Alumnus recounts history of football team

Jehad Abbed, Staff Reporter

For Dan Verdun, writing a book has been a goal since his undergraduate days at Eastern.

“You have to come up with an idea that nobody has really done or you have to do something very well,” said Verdun, the author of “Eastern Illinois Panthers Football.”

Verdun described his work as a combination of his interests, which are sports and history.

The book is the second of a series that covers the history of smaller football programs at different universities in Illinois.

His publisher, The Northern Illinois University Press, preferred that NIU be the first book.

“I definitely wanted Eastern to be the next book in the series,” Verdun said.

The book, recounting the history of Eastern football in its entirety, is the product of about five years worth of writing and research.

Verdun is currently a middle school teacher in Naperville.  He graduated from Eastern in 1988 with a bachelor’s degrees in history and journalism. 

“It’s a story of the university and the people that made it up.” Verdun said. 

With about 240 pages of text and more than 100 photos, the book does more than just chronicle the history. He sees his book as a sharing of the story. 

Verdun reached out to the Eastern offices and online resources for the records and archives to make sure he was able to list the most notable players and coaches throughout Eastern football history. The book goes on to recognize those who went on to play professionally. 

One of the biggest challenges during the process of writing this book for Verdun was getting a hold of those currently involved with the NFL.

“Each guy that I talked to was its own unique story.” he said.

He also said Lou Stivers was an interview that stood out from the rest.

Stivers, a World War II veteran residing in Charleston, was a member of the Eastern football team in 1948.

Stivers received an offer to play for the Detroit Lions right after playing at Eastern.

At the time, the money was not enough to keep him from getting his teaching and coaching career started. This was just one of many entertaining stories that were a result of hours of interviews.

“Once I got Bob Spoo to do my Forward, that opened a lot of doors for me.” Verdun said.

Verdun is currently working on books for Illinois State University, Southern Illinois-Carbondale University and Western Illinois University.

He anticipates the next book of the series will be Illinois State or Southern Illinois.  He feels people focus too much on programs from conferences such as the Big Ten.

“There are a lot of terrific stories at schools like Eastern.” he said.

Verdun will be joining Eastern for the Homecoming Week festivities Saturday, when the Panthers host Tennessee State at 1:30 p.m. at O’Brien Field.

He will be hosting two book signings. The first of which will be in the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union Book Store from 10-10:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Former Eastern defensive lineman Pat Wertz will accompany him. Two hours later Verdun can be found in the Alumni Tent outside O’Brien Field with former Eastern head coach Bob Spoo and the Panthers’ all-time leading tackler Tim Carver until 1:15 p.m.

Jehad Abbed can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].