For the first time in years both the Annawan-Wethersfield Titans and Kewanee Boilermakers are in playoff football games today. The Titans host Mercer County at 1 p.m. at Wethersfield Memorial Stadium while the Boilers hit the road for a 2 p.m. game at Seneca. Congratulations and good luck to both teams!
It was well-timed news when we learned this week that Kewanee High School football legend Ed Tunnicliff recently visited his college alma mater, Northwestern, to donate his No. 15 Wildcat football jersey to the university archives.
For you young whippersnappers, Tunnicliff, a 1944 graduate of Kewanee High School, is one of the most storied figures in NU football history. A junior communications major, he made a surprise, last-minute touchdown in the 1949 Rose Bowl that tipped Northwestern toward a 20-14 upset victory over the favored University of California. A rare black and white film of the play can now be found on YouTube and other places on the internet.
It was Northwestern’s first and only Rose Bowl win, and their only bowl win until last January when the Wildcats broke a 64-year drought by defeating Mississippi State 34-20 in the Gator Bowl.
Tunnicliff, now 87, is retired after a career in the insurance business and lives in Mountain Home, Ark., with his wife, Sheila.
He was one of three brothers from Ord, Neb., who followed H.F. Brockman to Kewanee where he had been hired to coach football.
With the nickname “The Blonde Bullet,” the good-looking Tunnicliff was a standout athlete in several sports at KHS. He graduated in 1944, during World War II. According to a story on the NU website about Tunnicliff’s recent visit, the Northwestern athletic department initially recruited Tunnicliff when he was in high school. He opted, however, to join the Army and served two years until the end of the war, then went to Northwestern on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1950.
Serving on a tank crew in Patton’s Third Army, a portion of one finger on his right hand was crushed and had to be amputated while fighting in Germany in 1945. It didn’t stop him, however, from holding onto the football for his 43-yard run into the history books four years later in the 35th Rose Bowl.
In the story on the university’s website, Tunnicliff, accompanied by his older brother Bob (KHS Class of 1942 and also an NU grad), recalled his college football years, “If you look back through Northwestern’s history, when they had good teams, it was because they had depth,” he said. “When I was there, we had all the veterans coming back from four years of war and then all of the freshmen coming in as well, so we had all kinds of depth, and it made a difference.”
Page 2 of 2 - While in Evanston, Tunnicliff revisited the 1949 Rose Bowl trophy on display and met current Wildcat football coach Pat Fitzgerald, then summed up what makes Northwestern’s football program special — both in his day and today. “The main thing here at Northwestern is academics, as well it should be, and you were expected to do the same thing that any other student did,” he said. “That whole attitude about education being most important just permeates everything and you just feel confident.”
Tunnicliff’s retired Kewanee High School football jersey, an orange and black shirt with his No. 72 on the front, still hangs in the front hall at KHS. In June of 2011, Tunnicliff surprised school officials by dropping in unannounced to see if his jersey was still on the wall. Not only was it on the wall, it had been placed in a new, more secure frame with photos and related memorabilia under light-filtering glass.
A word to our friends at Northwestern — don’t take down Tunnicliff’s Rose Bowl game jersey. He might just drop in someday to see if it’s still up.
To see the complete story and photos of Tunnicliff’s visit and the 1949 football game, visit the NU website at www.northwestern.edu. Click on the “Campus Life” link and scroll down to “Athletics.” Click on a photo of the blue “15” jersey in the photo carousel at the top of the page and that will take you to the story. There’s also a video at the bottom about the historic 1949 game which includes recollections by Tunnicliff.