At Macalester College, Losing Wasn't Everything, It Was the Only Thing—Until Now, That Is

updated 09/22/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/22/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

With the home team trailing 14-0 in the third quarter, a group of Macalester College students left the stadium and headed for the nearest liquor store, confident they would be forced to drown their disappointment yet another Saturday. Losing has become a tradition at the small St. Paul, Minn. school, where the football team entered the season opener against Wisconsin's Mt. Senario College with 50 straight losses, a record of futility unrivaled in the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Macalester coach Tom Hosier paced the sidelines as his Scots rallied to tie the score in the fourth quarter. He held his breath as freshman kicker Bob Kaye lined up for a 23-yard field goal with 11 seconds to play. In the stands Hosier's wife, Jan, couldn't bear to watch. The kick was up...and good. Macalester won 17-14.

Like many players, wide receiver Mark Simons was "crying like crazy" when he left the field. "I'm so proud and so happy," he gasped. Hosier returned home to find a banner saying "Mac is Back—Congratulations" and a television crew camped out in his front yard, as if he were some kind of Woody Hayes. Macalester president John Davis Jr. sighed with relief when the Scots ended their widely publicized six-year losing streak. "We are really an academic college," said Davis, "and the attention to Macalester football got a little out of hand."

But not everyone at Macalester is delighted by the reversal of form. "There won't be anything to look forward to," laments sophomore Kevin Ramirez. "We party before and after every home game loss. We're together when the team is losing." Senior Kevin McClelland buys those sentiments: "There is enthusiasm here but it is not directed at the team winning."

Hosier ignores such campus sophistication and deserves much of the credit for Macalester's turnaround. He came to the college in February 1979 after some discussion on campus about dropping football altogether. Athletic director Dennis Keihn finally quelled the rumors, launching a nationwide search to fill what he described as "the best coaching job in the state." In his first season last fall, Hosier suffered through an 0-8 record, but remained optimistic.

Hosier, 38, had made his reputation transforming losers at Eureka (Ill.) College, which had experienced only four winning years in the previous 50 when Hosier signed on in 1974. In 1977 Eureka compiled a 7-3 record, the best in the history of the college. Hosier keeps a picture of Eureka's most famous alum, Ronald Reagan, in his office at Macalester. Its inscription reads: "Get one for the Gipper." (Politically neutral, he has also hung a photograph of Vice-President Walter Mondale, a former Macalester student.)

Growing up the son of a highway department official in South Haven, Mich., Tom started football in ninth grade. He went on to play in the backfield at Colorado University but was banged up so badly that he had "zippers on both knees." Transferring to DePauw, Hosier decided not to play and wound up coaching the freshman team. He has been stalking the sidelines ever since.

With Macalester's win in the record books, the coach enjoyed the luxury (at least for a week) of bragging about his undefeated season. He reveled in CBS' prankish rating on The NFL Today of Macalester (which has 887 males, 896 females and no athletic scholarships) as the 10th best team in the nation. And, like any coach worth his whistle, Hosier speaks confidently of the season ahead: "This team has a lot of winning to do."

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