July 18, 2009
Enshrinement Festival Photo Gallery (Buy Photos!)
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- With two busloads of Wildcat faithful on hand to witness the occasion, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald's year-long celebration of his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame culminated this weekend at the 2009 Enshrinement Festival in South Bend. Fitz is officially the 15th NU player or coach to be immortalized by the Hall of Fame.
"This has been just a fantastic weekend for me, my family and my fellow inductees," Fitzgerald said. "The National Football Foundation has done a phenomenal job hosting this event just as they have with each event they've held since announcing our selection last summer and I'm just really fortunate to be a part of it."
In the same town where Fitzgerald and Northwestern kicked off its legendary run to the Rose Bowl in 1995 with a season-opening defeat of Notre Dame, more than 75 Wildcat fans were able to spend the day with Fitz and relive a Hall of Fame linebacker career that included consecutive Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski Awards.
"The level of support from the fans that traveled to South Bend today was unbelievable, they were so enthusiastic along the parade route and everyone there got to see how proud they are to be Northwestern fans," Fitzgerald said. "Not many guys here were lucky enough to end the day by singing the fight song for their alma mater and the team they coach with 70-plus fans singing along. That was a special moment for me and one I'll remember for a long time."
Fitzgerald was one of 21 individuals (17 players, four coaches) who were formally inducted into the Hall of Fame in the Class of 2008 during a banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on Dec. 9. Other legends of the game in this year's class include Troy Aikman, Thurman Thomas, Rod Smith and Lou Holtz.
Upon arriving in downtown South Bend, NU fans quickly took their spot along the route of the Enshrinement Grand Parade to cheer on Coach Fitzgerald as he made his way down the motorcade. Greeted by chants of his name and "Go U, NU," Fitz looked right at home as one of the Hall of Fame's newest and youngest members. In addition to the enshrinement floats, the parade through South Bend also featured a host of marching bands, youth football teams, classic cars and local pageant winners.
From there it was on to the Enshrinee FanFest and Pep Rally, an event hosted by Hall of Fame lineman and ESPN analyst Mark May along with Heisman Trophy-winning running back and Big Ten Network commentator Eddie George. Each of the 21 honorees was welcomed on stage one at a time to receive his official Hall of Fame blazer in front of a raucous crowd. Afterward, Fitzgerald and other inductees conducted a youth football clinic on the field in front of the Hall of Fame, with Fitz teaching the finer points of tackling and pass defense to the next generation of gridders.
Fitzgerald wrapped up the afternoon by participating in an extended meet-and-greet session with the Wildcat fans in attendance, signing autographs and posing for pictures before eventually leading the group in singing the school's fight song.
Asked if he hoped to one day reach the status of Hall of Fame coach in addition to his enshrinement as a player, Fitzgerald said simply, "We're just trying go out and get one win at a time. All I know is I'm honored to be the head coach at Northwestern."
If the Northwestern fans in South Bend Saturday were any indication, the honor is unquestionably a mutual one.
The 2009 Enshrinement Dinner hosted by Rece Davis and Mark May of ESPN is being streamed live on ESPN360.com. Follow this link to watch the event in real time.
Complete 2009 Enshrinement Class
Troy Aikman - QB, UCLA (1987-88)
Roger Brown - DT, Maryland-Eastern Shore (1956-59)
Billy Cannon - RB, LSU (1957-59)
Fred Dean - DT, Louisiana Tech (1971-74)
Jim Dombrowski - OT, Virginia (1982-85)
Pat Fitzgerald - LB, Northwestern (1994-96)
Wilber Marshall - LB, Florida State (1980-83)
Rueben Mayes - RB, Washington State (1982-85)
Randall McDaniel - OG, Arizona State (1984-87)
Don McPherson - QB, Syracuse (1984-87)
Sam Mills - LB, Montclair State (1977-80)
Jay Novacek - TE, Wyoming (1982-84)
Rod Smith - WR, Missouri Southern State (1988, 1990-93)
Dave Parks - SE, Texas Tech (1961-63)
Ron Simmons - NG, Florida State (1977-80)
Thurman Thomas - RB, Oklahoma State (1984-87)
Arnold Tucker - QB, Army (1944-46)
Volney Ashford - Missouri Valley (1937-71)
John Cooper - Tulsa (1977-84), Arizona State (1985-87), Ohio State (1988-2000)
Jim Donnan - Marshall (1990-95), Georgia (1996-2000)
Lou Holtz - William & Mary (1969-71), North Carolina State (1972-75), Arkansas (1977-83), Minnesota (1984-85), Notre Dame (1986-96), South Carolina (1999-2004)