Linfield's Consecutive Winning Football Seasons Streak
59 years and counting
In sports, all streaks inevitably come to an end.
Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941. UCLA's record seven consecutive NCAA men's basketball titles from 1967 to 1973. A 103-game unbeaten streak and 84 straight home victories by the North Carolina women's soccer team between 1986 and 1990.
And for 59 years now, Linfield College has produced a winning team on the football field. Since 1956, Linfield has fielded squads with better-than-.500 records, doing so without the benefit of scholarships, letters of intent or spring practice.
Owning the all-divisions record of 59 consecutive winning seasons, the Wildcats stand alone as the most consistently successful college football program in the country.
Perpetual success only serves to build future expectations. As streaks grow, extending them becomes all the more difficult.
"The best streaks build momentum, not to mention pressure,” wrote Dallas News sports columnist Kevin Sherrington. “They accumulate attention as they grow. A really great streak builds day to day, week by week, month after month."
Uncontrollable variables seem to doom every good streak. Factors such as injuries, sudden coaching departures, rule changes, or just plain bad luck. Linfield has been able to avoid bad karma for more than a half century.
The secrets of Linfield's success? Quite simply, it’s the stability of the coaching staff, a daunting work ethic, and a long-standing commitment to make everyone associated with the program a better person. The winning seems to take care of itself.
Linfield established itself as college football's all-time leader in consecutive winning seasons on Oct. 17, 1998. That afternoon at Maxwell Field, the Wildcats came from behind to defeat Willamette University 20-19, clinching a 43rd straight winning season to move ahead of Harvard and Notre Dame. Sports Illustrated acknowledged the feat with a full-page story, ESPN announced it on SportsCenter, and several college football Web sites ran full-length feature stories on the remarkable accomplishment.
With each successive winning campaign, unspoken pressure to extend the streak continues to mount.
"I sure wouldn't want to be the guy in charge when the streak comes to an end," former Wildcats coach Ed Langsdorf once joked about the pressure of producing a winning program.
Not lacking for dramatic moments, the streak nearly ended twice. Following the NAIA title season of 1986, the Wildcats began the ‘87 season 1-4, then reeled off four straight victories to finish 5-4. Again in 1996, Linfield faced must-win situations in its final two games in order to preserve the streak.
All but one member of the Linfield coaching staff, including head coach Joseph Smith, weren't yet born in 1956 when the streak experienced its genesis. The Wildcats went unbeaten over their final six games and finished with a 6-1-2 record, ending the run of back-to-back losing seasons of 1954 and 1955.
1956 was the year Elvis Presley entered the music charts for the first time with the single "Heartbreak Hotel," the United States was conducting tests of the first hydrogen bomb in the south Pacific, and Dwight Eisenhower was reelected president by defeating Adlai Stevenson.
It was a long time ago, indeed.