Do you remember the magic of Wisconsin?

Amalie Benjamin

Before there were believers in the 2000 Wildcats campaign, there was Wisconsin.

Three weeks into Northwestern’s season, the team was 2-1 in nonconference play, with wins over Northern Illinois and Duke and a loss to Texas Christian.

Looming on the schedule was Wisconsin. The Badgers were the two-time defending Rose Bowl champions and ranked No. 7 in the nation. From all appearances, it looked like the afternoon of Sept. 23, 2000, was going to be a long one for the men in purple.

Then, out of nowhere, NU headed up to Madison and, in a wild overtime game, beat the Badgers 47-44.

No one knew what to expect from the young season after just one Big Ten game, though most fans doubted Randy Walker’s team could duplicate the feat against any other top conference team. Wisconsin seemed to be an aberration. Fans were so stunned by the victory that they left the library to gather in North Campus, then trekked to Ryan Field in a misguided attempt to tear down the goalposts. Most students — myself included — believed the victory over Wisconsin would be the last big win in their college careers.

Though students understood that Wisconsin wasn’t the norm for the Cats, that didn’t prevent them from celebrating the victory.

“When the buses (returning from Wisconsin) showed up, the band started playing, ‘Go U Northwestern,’ and the players coming off the bus started dancing with fans,” said Brian Link, then-spirit leader of NUMB, at the time.

But the Cats didn’t stop with Wisconsin, as they took down Michigan and Minnesota in out-of-the-blue performances that attracted people to the underdog team.

Three long years later, the Cats face Wisconsin again for the first time since their conference- title season. No longer is the team known as the “Cardiac Cats.” No longer does the team have the ability to pull out tight games in the waning minutes (see Air Force). No longer is Walker being touted as the hot young coach with a chance at stardom.

A lot has changed in the last few years and, once the current seniors graduate, there will be few students who remember the magic of the 2000 season, just as the Rose and Citrus bowls are a distant memory now. Next season there will only be 11 players — at most — who played in a bowl game at NU.

That Wisconsin game and the wins following it had seemed to bode well for a new football tradition at NU. After all, despite a crushing defeat in the Alamo Bowl, much of the team was returning for 2001.

But we all know how that season turned out, shattered as it was by Rashidi Wheeler’s death and the team’s pitiful collapse.

So here we are, three years later. Most (if not all) of the faith we had in the Cats is gone, swept away by two straight losing seasons.

Once again, a bottom-of-the-barrel NU squad is taking on a more powerful, ranked Badgers team. At one point this season, Wisconsin was being touted as the hot national championship pick. Few people think the Cats have a shot at the Badgers — even with quarterback Jim Sorgi on the bench.

But it wouldn’t take much for the faith to come back, just as it didn’t take much for the belief to set in during the 2000 season.

Maybe all we would need to get back the magic is a big victory — over Wisconsin.

Amalie Benjamin is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at [email protected]