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Saturday, June 15
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

Anthony Thompson widely regarded as greatest IU football player

Twenty years ago on a cold Nov. 11 afternoon in Madison, Wisc., then-IU football coach Bill Mallory roamed the sidelines of Camp Randall Stadium until he reached senior running back Anthony Thompson.

With his top two quarterbacks injured, Mallory was forced to run the ball. A lot.

“I said to Anthony, ‘Strap it on bud – we’re gonna have to run you more.’”


THE GAME

Fifty-two carries, 377 yards and four touchdowns later, Thompson solidified himself as arguably the greatest football player in IU history, garnering a new NCAA Division I record for most yards in a single game.

“To ask a young man to do something like that is amazing,” Mallory said of the Wisconsin game. “To me that was just an awesome performance.”

Former linebacker John Miller said he remembers telling quarterback Dave Schnell at the game, “don’t throw the ball, keep handing if off to Anthony, because these guys aren’t stopping him.

“He was like a train that day,” Miller said of Anthony in the Hoosiers’ 45-17 win. “It was the most amazing thing I have ever watched in college football.”

But Thompson’s monumental day against the Badgers was only part of the greatest season by an individual player in 125 years of the IU
football program.

By the end of 1989, he added his name to some of college football’s most decorated lists – Heisman Trophy runner-up, first team All-American, Big Ten conference MVP, Walter Camp Player of the Year and Maxwell awards recipient, and was the Division I record-holder for rushing yards in a single game and career touchdowns (65) for nearly a decade.


THE PLAY

But while the game against Wisconsin meant a lot to Thompson, he said setting the career touchdown record in Bloomington the week prior was more significant.

On a goal-line play about four yards from the end zone, Schnell handed the ball off to Thompson, who easily ran through the oncoming defensive line for the score. The six points against Michigan State gave him 60 touchdowns for his career – the most in NCAA Division I history at the time.

“It was really awesome to break that record and to see a stadium full of cream and crimson chanting your name and clapping and applauding the accomplishment that was done on the field,” Thompson said. “To share that moment with my teammates, fans and family, it was really a great experience.”


THE HEISMAN TROPHY CEREMONY

Even though the season ended in a disappointing 5-6 record for the Hoosiers, Thompson’s career was not quite over.

Nominated for the Heisman Trophy – the most prestigious award in college football – he, his family and Coach Mallory flew to New York City for the presentation of the honor.

Thompson was a nominated for the Heisman along with University of Houston quarterback Andre Ware, West Virginia quarterback Major Harris, Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice and Colorado quarterback Darian Hagan.  

When the final ballots were tallied, Ware received the award by a slight margin over Thompson.

Despite not seeing Thompson take home the trophy, Mallory said the time shared with his running back is something he will never forget.  

“That was a great thrill,” Mallory said. “I was so proud of him and to see him go and come so close to winning the Heisman. I’d have to say it was right at the top of the list in terms of experiences that I have had in my coaching profession.”


LOOKING BACK, 20 YEARS LATER

In his four years at IU, Thompson finished with 5,299 yards, 67 touchdowns and more accolades than any other player to ever don the cream and crimson.
His hard work and effort on the field was recognized in 2007 when he became the sixth Hoosier to enter the College Football Hall of Fame.
For Thompson, though, these awards mean little compared to the lifelong memories he shared with his teammates and coaches – particularly Mallory – between 1986 and 1989.

“He always pushed you to do your best,” Thompson said. “His persona – a tough-and-hard nose guy – permeated throughout the team. We came in as boys. When Coach Mallory finished with us, we left as men.”

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