August 12, 2009
Part of the Doc's Big Ten Week.
To be a Northwestern fan, especially a Northwestern fan of a certain age, is to know sadness, perpetual sadness, and to tack one's emotional net worth onto things like graduation rates and (mostly) filling the stadium. The Wildcats have but one bowl win to their name in the program's entire history -- a Rose Bowl victory in 1949 -- and nothing much else to show for it in the intervening six decades.
So to put the '95 season in perspective, understand this: The 'Cats finished 10-2. It's certainly something to be celebrated in itself, but it's also the first and last time in program history Northwestern hit double-digit wins. The only other time you'll see a "10" in school records is in the loss column, where it appears a lot, notably during a four-year stretch from 1976-79 that was followed by two winless seasons in 1980-81. In the run-up to the '95 season, as usual, Northwestern was a consensus pick to bring up the bottom of the Big Ten. Sports Illustrated ran the soon-to-be infamous April Fool's cover of the most unbelievable stories it could imagine, "Cubs win the World Series! Northwestern to the Rose Bowl ..."
The miracle season would have been easier to spot if the Wildcats hadn't followed their 17-15 upset at Notre Dame, snapping a 14-game losing streak to the Irish as four-touchdown underdogs, with a typical loss to Miami (Ohio) the next week. No, it wasn't until their trip to Ann Arbor in October that the "Cardiac Cats" pounced from under the bed onto the feet of a stunned nation. Northwestern hadn't bested the Wolverines since 1965, and hadn't beaten them at home since 1959. Until ...
Brian Griese's final, painful stat line: 14-of-34 for 95 yards, two interceptions and one permanent imprint of Pat Fitzgerald's facemask in his throat.
The 'Cats would go on to beat Penn State 21-10, then the Big Ten's equivalent of a high-flying shootout, watch Michigan upset undefeated Ohio State on the last weekend of the regular season and finally lose to USC in the Rose Bowl, because winning in Pasadena would have been too, too good for reality -- with which, for the record, the Wildcats have fared much better since, thanks.