Occidental, and Truth, Win Out
Making the NCAA Division III football playoffs has always been an uncertain proposition for Occidental--no matter how good its record. This season, for instance, the Tigers posted a 7-2 record yet failed to receive a postseason bid. History indicates that even if Occidental goes undefeated, it won’t have a lock on the playoffs.
Case in point:
Four years ago, the Tigers were 9-0 with a game remaining in the regular season, but their postseason destiny was already out of their hands. In order to win a playoff berth, Occidental would have to win its last game against Redlands and Hamline University of St. Paul, Minn., would have to tie or lose to St. Olaf College of Northfield, Minn.
Senior captains Mike Schmidt and Parris Devine couldn’t stand the suspense on game day--they had to call Schmidt’s mother, Pat, who lives in St. Peter, Minn., to get the Hamline final.
She had already called the local radio station to get the grim results--Hamline had won.
Occidental Coach Dale Widolff, too, had called his source in Minnesota. Devine and Widolff met before boarding the bus and the exchange went something like this:
Widolff: Should I tell the team?
Devine: I don’t see how it would help.
Widolff: Well, I don’t see how it could hurt. Maybe I’ll wait until halftime to tell them.
The Tigers trailed by a touchdown at the half and Widolff gave the standard inspirational locker-room speech. Before the team headed back to the field, however, he dropped the bomb--Hamline had tied St. Olaf and if the Tigers won, they would be playoff-bound.
Schmidt and Devine were incredulous. Widolff had lied just to inspire the team for the second half.
“We’d come off the field and say, ‘Man, that was a great series. . .but he lied ,” Devine said this week.
Schmidt, who, like Devine, is now an Occidental assistant, says that he was almost rooting for the Tigers to lose.
“We were thinking, ‘All these guys are playing their butts off and we know what’s really going to happen,’ ” Schmidt said. “It was an agonizing experience.”
The Tigers defeated Redlands and Widolff told the players they were headed for postseason play. The bus ride home was pandemonium.
“The whole night we were wondering who the hell’s right?” Devine said.
Finally, Schmidt called home to confirm the final score. Lo and behold, his mother misunderstood the information--Hamline had tied. Widolff was telling the truth.
“It wouldn’t be the first time my mom told me something that wasn’t correct,” Schmidt said.