If only everything we learned in college would come in this handy. The lessons learned from the Boise State game four weeks ago about finishing games strongly would be put into action again in Evanston. The game was part of ESPN’s night lineup. At the time, Big Ten games at night were somewhat of a rarity. Therefore, the energy in the stadium was naturally overflowing. Half of the stadium was purple and the other half was red, which is the typical way Ryan Field reaches a sellout. Both bands were there and it offered a bowl game-like atmosphere.
If college football could be a soap opera, this series would be One Life To Live. The year prior, Wisconsin had the game wrapped up when Badger running back, Ron Dayne, fumbled the ball as they were running out the clock. Two plays later, Northwestern scored and stole the victory from Camp Randall Stadium. This year, revenge, thrills, and unexpected twists would overwhelm this contest. It had all the makings of a great television season finale. With the score at 25-23 in favor of the Wildcats, Northwestern was running the clock out and inching nearer to the end zone to drive in the last spike. Like the game against Boise State, my brother was ready to head for the gates, but I convinced him otherwise.
Not long after, Northwestern’s running back let the ball slip and Wisconsin covered it within their own five-yard line. Quarterback Mike Samuel, who commanded drives to defeat Boise State and Indiana this season, buckled his straps and punched his timecard. Samuel hit Tony Simmons as he did during crunch time last week and with help from a holding penalty, moved the ball down to the Badger thirty-yard line.
Kicker Matt Davenport, who connected on a 43-yarder last week to upend Indiana, was teeing up for an encore performance. This time, it was 48 yards and the purple side flailed about while the red side whittled their fingernails to the cuticle. The kick was up and was dead on. Red up. Purple down. It was such a sudden shift of balance that I thought the stadium was going to tip on its side. The result completed the perfect revenge from last year. I ran from my seat to inch nearer to any cameras that might be pointing in my direction. I held up a sign that read “Every badger Shall Pound Northwestern.” It was an acronym for ESPN. I didn’t get on TV, but the sentiment was expressed by several thousands who crossed the border for this amazing night of football.
For Wisconsin, their season was becoming one of destiny, while Northwestern began to sag from their back-to-back Big Ten Championships. Wisconsin fans partied late in the stands and continued by tainting the Ivy League like atmosphere on the campus in Evanston.