The string of former NU players continues on this Purple Mafia Friday as today we reconnect with Bill Draznik, aka “Draz”, who was a 4-year letterman from 1977-1980 for our beloved purple. Draz came to NU from Joliet Catholic where he played on the first two state championship teams under the legendary coach Gordie Gillespie. After playing OT as a freshman, he started at offensive guard in his sophomore year through part of his senior year.
Draz earned the Tommy Airth Award his senior year. After NU, Bill began a career in health insurance that has lasted 29 years – currently an executive with Humana in Chicago. He and his wife Barb (an Oregon Duck) live in Naperville and Galena, and have a daughter who is a sophomore at Columbia College in Chicago. An LTP mailbag regular, Draz has become one of LTP’s secret weapons in terms of historical context, great stories and staunch support of all things NU football. He is a long-time season ticketholder (with former teammates Dr.Steve Pals and Tom McGlade) and participates as a mentor in NU’s football mentorship program. Bill’s mentee is Chuck Porcelli – #74.
Before we dive in, I want to share a sentiment with you that I’ve shared with Bill. I tend to make light and even go to some lengths to avoid lamenting the “Dark Ages” of NU football. I do so as I feel it feeds in to the still lingering perception issues that NU faces when people still smart from losing to (SHRIEK!) “Northwestern”???!!! In so doing, I feel bad at times as all of those incredibly talented players who worked tirelessly in the hopes they would be the ones who turned it around. I remember sitting in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1996 looking at the sea of purple and getting emotional just thinking about the pride that was hovering above the purple-clad stadium and how many players like Bill who gave it their everyday all were seeing the unthinkable become a reality. With that, let’s get in to it…
LTP: You know that none of us like to dredge up Dark Ages stories, but you just have too many good stories to ignore. How do you personally deal with the knowledge you and your teammates busted your butts for years on end but had such little on-field success?
BD: I doubt whether any of my 1977-80 teammates lose sleep at night over the issue, but personally, I know I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that I gave all I had during those four years, and what happened, happened. Reminding myself of the priorities that every NU player knows intuitively helps as well – earning a degree from NU is job #1, has helped me ‘deal with it’.
LTP: Who knew that NU had a female mascot. Do tell.
Dear God. Winnie The Wildcat with a boa.
BD: Ugggh. In 1978, some marketing genius thought it wise that Willie the Wildcat have a female mascot partner –and so, at least during 1978 – “Winnie” was patrolling the field with Willie. I recall that ‘Winnie’ was the name because the person beneath the mask was a popular student named Winifred Friedman. Michael Spound, who was a very funny guy and who went on to some Hollywood career was Willie at least during that year. Part of the act was Winnie wearing a boa and doing a burlesque-ish dance! I hope the NU archivists can confirm that this was a one year experiment gone bad!
LTP: High-tops. Really? Explain.
BD: In the late ‘70’s, only two teams in the Big 10 had natural grass, Purdue and Minnesota (in their old ‘Brickyard’). Everyone else had some form of artificial turf which ranged from thick bladed and sharp, like Michigan State, to NU’s (and Michigan’s)‘tartan’ turf – short and truly carpet-like. Whichever type, they were all brutal, primarily due to turf burns on elbows
and knees which were serious bad business, primarily in that they took forever to heal. Now, regarding shoes, for some reason, in 1979, perhaps due to the aged, compressed and slick turf of Dyche (talk about lack of resources), a theory evolved that, yes, hoops shoes (with no cleats) worked better that shoes with rubber cleats. I can say for certain they didn’t work better. I’m jealous of the surfaces they have today.
LTP: Give us some “you won’t believe” the program was so shorthanded against the Michigans of the day insights. Facilities comparisons, athletic talent – whatever it takes to underscore how far we’ve come.
BD: Why is the Don Adams ‘Get Smart’ audio running through my head….”would you
OK, first facilities – night and day. We did everything on the Dyche Stadium turf. As mentioned previously, because only two schools had grass, there was little purpose in practicing on the practice fields where NU practices today – that was a rare event. No such thing as an indoor facility – when it got late in the year, they turned on those little lights that are basically emergency lights.
Locker Rooms – our locker room was a cave tucked under the Northwest stands guarded by a seasoned citizen we named ‘Old Johnny’. There was a separate cave room for the freshman (or the seniors) – whichever group earned the right to have a separate room. Tiny training
room attached. Think of a dark, damp basement – that was the locker room and training facilities.
Today, the guys come off the practice field into Nicollet with position rooms and they are watching film literally minutes after practice. We used to use rooms at Norris (where training table was), Tech (during doubles), or even the visitors locker room for position film sessions.
Weight room facilities? It was called the basement at Patten Gymnasium (at first), then
a tiny room in the southwest corner of the stadium (second) and finally, the building where it is today – which many people don’t know was originally part of a ice skating facility! Coaches offices were basically non-existent (there might have been one or two in Anderson Hall).
Now, regarding athletic talent, I’m going to be somewhat contrarian to conventional wisdom. If by ‘talent’ you use the objective measurement of ‘professional football years of NU players during any four year period’ I’d argue that between Chris Hinton, Rob Taylor, John Kidd and Mike Kerrigan, those four years might have produced some of the greatest individual
‘talent’ in any stretch of NU football in any period. Now having said all that, in the skill positions, especially running back and wide receiver, we didn’t have anybody near the likes of Darnell Autry, Damian Anderson, Jason Wright, Noah Herron or any of the greats you’ve profiled previously, or anybody near the likes of D’Wayne Bates (for my money the best NU player of
all-time). The biggest differential between then and now is depth. We had some very good individual players – those mentioned previously and other fellow o-linemen like the late/great Jim Ford, and earlier – Tony Ardizzone and Don Herzog, were prime examples, but never the right talent in the skill positions to make a difference, and if #1 went down, there was some major ‘separation’.
LTP: Ahhh, depth. This is the most common answer I get from pre 1995 players to know that is the most striking difference in the program as it relates to players. Give us your one shining moment. Favorite all-time positive NU moment. Details please.
BD:When your record over a four-year period is 2 wins, 1 tie (which was 0-0!) and the rest losses, you tend to fondly remember other things – lifelong friendships (to this day), relationships with some coaches (Jon Eickstead was a real pro) and stories too funny to mention here involving pre-game rituals and nerves.
Individual moments though included the 1977 win against Illinois – John Pont’s (a true gentleman) last game, the win in 1979 against Wyoming (after which ‘The Streak’ began), and almost beating Michigan at Michigan in 1980 (against Anthony Carter). Individual battles against name players were also memorable – Tom Cousineau of Ohio State, Ron Simpkins (who
gave me a forearm shiver to kingdom come)and Mel Owens of Michigan, Al Harris of Arizona State to name a couple. The biggest highlights though are usually taken for granted – at the front end – simply earning a scholarship to, and then at the back end, graduating from, NU.
LTP: Well played. Clearly you follow the ‘Cats. Offer up your unique perspective of
former player turned fan who has seen the entire gamut. What’s next for the program to attain upper-tier perma-status?
BD: I think we’ve already reached ‘upper tier’ but staying there permanently is the question mark. Bottom line, unlike other programs, there’s a lot less room for error, and without constant vigilance, it can slide back, easily. Everything has to fall into place on the field and in the preparation. Fitz is the right man for the job, and I think with continued university support
– which it appears he has, we can reach ‘perma-status’. To tie this back to the ‘lean years’, this (to me) is the obvious difference between then and now. Morton Shapiro appears to be the polar opposite of Robert Strotz, thankfully.
LTP: You clearly have marketing insights. Winning has not cured all. What’s it going to take to get the average back up to the 40,000s?
1.) I’d rather fill 35,000 in a reconfigured Ryan Field (ed note: whoo! whoo! hot button topic alert!!!) than have empty seats as it is today, so I’m in favor of ‘less is more’. I CRINGE to see the empty-seat TV shots – they MUST go. With the risk of being accused of heresy, I’d also raise ticket prices. Expert marketers will argue that a higher price can raise the product’s value (whether real or perceived) in the minds of the consumer. Today, it’s easy for someone to ‘not show up’ even though they’ve purchased NU tickets, and that’s easy to do when the tickets are (in their minds)“cheap”.
2.) Scheduling smarts – NEVER schedule any home game on Labor Day weekend –
it’s an attendance killer – especially when played against the likes of Towson. Limit number of home games to 5 or 6.
3.) Continued use of ‘leverage’ (i.e. Wrigley) and tough love, including overt shaming of people into putting their butts in seats. Any NU alumnus, who lives in the Chicago area should be at every home game – no excuses. Give new alumni an incentive to become season ticket holders forever – get them hooked and used to the idea that this MUST be a lifetime tradition.
4.) Better outreach to far suburbs – my pet peeve is marketing laziness – if you want to get attendance back in the 40,000, it’s only going to happen by attracting new fans to become NU fans – and they will be from the far suburbs where the dads are. Focusing on marketing to a thin sliver along Lake Michigan is both lazy and won’t work – a bad combination. Has there ever been any outreach to Naperville?
LTP: OK Bill, final question. Do you have other 70’s era stories the fans will appreciate?
• In 1977, at Arizona State and John Jefferson, when asked why, as he ran a 4.4, he couldn’t catch John Jefferson, Willie Sydnor responded ‘because he runs a 4.3 coach!’
• 1977: Homecoming, a very intoxicated and over-the-top homecoming marshal – actor Paul Lynde visiting the team locker room at halftime in a fur coat.
• The last JV (junior varsity) game in NU history at Purdue, where arrived one hour late due to JV coaches forgetting about the infamous Indiana daylight saving time quirk.
-JV game at Wisconsin with classic pep talk “well, we’re all here so we might as well go out and play”.
• 1978 – future actor Clancy Brown walking onto NU football team.
• Rick Venturi in full sprint chasing Tim Rooney off the practice field for some attitude.
• How bad that huge buffalo smelled at Colorado as they ran him by our
• 4 different helmet designs in four years – has to be a record.
• Steve Boboski challenging the referee at Ohio State that Woody Hayes couldn’t come onto field. You can imagine the response to that one.
LTP: Great stuff! Thanks for sharing all of the memories and keep on keeping on! Be sure to keep Mr. Porcelli on the right track.