It's a typical football Saturday at tiny Linfield College in
McMinnville, Ore. A crowd of 3,500 packs the covered stands on
one side of Maxwell Field. The school band strikes up the fight
song, an engineer on a passing locomotive blows his horn and
waves, and frat brothers lug in sofas and recliners to form
endzone luxury boxes.
"This is what Linfield football's all about," senior defensive
end Ryan Carlson says. "We're not trying to make the NFL. We're
here to play the game and get an education."
Oh, yes, and win. On Oct. 17 the Wildcats defeated archrival
Willamette 20-19 to clinch their 43rd straight winning season, a
record in college football at any level. Linfield, now 6-0 and
ranked third in the Division III West region, had shared the
previous record of 42 with Harvard (1881-1923) and Notre Dame
(1889-1932). Nebraska has the longest current Division I streak,
with 36 straight winning seasons. "Those are schools with great
football traditions," Linfield coach Jay Locey says. "It's a
heck of an honor."
For Linfield, a liberal arts college with 2,200 students located
40 miles south of Portland, winning football is as much a part
of life as the rain that falls in the surrounding Willamette
Valley. Linfield's streak began in 1956, the year Dwight
Eisenhower was reelected, Don Larsen threw his perfect game and
sock hops were the rage. Since then the Wildcats have gone
322-80-10, winning three small-college national titles and 25
Northwest Conference championships.
In all those years, Linfield has had only four coaches: Paul
Durham, Ad Rutschman, Ed Langsdorf and Locey. The most
successful of them was Rutschman, whose teams won 183 games and
three NAIA Division II national crowns between 1968 and '91.
Rutschman, who also coached the Linfield baseball team from '71
to '83, is the only person to have coached national title squads
in baseball and football. Last August he was enshrined in the
College Football Hall of Fame.
"Ad Rutschman is still the best teacher I've ever been around,"
says Oregon State coach Mike Riley, who played for Bear Bryant
at Alabama before serving as a Linfield assistant from '77 to
'82. "He could have coached at any level. But he liked his life
at Linfield and believed in what he was doing. He didn't think
being at a bigger school with a bigger stadium would make it any
Rutschman, 67, still attends most Linfield games, watching from
the coaches' box or standing along the field, where he greets an
unending line of well-wishers. The old coach says Linfield's
streak would not have been possible without so many dedicated
players. "I don't know if we've always had the best athletes,"
he says. "But we might have had kids with the biggest hearts,
the most desire and the most commitment."
When Rutschman retired, he turned over the reins to Langsdorf,
who won 32 games in four years, from '92 to '95, before stepping
down for personal reasons. Today Langsdorf serves as receivers
coach under Locey, who began his Linfield career as Rutschman's
defensive coordinator in '83.
No Linfield player has starred in the NFL, but a number of
former players have become high school coaches, and Linfield's
success is due partly to them. They have helped the Wildcats
develop talent pipelines from as far away as Connecticut and
Hawaii, and this year's roster lists 16 players from California.
"Our former players have been our best recruiters," Linfield
athletic director Scott Carnahan says.
About 130 kids try out annually for the team. "We never have to
worry about numbers," Locey says. "Kids want to be part of a
"It's a pretty daunting task to carry on a tradition like we
have here," says fifth-year senior quarterback Brian Higgins.
"There's pressure from students, fans and alumni. We're always
hearing about the streak. But I think it's made us better
because it's made us work harder."
Linfield's football pride has extended beyond campus to the
roughly 22,000 residents of McMinnville. Games at Maxwell Field
are almost always sold out, and GO CATS signs appear in shops up
and down Baker Street, the main thoroughfare. Not even a World
Series MVP performance by a Linfield alum and McMinnville
resident--the New York Yankees' Scott Brosius--has been bigger
than the streak.
Maybe that explains the jubilant scene at Maxwell Field
following the victory over Willamette. After the final buzzer
the Linfield students did something that would have made the
folks at Notre Dame proud: They tore down the goalposts. Who
says this isn't the big time?