George Bork: First to 3,000

Let’s do something I’ve never done before very briefly. There are two senior seasons from two different quarterbacks — both of which went to the same school (50 years apart) and received votes for Heisman (one was a finalist).

The shared school is Northern Illinois, and with that knowledge, you may or may not have already quickly and accurately guessed that one of the QBs in this conversation is Jordan Lynch. The other is the first NIU player to achieve a lot of things.

George Bork was the first player in NIU history to: 1. throw for 3,000 yards in a single season (first player to ever do that at any level of college football, actually), 2. receive Heisman trophy votes, 3. be inducted in the CFB Hall of Fame, 4. be an All-American in both football and basketball. Basketball was actually Bork’s better sport and could’ve played on scholarship at Michigan, but decided to play both sports at the more local small college. Tom Beck was the starting quarterback when Bork enrolled, and when head coach Howard Fletcher told Beck that he’d have to move positions to make room for the new talent, Beck barely argued back and ended up making the College Football Hall of Fame as a running back and return specialist.

Senior-year passing stats, Lynch vs. Bork

  • Jordan Lynch (2013) — 253/404 (62.6%), 2,892 yards (7.2 Y/A), 24 TD, 8 INT. NIU finished with a 12–2 record after an undefeated regular season; lost to Bowling Green in the MAC championship (47–27) and Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl (21–14).
  • George Bork (1963) — 244/374 (65.2%), 3,077 yards (8.2 Y/A), 32 TD, 12 INT. NIU finished with a 10–0 record, Interstate Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champs (IIAC), #1 NAIA team, #1 small college team by the AP.

Bork played in a system that was ahead of its time. In a comeback win against Central Michigan to end the 1963 regular season, Bork set a school record with 68 pass attempts and tied his own record of 43 completions which was also achieved a month prior. Both of those NIU records still stand (and many others he achieved) still stand. His 374 pass attempts in 1963 and 356 attempts in 1962 still stand as the fifth and sixth-most amount of single-season pass attempts in school history.

Bork’s 3,077 passing yards in 1963 currently ranks third all-time in single-season passing yards behind Chandler Harnish (3,216 yards in 2011) and Lynch (3,138 yards in 2012).

Bork and the team’s success was so fun to watch that he became must-see action for locals to see, and the average attendance for NIU those days would range from 5,000 to 10,000, and would sometimes have to really cram people into the stadium meant for 7,500. Later, “The House That Bork Built” or better known as Huskie Stadium came along in 1965 to accommodate 22,500 locals that want to catch the next George Bork, and additional plans for the program to move up to Division 1-A status by the end of the decade.

And that’s that. That’s how history is made. NIU had a lot of other moving parts along the way, but if we’re looking to see how it made the move up from NAIA to 1-A, it was that NIU got lucky with this multi-sport athlete that probably also would’ve had a nice life if he would’ve chosen Michigan and played just the one sport. Bork decided to play both sports at a smaller school, helped the team reach a national title, gave NIU a lot of positive press, and next thing you know there’s a new football stadium to move the school up a level.

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