Yesterday, New Mexico State and Valparaiso announced they would meet this Saturday in Las Cruces as Valparaiso received a waiver to play a 12th game to help New Mexico State fill their schedule. This is the latest regular season game in Valparaiso's history and the second-latest game after their 1951 Cigar Bowl appearance.
However, Valpo is no stranger to late-season destination games. What constitutes a destination game? My criteria for a "destination game" was simple. A destination game is either a season-ending intersectional game in a warm climate or big city or a season-ending neutral site game or bowl. Valpo has quite a history with both.
1920 Thanksgiving Day Game Against North Dakota in Gary, Indiana
The 1920 Valparaiso Crusaders were 4-3 with an 85-0 win over Northwestern heading into their last game against North Dakota, who was 4-2-1 to that point. Not only was their final game on Thanksgiving, but it was the first college football game in Gary, Indiana, and played in the city's local ballpark, Gleason Park.
A newspaper story from before the game rumored that if this first college game at Gary was successful, Valparaiso would either play Notre Dame or Colgate in the city next year. What excitement! Adding to the local appeal, was a local halfback from Valpo who was from Lake County, Gary's county. Valparaiso was ultimately victorious, winning 20-10 and stifling UND's vaunted air attack.
1949 Lutheran Bowl
In 1949, Valparaiso went 6-2-1 on the strength of a defense that shut out three opponents. Their reward was a trip to Cleveland where to play a 2-6 Wittenberg team that went 2-6 and only scored six points in their first six games. On November 19, the Crusaders defeated Wittenberg 20-0 at Cleveland's Shaw Stadium, the former home of the NFL's Cleveland Rams, in front of 4,000 fans. Two-time All-American Joe Pahr led the way for Valpo with 181 yards on only 15 carries while the defense held Wittenberg to eight completions on 31 attempts.
1950 Lutheran Bowl
In 1950, the defending Lutheran Bowl champions were even better, going 8-0 and allowing 42 points all season, while scoring 60 points twice. Valparaiso's opponent was once again Wittenberg, but the Tigers were much improved with a 4-3-1 record which included an 82-0 win over Capital.
Despite Wittenberg's improvement, the results were much of the same as 3,500 fans showed up to Gary, Indiana's North Side Field to watch Valparaiso beat Wittenberg 20-7 as Joe Pahr scored three touchdowns. Amazingly, this was not the only bowl that Valparaiso would play in.
1951 Cigar Bowl
About a month and a half later, Valparaiso played in Tampa's Cigar Bowl against Wisconsin La-Crosse. The Crusaders were not even the game's first choice, only accepting an invitation after John Carroll University was literally snowed in.
Awaiting them in Tampa was a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse team that was also undefeated at 9-0 and allowed 62 points while scoring 56 points in one of their wins and 72 in another. The Crusaders were no match for Wisconsin-La Crosse, as the Eagles ran for 407 yards on the Valparaiso defense with Ace Loomis running for 260 yards on 20 carries, still the second-best rushing performance in UW-La Crosse history. Loomis' five rushing touchdowns are still an Eagle record. Bright spots for the Crusaders was Royce Rowedder's 93-yard run and 124 rushing yards from Joe Pahr.
1970 at Wagner
In 1970, a solid 5-3-1 Valpo team ended their season in the Big Apple, well Staten Island, by playing a 5-3 Wagner team. 5,800 fans saw the Crusaders blow a 14-point lead as they tied the Seahawks 14-14. A potential 44-yard game-winning field goal for the Crusaders fell short with six seconds left.
1993 vs Northern Arizona
Valparaiso would not play another season-closing destination game until 1993 when they traveled to Flagstaff, Arizona to play the 6-4 Northern Arizona Lumberjacks. The teams' seasons were polar opposites as Valparaiso started the season 4-0 before losing four of their next five, while Northern Arizona came into the season finale winning six of their last seven games.
The Crusaders were no match for the Lumberjacks who raced to a 34-3 halftime lead on the way to a 55-13 victory. The Lumberjacks outgained Valpo 478 to 242.
1996 at Bethune-Cookman
Three years later, Valpo ended the season in the Sunshine State in the first game ever between the MEAC and Pioneer Football League. Valpo came into the game with a 4-5 record, while Bethune-Cookman had lost seven games in a row and had a 1-8 record. Bethune-Cookman ended their losing streak when backup quarterback Chris Perkins ran for an eight-yard touchdown with 2:44 left as Bethune-Cookman overcame a 17-7 deficit to win 23-21.
Saturday’s visit to New Mexico may seem unprecedented, but the Beacons have been the vagabond traveler many times before. Whether the Beacons win or not, it will be a trip their players and program will remember for a long time.