Notre Dame ’95 reflections and more with Steve Schnur

Later this week you’ll be seeing former Northwestern quarterback Steve Schnur and former wide receiver Dave Beazley on BTN offering an in-depth look back at Northwestern’s upset win over Notre Dame in 1995 and the catapult it gave to the season and the program. For those of us who had the pleasure of going along for that ride as fans Saturday’s return to South Bend is one of those milestone markers in life that has us saying, “are you kidding me? It’s been 19 years since that game”?

There aren’t a lot of positives to write about for this current season, so excuse me for wrapping myself in the past for a mental pick-me-up that we could all use. Enter Steve Schnur.  Steve led Northwestern to back-to-back Big Ten football titles in his junior and senior seasons going a remarkable 15-1 against the Big Ten in those unforgettable seasons. He still holds the top winning percentage by an NU quarterback – 19-8 (70.4%) and was the team captain and team MVP in 1996.  He also happens to be a great and humble guy. I still can’t believe he threw for only eight TD passes in 1995, a stat we still joke about. His response “my job was pretty simple, give the ball to Darnell (Autry)” which gives you a glimpse in to his modesty. In 1996 he was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Award and led the Big Ten in passing efficiency and was second in total offense.

Today, we reconnect with Steve primarily about the Notre Dame game, but we will of course use the time to sprinkle in some other questions, including some insights in to his good friend and former teammate, Pat Fitzgerald.

LTP:  Take us back to the Notre Dame game. After platooning in 1994, you were given the keys in 1995 and this was game one. Walk us through the specific memories you had leading up to that game and then during it.

SS: It wasn’t like I had a bunch of time to think about it!  I think I was told the week of the game that I would start.  As crazy as it sounds, we were confident, .despite being picked as ~28 pt underdogs.  We knew that we had played with these guys for the last three years, at least for a portion of the game, and that if we could play up to the challenge we could accomplish something special.

LTP: What are the three most memorable moments for you within that game?

SS:

    1. The TD pass to Dave Beazley in the corner of the end zone (which sent him sprawling in to a drum in the Notre Dame band)
    2. The TD pass to D’Wayne Bates on a post route
    3. The conversion of 3rd and ~6 yards near the end of the game to seal it.  Gary Barnett asked us what play we wanted to run and we got it done – Bates on a curl route.

LTP: You and Fitz were two of the media mavens in 1995 behind Darnell Autry. Talk about your relationship with Fitz on that team. What’s your relationship like now with #51?

SS: Fitz and I were friends then and are now.  It sounds cliché, but our team was very close and did all kinds of things together – underclassmen, upperclassmen, skill guys, linemen, white, black…..it didn’t matter.  We were really close knit and many of us still are today.  I still talk with Fitz today fairly frequently.

Steve Schnur walks hand-in-hand with his fellow co-captains, including Fitz at the 1997 Citrus Bowl against Peyton Manning and Tennessee.
Steve Schnur walks hand-in-hand with his fellow co-captains, including Fitz at the 1997 Citrus Bowl against Peyton Manning and Tennessee.

LTP: How different is Fitz the public persona from what you remember as a teammate?

SS: Same guy – maybe a little more mature…ha!  The great thing about Pat, and I think what draws people to him, is that he is true to who he is.  He has great passion for what he does, for the university, and most of all for the kids.  He calls it like he sees it.

LTP: You played in a pro style offense well before the advent of the spread offense. You are in tune with the game now, but talk about how different it is from your perspective. How do you think the 20-year-old Steve would do in today’s spread offense?

SS: I’m glad I played when I did.  The game today tries to exploit athleticism and speed in most offenses.  In 1995, we played more field position, limit mistakes, play sound defense, etc.  We played to our strengths – defense, power and brains.  We had some very good athletes – Bates, Autry, Musso, etc…..but our offensive and line and defensive line were really the strength of our team in 1995.  Our linemen  were big and played with a chip on their shoulder.  I loved being in the huddle with those guys.

LTP: What’s your take on the current Northwestern team and program? What’s the path for this offense to get out of a rut?

SS: Obviously, they are struggling right now to find a rhythm.  They need to stick with the plan of the coaches, and not try to over-do it.  Football (whether spread or pro-style or whatever) is about execution.  Every play is designed to do well – the outcome is dependent on your attention to detail and execution.  I believe whole-heartedly in Northwestern and the kids in the program.  They just need to keep battling and plugging away.  Barnett used to tell a story of the “Stone-Cutter”, the guy who showed up to work every day with a big hammer.  He would bang the giant boulder for hours and eventually days or weeks later the boulder would crack.  And the important lesson was that the boulder broke not from the last hit, but from all the hits leading up to it. Sometimes it’s hard to see progress when you only measure yourself one hit at a time.

LTP: How often does 1995 come in to your daily life? Share with fans what you do for a living and the Wildcat ties that you still have.

SS: 1995 and 1996 come up all the time.  It was a special time for so many people.  People love the rags to riches story……as do I.  I love sharing it with people.  I always enjoy seeing the joy that those years brought to so many people.

Today, I work in commercial real estate for Duke Realty.  I live in Hinsdale.  I married my Northwestern sweetheart – Jennifer.  We have four great kids – Ellie (11), Steven (10, Emma (8), and Blake (4).  They are all huge NU fans!

LTP: If you can, share how insane the media publicity was during that Rose Bowl run year. Try and provide the context of just how nuts it was.

SS: People forget how crazy that time was.  What made it so crazy in my opinion were three things: 1) the story itself was a classic rags-to-riches underdog story, 2) it happened almost overnight, 3) Northwestern (and all the student athletes) were not equipped to deal with the onslaught of the media.  We did not have enough staff (Brad Hurlbut and a couple of others).  Players’ phone numbers were in the real white pages (pre-Internet and cell phones). I would get phone calls all day and night from radio stations, newspapers, etc.  And the best part of all of it was that we were so naïve and caught up in it, that we ate it all up.   I was happy to do any interview, as were all of the guys.  We were on Good Morning Amercia three times that year, Sports Illustrated, ABC Nightly News, Jay Leno, TV Guide…..you name it, everyone covered it.  It was a blast, and something none of us had time to appreciate until we could look back at it and realize how special that time was.  I remember having all these reporters (Diane Sawyer, Peter Jennings, Keith Jackson, Lynn Swann, people like that) waiting in our “media” tent in the north end of the field (where today’s locker room is)….it was just crazy.

LTP: It was absolutely insane. I can remember it dominating the city of Chicago as well. The bandwagon was extremely large. I still get lumps in my throat remembering the vivid image of walking through the tunnel that fans entered to get to our seats in the Rose Bowl. When I entered there were more than 50,000 fans in purple dominating that stadium. I’ll never forget that feeling. So, as we look to continue trips down memory lane what are the plans for the 20th reunion tour of the 1995 team next season?

SS: Not sure yet.  Some of the old crew and the school are starting to work on it.  Whatever it is, we plan to have everyone back for it…..especially Coach Barnett.

LTP: Steve, as always thanks for taking the time. I really appreciate it.

 

  • PBRCat

    I have always admired Steve Schnur. From 1995 onwards, during its successful seasons, Northwestern was the beneficiary of excellent quarterback play. The team has been fortunate to have so many quality quarterbacks. Schnur was methodical and workmanlike, but he always got the job done. His performance during 1995 may have been overlooked, but he was a most deserving team MVP in 1996. The 1996 campaign defined “the Cardiac Cats” approach for the first time and Schnur delivered some big passes that year.

    • bd8

      A stout O-line and a great rushing attack lends a lot to excellent QB play.
      The win over ND and the offensive explosion was the pass and run O bolstering each other.

  • PurpleHayes

    I got lambasted in this space a few weeks ago for bringing up 1995 once too often, but thanks LTP for the opportunity to bask! We talk about having such high-quality individuals be part of the NU family, and Schnur clearly fits right in, doing us proud. Besides the obvious ’95-’96 accolades, Schnur is my candidate for NU’s all-time most improved player over 4 years. I remember seeing him appear briefly as a freshman, and thinking “This kid will never make it; no arm strength. Who’s next?” That’s why I’m in the stands, I suppose, but Schnur did prove us wrong, by continuing to improve steadily (even between his junior and senior years, as PBRCat correctly points out). He knew he wasn’t NFL-bound, so after being the Rose Bowl QB as a junior, Schnur could have coasted, but he obviously continued to work his tail off and became a stalwart of the ’96 offense, which produced a second consecutive B10 championship. Improving skills, a winning mindset, and the heart of a leader. All you can ask.

    • Pikepole

      Let’s not forget the Coach;Gary did the impossible.Although he lacked a good exit strategy when he left us,there should be a building with his name on it. Thank you Gary.

  • fidel305

    “Barnett used to tell a story of the “Stone-Cutter”, the guy who showed up to work every day with a big hammer. He would bang the giant boulder for hours and eventually days or weeks later the boulder would crack. And the important lesson was that the boulder broke not from the last hit, but from all the hits leading up to it. Sometimes it’s hard to see progress when you only measure yourself one hit at a time.”

    That’s a winning coach

  • When does that program air on BTN? I can’t find it in the program guide…

    • NU Cat ’95

      Was curious as well. Just spend 10 minutes looking on BTN.com and my DirecTV guide. No luck.

  • PBRCat

    I have never seen a team as physically strong as the 1995 team. The offense, the defense and special teams were all first rate. In other years, the Wildcats enjoyed some success without the team being uniformly proficient across the board. Special teams has been the Achilles’ Heel of NU for too long.