FARGO — North Dakota State's football team went 0-10 in 1962. By 1965, the Bison went 11-0 and won a national championship.
Other than a drought here and there, the Bison haven't really stopped winning national titles.
NDSU will play for the 16th championship in program history Jan. 11 in Frisco, Texas, against James Madison. The previous 15 came at three different levels — the College Division in the 1960s when small-college champions were determined by poll, NCAA Division II in the 1980s and 1990 with a playoff system and NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision in the 2010s with playoffs.
Fifteen national titles in 55 seasons.
Darrell Mudra, the coach who took over the program in 1963 and three seasons later led it to a shocking victory over powerful Grambling in the 1965 Pecan Bowl to secure NDSU's first national championship, once said "hundreds" of people played a part in the Bison's rise. They included NDSU's administration, students, business owners, boosters, fans and even local media.
They also included his coaches and players, of course.
"I do believe, looking back, that we all had an unusual commitment to the game," Mudra told former Forum sportswriter and sports editor Ed Kolpack. "We didn't begin with a great knowledge of the game. But, collectively, we probably understood the game as well as any coaching staff in the country by the time we played Grambling in the Pecan Bowl."
NDSU won that game 20-7, using a stifling defense that held Grambling to 40 yards and one first down in the second half. The Tigers were much bigger and faster than the Bison, and had four players who would be taken in the following year's NFL draft.
"I think the culture started back in the early 1960s when Darrell Mudra came here," current Bison head coach Matt Entz said on the FCS title game media conference call Friday, Jan. 3. "There's been a high level of success. And there are certain things that are non-negotiable, and they've been that way ever since I've been here and probably going back to the '60s with Coach Mudra."
The Forum was there covering the Bison-Grambling game in Abilene, Texas, just as it has covered each of NDSU's championship games. We will have a team of reporters and photographers in Frisco again this year.
Here's what the newspaper coverage looked like the day after NDSU beat Grambling, beginning the success the Bison program enjoys to this day:
Other titles followed and The Forum provided the coverage:
The Bison next won a title in 1968, beating Arkansas State 23-14 in the Pecan Bowl after rolling up a 23-0 halftime lead. NDSU coach Ron Erhardt admitted he got conservative in the second half, relying on the Bison defense to hold the lead. It did, sacking Arkansas State quarterback James Hamilton 10 times.
NDSU beat Montana 30-3 in the Camellia Bowl in Sacramento, Calif., for its first back-to-back championship. Quarterback Bruce Grasamke completed 16 of 25 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown to lead a Bison offense that rolled up 425 yards on the short-handed Grizzlies. Montana gained just 189 total yards.
Montana lost seven players for the game due to an NCAA rule governing junior-college transfers. Included were three starters, including an All-American fullback.
Bison coach Don Morton won the coin flip and decided to take the 20-25 miles per hour wind at the beginning of the championship game against Central State of Ohio in McAllen, Texas. It was a good choice. NDSU scored three first-quarter touchdowns and rolled past the Marauders 41-21.
NDSU went 8-2-1 after an unexpected 2-2 start under first-year coach Earle Solomonson, barely making the Division II playoff field. The Bison defense improved vastly as the year progressed and by the time the playoffs opened, NDSU was ready.
NDSU's defense forced six turnovers and the offense turned the good fortune into 21 points in the third quarter as the Bison rolled over North Alabama 35-7 in McAllen, Texas, to win their second championship in three years.
There was talk after this title that perhaps Division II wasn't big enough for NDSU and the school should move up to what was then called Division I-AA (now FCS).
At a preseason boosters meeting, according to Kolpack's book "Bison Football: Three Decades of Excellence," Solomonson addressed fans who believed there was little left to accomplish at Division II: "Some people have asked me, 'What is left?' after we won at McAllen. My answer is, 'Everything.'"
The Bison beat fellow North Central Conference member South Dakota 27-7 in the championship game in Florence, Ala., led by quarterback Jeff Bentrim, who earlier in the week won the first Harlon Hill Trophy as the best player in Division II.
The Bison beat Portland State 35-21 in Florence to cap a 14-0 season for a team that featured 18 seniors, including All-Americans Snuffy Byers, Mike Favor and Matt Tracy.
The best part of the season, in comic terms anyway, came early when Central Florida quarterback Shane Willis lamented the Bison being ranked No. 1 because, in Willis' words, NDSU played teams "like Piggly Wiggly State." You just don't see quotes like that anymore.
Chris Simdorn became the second NDSU quarterback to win the Harlon Hill Trophy, leading the Bison to a rout of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. NDSU won 51-11, scoring 30 unanswered points in stunning third quarter when it scored five touchdowns on five possessions.
NDSU's love affair with Frisco, Texas, began as the Bison beat Sam Houston State 17-6 for the school's first FCS national title.
A fake punt by Matt Voigtlander, a middle screen pass from Brock Jensen to D.J. McNorton and a late-game interception by Travis Beck were huge plays as the Bison won the first of seven FCS championships.
A rematch didn't turn out well for the Bearkats as NDSU intercepted Sam Houston State quarterback Brian Bell four times in a 39-13 win.
A loaded senior class led the Bison to an undefeated season in a 35-7 rout of Towson in head coach Craig Bohl's last game.
In perhaps the best FCS title game ever, future high NFL draft pick Carson Wentz led NDSU's late-game heroics as the Bison rallied in the final minute to defeat fellow Missouri Valley Football Conference team Illinois State 29-27.
After missing eight games with an injury, Wentz returned for the championship game against Jacksonville State of Alabama and led the Bison to a 37-10 rout.
James Madison ended NDSU's national championship streak at five by beating the Bison in the 2016 semifinals at the Fargodome. The Bison exacted revenge in the 2017 title game by nipping the Dukes 17-13, led by a crucial Easton Stick-to-Darrius Shepherd touchdown pass and a last-second stand by the NDSU defense.
The Bison's 24 seniors repeated what the program's talented senior class of 2013 did by winning a national title with an undefeated record. Stick, playing his final college game, rushed for 120 yards and accounted for all five of his team's touchdowns (three running, two passing) in a 38-24 victory over Eastern Washington.