Win over UW latest in long line of upsets

Ross Siler is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected].

Four games into a new century of Northwestern football and the Wildcats already have notched an upset to be remembered until 2100. Even then, it’ll be hard to top an NU team picked to finish last in the Big Ten knocking off the No. 7 team in the country in double overtime on the road.

In reality, though, these once-in-a-lifetime upsets seem to occur pretty often for a school with a .402 all-time winning percentage. Dating back to 1936, the Cats have turned in more than their fair share of nation-shocking wins, like Saturday’s 47-44 stunner over Wisconsin.

There’s no real explanation for why this has been the case, aside from even the junkyard dog having its day. Maybe the Zodiac aligned just so. Maybe Pop Warner, Amos Alonzo Stagg and God just wanted to mess with everyone. But here’s a look at how the Wisconsin game fits into NU’s tradition of upsets.

Oct. 31, 1936: The dispatch in the Chicago Tribune called the Cats’ 6-0 win over Minnesota “a triumph that will bring them honor as long as football is being played.” And with good reason, as NU snapped the Golden Gophers’ 21-game winning streak dating back to 1932.

During that span, Minnesota won the 1934 national championship, and, in spite of the setback, would go on to the title in 1936 as well. But NU would use a fourth-quarter fumble recovery and personal foul to run in from the 1-yard line for the victory. When the game was over, the dispatch from Dyche Stadium ended with a description of Minnesota as having lost “its Waterloo.”

Jan. 1, 1948: In its first Rose Bowl appearance, NU needed an 88-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter to pull off a 20-14 upset of previously unbeaten California. The win was even sweeter as the Cats defeated their former coach, Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf, who had headed west to build a power at Cal.

With its national title hopes finished, Cal wrapped up the year as the No. 4 team in the country. And the Cats — who went 3-6 in 1947 and were beaten by both Notre Dame and Michigan in 1948 — took an improbable Rose Bowl trophy home with them.

Writing before the game in the Tribune, Arch Ward tried to put the prospect of a Cal loss in perspective: “If the best team the Pacific Coast conference has developed in several years can’t whip the No. 2 team of the Western conference, there will be widespread harikari in Los Angeles Saturday night.”

Sept. 23, 1967: An NU team that lost 15 starters from a 3-6-1 squad squared off against No. 1 Miami (Fla.) in its season-opener. In his story from the game, the Tribune’s George Langford described the Cats as being “pictured by preseason seers as warriors going into battle with pie plates for armor and whipped cream for ammunition.”

Entering the game as a two-touchdown underdog, NU claimed a 12-7 victory over the Hurricanes at Dyche Stadium. The loss ended Miami’s nine-game winning streak and erased the national title hopes of its six All-Americans.

It’s still in the record books as the last time the Cats knocked off the top team in the land.

Oct. 9, 1982: Not having won a Big Ten game since Nov. 19, 1977, the Cats entered their home game against Minnesota as an astounding 30-point underdog. But the Gophers couldn’t hang on to a 21-3 second-quarter lead and lost 31-21.

In the aftermath, the goalposts came down at Dyche Stadium and Minnesota failed to win another game that year, finishing at 3-8. Describing his emotions, Gophers quarterback Tim Salem said: “We’re not on the bottom of the world. We’re underneath it.”

Sept. 3, 1995: The Associated Press began its story of NU’s 17-15 upset of No. 9 Notre Dame with the words “In one of the greatest upsets in college football history…”

It’s impossible to argue with that description as the 28-point underdog Cats toppled the Irish in South Bend, Ind., for the first time since 1961.

The loss silenced the Irish’s preseason talk of a run to the Fiesta Bowl. It spoiled Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz’s bid for his 200th career win. It also started NU’s Rose Bowl run and served as the cornerstone of coach Gary Barnett’s Expect Victory philosophy.

Oct. 7, 1995: A little more than a month later, NU traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., and shocked the 100,000 fans at Michigan Stadium with a 19-13 win over the No. 7 Wolverines. The triumph ended a streak of 19 straight Michigan wins over the Cats, who came in as a 16-point underdog to the 5-0 Wolverines. After the game, Barnett described the Michigan upset as more impressive than the one over Notre Dame.

Which brings us back to Wisconsin and the declaration that Saturday Sept. 23, 2000, marked the seventh improbable upset in NU football history. The two-time defending Rose Bowl champion Badgers, riding an 11-game unbeaten streak, fell victim to an NU team that was 3-8 last year and received a rude beating from Texas Christian the week before.

That’s an upset for the ages for sure — and about one-seventh of NU’s winning tradition.