A sellout at Ryan Field is not commonplace. Michigan, although hated by all Big Ten brethren, tends to bring out the best in others. A completely transformed atmosphere from the usual paltry attendance made Evanston the place to be on this Saturday night. The fact that game time had been set for the evening coupled with homecoming weekend gave Ryan Field a more purple glow, as well. Still, a strong contingent from Michigan displayed their maize and blue and when the Wolverines took the field, images of the Big House in Ann Arbor came to memory.
Northwestern followed with a grand welcome as their team has unexpectedly conquered many conference road blocks to attain national acclaim. ESPN prepared to televise the event with Ron Franklin and Bob Davie commentating. The day before the big game, I was able to catch up with the two famed announcers and snap a photo with them. Ron Franklin seemed most appreciative of my request. With all of the hype surrounding this game, a victory over the Wolverines would give Northwestern a push for the New Year’s Day bowl picture.
As usual, Michigan came to spoil the party. The Wolverines grabbed a quick 14-0 lead highlighted by an 83-yard fumble return by Leon Hall. The dramatics of that play seemed to snap Northwestern’s hopes and made a possible situation become unrecoverable. The Wildcats managed a few touchdowns in the first half, but were locked up in the second half by a tenacious Michigan defense. Holding Northwestern to zero points in a half is like trying to hold back Martha Stewart from getting to her craft table. A near impossible mission earned Michigan an impressive 33-17 victory in front of a vibrant Evanston crowd.
The talk in coffee shops the next day was that Northwestern fell under the pressure of the hype. The Wildcats have experienced hype all year for their zingy offense. No, it was Michigan that Northwestern fell under. The Wolverines don’t have their best collection of athletes this year, but that team from Ann Arbor will always light up a marquis.
One of the funnier moments came after the game when a crowd of purple and white/maize and blue crawled down Central Street. MICHIGAN fans were chanting “LET’S GO BLUE” incessantly while Northwestern fans hung their heads. Suddenly, a short purple dart flew through the crowd – it was an NU student shouting “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! WE’RE SMARTER THAN YOU!” For years, Northwestern fans had little to cheer about on the athletic fields – but much to cheer about in the classroom. That was all they could hold over their Big Ten opponents as they would get pummeled on the field of play. These days, Northwestern is better with athletics – but as Michigan marched off the field pounding their chests, the Wildcat fans had to dig back into their old bag of tricks…