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‘Indiana’s just a great school:’ Decades later, Terry Tallen still remembers home

Bloomington never drifts too far away from the mind of former Indiana captain Terry Tallen.

“I go back two or three times a year. Usually I go to a football game, I’ll try to do something with the business school, and I like to go back in the spring,” Tallen said. “It’s just such a beautiful place in the spring, to see all the guys and play some golf.”

Tallen, a 1982 graduate of IU’s Kelley School of Business, played four years of football at Indiana under head coach Lee Corso from 1977 to 1980. Tallen and his teammates claimed the 1979 Holiday Bowl by defeating No. 9 BYU in San Diego. Tallen played defensive tackle, linebacker, and nose guard for the Hoosiers.

Indiana Head Coach Lee Corso accepts the 1979 Holiday Bowl trophy with Terry Tallen (#62), Kevin Speer (#59), and Bob Stepehnson (#84). (Photo courtesy of Terry Tallen)

While rich at times, the history of Indiana football is not consistent. For a program which has faced more struggles than successes in its time, this era of football in particular stood as an exception. What was at the time just the second ever bowl appearance — and the first bowl win in the history of the program — will forever be monumental. Though Indiana finished the year just fourth in the Big Ten (5-3), the Hoosiers concluded 1979 ranked by the AP as the 19th best team in the country. IU wouldn’t again finish its season ranked for nearly another decade.

Considered by many as the most exciting game of the 1979 bowl season, Indiana and BYU combined for 75 total points and over 850 yards of total offense. BYU rode a perfect 11-0 record into San Diego and on the evening of December 21, quarterback Marc Wilson continued to show why his team that year was as good as its record implied. Still, IU found a way to answer all night long. With the Cougars holding a 37-31 lead in the fourth quarter, IU punt returner Tim Wilbur ran one back 62 yards for the go-ahead score, as Indiana held on to win in front of a crowd of over 52,000.

“I get chills down my spine thinking about it,” Tallen said. “That season, we expected to go to a bowl game. We expected to get better every week and we expected to win the bowl game when we got there.”

Tallen, who led on the defensive line, was one of four co-captains that year, along with quarterback Tim Clifford, fellow d-lineman Brent Tisdale, and running back Tony D’Orazio.

“Those three guys just were great leaders in their own right and really brought the team together,” Tallen said. “We had just some extraordinary players and extraordinary offensive line.”

Clifford, also Tallen’s roommate for two years at IU, went on to be named the conference’s most valuable player that same season, completing nearly 56 percent of all passes for 2,078 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1979. A pitcher for Indiana’s baseball team as well, Clifford ranks in the Hoosiers’ top 10 all-time in passing yardage, attempts, and completions.

“Just a magical athlete. He’d go to spring practice on a Saturday morning and take all the hits and everything, then he’d go pitch a no-hitter for the IU baseball team in the same day,” Tallen said, laughing.

Also on that team was another running back, Mike Harkrader, who played three seasons alongside Tallen, and ranks fourth all-time for career rush yards (3,257).

“What a great football story he was,” Tallen said. “You think about a football player — those guys were all true football players. They reeked of being football players.”

Though Tallen would stick around to play his final season in 1980, winning the Holiday Bowl that December symbolized superior talent and leadership finally coming to fruition, and years of work on the field as a teenager in southwestern Ohio finally showing through.

***

High school football in the state of Ohio is no joke.

A highly touted linebacker out of Stephen T. Badin High School in Hamilton, Terry Tallen was heavily recruited by a number of Division I programs, but was ultimately won over by Indiana. The combination of opportunities provided through the business school, getting playing time on the field sooner, and the outstanding recruiting tactics of head coach Lee Corso was in the end all too much to pass on.

“Getting a scholarship is a privilege, it’s not a right,” Tallen said. “And I think that a lot of our players took that to heart and focused on their education, and saw it as a wonderful opportunity to play Big Ten college football.”

Indiana quarterback Tim Clifford sends a ball downfield against Ohio State during the 1979 season. (Photo courtesy of Indiana University Archives)

Indiana assistant coach Jim Gruden, father of Jon and Jay, initially recruited Tallen and had a great deal of influence over the decision to in the end choose IU. When Tallen later moved to Florida in his early 20’s, the two reconnected while Gruden was coaching running backs with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Corso effect was monumental for Tallen.

Always quick with a joke or witty saying for his players to live by, Lee Corso just had a way with high school recruits, and it was during his nine year tenure with Indiana where that reputation was cemented. The customary treatment included a steak dinner at Little Zagreb’s in Bloomington (still a go-to for Tallen when he’s back on campus) and many times, a trip to an Indiana basketball game as well, which was an exceptionally powerful recruiting tool in the mid 1970’s.

“Oh my gosh, to see Quinn Buckner, Scott May, Kent Benson, and of course Bobby Knight,” Tallen said. “Assembly Hall was such an exciting place to go when you’re 18 years old watching a basketball game.”

When Indiana’s shot of making a bowl game was in reach down the stretch end of the 1979 season, and each game became especially meaningful, Corso had a way of keeping it light. Even in the summertime, in hopes of keeping his players focused somewhat on football, he’d send a letter to each member of the team, outlining what lay ahead in fall practice, and included the words: “don’t ever do anything to embarrass yourself, Indiana University, or your family.”

“He was just so sharp,” Tallen said. “He did an outstanding job with the players who were being recruited and treated us as men, and responsible men. He was a very smart man and a very good man.”

The rest was history. Tallen led the team in 1979 with nine total tackles for loss, a single element reflective of an incredibly successful tenure at IU. Tallen, along with Clifford, was re-elected as captain the following year, the Hoosiers finishing sixth in the Big Ten (3-5) and one game above .500 overall (6-5).

“Indiana has played a huge role in my life,” Tallen said. “To be a student athlete at Indiana University was a tremendous honor.”

That sentiment materialized last spring when Tallen returned to campus, committing $2 million to fund the renovation of the football team area inside Memorial Stadium. The Terry Tallen Football Complex will eventually span over 25,000 square feet under the west stands of the stadium and will include the Trent and Julie Green Locker Room, coaches’ locker room, team lounge, recruiting area, equipment room, as well as the Dr. John M. Miller Training Room.

“Indiana’s just a great school,” Tallen said. “I’ve dreamed of giving back ever since I first stepped onto that spectacular campus.”

Terry Tallen with Lee Corso on the field at Memorial Stadium during Corso’s 80th birthday celebration in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Terry Tallen)

In 2008, Tallen established his own scholarship fund with the Indiana football program, each year given to a captain on the team. Eight years later, Tallen was honored with one of Indiana University’s most prestigious awards for former letter winners, the Z.G. Clevenger Award.

And yes, Terry Tallen absolutely still gets back to Bloomington to play some golf with the guys. Mark Deal, also a member of the Holiday Bowl team and now Assistant Athletic Director for Alumni Relations, can be credited the most with keeping the group tightly knit, even decades later.

“He’s an outstanding leader and bleeds cream and crimson,” Tallen said. “We’ve got several hundred players, administrators, tutors, coaches’ wives, trainers’ wives — all who are a part of this big family that we have from that Holiday Bowl era.”

***

When Terry Tallen moved to Florida in his 20s after graduating from Indiana University, he received a letter in the mail at his new address. At the time in 1985, Lee Corso was at the helm of the Orlando Renegades, a USFL team, and the two had recently reconnected at an event. Following the event, Tallen had sent a note to his former head coach, thanking him for reaching out.

But the letter Tallen was then receiving was clearly a little different, adorned with an Orlando Renegades masthead. Oh my gosh, Tallen thought, Corso wants me to come back and play for him in the USFL. He read on.

Corso thanked Tallen for his note, said he appreciated the time, hoped to keep in touch, and so on. But at the bottom was something so unmistakably Corso.

“Don’t do anything to embarrass yourself, Indiana University, or the Corso family.”

Connor Hines

I am a sophomore from San Diego, California studying in Indiana University's Media School. Beyond my work with The Hoosier Network, I'm a broadcaster for WIUX 99.1 FM, IU's student radio station, and BTN Student U. I previously served as beat reporter for Indiana Softball during my freshman year, and I look forward to continue to deliver fresh and innovative content with softball and much more during this year. Last summer, I interned with San Diego's Mighty 1090, the flagship AM sports radio station in my hometown. Tweet me your hot takes @ConnorHines17. Email: cohines@iu.edu

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