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updated: 10/31/2011 7:01 PM

NIU QBs past, present indelibly linked

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  • Former all-American quarterback George Bork speaks at a ceremony honoring his unbeaten 1963 NIU football team. Bork, who played at Arlington High School, was the first major college quarterback to pass for more than 3,000 yards.

      Former all-American quarterback George Bork speaks at a ceremony honoring his unbeaten 1963 NIU football team. Bork, who played at Arlington High School, was the first major college quarterback to pass for more than 3,000 yards.
    Photo courtesy of NIU Athletics

  • Former Northern Illinois All-American quarterback George Bork, right, with his wife, Merlin. and a granddaughter, were in DeKalb in August to meet Huskies quarterback Chandler Harnish, who is breaking most of the passing records Bork set in his career.

      Former Northern Illinois All-American quarterback George Bork, right, with his wife, Merlin. and a granddaughter, were in DeKalb in August to meet Huskies quarterback Chandler Harnish, who is breaking most of the passing records Bork set in his career.
    Photo courtesy of NIU Athletics

  • Legendary Northern Illinois quarterback George Bork and some of his 1963 teammates gathered last month for a flag poll dedication in their honor during NIU Homecoming activities.

      Legendary Northern Illinois quarterback George Bork and some of his 1963 teammates gathered last month for a flag poll dedication in their honor during NIU Homecoming activities.
    Photo courtesy of NIU Athletics

  • Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish (12) celebrates a first-half touchdown against Fresno State in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl at Bronco Stadium, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010, in Boise, Idaho.

      Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish (12) celebrates a first-half touchdown against Fresno State in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl at Bronco Stadium, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010, in Boise, Idaho.
    Associated Press

 
 

Just because "3 yards and a cloud of dust" was a popular style of play in the 1970s, that doesn't mean college football was always so basic and simple.

Take the case of George Bork, an Arlington High School graduate whose passing records stood for nearly half a century at Northern Illinois.

Before NIU's victory over Western Michigan on Oct. 15, the school raised a flag near Huskie Stadium commemorating the 1963 team, which won the small college national championship behind Bork and an intensive aerial attack.

"We threw out of a shotgun and had a wide-open offense," Bork recalled. "I don't know if it was as fast-paced as the present one is, with that no-huddle. We were still huddling."

He ruled the NIU record books for decades, but at long last, someone finally out-Borked the legend. And Bork has enjoyed watching senior Chandler Harnish eclipse his records almost as much as he's enjoying retirement.

Harnish now owns the Huskies' career marks for passing yardage, total offense, attempts and completions. Bork still has the lead in touchdown passes and may hang on, considering Harnish trails by 9.

Then again, Harnish hurts opponents with his legs as much as his arm. He ranks fourth in the Mid-American Conference in rushing and earlier this season became the 10th player in NCAA history to run and pass for 200 yards in a single game.

"I was definitely not a runner," Bork admitted. "With that dual threat that he is, that's got to really be difficult for teams to defend against."

Over the past two years, the Huskies' greatest quarterbacks have had several brief meetings. Harnish wishes he could spend more time picking Bork's brain.

"He's definitely given me some advice," Harnish said. "Everyone knows George Bork. He's a legend at NIU. I definitely respect him so much and I'm glad to know him and hopefully our relationship continues to build.

"Other guys that come back from his era always talk about how much of a great influence George was as far as leadership goes. His picture is up on our Hall of Fame wall, so we see him every day."

The golfing life

After leaving Northern Illinois, Bork spent four seasons playing for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, then spent nearly 40 years as a teacher and coach at Prospect High School.

Oddly enough, he spent very little time coaching football.

"I coached football for two years," he said. "I coached football, basketball and golf. Golf went to a fall sport and it gave me a choice between football and golf, and I don't think they ever thought I'd choose golf over football, but I did.

"Eventually, I got it down to just golf. It's a fun job. It's a little more low-key than football and basketball."

Bork has carried that lifestyle into retirement. In February, he and his wife, Merlin, completed a mission of playing golf in all 50 states.

In between trips, he tries to keep an eye on his alma mater and is planning to attend the regular-season finale against Eastern Michigan. When Bork watches the Huskies in their current state, it doesn't evoke many memories of 1963.

"Obviously, it's a lot more big-time," he said. "We didn't even play in Huskie Stadium. Their schedule is a lot tougher. They're playing Big Ten teams and football powerhouses from around the country. And everybody's a lot bigger. We were down on the sidelines for the homecoming game and it's amazing how big; all the bodies were just huge."

Farm system

While Bork grew up in the suburbs, Harnish is from rural Indiana, but not far from Fort Wayne. Although his parents weren't necessarily farmers -- his dad is a teacher and mom works in a hospital -- Harnish did grow up on a farm.

"My whole extended family were farmers," Harnish said. "We always had some kind of animals. We had pigs, goats, chickens, rabbits -- you name it, we had it. A lot of times it was more for fun than anything."

One family tradition was supplementing the income by growing and selling sweet corn. Needless to say, it's a laborious task.

"You're up at 6 a.m., try to beat the heat and pick as much corn as you can," Harnish said. "We'd take it right into town and sell it pretty much from the back of our pickup truck. Then once you sell out, usually pretty quickly, you have to go back out in the middle of the day and pick some more. That's when it really gets hard."

At Norwell High School, Harnish was recruited by some Big Ten schools, but he couldn't turn down from the love shown by Northern Illinois.

"A lot of the other schools -- Purdue, Toledo, Michigan State -- they kind of held back and I wasn't their first choice," he said. "I wanted to go where I was wanted and coming to Northern was an awfully easy decision for me."

In their quest to repeat as MAC West champs, the Huskies face a crucial test tonight at Toledo. NIU will either pull into a tie for first place or fall 2 games behind the Rockets with three left to play.

"I want to be remembered as a winner first," Harnish said. "I'm glad to be in the company with George Bork and some of the guys like Josh Haldi, the great quarterbacks here. But I really want to win a MAC championship."

The Huskies are 2-18 all-time at Toledo. Winning a crucial road game should be a reasonable goal for someone who just broke a bunch of 48-year-old passing records.

"He's the kind of guy that's going to be a success no matter what he decides to do, whether he plays football or is a businessman or an astronaut," Bork said. "Whatever he decides to do, he's going to be good at it."

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