Northwestern did it before. 1995. The Irish opened the season ranked 9th and the Wildcats were supposed to be the welcome mat that Notre Dame trampled over to initiate a fresh new season. But, Northwestern knew that scripts can change. The Wildcats stunned the Golden Domers with a 17-15 victory that the Chicago Tribune dubbed “The Upset of the Century.” This win would propel the purple towards one of the must unexpected Cinderella stories culminating in their first Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl appearance since 1949.
That was the last time NU visited ND – until today. The renewal of this once annual rivalry has lost a bit of luster as both teams come off gut wrenching defeats and are looking to bounce back. Northwestern has suffered considerably more turmoil with back to back seasons where the loss column has been visited more often than the win column. But, on a day cold enough to send Jack Frost sprinting to the hot chocolate stand, the Wildcats would have a shot at recapturing some nostalgia.
A week earlier, Northwestern couldn’t move the ball if they were rolling it downhill. The offense was stagnant and downright mind numbing. However, Notre Dame’s suddenly porous defense could make Barney Fife look like the Incredible Hulk. Northwestern gashed them all day and with four turnovers from both teams, this contest was painfully sloppy. The Irish seemed to have control when they went up by 11 in the fourth quarter. But, the decision to go for two after their last TD would prove costly. Northwestern was able to cut the lead to 3. But, with a few first downs, ND could have put this game on ice…cue the fourth Irish turnover of the day giving back the ball with 98 seconds left. The Wildcats would capitalize tying the game on the foot of seldom tested kicker, Jack Mitchell. 40-40. Overtime. Stunned expressions frozen by the cold. Elated Wildcat fans made themselves heard from the corner endzone. Things finally seemed to be going Northwestern’s way and would continue with a heroic field goal by Mitchell to win in the extra session 43-40.
Big plays. Questionable calls. Blocked kicks. Multiple turnovers. Fantastic finish. Classic rivalry renewed. This game kinda had it all.
The loss doesn’t take away the mystique of attending a game at Notre Dame – we hit all the tourist attraction “musts” from Touchdown Jesus to The Grotto to Trombones Under the Dome. Die hard Irish followers may disagree, but every game at Notre Dame Stadium feels like a bowl game, complete with all the magic and history that it envelops. Tonight’s game had that magic – it just wore a purple hue.