"We are experiencing growing pains all right," says Athletic Director George Evans. "We're expanding so fast that we are getting too big for the rest of our conference [the Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference]. We like them, but they might not like us pretty soon. We have to decide what our future policy is going to be."
Nothing has been said as yet, but the chances are future policy may involve major-college status and the Mid-American Conference, which includes perennially strong Bowling Green, Miami of Ohio and Ohio U. Naturally the sudden eminence of George Bork and the rest of the football team has not hurt the school's chances in this direction.
"Our national prominence has come at just the right time," said Fred Rolfe, a professor in NIU's chemistry department and chairman of the athletic board. He stood outside the tiny football field on the morning of NIU's last home game of the year, discussing plans for the new 22,500-seat stadium that should be ready for 1965. "It has had great impact on our program. We have a good one, 11 sports, and honestly administered. No under-the-table payments to football stars and only a modest grant-in-aid program. No one gets a free ride here. We have also tightened up our academic requirements for entrance. The fact that 12 seniors will be playing their last home game today may not be reassuring to Coach Fletcher, but I consider it a luxury. In the past our players had flunked out before their senior year."
The fact that Bork is one of these seniors is also a source of concern to the student body and the Huskie Boosters club downtown. It will be a long time before anyone in De Kalb has a chance to see the likes of George Bork again.
"I'll be sorry to see him go," said Howard Nelson, president of the De Kalb Trust & Savings Bank, one of the ardent members of the Booster club. "He has made such an interesting game of it...just like the pros do it."
"Whenever I used to tell people I was at NIU," recalls Terry Peters, sports editor of the undergraduate paper, The Northern Star, "They'd say, 'Oh yeah. De Kalb Teachers.' It was my pet peeve. Well, now everyone's talking about the football team and George Bork. They're not talking teachers anymore."
Last week the local fans had their last chance to watch their national hero. On a cold, bright afternoon, the band was set to spell out B-O-R-K at the half time and play You Gotta Be a Football Hero, and the crowd was set for fireworks. They got them from all directions. Three times Western Illinois, aroused by this chance to knock off No. 1, went ahead, and three times Bork's passing brought his team up to a tie and finally in front. At one point, on its own three-yard line, on second down with 11 to go, Northern made a daring first down on a jump pass by Bork over the middle. Then, early in the fourth quarter, as the Huskies trailed 22-16, Bork managed the kind of play that has made the pro scouts drool. Western had pulled in tight to protect against his short, sharp passes. Now, with the ball on the 34, second down and 11 for a first down, Bork called for a long pass. Taking the center snap 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, Bork ran around one charging lineman, dodged another and then with what seemed to be the merest flick of his forearm, lofted a high, long pass down the left sideline. It was taken in full flight by Stearns, who galloped the remaining 30 yards for the score.
Bork is an amiable, if quiet, young man. He has blond, crew-cut hair, but his narrow face and long bony nose make him look like a pale-faced American Indian. He plays his hero's role with an Indian's stoicism.
"I never think about the records or anything like that when I'm playing," he says. "I pass a lot because that's what the coach thinks is best for us. And you can't fault the results." You cannot, any more than you can fault George Paul Bork. He is a small-college quarterback, but he is bound to go early in the pro drafts. He is as good as his records.