Placing 1-1-13

I don’t know about you, but I believe I may have underestimated the personal goodwill that the Gator Bowl win has provided. The dark purple cloud has cleared and things just seem a tad bit better everyday in my purple color lens of the world. Bo Cisek, Northwestern football’s all-time fan favorite (if fan favorite had a metric for fewest on-field moments with lasting recognition) , recently blogged about the surreal nature of this phenomenon. Granted, unlike this blogger, he actually wore the uniform, and participated in punt formations where his unmistakable wide-bodied presence served as a one-man wall to protect punter Brandon Williams.  He, of course, was also a co-conspirator for the Gatorade dump of Fitz, and of course somehow always finds himself etched in visual lore by wielding a Star Wars-esque light saber.  Anyways, Cisek summed up what many of his teammates felt and he vividly described the raw emotions in the lockerroom and after the game that served as a literal cathartic relief for the program.

Three weeks after the Gator Bowl win isn’t nearly enough rear view mirror time to place this game in to its proper context.  We’re still filled with myopic sentiments and yours truly still has the hyperbole bus going full speed. However, with Northwestern basketball’s record quickly slipping to that .500 Mendoza line,  I figured a little injection of optimism might be the order of the day. Let’s try and place 1-1-13, the date of our 34-20 bowl losing streak-snapping victory over Mississippi State in to proper historical context, perspective be damned.

To me, there are really only a handful of dates that are in contention for the Northwestern master football timeline.  We’ll play an easy game of “guess what this means?”  and it is a heck of a lot easier to decipher than the Cubs infamous “EAMUS CATULI” and the cryptic numeration that hangs from a roofdeck across the street from right field. Here we go:

  • 9-25-82
  • 12-17-91
  • 9-2-95
  • 1-1-96
  • 11-4-00
  • 6-29-06
  • 1-1-13

Even if you’re an LTP shortimer or an undergrad, you likely can fill in the blanks for the above associations, which are dates of events that I consider to be the headlines on the Northwestern football timeline. To take it a step further, let’s imagine that Northwestern football were to create an interactive football Hall of Champions in their soon-to-be-built Lakefront facility, aka  Ryan Fieldhouse. Imagine you are walking down a hallway strewn with graphic images adorning the walls and every trophy we’ve ever earned, every All-American mention, and names and images from our history were to be integrated on said hallway. Now imagine there are only about 10 spots for specific dates, historic moments in time that will stand the test of time, to be brought to light. Which ones would you lobby for?  For historical sense, let’s pretend we are in the modern era of college football, which we’ll define as the past 40+ years. This way we can agree on things like the date in 1961 which represents the last time we were ranked #1 or 1/1/49, the date of our lone Rose Bowl win, are in the historical annex.  For those still guessing, let’s reveal the dates I propose that merit a slot on this Hall of Champions and also potentially rank them.

  • 9-25-82 – It marks the date we beat Northern Illinois  to end “the streak”, shorthand for the Division I NCAA record-setting losing streak, 34 straight games –which still stands as the record more than 30 years later.  It’s a mark of infamy that has managed to still have a trail effect on the program despite a run of competitive play since 1995 that includes three B1G titles, eight bowl appearances, including an unprecedented school run of five straight bowl games.


  • 12-17-91 – This is the date Gary Barnett was hired to replace Frances Peay.  Barnett was the offensive coordinator of the 1990 national champion Colorado Buffaloes and his hire signaled a sign of hope in Evanston for the few diehard fans that still passionately cared (including yours truly) about the football program. Barnett of course would lead NU to one of the most storied seasons in the history of the sport just four seasons later, which began with…
  • 9-2-95 – I often refer to this date as the Anno Domino or “AD” for our program.  If you want to point to one date as the stamp of a turning point in NU football recent history, this is it. As you know, we upset preseason national title contender, Notre Dame, in South Bend, despite being 27-point underdogs.  The 17-15 win would seem to be a flash in the pan fluke, just a week later when we lost to Miami (OH), ironically coached by overachiever Randy Walker.   Aside from the 1996 Rose Bowl, this game to anyone over the age of 25 represents the most vivid “where were you when…”  moment.
  • 1-1-96 – Perhaps the most glorious loss in our football history, this date marked Gary Barnett’s fulfilled dream of taking the “Purple to Pasadena” and also provided the single most emotional sports moment in my life – walking through the tunnel at the Rose Bowl to see 60,000 purple-clad fans dominate the crowd and the noise in USC’s backyard.
  • 11-4-00 – If you’re looking for the most impactful game in Northwestern history on a college football level, the 54-51 unforgettable win over Michigan.  Well remembered as the A-Train fumble/Damien Anderson goes wild, yet drops a sure TD game, this game really was the single most impactful game on proliferating the concept of the spread offense. Many of my more esteemed blogger colleagues have waxed poetic about this game and how the nature of the game and its prominence on ABC Sports (Brent Musburger and Gary Danielson called the game) inspired college and high school coaches across America to say “hey, we can use that offense to neutralize superior teams”.  It still is the single most entertaining game I’ve ever seen at Ryan Field as the offensive fireworks never stopped all game long.
  • 6-29-06 – Perhaps the most heart-wrenching day in NU football history as it is the date Randy Walker passed away of a heart attack at the young age of 50.  The tragic events set off a domino of consequences including the most notable and legacy inducing decision – then AD Mark Murphy promoting a 31-year-old Pat Fitzgerald to become head football coach for the ‘Cats.
  • 1-1-13 – Then there is the Gator Bowl win. For the first time in many of our lifetimes, NU exited a bowl game as victors and erased one of the very few negative stigmas and/or stats from our history.  This one may not stand the test of time, and hopefully it doesn’t.  By this I mean if we are to win several in a row, throw in a BCS win, a Rose Bowl win and the like, this one would fall off the timeline, conceivably. For now, however, it might very well contend for one of the top slots as it serves as a mental boost and program turning point as we continue our most consistent time period in our football history.  The anguish, mental blocks and conspiracy theories are gone.

I’d love to get your take on where to rank the milestone dates I’ve proposed. Before you do, there are a laundry list of dates that didn’t make the cut that deserve mention.  You can take the Penn State, Michigan and even the Iowa or Purdue games in 1995 and make a case for them. However, especially in light of the JoePa tarnished legacy, I believe 9-2-95 trumps them all. Penn State would be the one I’d give in on in a debate because of so many different things it represented, including Keith Jackson calling a game at Dyche Stadium and the subsequent win resulting in our second Sports Illustrated cover in program history.  Then there are simply awesome games like Wisconsin ’00, Michigan State ’01, Michigan ’96, the Dayne fumble game in ’96 and how could we forget Victory Right by Zak in ’00 at Minnesota?  These are amazing games with unforgettable stories and images, yet, while you could say any one of those was equally key to winning the B1G in ’96 and ’00, they simply don’t have the program trajectory implications that the dates I mentioned have.

More recently you might want to add our night win over Ohio State in 2004, which marked the first time we’d beaten the Buckeyes since 1971 (a 14-10 win over #16 OSU at the ‘Shoe).   However, Ohio State turned out to be just OK that year, and we didn’t even make a bowl game. It was a phenomenal upset win and a night to remember, but the context of both team’s respective seasons don’t merit Hall of Champions timeline status.Coincidentally, now that we’ve won a bowl game, a road win at Ohio State stands as the next ignominious streak that still exists  – we still haven’t won a game at Ohio State since 1971.

For this same reason I left out the incredible ’11 win at Nebraska.  Our first B1G against the Huskers in the awe-inspiring venue that is Memorial Stadium and an iconic brand that we took down with an epic 7-minute drive, without passing the ball.  The Huskers were a top ten team and winning on the road against a top ten Nebraska team definitely served notice on a national level. However, we were sub-.500 at the time and needed to claw like hell to get bowl eligible and ultimately had one of two losing seasons in the Fitz era (6-7).  You could argue that win spurred the turnaround which was the 2012 season, and when you start counting from the Indiana win the week before that we’ve put together a helluva Wildcataganda stat, which is Northwestern has won 14 of its last 19 games, a stat that should we hold serve in non-conference will put us among the nation’s elite during that timespan.

Love it or hate it, I’m sticking to my guns on the above, but I invite you to weigh in with dates and support that should be on the milestone board. Rank them if you wish as well, as this is the type of dialogue that keeps us relevant in the long off-season.




  • NU Cat ’95

    I believe it was Gary Danielson doing color commentary on NU-Michigan in 2000. Coincidentally, his son was a backup QB on the team then.

    • FIJI59

      The greatest win IMHO was@ the’SHOE in 1962 when the #8 CATS beat#6 tOSU 18-14 on their HC. After beating ND the next week, the CATS were #1 for 2 weeks not ’61 when we were never ranked.IMHO,FITZ is very very close to surpassing the “ERA of ARA& could do so with a top 10 ranking or by winning a BCS Bowl game.

      • Sir Mark

        Yes, my friend, excellent choice! OSU in ’62.

  • PurpleHayes

    Great list (and perhaps indicating some obsessive behaviors, I confess to knowing every date immediately). I would drop 9/25/82, as it was the inevitable and the exorcising of a demon. The others seem solid. My #1 addition would be something to recognize the amazing ’96 team (I nominate the road win at Wisconsin, which you mentioned, where Ron Dayne’s fumble allows the Cats to snatch victory). I also think you can’t get enough ’95, so I would add Penn State, also mentioned. Clearly that home win that stamped us for real in the sports world’s eyes (remember when playing at 2:30 with lights was a big deal?). I do think 1/1/49 would have to be added, even though I’m tired of seeing that grainy old film every bowl season (but no more!). And I’ll indulge one personal favorite–“The Comeback” at Illinois circa ’92. Williams to Gissendanner for the game-winner on the last play. No significance to the program, but that game was not even televised. As a result, while this seems quaint now, listening to that game with my son reminded me of the tension that only a radio broadcast can somehow convey, and thus it stands out as one of our most exhiliarating victories.

  • Scooter

    In my opinion, the Notre Dame game has to be number 1. No question in my mind that that’s the biggest single day in recent program history.

    After that, I agree with PurpleHayes that ending the streak should be last. I’d rather move on and ignore the streak as much as possible.

    The middle’s a bit of a logjam though. I’d put the other two Barnett era dates above the Gator Bowl. Then maybe Gator Bowl, followed by both Randy Walker dates?

    I’m pretty wishy-washy on those middle five though, and could change my mind. I like the list overall, I think it does a great job covering the program since the streak era.

  • UVA Cat

    I’d say the Rose Bowl or ND win in 1995 would be at the top, at least as far as national perception of the program is concerned. I think the Gator Bowl win was certainly important to the program, but from a national perspective I think it basically changed the line of “no bowl wins since 1949” to “only one bowl win since 1949”. I’d put the Gator Bowl win, as important as it was, in the bottom half of your list.

  • Purple Flag on Saturday

    I think that the ND win is most notorious for those of us with purple blood, gratifying to ‘Cats in the way that Bear fans love to beat the Packers. In terms of national perception, I don’t think that game moves the needle. “We beat ND!”…so who hasn’t? (I loved saying that!)

    The Rose Bowl, that was a wonderful journey, but that was a long, long time ago.

    The 2000 Michigan win, that one lives on the way great heavyweight fights do. When you watch the highlights, you can’t help but get excited, watching the two teams batter each other, heading for the “last man standing” conclusion.

    The end of the streak…sorry, that is, to me, like remembering the day the divorce from my ex-wife was finalized. It feels good when you stop banging your head against the wall, but it’s not a cause for celebration.

    The arrival of Gary Barnett and the naming of Fitz, those are benchmark dates. The passing of Randy Walker, that’s a bit of a private moment to everyone who was emotionally invested in the program at the time.

    Finally, there’s 1/1/13. It’s fresh, it was national, it took place on the biggest college football day of the year, and it freed everyone from that second class stigma, that “but…” that was always interjected. That’s my #1.

    Until we get a new #1. That’s the difference maker for me: even better days are ahead!

  • Jimgocats93

    I am with PurpleHayes in dropping the 1982 game (BTW the only one I did not know).
    I would add the 1949 Rose Bowl and the 1961 #1 ranking. Also why not the November date in 1995 when we clinched Big Ten Championship? First in how many years?

  • Go Cats!

    Andy Staples – early pre-season top 25: NU at 21

  • I’m as loathe to the Streak as you are, but I can’t in good conscience, not acknowledge it as part of the history. Happy to bury it, but just trying to be honest about it.

  • Alaskawildcat

    Having been at the 9/25/82 game for my 10th year reunion when the streak was broken with a win over Northern Illinois as well as having been at both the 1/1/2006 Rose Bowl and the 11/4/2000 54-51 Win over Michigan I have a vested interest in agreeing those were each benchmark dates for Northwestern Football in the modern era. As far as relative importance I think chronology has to rule since each of your listed events built on the other. I guess I have a little problem with having as seminal events the dates of hires and the death of a coach. For Barnett I would substitute the date of his giving the announcement regarding Taking the Purple to Pasadena.

    • Alaskawildcat

      Errata: 1996 Rose Bowl, not 2006.

  • NUMBalumDave

    This game is not at the top, but it’s pivotal for me, personally: Nov 19, 1994. My wife and I took the trip up to Beaver Stadium to watch NU play Penn State. A young running back named Darnell Autry stepped in to fill the spot vacated by Dennis Lundy. Nittany Lions fans kept asking us, who is this kid filling in for Lundy? We knew not. All I know is that he ran all over Penn State that day, and the Wildcats had possession for two-thirds of the game. Of course, inability to execute and turnovers did them in that day. But as we left our seats I said to my wife, “This is NOT the Northwestern team I know. They are going to a bowl game next year.” My wife said, “You’re crazy.”

  • JM

    The biggest missing date from this list is the 1996 win over Michigan. Aside from being one of the most exciting Cardiac Cats comebacks ever, it also cemented the 1995 title as no fluke by propelling us to a second straight Big Ten title. And, frankly, that was a very, very good Michigan team, so the on-field feat is impressive as well.

  • Al

    1) 9-2-95 over Notre Dame which ended the Dark Ages.

    2) The ’95 Penn St game, which legitimized that 1995 team.

    3) 54-51 in 2000. Anyone who saw it will never forget it. Firmly entrenched the spread offense at NU in college football in general.

    I think these are the only Really Big Wins in my lifetime. There have been other important wins for sure (Ohio St in ’04, Nebraska in ’11, the Gator Bowl) but none as big as those three.

    • DT

      Well said…

  • David

    I interviewed today for a position that would move me back to Chicago….everything was going great until I said I graduated from NU…the interviewer was a Miss State fan….yikes…we will see how it turns out.

  • CatFanSeattle

    Rose Bowl, without a doubt. Walking into the valley and seeing the Rose Bowl marquee was a surreal experience. When I was a student in the mid 80’s the talk was when NU would drop football and leave the Big 10. Unless you lived “the streak” (broken the year before I arrived on campus) you can’t possibly imagine how unbelievable seeing NU in the Rose Bowl was.

  • I’m glad you mentioned the 2011 win at Nebraska. I agree it’s not a Top 5 or even Top 10 moment, but it deserves a mention. At the time, winning a bowl game was the biggest goal, and to win a bowl game you have to get to a bowl game. That Nebraska upset saved us from what could have been a bowl-less season. True, we went on to lose our bowl game, but we kept the momentum going.

  • Sir Mark

    Come on, people. Of course he has the Nothern game. He’s Lake Tne Posts.

  • Palo Alto Wildcat

    Sept. 2, 1995 – Just beating Notre Dame was amazingly satisfying in and of itself, but I choose this date because it marks the beginning of NU’s run up to the 1996 Rose Bowl.

    The date also reminds me of a related happening that occurred the next day in our home. As a member of the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) staff, I’d been asked to host a dinner at our home for a small group of new GSB students. FIVE of the eight MBA students introduced themselves as graduates of Notre Dame. That group stuck together and as they filed out on to our patio, I couldn’t resist asking them, “Did you happen to catch the Notre Dame – Northwestern game yesterday?” I had struck a nerve, for immediately and in unison, they scowled and their faces took on a look of pained embarrassment that Northwestern had beaten them. I couldn’t help smiling but saved the laughter until they departed!

    As November came along and the Cats were winning one game after another, I’d occasionally meet those ND grads in the GSB hallway. Invariably, they would make an admission of sorts saying, “I guess it wasn’t SO bad after all that Northwestern beat us.” Thinking of that humbling of five ND fans still makes me smile!

  • ’84 Grad

    Great list LTP. I would definitely keep 9/25/82 on the list. I was at the game, a sophomore playing in the band. Believe me, it certainly did not seem inevitable that we would win that game. We had other games we thought we would win: Utah at home the year before (when we got crushed in the rain), and Miami (Ohio) just the week before. We even came close to beating Indiana the first game of the 1981 season, but came up just short when we went for (and missed) a two-point conversion instead of going for a tie. So believe me, beating Northern Illinois was not considered a given. I think everyone in the stands that day had a sense that if we didn’t beat NIU, we wouldn’t win that season. As it turned out, we also beat Minnesota at home (the first Big Ten win in a long, long time) and Michigan State on the road (the first Big Ten road win in a long, long, long time). Fortunately, the band was there for all of those wins.

  • As with many of my comments, this one is late. But I would offer a little different view. To me, the win on 1-1-13 pushed this version of the Wildcats from the “Good” category to the “Great” category. They broke the last of the Dark Age curses. That will be worth a team reunion in a decade.

    Go Cats!

  • James Klock

    I’ll make the case for 10/7/1995. Michigan, at the Big House. Because I was there.

    Fifth game of the season, and the “Expect Victory” ‘Cats had the slightest of national love and attention (ranked #25, for the second time that year). It was the very definition of a decision point: we went to MIchigan with one “good win” (Notre Dame, pre-season-ranked at #9) and one “bad loss” (the very next week, Miami of Ohio). Since then, we’d pasted two easy wins, against Air Force and Indiana (at the time, in the running for “mid-tier Big Ten Team”).

    10/7/95 was a tipping point, a day to answer the question: was the Notre Dame win a fluke? NU walked into Ann Arbor, and faced down #7 Michigan, and took down the win, in style. There was a bit of back-and-forth scoring in the 19-13 slug-fest, but the team came out with a fire and passion that defined that first modern Big Ten Championship season. They walked into Ann Arbor that day, and established– for the first time in the modern era, that they deserved to be champions. I was there that day, and I never doubted that this was a team that came to win– and if they could win in Ann Arbor, they could run the Big Ten.

  • Thanks for the recommendations. Will add a postscript to this for an upcoming post.