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BG Football History Print E-mail
In 1919, when the first BGSU football team took to the field behind Ridge Street School, they failed to win a game. However, over the next 85 years, Falcon football would build a solid tradition of winning. Nineteen of the 36 men enrolled in the college participated on that first football team, including Ivan "Doc" Lake, who would later would give the Falcons their nickname. Though they wouldn't get the program's first win until the last game of the 1920 season, in their eighth game overall, the tide turned in 1921. Starting the season with a game in front of no fans due to an influenza epidemic (a 0-0 tie with Kent State), the Falcons won their next two games, the second being a national collegiate record 151-0 win over Findlay College in a game where BG scored 22 touchdowns. They could have used some of those points the next week, losing their only game of the season 27-0 to Ashland. The 3-1-1 record was good enough to clinch the Northwest Conference championship, the first title in school history. The Falcons would repeat the title in 1922, 1925, 1928 and 1929, the latter two led by Chet Chapman, Bowling Green's first All-American.

Federal funding allowed the Falcons to move to a new home in 1937, as University Stadium was dedicated. While it was located to the northeast of campus at the time, its former location is now the middle of campus, roughly in the area of the bell tower between Jerome Library and the Education Building.

In 1941, head coach Robert Whittaker led what some consider to be the best team ever at Bowling Green, outscoring opponents 173-40, and tying Case Western Reserve for the Ohio Conference title. The Falcons would go without a conference affiliation from 1942 until 1952 when they joined the Mid-American Conference. After a 7-2 season in their first year in the MAC, the Falcons came upon some rough times the next two years, leading to Doyt Perry replacing Whittaker as head coach of the team. Perry's first team in 1955 went 7-1-1, and improved on that the next year, finishing unbeaten at 8-0-1 and winning the MAC title.

But it's the 1959 season that's the crowning achievement of Perry's tenure, and the football program as a whole. The Falcons finished the year with a 9-0-0 record, and were named "national champions" in the college division. They almost repeated the feat the next year, but a late season loss to Ohio University (their only loss of the season) gave the national title to the Bobcats.

After winning three more MAC titles in 1961, 1962 and 1964, Perry stepped down to take the athletic director job at the university. Bob Gibson took over and didn't miss a beat, leading BG to another MAC title in 1965.

While the early 1970's were a time of turmoil and protest on the national scene, the Falcons thrived. Though they wouldn't win another MAC title until 1982, the first six years of the decade saw five of the greatest seasons rushing to date in program history. Paul Miles, whose #29 is the only one retired by the football program, ran for more than 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons from 1971 to 1973, just the third player in NCAA history to do so at that point. After Miles graduated, Dave Preston picked up the slack, and though he didn't even lead the team in rushing yards in one of his seasons, he still is the career leader in that category with 3,423 yards on the ground. Dan Saleet took the rushing crown in 1975, while in the same backfield as Preston, rushing for 1,114.

The early 1970's also saw one of the biggest, most exciting wins in school history, as Don Taylor's fourth quarter field goal gave the Falcons a 17-14 win over 18th-ranked Purdue on September 16, 1972. The head coach in that game, Don Nehlen, was in his fifth season with the Falcons, and he would give them four more before taking over the top job at West Virginia University.

After a string of losing seasons, 1982 signaled the rebirth of Falcon football, when freshman quarterback Brian McClure took over control of the team. He led the Falcons to a their first MAC title in 17 years his freshman season, and a trip to the California Bowl, Bowling Green's second bowl appearance and first since 1961. The Falcons lost a close 29-28 decision to Fresno State in that game, finishing the season at 7-5. By the time he left campus, McClure had set five national passing records, and still holds numerous school and conference records. He would take the Falcons back to the California Bowl in 1985, but the sudden departure of head coach Denny Stolz disrupted the team as Fresno State easily won the rematch, 51-7.

Bowling Green would finally get their revenge on the Bulldogs six years later, when first year head coach Gary Blackney took the Falcons back to the California Raisin Bowl. Entering the game as double-digit underdogs, the Falcons scored the first two touchdowns of the game and never trailed. Junior Mark Szlachcic caught 11 passes for 189 yards and two scores, and the Falcon defense forced three straight incompletions from their own three yard line as time expired to hold on for the 28-21 win.

The Falcons continued their domination of the MAC in 1992, again winning the conference title and its automatic bowl berth. This time, BG would play a different opponent, Nevada, in a brand new bowl game, the Las Vegas Bowl, which had replaced the California Bowl on the schedule. After building a commanding 28-3 lead at the half, the Falcons would see their lead shrink in the third quarter and disappear in the fourth. Trailing 34-28 with under two minutes left, Bowling Green got a turnover after Nevada's punter mishandled a snap. After two runs and a pass gained no yardage from the Nevada 3, senior quarterback Erik White found Dave Hankins in the back of the endzone for the touchdown. Brian Leaver added the extra point, and the Falcons came away with their second straight bowl win.

Despite a close call in 1994, the Falcons would not play in another bowl game until 2003, when their MAC West Division title earned them an invitation to the Motor City Bowl in Detroit. Trailing the Northwestern Wildcats of the Big 10 at halftime, Bowling Green came back in the second half, taking the lead for good on a Josh Harris touchdown pass to Cole Magner for the deciding score in the fourth quarter of the 28-24 victory. The 2003 season was the first for head coach Gregg Brandon, and saw the Falcons again upset Purdue on their home turf, as Harris connected with wide receiver Charles Sharon for a fourth down, fourth quarter touchdown to defeat the Boilermakers 27-26. The season also saw a visit to the Doyt Perry Stadium by ESPN's College Gameday, a first for the MAC, on a day where the Falcons dominated the Northern Illinois Huskies en route to a 34-18 win.

Though they would relinquish their hold on the MAC West title, the Falcons were again invited to a bowl game in 2004, as sophomore quarterback Omar Jacobs led them to a 52-35 win over Memphis in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

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