Game 177 – Illinois vs. Northwestern (Wrigley Field)

As soon as the announcement was made that College Gameday would be live from Wrigley Field, my mind began to create signs for this historic matchup. The best I could come up with was “Go ‘Cats!” with the “C” being the Cubs logo. The magnitude of my sign’s creativity decreased once gameday arrived. We hopped the Clark Street bus at around 6:30am and began to venture toward Addison. The bus stopped at the corner and the College Gameday stage and bus appeared at the right, while the classic “Wrigley Field” sign came into view at the left. Only this time, its red hue had been replaced with purple.

Fans of the Wildcats, the Illini, and seemingly every other Big Ten team made their way to the McDonald’s parking lot where the show set up. Regardless of the game’s outcome, this day would clearly be a memorable one for all fans involved. College Gameday had a phenomenal turnout, as usual, and along with the usual sports gurus of Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, and Erin Andrews, many more celebs of the sports world got the crowd rockin: Ernie Banks came out and sang the seventh inning stretch classic, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” while Mike Ditka came on to make picks with the Gameday Crew. Even TCU’s head coach, Gary Patterson, made an appearance. The entire scene was surreal. After the show, we piled into one of the many crowded bars surrounding the stadium and enjoyed lunch and some Big Ten battles on TV. Once gametime came near, we moved over to Sheffield Street, which had been closed off to make room for “Wildcat Way,” a venue for NU fans to tailgate, listen to live music, and get revved up for the game.

Walking into Wrigley on a Cubs gameday is a memorable experience, but watching it converted into a football field for the first time since the Bears played there in 1970 made this day one of the most historical moments in Big Ten history. Even the classic scoreboard was manually operated for this game and it updated all the Big Ten games around the conference.

However, it all came with some controversy. The day prior to the game, the Big Ten decided that the field was unsafe for players. One of the endzones rested a little more than a foot away from the wall on the right field side of Wrigley. In order to protect players, the Big Ten ruled that all offensive plays would have to be run in one direction. Much like a pickup game that would be played in the backyard, this game now went from unique to unusual. It caused some frustration for those fans who thought they would have terrific endzone seats.

Most fans, however, reported that by midway through the first quarter, this rule change was hardly noticeable. Perhaps the electric Illini offense had something to do with that. Northwestern had lost their star quarterback, Dan Persa, a week earlier. Evan Watkins had to make his first start for the Wildcats at Wrigley Field. With all the hype surrounding this game, it was hard to watch the purple fall apart. The offense provided a few sparks, but the defense allowed more. Illinois won the game 48-27. At least Northwestern did not schedule this game against a team that would not appreciate such a venue as Wrigley. Illinois became bowl eligible with the win, as well. Mostly, this game gave college football another memorable moment in its illustrious history.

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