Nov. 13, 1999
By BILL JAUSS — Chicago Tribune
As a fan in the stands, a substitute on the players’ bench or a sportswriter in the press box, I have seen roughly one-fourth of the 917 football games Northwestern has played this century.
Does this qualify me to compile a list of the “10 most significant NU games of the century?” Of course not. But since almost everyone else is submitting some kind of list as the end of the millennium nears, here’s one more.
If you disagree with this list, put together your own list of games you most vividly remember and why.
For games played in the third of a century before my birth, I relied on “Tale of the Wildcats,” authored by Walter Paulison, late great NU sports information director.
Here they are in chronological order … from Moon Baker to Darnell Autry:
Chicago, Nov. 15, 1924. Chicago 3, Northwestern 0
“Football players had not come down from Evanston, Wildcats would be a name better suited …”
These words, probably punched out hunt-and-peck style on an upright typewriter, were written by Chicago Tribune rookie sportswriter Wallace Abbey, (NU, Journalism ‘23). He covered this near-upset. His words earned a new nickname for the team previously called “Purple” or “Fighting Methodists.”
Abbey described how sophomore halfback Ralph “Moon” Baker and his underdog teammates battled furiously against Amos Alonzo Stagg’s vastly superior University of Chicago Maroons.
The Maroons finally won 3-0 on Bob Curley’s 28-drop kick. But the flame had been lit.
Two years later, All-Americans Baker and tackle Robert Johnson, joined by still-remembered Wildcat names such as Waldo Fisher, Luke Johnsos, Justin Dart and Ade Schumacher, produced a 7-1 season and a share of NU’s first Big Ten Championship.
Dyche Stadium, Nov. 7, 1930. Northwestern 32, Minnesota 14
This game illustrates the resiliency of coach Dick Hanley’s Wildcats who shared Big Ten titles and finished 7-1 in 1930 and 7-1-1 in ‘31.
A Homecoming crowd of 49,000 fans grew impatient when the Gophers jumped to a 14-0 lead and led 14-7 at halftime.
“We were booed by our own rooting section when we left the field at halftime,” recalled captain Dal Marvil, an All-American tackle along with Jack Riley. “I can’t recall that ever happening before or since.”
Stung by the boos, NU’s third All-American Ernest “Pug” Rentner returned the second half kickoff 95 yards for a TD. NU trailed 14-13 as the fourth quarter began but outscored the Gophers 19-0 in the final period.
Dyche Stadium, Oct. 31, 1936. Northwestern 6, Minnesota 0
Folks called fullback Fred Vanzo “Chopper” because of his crisp blocking. In this classic defensive battle on a slippery, rain-soaked field, linebacker Vanzo chopped down Andy Uram and other Gopher backs along with savage tackles.
Bernie Bierman’s Gophers had played 28 games without a loss and were seeking their third straight conference title. But Coach Lynn Waldorf’s Wildcats finished 6-0 and won the school’s only unshared Big Ten Championship until 1995.
NU’s roster on this day included names that would be linked to the school for decades after their graduation: captain Steve Reid, Bob Voigts, Don Heap, John Kovatch, Bernie Jefferson, Chet Gargas.
Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 1, 1949. Northwestern 20, California 14
For sheer drama, it’s hard to exceed this Rose Bowl victory achieved by coach Voigts, captain Alex Sarkisian and NU’s big play opportunists. Just look at NU’s three touchdowns.
Frank Aschenbrenner broke 73 yards, then a Rose Bowl record, for a 7-0 lead. Next, Art Murakowski dived 2 yards to a 13-7 lead on a play West Coast apologists still claim produced a fumble short of the goal line.
Finally, trailing 14-13 with 2:59 left, Ed Tunnicliff took a direct pass from center and dashed 45 yards to the winning TD on the trick play.
Voigts won the “Teacher vs. Student” showdown. Waldorf, when he left NU in ‘47, became coach at Cal.
Dyche Stadium, Oct. 18, 1958. Northwestern 55, Michigan 24
Charismatic Ara Parseghian went 4-13-1 (.235) in 1956-57, his first two years at NU. He fashioned a 32-22 record (.593) in his last six years. The trigger to this surge was this shocking rout of the Wolverines.
Ara’s first two recruiting classes contained Ron Burton, Dick Thornton, Elbert and Albert Kimbrough, Irv Cross, Gene Gossage, Jim Andreotti and Larry Onesti. But to most folks in the U.S., Northwestern was still Northwestern. And Michigan was still Michigan.
NU led 43-0 at the half. When this bulletin hit the wires, sports desks called the wire services and asked them to fix the “typo.”
It was no typo. The Era of Ara was going full steam.
Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 31, 1970. Ohio State 24, Northwestern 10
The rap on Ara’s teams was the they faded in November. Alex Agase’s ‘Cats were different. They finished 6-1 in the Big Ten in ‘70 and ‘71 and went 3-0 in both Novembers.
Mike Adamle, Big Ten MVP in 1970, recalled how close the ‘Cats came to going 7-0 his senior year.
“We led 10-6 at the half,” said Adamle, “and I’d had about 25 carries. But in the second half, Ohio State wouldn’t give up the ball. Ohio State finished with 91 plays, and John Brockington had 40-some carries.”
Another thing made this game special, it was televised back into McGaw Hall on closed circuit.
Years later, a 1972 graduate recalled, “That game on closed circuit TV did more than anything else in my four years—more than barricading Sheridan Road in protest of the Vietnam War — to bring students together in a common cause.”
Champaign, Ill., Oct. 24, 1992. Northwestern 27, Illinois 26
“I was locked into a zone …”
That’s the way quarterback Lenny Williams described one of the biggest and most dramatic comeback victories in Wildcat football history.
The Illini held their Homecoming guests to two field goals and led 26-6 after three quarters. Then Williams reached zone-ward.
Williams completed 11 of 13 fourth-quarter passes for 128 yards and three TD’s. He threw 31 yards to Chris Gamble, 5 yards to Lee Gissandaner and then 4 yards to Gissandaner with 13 seconds left in the game.
NU’s defense gave Williams his chances by limiting the Illini to three-and-out fourth quarter possessions.
South Bend, Ind., Sept. 2, 1995. Northwestern 17, Notre Dame 15
The Chicago Sun-Times called it “The Upset of the Century.”
Coach Gary Barnett refused to let his players hoist him to their shoulders at the finish. “I want them to look like they’re used to winning,” he said.
But sophomore Darnell Autry, who rushed for 160 yards, knew he’d been involved in something special. “I can’t say this is ‘just another game,’”he said. “This is Notre Dame at Notre Dame. All the tradition. Touchdown Jesus …”
All-American linebacker Pat Fitzgerald said the defining moment of the season came when tackle Matt Rice stopped Randy Kinder short of a first down on fourth and two on the Irish 44 with 3:57 to play.
Ann Arbor, Mich., Oct. 7, 1995. Northwestern 19, Michigan 13
A relentless, gambling Wildcat defense forced the turnovers that led to all 19 points, 12 on four field goals by Sam Valenzisi.
Michigan had a golden chance to win its 20th straight game over the ‘Cats when it had a first down on the NU 33 with 2:30 to play.
“Our hair was on fire in that last series,” said Matt Rice.
Fitzgerald was on fire too. Gambling on blitzes, he knocked Brian Griese’s arm on third and fourth down passes. The first pass fell incomplete. William Bennett intercepted the next one with a diving catch.
“Next,” said prophetic guard Ryan Padgett, “we win the next six and go to the Rose Bowl!”
Pasadena, Calif., Jan 1, 1996. Southern Cal 41, Northwestern 32
Barnett promised when his took the job that he would, “Take the Purple to Pasadena.” Many of the 50,000 Wildcat fans recalled those words New Year’s morning when they stepped outside and saw waves of purple in the streets.
Three minutes into the fourth quarter, the Rose Bowl scoreboard offered an equally beautiful sight: NORTHWESTERN 32, SOUTHERN CAL 31.
The ‘Cats could not hold that lead. Keyshawn Johnson (12 catches, 216 yards) saw to that. But NU’s season of a century was still one to savor for the Purple in Pasadena.