Three teams entered rivalry Saturday with an opportunity for conference supremacy and a trip to the Rose Bowl. After an unexpected explosion of success, Northwestern found themselves amongst this trio. Along with a defeat of Illinois, the Wildcats needed Purdue and Michigan to lose in order to head west.
The fans may have had a more arduous battle simply sitting in the stands. Immersing myself naked in a vat of icicles would have been more comfortable than facing the abrasive winds that blustered an arctic breath. If it were a playground, kids would have been adhering their tongues to the frigid bleachers for amusement. Bunches of purple people packed Ryan Field rubbing their hands together praying for a Big Ten title and hoping that the friction would keep up with the heat demand.
The Illini came in with an even record and looking to topple their rival and venture to the post season. However, it became evident early and often that the Wildcats were the elite team on the frozen playing surface. Quarterback Zak Kustok and running back Damien Anderson engineered a point profuse offense blueprinted by head coach Randy Walker. The orange and blue partisans that journeyed up from Champaign silenced their “ILL! INI!” chant shortly after halftime. Illinois was left wheezing after watching sixty one points mock their twenty three, most of which was scored late in the fourth quarter.
Another development late in the game was the announcement that Michigan had fallen to Ohio State leaving the door open for the Wildcats to claim a piece of the Big Ten cake. As the final ticks of the clock evaporated, Wildcat fans made their way home, as the cold was far too bitter to withstand. Those loyal warriors who stayed witnessed a celebration of Northwestern players huddling near the students and celebrating the guarantee of at least a co-Big Ten title.
Indiana would beat Purdue sending the Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl. But, it hardly diluted the spirits in Evanston because championships in any sense of the word came as often as John Madden to Weight Watchers. Even their colossal breakdown to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl was forgiven. Hopes ran high, as the Wildcats were officially more than just a thorn in the side of Big Ten foes…