Out of respect for those who perished in the September 11th attacks and due to safety concerns, college football games were cancelled on the 15th of September. Some games resumed on the 22nd, but everything was back to full momentum on September 29. Entering the stadium, each fan received an embroidered stick-on flag to proudly wear. A lengthy moment of silence preceded the game and I knew that every stadium in the country was performing the same tribute.
Nevertheless, the exuberance for college football showed that life moves forward and a Big Ten opener between two top ten teams highlighted Ryan Field in Evanston on this day. We sat amongst a hefty batch of Michigan State fans who fully expected a victory on this sunny afternoon. My decision to get a snapshot with Sparty the Spartan proved to be unwise as a spattering of boos from green clad fans rained on me, one of the few purple wearing partisans in that section.
However, the final moments of the game caused all traces of green to fade. With 29 seconds left, Northwestern scored to take the lead 24-20. The Wildcats seemingly pulled another victory from their hats. Yet, on the ensuing kickoff, the Spartans found magic of their own with an 84 yard return for a touchdown. Suddenly, we were in the pit of a chaotic green celebration. Although the extra point was blocked, Michigan State looked to have a memorable win all bagged up.
Northwestern was unable to make a return out of MSU’s kickoff and had to start at their own 13 yard line. But, an amazing Zak Kustok pass connected 54 yards ahead to set up a field goal attempt with five seconds left. Another cardiac thriller ended with a successful kick and a 27-26 Wildcat victory that will always remain a classic in Evanston. The emotional undulations that occurred in the last thirty seconds were enough to saturate a full season of football. Northwestern looked ready to be a consistent force in the Big Ten as they climb the national polls.