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Toledo quickly became a MAC powerhouse

By KEVIN NASHStaff Writer

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The Toledo Rocket football program began its history with a brutal spanking at the hands of… The Toledo Rocket football program began its history with a brutal spanking at the hands of the University of Detroit.

The first game in Rockets history took place Oct. 17, 1917, and resulted in a 145-0 loss. Toledo went on to have a record of 0-3 and was shut out for the entire season while giving up 262 points.

The first win in school history took place in 1918 with a 19-12 victory over Defiance but wasn’Wˆt until 1919 that Toledo officially made blue and gold its colors.

From 1918 to 1936 games were played at Armory Park and Waite, Scott, Libbey and St. John’Wˆs high schools before moving into Glass Bowl Stadium in 1937.

With the help of gradually improving prospects, coach Jim Dwyer was able to lead the Rockets to their first winning season and Northwest Ohio League championship in 1923. It was also in 1923 that Toledo obtained its nickname, the ‘z´Sky Rockets,’Z´ given by James Neal. Neal was a Toledo student working in the press box and was pressured into coming up with a nickname by a Pittsburgh sports writer.

It did not take long for Toledo to become a powerhouse in football as it had only one losing season from 1933 to 1948.

Toledo was one of the leaders in integrating teams and Jim Pierce was its first black team captain. Dick Craig, who was one of the first blacks ever chosen to participate in a college all-star game, played football at Toledo from 1937 to 1939.

Emlen Tunnell, another black, played football at Toledo in 1942. Tunnell became the first player from a Mid-American Conference institution to be enshrined in the National Football League’Wˆs Hall of Fame. Tunnell earned this honor after a successful career with the New York Giants.

The Rockets became a part of the MAC in 1952. In 1967, Toledo began its season with a loss to Ohio. The Rockets went on to pull off nine straight victories and brought home their first of nine MAC championships.

Toledo boasts a couple of record setting quarterbacks. Chuck Ealey played for the Rockets from 1969 to 1971 and became the first player in MAC history to receive ballots for the Heisman Trophy. Ealey’Wˆs most astonishing accomplishment is that he never lost a college or high school game in his career. Ealey’Wˆs combined record for both high school and college is 65-0.

After the departure of Ealey, another record setting quarterback replaced him. Gene Swick broke former Oakland Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett’Wˆs NCAA record of 8,083 passing yards in the final game of his career in 1975.

The MAC ‘z´Back of the Year’Z´ went to a Toledo quarterback six times in eight years from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s. Swick won the award twice and Ealey won the award an unprecedented three consecutive years.

The 1980s were big for the Rockets as Toledo led the nation in percentage of attendance for most of the decade. The Rockets also won their fifth and sixth MAC championships in 1981 and 1984.

Toledo played in the California Bowl in 1981 and upset No. 20-ranked San Jose with a 27-25 victory on national television.

The Rockets were also declared the champions after the 1984 California Bowl vs. Randall Cunningham and the UNLV Runnin’Wˆ Rebels. UNLV beat the Rockets 30-13, but lost its title when it was discovered that it had ineligible players.

Defensive end Dan Williams is Toledo’Wˆs most celebrated player in recent history as he was the first player ever to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Williams was the 11th pick overall.

Gary Pinkel was Toledo’Wˆs head coach from 1991 to 2000 and has the most wins of any coach in school history with a record of 73-37-3.

Under Pinkel’Wˆs tenure, Toledo became the first MAC school to ever beat Penn State with a 24-6 victory in 1995.

The Rockets also won two MAC championships in 1995 and 2001. Last season ‘U˚ Pinkel’Wˆs final season as Toledo’Wˆs coach ‘U˚ the team played in the Motor City Bowl. The Rockets enjoyed a 23-16 victory over Cincinnati in a game where they trailed 13-3 at halftime.

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Toledo quickly became a MAC powerhouse