While extending their NCAA-leading winless streak to 28 games before about 400 home-field spectators last Saturday, the Marietta ( Ohio) College Pioneers resembled a dead-game but all-too-human Greek hero bound for his inevitable undoing. However, the Pioneers have not one, but three tragic flaws, none of which could be considered heroic. They're small, slow and weak.
On the other hand, it's doubtful that any of Marietta's 44 players—their 13 Division III rivals in the Ohio Athletic Conference all suit up at least 80 players—suffer from hubris. With no wins and only one tie since Sept. 27, 1980, the Pioneers have had as much trouble maintaining self-esteem as one of their 175-pound linemen has blocking a 230-pound defensive tackle.
Granted, the football stakes aren't very high at Marietta, which is located in the southeast corner of Ohio. Division III schools don't give athletic scholarships, and very few of their players are ever drafted by the pros. Playing is its own reward there, and winning is the highest reward.
"Losing isn't a good experience," says Marietta Athletic Director Phil Roach, who has lost 53% of his games in his other role as the Pioneers' basketball coach. "This losing streak won't build character. It builds heartache. Winning is much healthier for the players and the program."
Parts of Marietta's athletic program are in exceedingly good health. The Pioneers have won the NCAA Division III baseball championship two of the last three years. Its men's four-and eight-oared crew is among the nation's best. But except for a brief fling with history in 1906, Marietta's football team has had only a fleeting acquaintance with respectability.
The Pioneers even had a brush with it on Saturday. Marietta was trailing Mount Union of Alliance, Ohio only 7-0 at halftime and might have been tied if it hadn't lost a fumble inside the Purple Raiders' one-yard line in the first quarter. Unaccustomed as they are to close games, the diehards who attend Pioneer home games started making more noise than they have in years. But in the second half the Pioneers bowed to custom—and a bigger, faster and deeper opponent—for their 22nd consecutive loss.
Still, there was general agreement afterward that Marietta's hard hitting and 314 yards in total offense made this 28-0 loss one of the Pioneers' best performances since they tied Ohio Wesleyan at the end of the 1980 season. Of course, it was good only in the light of Marietta's recent history:
?Since their last win, a now hallowed 14-7 victory over Otterbein three years ago, the Pioneers have been outscored 928 to 127.
?In 1981, the Marietta soccer team scored more points than the football team, which was shut out in five straight games.
?In a 41-7 loss at home to Capital on Sept. 17, the Pioneers attempted 20 passes, of which 14 were caught. Seven were completed and seven were intercepted.