After seven and a half years, LTP is coming to an end. Our final post will be this Thursday, January 15 and we’ve been spending our final week going in to memory mode and the big picture on all things Northwestern Athletics. If you’d like to read the post announcing why I felt it was time to close you can read Closing Time part one here and part two of “Closing Time” here. Please note, we’ll be leaving the site up so you can access the archives and all of the content that started in June of 2007.
The B1G Time
If you’re Cardale Jones aren’t you just dropping the mic and walking off stage right ? The young Buckeyes quarterback just did the unthinkable. He started his third career game and promptly went 1)upset Wisconsin 59-0 in the B1G title game 2)Upset heavily favored Alabama in the CFP semi-final and 3)won a national championship against Oregon. It is the single best 3-0 start to a college football career ever.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching Ohio State dominate Oregon, 45-20, in a game that if not for four mostly self-inflicted Buckeyes turnovers, would’ve been a whooping of epic proportions. Congratulations Ohio State. You earned it. The irony of the Big Ten finally getting a national championship to its name the very day before I close up shop is not lost on me. Perhaps the same good fortune will hit Northwestern now that I’m putting down the pen on Wildcat football. You didn’t come here for my analysis of Ohio State-Oregon, but you did come to get an LTP angle.
A friend pointed out that Oregon’s Johnny Lloyd, who was returning kicks last night was the very same guy that Bill Carmody nearly inked as a point guard for the ‘Cats, so there is that. But, for Wildcat fans wired similarly to me, all I could think about was October 4, 2013 and how the alternate universe might have been, had we hung out for that win against Carlos Hyde and the Buckeyes. My mind drifted to the thought of Jim Harbaugh snatching Braxton Miller for a one and done, and I admittedly anxiously looked up our next date with Ohio State (mercifully, we play them only once – Oct. 29, 2016, away – in the next four seasons). Sadly, I realized how much of a different stratosphere the Buckeyes are in than we are and how the two programs’ paths seemed to be dead even in early 2013.
It will be interesting to see what Pat Fitzgerald says about the lift that Ohio State’s win will do for the Wildcat’s program perception and the fact that he has the ability to leverage playing for the best conference (yes, it is an angle) and can offer the best of big time football with big time academics. We shall see.
Today, I’m turning the post over to a full-blown memory mode. It’s a laundry list of my favorite moments – the people, games, events, you name it – in no particular order. The only parameter is the moment happened during the LTP era which started in June of 2007 and ends January 15, 2015. You’re actually the ones to judge the “Best of…” I can only tell you my favorite things.
Favorite Game of LTP Era
I’m being disciplined here in picking only one. There are quite a few candidates – the Iowa upsets in ’08 and ’09, the Nebraska upset in Lincoln, the Wisconsin win in 2009, the list goes on. The easy one to pick here would be the Gator Bowl win on January 1, 2013 since it snapped our bowl drought that dated back to 1949. But I’m always prone to go a little out there and I can’t believe I’m doing this but I’m picking a loss (BLASPHEMY). My choice: The Outback Bowl, January 1, 2010 against Auburn.
As you likely know, the ‘Cats lost 38-35 in OT, but this was the wildest game I saw in the eight seasons of LTP. Mike Kafka passed 78 times..78…and set an Outback Bowl record with 532 yards. But, it was the way the ‘Cats used nine lives, seemingly having lost the game a half dozen times, that stuck out to me. The overriding memory though is just how aggressive we were as a team and how guys made plays. Dunsmore streaking up the sideline shedding Auburn Tigers like a video game. Kafka, despite 5 INTs, making crazy plays. It was FUN. Take a trip down memory lane and then on the backside I’ll also tie in my favorite play call which relates to this game.
Favorite Play Call
Fastball. There is a big difference between favorite play call and favorite play. A quick sort through the mental Rolodex of eight seasons and one stands way above all else – teh final play of the Outback Bowl. In the Randy Walker biopic, the play works. It didn’t and it still gets my nod. The call was brilliant on many levels. Northwestern’s field goal kicker, Stefan Demos, had just been injured on a roughing the kicker penalty as he was attempting to tie the game in OT with NU down 38-35. Fitz, who would later admit he had been holding on to this play for four years, called for “fastball”, a Randy Walker-designed iteration of the ‘ol fumblerooski play. I loved this because it was a tribute to Randy Walker and almost all of the seniors were Randy Walker recruits who started their careers dealing with a tragedy that was unthinkable. To walk off winners with Randy’s play, well that is the stuff of legend. I also love it because as Fitz admitted himself in the postgame “People tell me I’m too conservative. So I said, `What the heck. We’re here to win, so let’s go,’ ”
Find that moxie again and keep it!
Kain Colter’s superman dive for the pylon in the upset win at Nebraska. Dan Persa has a laundry list of candidates as well, but that single play where Kain was able to get to the corner, go all out, switch the ball in the air and somehow nick the pylon for a TD was a thing of beauty.
This feels akin to naming your favorite kid, but I’ll give it a shot. Dan Persa. The injury plagued quarterback gave us a ton of great moments during his NCAA record-setting career (still holds the record for highest career completion percentage). Perhaps none signifies the double-edged sword of ecstasy and agony than his game-winning TD pass to Demetrius Fields to beat Iowa (again) in 2010. He ruptured his Achilles while hopping to see the result. Many of us wonder what NU football would have been like had he remained healthy and we took our 7-3 record to Wrigley Field with an in tact Persa at the helm. Dan was never the same in 2011, yet he provided that rare air of confidence to me – whenever he had the ball, I thought we were going to score. When the game was on the line and he was back there, I felt confident we’d win.
I am admittedly biased as I got to know Dan very well after his playing days and he’s just a fantastic person.
Favorite Purple Mafia Profile
This one is a beast of the great variety. I’m not sure of the exact number of Purple Mafia Profiles, but I do know it is in the triple digit range. It’s almost unfair to pick one. I can tell you the one story that made me laugh out loud was BTN host Dave Revsine’s description of former head coach Frances Peay grabbing the microphone at the Burger King across the street from the NU clock tower and trying to rev up the handful of people passing for a Homecoming rally. If I have to pick one though, I’ve gotta go with Zak Kustok. Zak is a repeat PMP profilee and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Zak and his sister Sarah, through the years. Love ‘em both. They have both endured the unthinkable tragedy that I don’t even want to go in to here. So let’s not.
Zak’s story about his roundabout journey from the very same high school as Pat Fitzgerald (Sandburg) to Notre Dame and then, well, you’ve just gotta read this thing about how he ended up here, it is simply incredible about how close so many times he came to NOT becoming a Wildcat. We are blessed and very lucky he did. The 2000 season still keeps me up at night daydreaming about the magic that happened.
Sailgate, 2011. What started as a seed of an idea from my friend Rob in New York – “wouldn’t it be great to rent a boat and get some ‘Cats fans to go up the Hudson river to see the Army game…” – turned in to a virtual community outreach that exceeded our wildest dreams. Scott Sloane, whom I had never met, agreed to coordinate the idea of renting a boat and getting all of the logistics done for one group of to be determined Wildcat diehards to attend the ‘Cats 2011 Army game in style. We put up the order form online and invited fans to help us fill a boat and we needed 100 people total to make it fly (we were nervous about getting to that number). It sold out in hours. Within a week we had maxed out four boats, and while Army Athletics execs assured me “we never sellout, they’ll be tons of tickets”, the LTP entourage brought more than 700 people via boat and thousands more via driving ticket demand. It was the moment when I got to meet so many of you on one day and aside from NU not cooperating and getting upset by Army, it was an incredible experience. The Pat Fitzgerald Show documented the day:
Sailgate not only gave us a great memory and a come-to-life realization of the power of an engaged community, it resulted in the Jack Marshall story. The night before the game I found myself at dinner with Patrick and Joanna Marshall, the parents of Jack. They engaged me with the incredible journey of their son Jack and his incredible relationship with Wildcat safety Brian Peters and I was moved beyond belief. By now, you know the story.
I documented the Jack and Brian story which had part one here and part two here. I waited for what I thought was the low point of the season morale and went live with the post when Wildcat fans needed a pick me up and some perspective. The story took off and soon was shared all over the country. I called my friends at BTN who agreed the story was a no-brainer to do and they nailed it. You can re-watch it here:
As a result, I got to know the Peters family, the Persa family and the Marshalls and we continue to communicate to this day.
Then, proving a good story has a long tail, TSN (“the ESPN of Canada”) went all-in on the story and brought it full circle documenting Jack’s reunion with Brian, who is still playing in the CFL for Saskatchewan. You can watch that amazing story from this past season here:
Jack made his weekly picks, drew them out actually, and submitted them via photo where we would feature them every single week since his original post appeared back in 2011.
Favorite Historical Impact
The community helped NU get a win. Kinda. Larry LaTourette, of Hail to Purple.com fame, went to great lengths to prove to me that Northwestern erroneously had missed a win from 1903 and in fact DID beat Chicago School of Dental. It happened to catapult NU’s record from 9 wins to 10 wins and we worked with NU’s then sports info director, Mike Wolf, who changed the record book. Just like that we worked together to help give NU it’s third all-time 10-win season.
Additionally, we pressed hard to get Rich Falk’s Welsh-Ryan/McGaw Hall scoring record rectified. Evan Eschmeyer was erroneously listed as the building’s single game scoring record holder, but it simply wasn’t true. Falk’s 49 point game against Iowa in his senior year is now inked in the record book – for good. As a side note, kudos to NU for admitting Falk in to the NU Sports Hall of Fame two weekends ago. Find me another former coach who was fired at a major college program who tailgates at his home school. Class act.
Most Painful Game
Nebraska Hail Mary. ‘Nuff said.
Most Emotional Moment
Being in the stands in Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl win had me literally choked up. I could feel the Gene Hackman speech from Hoosiers percolating in my head. Fitz’s emotional on-camera interview and his in-stadium words were incredible. Seeing Morty Schapiro right after my post and having him correct my typo face-to-face just made the whole thing surreal.
Favorite LTP N Flag
I couldn’t pick just one here, instead, I dedicated an entire post to it. Check it out here.
We’re on to the final countdown of LTP, but as fate would have it, I’m having all sorts of technical difficulties with the site. We’ll be posting the LTP Bowl Mania winner once I resolve said issues. Please use the comments section to weigh in with your favorites between June 2007 and January 2015.