated the same year I was. They put cuffs on him and walked him out of the deal. I’m sitting there going, “This is real journalism. This is not some pretend stuff. This is the government trying to deter the freedom of the press.” The negatives were in a jello mold in the faculty advisor’s refrigerator. That’s probably one of the most famous Northern Star stories.

    That spring also, they were debating, that was the year that ROTC was on campus. Hey, look, I’m a veteran, even though I was a typewriter jockey, I understand the purpose and the necessity for our military. At the time, at my high school, Prospect High School in the ‘60s, they didn’t have ROTC because the parents didn’t want any military stuff. In some high schools, they had ROTC, but we didn’t have it in high school, and Northern didn’t have it until the spring of— They had an SA meeting in the Duke Ellington Ballroom. Again, I was kind of apolitical. I was a sports writer. I went to the meeting and oh my, God, people are yelling about the government and the pigs and the senators. They had chairs in a square and the senator would stand up on the table. “We don’t want the Pentagon here. We don’t want the army here.” It’s like, “Holy cow.” The same week in the field house, William Kunstler, who was the attorney for the Chicago Seven, you’ve heard of the Democratic National Convention in ‘68 and Abbie Hoffman. They were the Chicago Seven. He spoke in the field house, there were six thousand people. He spoke in the field house until 2 AM talking about your rights and the rights of expression and don’t let the— Again, I’m 22 years old and going, “Oh my God.” It was an unbelievable thing. Thank God we went pass fail and I let things slide a little bit. Plus, I had senioritis and I graduated on time, but someone should do a documentary. The best thing, probably the most important thing of that riot thing was that the President, Rhoten Smith, the kids, the first night— Again, I probably need a timeline to get this straight. This is all jumbled. The kids the first night, they marched a block and a half on downtown DeKalb and broke windows and created a lot of damage. My friend, Ray Gibson, said they had called any place that you could buy ammunition, and you could not buy ammunition. There were a lot of business owners in DeKalb sitting in their businesses with a weapon waiting for the kids. The President, President Roland Smith knew this. There’s a famous picture of him with a red NIU baseball cap. He stopped the kids over on the bridge by the Kishwaukee River and the lagoon. They did not go any further and he knew what was going to happen. He saved a lot of lives. Then maybe about ten years ago, my friend Ray Gibson, he worked at the Tribune. He called me, and he said, “You see the bit on the paper today?” I said, “No.” He says, “Rhoten Smith died.” I said, “Oh, really?” He said, “Do you know he was a decorated World War II pilot?” To me, here’s a man who bombed people at World War II, but here, he was saving people.
  • Synopsis: Northen Illinois University Shooting
    Keywords: Shooters; Traumatic
    Transcript: That reminds me of the last story I’ll tell you. Ray called me on the shootings in 2008. I was retired, I had a little office in the field house. There’s no windows. The only window were the little window in the door. I was talking to a friend, and the phone rang. There are two shooters on campus. Lock your door. Secure your office. Maybe he didn’t say two, but it was plural. The warning system was great. Then I hit my computer and I got an email, the same morning. Holy cow. I had a little radio. I turned it to WLBK, the local station, and there was a kid who worked at WLBK. He was using his cell phone. He says, “Yes, there’s ambulances here in front of the—” Oh, God, what is the lecture building? I forget. “They’re taking people out.” I’m going, “Oh my God, this is unbelievable.” We’re sitting in there going, “Shooters, plural?” They finally gave the all-clear around 4:30. We walked out of the building and it seemed like the whole parking lot on the east side of the field house was ambulances, fire trucks, police cars. I’m going, “Oh my God.” Before we left, Ray called me again, and there were five helicopters flying over the campus. Ray called me around four o’clock. He says, “You okay?” I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “There’s a shooting on campus.” I said, “Oh, yes.” He’s sitting on Michigan Avenue watching the TV coverage. He goes, “I can see the field house.” He says, “You’re in there, right?” I go, “Yeah.” “You’re okay?” “Yeah.” We were good friends, but that was very traumatic too and hard to believe that that happened here, but that’s happening all over the world. You think the school would be a safe haven or a church. Not anymore. Not anymore. We got off the subject a little bit, but historically, yes, the spring of ‘70, that’s a big time.
  • Synopsis: Life After NIU
    Keywords: DeKalb; Northern Star
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: What was your life like after NIU? Did NIU play any part in that part of your life?

    KORCEK: Yes. I’m still here. I thought about moving back to Mount Prospect and I like living in a college town. Occasionally, I’ll go to some lecture or something like that, I have season tickets to the Huskies. DeKalb is my home now. Yes, I’m from Mount Prospect and I still have ties there, but I live here. I’m still a Husky. I didn’t go to the Orange Bowl, I debated back and forth and I know you can VCR the game or whatever, but I’m a media creature. I love to read what people write about us and see what their impressions are. Because when I was working, I helped create those impressions and try to be positive and point them in the right direction. At the same time, if there was a problem, yes, you had to be forthright and deal with media people and whatever, but I had an opportunity, in fact, three days before the Orange Bowl, one of my friends, “Hey, we’re going. You want to drive with us?” I go, “I don’t know. I’ll stay home and watch it on ESPN.” I sit there, I order a pizza, and the game starts and they pan the crowd. I see all that Huskie Red and I’m going, “Oh my God,” but it was the need to see what they said about us. Again, the Orange Bowl isn’t in a run-of-the-mill bowl game. It’s one of the upper echelon bowl games. So, they have more cameras, more replays than an average bowl game. Do I regret not going? In a way, but at the same time, I didn’t like the result last week at Vanderbilt, but I love watching the Huskies. I’ll go to the games and then I run into my car to listen to the postgame interview with Coach Hammock or Coach Carey because I used to do that. Yes, there’s the social aspect, the tailgating. Saturday when we play bowl state, I’ll walk through the tailgate area and I’ll see student-athletes that I know or Northern Star kids that I know. That’s the fun part of reminiscing with these people and sharing, having shared experiences. Northern played a major part of my life and I don’t regret it.
  • Synopsis: The Future of NIU
    Keywords: Struggling; Opportunities; Higher Education
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: What do you think the future of NIU looks like?

    KORCEK: This higher education thing and with the pension problems, and then you see some of the directions, like SIU Carbondale, I mean, SIU Edwardsville has a larger enrollment than SIU Carbondale. Western Illinois is struggling, Eastern Illinois is struggling. The U of I is doing fine because, again, they have all the clout, they get all the budget money. Illinois State is doing pretty well, so you wonder what the future of higher education in the state of Illinois is. Like I said- I remember the first time when I was a student, we drove down to Carbondale. “Hey, let’s go out— They got a lot of—” Typical student mentality. Don’t be offended. “It’s a five-hour drive.” We’re about half an hour from Carbondale and I said, “Are we in Atlanta yet?” It just felt like we were— Now, there is a train I believe that goes from Chicago through Carbondale, but I think our location is a plus. Here we are and if you draw a triangle, Rockford, DeKalb and Chicago, it’s just like, Wow. How many people are there in Rockford? How many prospective students are there in Rockford and Chicago and in between? Or in Lindenhurst and-

    Dvorak: Cary. [We discussed our hometowns before the interview.]

    KORCEK: -Cary and Mount Prospect, it’s just like [pause] you wonder. I’ll tell you another story. Again, maybe the perception of NIU has changed or the perception of kids in the suburbs. I was on the student paper at Prospect, I told you, the last issue of the paper would list all the seniors and where they were going to go to school. Our class was 460- over 50 kids from my class at Prospect in 1966 went to NIU. Now, it’s maybe three or four, so has Mount Prospect changed? Or has DeKalb and NIU changed? Again, I think there’s more opportunities, I think more schools are out there recruiting kids and then you have Iowa and Wisconsin or Indiana. Those Big Ten schools, “Hey, you’re on a state, we’ll give you a good deal and it’s almost less than it costs to go to NIU and you’re going to get a Big Ten diploma.” Again, I understand but it’s just like, “Hey, we’re Huskies.” I love the mantra of our football team the hard way. Again, it’s like I mentioned to you in Northern Illinois kids work harder. Our daddy may not own a Fortune 500 company and there’s an automatic job as a vice president when you get out of college, so we have to earn it. There’s nothing wrong with that. But yes, I wonder where higher education is headed in this state, but again, our location— To me and maybe you guys felt the same way, Mount Prospect was an hour and five minutes away. If I had to go home for an emergency or for Thanksgiving or, “Mom, do my wash,” freshman year she did. It’s like, “Hey, this is pretty convenient.” But I was away from home and I learned some things. So I don’t know, but again, I think that’s a problem facing the directional schools in the state of Illinois. The thing that I don’t want to see and maybe I’ll be gone, I don’t want to see the University of Illinois at DeKalb or the University of Illinois at Macomb. I think that the schools having their separate identity is important but the problem is that the different schools need to have unique majors or unique departments and I’m not in charge of that, I’m just a lowly sports writer. But if you see what I say that, “Northern has a good accountancy school. Okay, yes. I’ll go to Northern.” I don’t know if Illinois State has an accountancy program or whatever or how good it is but again, certain schools are known for certain things. It’s almost like you need to be more strategic in your course offerings.
  • Synopsis: Sports Artifacts
    Keywords: Marketing; Website; Sports Illustrated
    Transcript: POTOCHNIK: As we start winding down here, is there any last comments or anything you’d like to add?

    KORCEK: No, I appreciate— I’m flattered that you asked. Can I show you and talk about some of these things here?

    POTOCHNIK: Sure.

    KORCEK: Is this the time? This is the famous Turner the Burner hot sauce [see 125_Korcek_M_20191001_R_Potochnik_and_A_Dvorak_Photo2]. Michael Turner was our tailback and our marketing, I didn’t want to do it because I don’t like marketing with food because it can spoil. Our marketing department did it and a woman named Tekla Martin and you can tell here that the little bottle, the same picture and the little fire and the same type, Turner the Burner. We also had a Turner the Burner t-shirts and Turner the— We’re trying to promote. Some people thought it was stupid and I send a whole case of them, twenty-four bottles to ESPN, to Dave Albright who was a Northern Illinois grad and a friend. I said, “David, get this to the college football guys. Take a few for yourself.” In 2003, when we beat Alabama and we got home at four in the morning, but in the morning they showed the college final which is the last sportscast of Saturday Night, here’s Chris Berman on Sports Center at his desk on national TV, “Turner the Burner had 150 yards rushing against Alabama,” and I said, “Mike, you’ve hit the big time.” Now, if you go on, his web page for some reason is still up. Sports Illustrated and the guy named, Vinny Malek, who is a Northern grad, he was one of the first web designers and he designed the website and it is one of the best and like I said, Sports Illustrated called it one of the best of its kind. This cover, [see 125_Korcek_M_20191001_R_Potochnik_and_A_Dvorak_Photo4] this is how you strategize or how I think- that I preferred people Northern Illinois. You pull this out of an envelope and what’s the first thing you see? Northern Illinois. It’s very simple, here’s Michael and Turner the Burner, he’s a big kid. He weighed 228 but he was very fast. Just like Flash comics when Flash would have those little speed lines, I said, “We got to have some fire.” A guy named Keith Loman designed the fire for me. It took him a week. First, he put it this way, I said, “No, no, it’s not the right angle. We got to make this look realistic.” I drove him nuts. Michael was the number two rusher his junior year in the country. These two guys, LaShawn Johnson was the national rushing champion in 1993 and Mark Keller was the national rushing champion in 1973. Basically, there is two ideas in this cover, three ideas. Northern Illinois football, Michael Turner, fame by association. Here are two all-Americans who were national rushing champions. Again, that’s how we marketed him.

    I love this cover and this is our centennial media guide in 1999 [see 125_Korcek_M_20191001_R_Potochnik_and_A_Dvorak_Photo3]. Too bad we don’t have a picture of this. This is the current player then, Justin McCarron who played in the NFL but I got the idea, “You know what, I’m going to go to the regional History Center and borrow all the— these are game cover programs.” Here we are, this is Homecoming in 1933. Here’s the program and that says Northern Illinois State Teachers College versus Wheaton College. Here it is versus Elmhurst, Eastern Illinois Panthers. This is from 1947, so they’re chronological history. These are the game programs when I started to be in college. On the back, these are some more. This is the game program of the California Bowl and we worked our way to the present when Joe Novak was the coach. It’s just like, it was fun to do and fun to look at all these old things. Again, I used to say, “Yes, I’m like an amateur historian.” Again, I love the Northern Illinois and again, that’s going against the brand and I heard, “You don’t know anything about branding.” But people in New York, “NIU, what does that mean?” We’re confused with Northern Iowa all the time. It’s just like, yes in DeKalb county in Chicago, people know what NIU means. This was our preseason prospectus which is larger. We had a prospectus and then the media guide, but it’s just like, “I want them to see Northern Illinois, Northern Illinois.” And we always try to tell people, “If you give our score on TV, instead of saying NIU, 17, Bowling green, nothing, say, Northern Illinois 17, just two more seconds.” When we’re fighting, it sounds stupid and I know they want a brand. The most famous acronym in college sports is UCLA. Do you know what UCLA stands for?

    POTOCHNIK: University of California, Los Angeles.

    KORCEK: Very good, you win Ryan, but do you see the LA Times saying, “University of California, Los Angeles beats—” no, that’s UCLA. Headline writers, sportspeople like abbreviations, but you have to know what it is. People in New York and we get confused UNI, INU. Are you Northern Indiana? No, there’s no such school as Northern— Northern Illinois. There is no confusion what the school is when you have Northern Illinois in big type on the front of your book. Again, yes, here’s this basketball one [no picture of this one]. Where is it here? My assistant, okay, he put Northern Illinois University and you’ve gotten Northern Illinois on the jersey. This was the debate the Cal Bowl year, when we went, we got special new uniforms to go to the Cal Bowl. Do we put Northern Illinois? That’s kind of long for a football Jersey. Bob Brigham and my boss Bud Nangle, They didn’t have a fistfight but they had a long debate, finally put NIU on the jersey. Those are some stories from the good old days, the Mike Korcek Wayback machine.

    POTOCHNIK: Well, thank you for joining us today.

    KORCEK: It was a pleasure.



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