When Macalester College of St. Paul, Minn., defeated Mount Scenario College of Ladysmith, Wis., 17-14, last Saturday, it usually would have been little noted outside the local and campus newspapers.
Instead, the story appeared in the New York Times, got Page 1 play in the Boston Globe, and received national attention via the wire services. And when the Macalester coach arrived home Saturday night, he found a Twin Cities television station was doing its evening sports news broadcast -- from his front lawn.
What was so special about the game? The Macalester Scots, with the aid of a wobbly field goal that just squeezed inside one upright with 11 seconds left in the game, had finally ended the nation's longest-ever football losing streak.
In the past 5 1/2 years, the Scots had taken the field 50 times -- each time coming up short on the scoreboard. Two seasons ago the school, a liberal arts college with about 1,700 students, had achieved the dubious honor of surpassing the old NCAA record of 39 straight losses.
Then last season, new head coach Tom Hosier arrived, taking the job because "I enjy a challenge." He found one; the team lost all eight of its games.
But Hosier was undaunted. He set about recruiting a new crop of good athletes, who could also meet Macalester's high academic standards. Slowly the team, which had hit its low point in 1977 when it was outscored 427-29 and lost one game 97-6, showed signs of improvement. The opening day win, before TV cameras and 4,000 delighted fans, culminated the comeback.
Now Hosier, who was named national Coach of the Week by United Press International for his efforts, has set his team's next goal -- a win within the Macs' conference. "Then we're really back," he said.
"Part of Macalester's demise has been the tough [Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic] conference we're in. If we played some of the other small college teams, I know we would have won some games."
That first win, Hosier said, was "a joy" and "a feeling of satisfaction." It was also a "relief." All the national attention before the big game, he said, didn't help his young players' concentration. "It really got to be a tremendous distraction, especially Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning."
According to Steve Boda, a statistician for the NCAA, no one keeps an official count of a "negative" statistic like the longest losing streak and "no school's likely to call in here and remind us." Near as he can tell, Winona State in Winona, Minn., has had the longest dry spell now -- a mere 18 games. But they may dispute their standing as first among losers, he warns. They claim a win along the way -- by forfeit.