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The Northwestern Wildcats football team, representing Northwestern Universitymarker, is a NCAA Division I team and member of the Big Ten Conference, with evidence of organization in 1876. The mascot is the Wildcat, a term coined by a Chicago Tribune reporter in 1924, after reporting on a football game where the players appeared as "a wall of purple wildcats." Northwestern achieved an all-time high rank of #1 during the 1936 and 1962 seasons, which has thus far not been duplicated. Northwestern has won one bowl game, the Rose Bowlmarker, in 1949. The team achieved notoriety with a 34-game losing streak from 1979-1982, the longest in Division I-A college football. Upon setting the new record in 1981 (thanks to a 61-14 home loss to Michigan Statemarker), students rushed the field to "celebrate," and chanted "we're the worst!" A win over Northern Illinois Universitymarker finally broke the losing streak, and the students again celebrated, rushing the field, tearing down the goalposts, and throwing them into nearby Lake Michigan. Recent years have been far kinder to the Wildcats; they were conference champions in 1995 and co-champions in 1996 and 2000.

Northwestern's woes are in part due to the talent level, which typically is not like that found at larger, public institutions. It is the lone private school in the Big Ten, and at 8,200 undergraduates it is by far the smallest (by comparison, the second smallest school, Iowa, has almost 21,000 undergraduates). However, Northwestern consistently is among the leaders in graduation rate; it is consistently in the 90th percentile and graduated 100% of its players in 1998 and 2002. Despite the stricter academic standards, Northwestern has produced notable athletes, such as former first-round draft picks Luis Castillo and Napoleon Harris (who was valedictorian of his high school class).

Northwestern holds the all-time records for Division I-A losses, points allowed, and negative point differential (amount opponents have outscored them by). They are also on the losing end of the greatest comeback in Division I-A history, blowing a 38-3 lead in the third quarter of a 41-38 loss to Michigan State on October 21, 2006.

The team spends its preseason at Camp Kenosha in Kenosha, Wisconsinmarker.

The Wildcats have also been nicknamed the "Cardiac 'Cats" after several seasons with highly contested games, with victories in the final seconds or in overtime. The team first earned the nickname during the 1996 season, and would go on to apply during the 2004 season, when four of the Wildcats' games went into overtime.


The students and the Northwestern University Wildcat Marching Band generally sit in one section near the goal line. The cheerleaders and marching band lead the students with certain cheers, such as "Go U, NU," and "Let's go 'Cats!" In a tradition called the "Growl", started by the marching band in the 1960s, the students extend their arms and make a claw with their hands like that of a wildcat while screaming to intimidate and confuse opposing teams' offenses.

Cheerleaders, along with Willie the Wildcat and the marching band's "Spirit Team", perform push ups after every touchdown, equal to Northwestern's cumulative score. The student section will follow suit, usually hoisting selected fellow students up into the air while in the stands, counting out the number of NU points on the scoreboard. Northwestern students also sing the fight song after scoring. The "Alma Mater" (the traditional school song, different from the fight song, "Go U Northwestern") is usually sung at the end of the game and played by the marching band at halftime.

Other notable traditions include the jiggling of keys before every kickoff. This action plays on Northwestern's academic rigors, and is meant to symbolize that regardless of how the game turns out, the opposing team will eventually be parking the cars of the Northwestern students. The generic "State School" chant is also employed.

The Wildcats and the Illinois Fighting Illini meet annually for an in-state rivalry game. From 1947 through 2008, the teams competed for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy, since retired as part of a ruling by the NCAA requiring Illinois to purge Native American imagery from their athletics. The trophy will remain in Evanston, IL. Starting in 2009, the schools will compete for the Land of Lincoln Trophy.

Northwestern and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish once played for a shillelagh until the early 1950's. The trophy game was created at the behest of Knute Rockne, who wanted a rivalry in the Chicago area to help build Notre Dame's fan base in the area.

The Gary Barnett Era

It was during the 1995 season, under head coach Gary Barnett and the trio of quarterback Steve Schnur, running back Darnell Autry, and linebacker Pat Fitzgerald, when a dramatic turnaround was accomplished. "Expect Victory" was the motto, even as Northwestern began the season as 28-point underdogs. A shocking 17-15 season-opening win over the heavily favored Notre Damemarker Fighting Irish, along with other unbelievable wins over Michiganmarker (19-13) and Penn Statemarker (21-10), catapulted the team into the national spotlight and made them media darlings. Northwestern achieved a ranking of #3 in the nation and their first Big Ten Championship since 1936. The span of 59 years between titles is the longest in the history of the Big Ten Conference. They faced off against USCmarker in the Rose Bowl. The Cinderella season came to an abrupt halt with the Wildcats losing 41-32.

The subsequent 1996 season lived up to expectations, with the Wildcats repeating as Big Ten Champions (Co-Champions). The team was nicknamed the "Cardiac Cats" for many dramatic, last second victories, including a 17-16 comeback over the University of Michigan. Down 16-0 entering the fourth quarter, the Wildcats scored 17 unanswered points, culminating with heart-stopping fourth down conversions and a last second field goal to complete the comeback. They earned an invitation to the Citrus Bowlmarker, only to come up short against the Peyton Manning-led University of Tennesseemarker, 48-28.

The Randy Walker Era

After Barnett was signed away by the Coloradomarker Buffaloes following the 1998 season, Coach Randy Walker (formerly of Miami Universitymarker in Ohiomarker) was called to lead the team. Coach Walker, a former standout tailback at Miami University, placed special emphasis on developing Northwestern's offense, especially at the running back position. The 2000 season, fueled by Damien Anderson, saw the Wildcats emerge with an exciting "spread offense." The spread offense employed many wide receivers to spread out the defense, thus allowing more cracks in the defense for running or passing plays. A 54-51 shootout victory over the University of Michigan led commentators to dub it "basketball on grass." That game became an ESPN Instant Classic and was representative of the season, which saw frequent high scores and dramatic finishes. The high-scoring offense usually was enough to overcome the porous defense, and the Wildcats earned their third Big Ten title in six years (co-champions). Anderson also finished second nationally in rushing yards (behind LaDanian Tomlinson). However, the Wildcats were blown out by the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Alamo Bowl 66-17. The Wildcats did not make the postseason again until December 26, 2003, when they lost to Bowling Green by a score of 28-24 in the Motor City Bowl. In 2004, the Wildcats beat then-ranked #6 Ohio State in double overtime to garner their first win over the Buckeyes since 1971, but that victory was the season's only national highlight. The 2005 season was Northwestern's best since 2000, finishing 7-5 and ending up ranked #25 in the BCS poll. The team appeared in the AP and Coaches' polls for the first time since October 2001. The Wildcats earned an invitation to the Sun Bowl, only to lose to UCLA, 50-38.

Northwestern University record
Year Overall Big Ten / place Bowl Game
1999 3-8 1-7 / 10th None
2000 8-4 6-2 / 1st (T) Alamo Bowl
2001 4-7 2-6 / 10th (T) None
2002 3-9 1-7 / 10th (T) None
2003 6-7 4-4 / 7th Motor City Bowl
2004 6-6 5-3 / 4th None
2005 7-5 5-3 / 3rd Sun Bowl
Total 37-46 24-32

The Pat Fitzgerald Era


Randy Walker died unexpectedly on June 29, 2006 of an apparent heart attack at the age of 52. Pat Fitzgerald (seen by many before the tragedy as Walker's eventual successor once his contract expired) was promoted from linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator to head coach on July 7, 2006. Walker's death was not the team's only loss; the Wildcats also had to replace their offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, and Brett Basanez, the team's former four-year starter at quarterback and holder of dozens of school records. Hence, the 2006 season was a departure from the previous years' successes. The season began with a win at Miami Universitymarker, Walker's alma mater, an emotional game that featured several tributes to the late coach. However, the season went downhill from there. The low point was the October 21 home loss to Michigan Statemarker, in which the Spartans staged the largest comeback in Division I-A history. A win against Illinoismarker in the final game gave the Wildcats a 4-8 record for the year and saved them from finishing last in the Big Ten.

Date Opponent Site Result
August 31, 2006 Miami marker Yager Stadiummarker · Oxford, OHmarker W, 21-3
September 9, 2006 New Hampshire Ryan Fieldmarker · Evanston, ILmarker L, 34-17
September 16, 2006 Eastern Michiganmarker Ryan Field · Evanston, IL W, 14-6
September 22, 2006 Nevadamarker Mackay Stadiummarker · Reno, NVmarker L, 31-21
September 30, 2006 Penn State Beaver Stadiummarker · University Park, PAmarker L, 33-7
October 7, 2006 Wisconsin Camp Randall Stadiummarker · Madison, WImarker L, 41-9
October 14, 2006 Purdue Ryan Field · Evanston, IL L, 31-10
October 21, 2006 Michigan State Ryan Field · Evanston, IL L, 41-38
October 28, 2006 Michigan Michigan Stadiummarker · Ann Arbor, MImarker L, 17-3
November 4, 2006 Iowa Kinnick Stadiummarker · Iowa City, IAmarker W, 21-7
November 11, 2006 Ohio State Ryan Field · Evanston, IL L, 54-10
November 18, 2006 Illinois Ryan Field · Evanston, IL W, 27-16


Before the beginning of the 2007 season, Northwestern showed potential for improvement upon last year's record.'s Mark Schlabach stated that Northwestern has the 7th-easiest schedule in college football, and's Steve Megargee claimed that Indiana is the only Big Ten school with an easier schedule. Running back Tyrell Sutton was one of 64 players in college football to be put on the Maxwell Award watch list for the nation's best college football player.

The Wildcats began the season with their first shutout since 1997 in a 27-0 win against the Northeastern Huskiesmarker. On October 7, quarterback C.J. Bacher broke Brett Basanez's school record for single-game passing yards by throwing for 520 yards in a victory over Michigan State. Bacher went on to be named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week, as well as the Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Another strong performance in a win against Minnesota earned Bacher Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second week in a row.

Date Time (CST) Opponent Site Result TV
September 1, 2007 11:00 am Northeasternmarker Ryan Fieldmarker · Evanston, ILmarker W, 27-0 Big Ten Network
September 8, 2007 11:00 am Nevadamarker Ryan Field · Evanston, IL W, 36-31 BTN
September 15, 2007 7:00 pm Duke Ryan Field · Evanston, IL L, 20-14 BTN
September 22, 2007 2:30 pm Ohio State Ohio Stadiummarker · Columbus, OH L, 58-7 ESPN
September 29, 2007 11:00 am Michigan Ryan Field · Evanston, IL L, 28-16 BTN
October 6, 2007 11:00 am Michigan State Spartan Stadiummarker · East Lansing, MImarker W, 48-41 (OT) BTN
October 13, 2007 11:00 am Minnesota Ryan Field · Evanston, IL W, 49-48 (2OT) BTN
October 19, 2007 6:00 pm Eastern Michiganmarker Ford Fieldmarker · Detroit, MImarker W, 26-14 ESPNU
October 27, 2007 11:00 am Purdue Ross-Ade Stadiummarker · West Lafayette, INmarker L, 35-17 BTN
November 3, 2007 11:00 am Iowa Ryan Field · Evanston, IL L, 28-17 ESPN2
November 10, 2007 11:00 am Indiana Ryan Field · Evanston, IL W, 31-28 ESPN Classic
November 17, 2007 11:00 am Illinois Memorial Stadiummarker · Champaign, ILmarker L, 41-22 ESPN



Bowl games

Year Game Opponent Result
1949 Rose Bowl California W, 20-14
1996 Rose Bowl USCmarker L, 32-41
1997 Citrus Bowl Tennesseemarker L, 28-48
2000 Alamo Bowl Nebraska L, 17-66
2003 Motor City Bowl Bowling Green L, 24-28
2005 Sun Bowl UCLAmarker L, 38-50
2008 Alamo Bowl Missouri L, 23-30 (OT)

Individual award winners


Pat Fitzgerald - 1995, 1996
Pat Fitzgerald - 1995, 1996
Tim Lowry - 1925
Otto Graham - 1943
Art Murakowski - 1948
Mike Adamle - 1970
Lee Gissendaner - 1992


Gary Barnett - 1995
Gary Barnett - 1995

Notable alumni

Current NFL players

Other alumni


  1. Latourette, Larry, "Northwestern Wildcat Football," pg. 26
  3. Miami (Ohio) RedHawks, NCAA Football, Northwestern Wildcats -
  4. ESPN - Easy schedules should help these teams succeed - College Football
  5. - NCAA Football - Big Ten schedule rankings (cont.) - Thursday June 21, 2007 1:32PM
  6. Tyrell Sutton Named to Maxwell Award Watch List :: Sutton one of only 10 Big Ten players on list
  7. NCAA Football - Northeastern Huskies/Northwestern Wildcats Recap Saturday September 1, 2007 - Yahoo! Sports
  8. C.J. Bachér Named Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Week :: Fans can also vote for C.J.; one of four nominees for the AT&T All-America Player of the Week award
  9. Big Ten Honors Quarterback C.J. Bachelor Again With Offensive Player of the Week Award :: Bachér also one of four nominees for the AT&T All-America Player of the Week award; fans can vote for C.J.!

External links

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