Rough stretch here for NIU Hall of Famers as Tom Wittum passed away at the age of 60 on Friday, Jan. 22 in Antioch.
Wittum was an All-Pro punter for the San Francisco 49ers, a standout punter while at NIU, and Northern's first Academic All-American in baseball.
Here's some snippets of the official NIU release:
As a member of Northern Illinois' first three football teams in the "major college" (now NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision) era, Wittum left Northern Illinois with 10 kicking records, including the school's career, single season and single game records for punts, punting yards and punting average. For his career, he averaged 40.39 yards on 228 punts for 9,210 total yards, numbers which now rank third, fourth and third, respectively, in the Huskie record book. He still holds the top three single season totals for punts and punting yards with 78 for 3,129 in 1969 atop the lists.
As a kicker, Wittum currently ranks eighth all-time at Northern Illinois in points by a kicker with 113 points on 21 field goals and 50 PATs, all NIU records at the time. His career field goal totals of 21 made on 37 attempts, also school records at the time, are still the eighth and seventh-most in school history. He made 50 of 55 extra point attempts from 1969-71 and is eighth in the Huskie record book in those categories.
Wittum was drafted in the eighth round of the 1972 National Football League draft by the San Francisco 49ers, who made him the 200th overall selection. He proceeded to rank fourth in the NFL in punting average in 1973 (43.7) and 1974 (41.2), leading to his selection to the Pro Bowl each of those seasons. He was honored by Pro Football Weekly and The Sporting News both years as their first team All-NFC punter. He led the NFC in punting in 1973, was second in 1974 and '75 and third in 1976. In 1976, his 89 punts for 3,639 yards established 49er single season records; he also dropped 17 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line that year. In all, Wittum spent five seasons in the NFL (1973-77) and punted 380 times for 15,494 yards, compiling a 40.8 yard punting average in 70 career games.
Wittum's prowess on the baseball field at Northern Illinois matched and even surpassed his football exploits. Drafted in the fifth round of the 1968 Major League Baseball draft by the Chicago White Sox with the 98th overall pick, Wittum instead chose to don the Cardinal and Black where he excelled as a third baseman for four years.
A power-hitting third baseman, Wittum hit a career-best .393 in 1971 and compiled a career batting average of .367. He ranks third all-time at NIU in batting average, sixth in runs batted in with 114, tied for third in home runs (23) and is the school's all-time leader in triples (11) and slugging percentage (.620). He posted a slugging percentage of .739 in 1971 and .693 in 1972, slugging nine and seven home runs, respectively, in those seasons. He was twice selected as team MVP.
As a senior in 1972, he helped lead Northern Illinois to a 24-8 record and helped NIU garner the school's first NCAA Tournament bid. Wittum hit .377 with seven home runs and 33 RBI that season en route to earning all-Midwestern Collegiate Conference honors for the second straight season, and ranked 13th in the country in slugging percentage. Following that campaign, Wittum became the first Huskie baseball player to be named a first team Academic All-American by the College Sports Information Directors of America, graduating with a 3.41 grade point average in education.
Wittum was also named to the Northern Star's Top 50 Huskies of All Time. I'd tell you what spot but the link is not up at the moment and originals are not with me.
The point I'm leading to is that kickers and punters often go unrecognized. I bet about half the readers here wouldn't have known of Wittum until now. Like kickers, NIU history beyond 2003 goes far too unnoticed. Wittum was one of the true NIU greats. I would rival his abilities easily with Steve Azar and Chris Nendick, and probably put him beyond both of them.
Do some research, Huskies. The Hall of Fame at the Convo isn't there just for looks, by the way.