Twenty years ago, in 1995, Northwestern football produced one of the greatest underdog stories that college football and the world of sport have ever seen. I recently told that story in an extensive oral history of the season, which culminated in Northwestern's second ever trip to the Rose Bowl, and first since 1949.
But it's really difficult to comprehensively tell the story of any season, but especially that season, even in 20,000 words. And there were so many tangential narratives that don't flow seamlessly with the main narrative. So I thought it would be cool to publish some of the best memories, quotes and stories that didn't make the final cut.
Here are those memories:
Dave Eanet (Northwestern radio play-by-play broadcaster) on the pre-1990 role of sports at Northwestern: I never sensed there was any effort on the part of the university to really get the students energized about the program. There was no real strong connection. Sports were seen more as a necessity than an asset to the university. And that's not to say there weren't exceptions to that, I just never felt that the administration embraced athletics the way they do today. Now, they try to indoctrinate you, and really encourage you, having the freshman run the field and everything. We didn't have any of that stuff. It was a much different feeling. Not everybody had bought into the idea that a winning football program could have wide-ranging benefits for the university. It was sort of, "Well, we gotta do this." You would still hear people at that point saying, "Well, maybe this whole Big Ten thing isn't a great idea."
Stewart Mandel (Northwestern student, current college sports columnist for Fox Sports) on whether sports played a role in his decision to attend Northwestern: I grew up in Cincinnati, huge sports fan, especially college basketball. I knew I wanted to be a sportswriter, and I knew Northwestern had a good journalism school, and I thought it would be cool to get to cover Big Ten sports, and see Michigan, and Ohio State, Penn State, these big name teams. At that point, Northwestern was just like a running joke. They were the punchline in sports, both football and basketball.
J.A Adande (Washington Post college football reporter, Northwestern alum): When I was there, nothing revolved around the football team. They went 0-11 my sophomore year, and I think people took pride in that. Somebody wrote on their window, one of the windows that faced Sheridan Road, "0-11. We suck." It was up there all winter as a reminder of how bad that football team was.
J.A. Adande: Basically every week, I would go to the game of the week. So Auburn-Florida, Nebraska-Colorado... So I'd go around the country. But covering Northwestern... the thought never even crossed my mind.
Full oral history
Full oral history
Ben Bolch (The Daily Northwestern sports editor): I don't think anybody thought they would just snap into this great team. I was the summer sports editor of The Daily Northwestern the summer before the season, and I did a look at all the games, and I put them into two categories, "winnable," and then one that I called "miserable," which were games that they had no shot of winning. I think I had them at seven "winnable" games and four "miserable" games.
Jerry Brown (Defensive backs coach): Going into the season, I guarantee you nobody on the coaching staff thought we'd be Big Ten champs. You always say you wanna be Big Ten champs, but our thought process was, okay, we gotta find enough wins to get ourselves to be bowl eligible.
Gambling Scandal and 1994 seniors
Gary Barnett (Head coach): The Monday after the Iowa game [the penultimate game of the 1994 season], one of the coaches came to me. His graduate assistant had come to him Sunday night. One of the trainers had gone to the graduate assistant on the plane trip home from Iowa. So the minute the coach heard, he came to me, I called both players — the one who claimed he knew what was going on, and the one who he was blaming — called them together, and I said to the player that was being accused, I said to him, "This is what the accuser is saying about you. What do you have to say about that?" Because I really thought the accuser was the guy that was wrong. I wanted him to be confronted in front of the guy he was accusing. And the guy he was accusing said, "Yeah, I have been." And so I was taken aback, as you can imagine. And I couldn't believe — I fully expected in that meeting that the guy was shooting his mouth off, I was going to have to reprimand who was being a jerk. And in reality, he was the only one who had the nerve to go up and say it.
William Bennett (Senior safety): I was very mad, very disappointed. It made me realize that the seniors from that season who were trying to do right, it was unfortunate for them. It was going to be their breakthrough year. They still live it to this day. People ask them, "So you played for Northwestern, were you a part of that good team back in ‘95?" And they have to tell them, "No, I wasn't."
Ryan Padgett (Senior offensive guard): I will never forgive [the players who threw games], because when Barnett came in, that team was used to losing. It was just how it was. People were resigned to it. There were some guys that bought in from [former coach] Francis Peay's administration, and believed and really bought in, and that's hard to do, because he asked a lot of people. He demanded a lot of people. And a lot of them fell off. There was a group of Matt O'Dwyer, Todd Bascek, Billy Koziel, and some guys that really bought in. And knowing we were in every game, but then to know that there was this underbelly, it just makes me so mad. And I have a big ring, and those guys don't. And I still feel for ‘em.
Jason Wendland (Junior offensive tackle): When you tell the story of the Rose Bowl season, you cannot neglect to mention those players that were on teams the preceding years. Especially the two or three preceding years. And you can even go back to the guys that recruited my class. I'll tell anyone who will listen that I went to Northwestern because of a guy named Bill Koziel. He was a nose guard who had played center, his senior year he started. He was the roommate of my host on my recruiting trip, and he had bought in 100 percent. And you could tell. And the notion that he sold — that we were gonna take Northwestern and turn it into a Big Ten championship squad — he was already there. And it was very easy to say, "Yeah, I want that too." I'm sure it was challenging for guys like him to have a new coach come in, have a whole new system, a whole new coaching staff, and really buy into it. And not only buy into it, but sell it to other guys. So when I think of the Rose Bowl season, I think of a guy like Bill Koziel. He played like three plays his freshman year. If he had not done that, he would've been on that team with us.
The title of the oral history is Belief Without Evidence, and it's really one of the overarching themes of that season. According to Sam Valenzisi, one of the reasons that team was able to have that belief without evidence was that they had all been successful in the past.
Sam Valenzisi (Senior kicker): I remember sitting in Pick-Staiger as a freshman during Welcome Week, and [then-Northwestern University president] Arnie Weber said, "Everybody who was valedictorian of their high school class, stand up. Everybody who was editor of their high school newspaper, stand up." And you watch people around you stand up. You look around and realize the people around you are high achievers, and many of them have never failed at anything they've done in their lives. Many of them are high achievers. And many of them are overachievers. People who are overachievers are more inclined to believe, and have faith, because they've always set their mind on something and accomplished it.
Sam Valenzisi: In ‘94, we got t-shirts that had the letters A.R.T. on them. And people would say, "What's A.R.T. stand for?" We would say, "We can't tell you. We can't tell you what it is." It was our thing. My dad coached high school football for 45 years... "What does A.R.T. stand for?" "Dad, I can't tell you." It stood for "A Relentless Team." We weren't allowed to tell anybody what it stood for until somebody called us a relentless team.
Gary Barnett: It was something that they were willing to buy into, that nobody else needed to know about, it was just us, and it was so important to us that we would keep it to ourselves. We would not even tell our wives or girlfriends or parents or anything like that. It's an exercise in focus. It's an exercise in drawing a team together based on a promise and a commitment. On my goal board, one of the things was to become a relentless team. When someone wrote about us or publicly responded to our team and described our team as relentless, then we knew we had arrived. I gave everyone a shirt and told ‘em what it was. If anybody asks you what it was, you can't tell ‘em, and if you told ‘em what it was, you'd have to kill ‘em.
A few of the parables Barnett and Steve Musseau would tell were included in the oral history. Here are two more.
Chris Martin (Senior cornerback): He told us this story about this guy who was a tightrope-walker. He was one of the best in the world, so what he wanted to do to challenge himself was stretch a tight-rope across Niagara Falls. And he's the best in the world, so people were coming out to see this event. And the first day, he just walked across it. He had a couple stumbles, but made it across. The second day he said, "Okay, I've accomplished the simple feat, now I'm going to walk backwards across the tightrope." And by this point, people were starting to doubt him. And he did it. The third day, he comes out, takes a wheelbarrow, and says, "I'm going to push this wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls." He slips, but maintains his balance, and gets all the way across. And so now he's got millions and millions of people from all over the world coming to see him. It's the grand finale. He takes the wheelbarrow and says, "Today, for my last act, you've seen me walk across, you've seen me go backwards, you've seen me push a wheelbarrow across, for my grand finale, I'm going to take this wheelbarrow, I'm going to push it across Niagara Falls, but this time I want you" — and he pointed at somebody — "to get in the wheelbarrow." He said, "Alright, you guys believe in me, I'm the greatest, I'm the best, but are you willing to get in that wheelbarrow?" And that was Barnett's point. It's easy to say you believe, it's easy to say you're ready, but when it gets right down to it, do you really believe? Are you willing to get in that wheelbarrow?
Steve Schnur (Junior quarterback): There's this guy that's a stonecutter, and he shows up every day, and his job is to break apart these big boulders, and he takes a hammer and whacks away at this boulder over and over and over all day, and eventually the boulder breaks. But it's not the 500th hit that breaks it, it's all 500 of those leading up to that. And that was Barnett's message to us. You've got to keep banging away, and eventually this things gonna turn. And it's gonna turn not because of the effort you put in that day, but the effort you put in every day preceding that.
Jason Wendland: I've gotta admit, I'm a pretty cynical guy, and I was surprised with myself, especially looking back on it, how much I bought into the whole Musseau/Barnett storytelling. It's almost like part of becoming what we wanted to becoming meant that you had to take this stuff at face value. And not in a bad way.
Gary Barnett: I had talked to several people, Gerry Dinardo had taken his team off campus at Vanderbilt to a place called Belt Buckle, and there was a couple of other places doing it, and I talked to a guy in the military, and he said, "Look, I don't know where you're going to go, but two things are critical. If they can sleep comfortably in air conditioning, and you can give them good food, you can do anything." So we hunted around, we were going to go to St. Johns up in Wisconsin, and they didn't have air conditioned dorms. So it was Kenosha. Kenosha had a guy who was running the food program that had worked at some NFL camps, so we made sure that we had the right food, and we had air conditioned dorms. And the administration let us do it. I told them it'd be cheaper to go up there than to stay here. That's the only way we got up there. In the end, it wasn't. But they listened to me, so we got away with it.
Ryan Padgett: Freshman skit night was fun. And Saturday night, when you get released from your last meeting and you know you have Sunday off, it is sorta this childish giddiness. The summer of ‘95, I actually took my MCAT the Sunday of Kenosha. It was a weird Kenosha that year, because there were tons and tons and tons of lightning storms. So we had a lot of indoor practices. For our Saturday scrimmage, we actually came back to Northwestern. That night everyone else went back, but I stayed at The Palace, [the house that some upperclassmen lived in], and took the test on Sunday. My offensive line coach drove me back up. It was like being taken back to prison.
Rob Johnson (Senior center): By the time you've been through it a few times, you know what to expect, it became enjoyable. Favorite memory, for me, is the cannonball contest with the offensive linemen. If you asked me today if I miss playing football, I'd tell you no, I don't miss playing football, I miss being in those locker rooms with my best friends in the world, and laughing and joking.
Chris Martin: Our locker room was their wrestling room. And it had all the pictures of the guys on the wrestling team on the walls. And I can remember them all: Trevor Hosnocker (spelling unclear), Ted Price, Bill West... It's crazy that even now, 20 years later, I can remember those names on that wall. Because we always joked about them. It got us through tough times.
Casey Dailey (Sophomore defensive end): [In 1994, offensive lineman] Matt O'Dwyer tried to punch me through coach Barnett. We would fight, and Barnett would break it up, and we would fight, and Barnett would break it up. They got tired of it and sent us up the hill to run. So Barnett came in between us, and Matt and I started talking again, and then he swung at me around coach Barnett.
Ryan Padgett: I was pretty highly recruited out of high school, I actually verbally committed to Notre Dame and cancelled all my other visits, to Stanford, and [University of Washington], and all the rest. And then I got to South Bend two weeks before signing day, and [Notre Dame coach Lou] Holtz was out of town for the Bob Hope golf tournament. He shows up Sunday morning, and there's brunch at his house, and we're sitting down, and it's me and both of my parents, and my step parents, and he says, "Um, I'm sorry, there's no offer for you." And we had had Jay Hayes, the west coast regional recruiter, in my house, had dinner with my family. My family was a little bit suspect, they said, "Is this a done deal?" He said, "It's a done deal, coach Holtz is excited you're coming to Notre Dame, yada yada ya." And then run cold out, two weeks before signing day. It was devastating. So I held this special dislike for Notre Dame.
Ray Robey (Sophomore defensive tackle): You get tips and reminders before a game, it's like a test. Some last minute things. My position coach shared a little story with us, that Lou Holtz had rebuffed him in earlier attempts to possibly work for Notre Dame. And he shared with us the reason why: "Because he showed very little evidence of being able to coach d-line effectively as evidenced by the product of his players." For a half second, we thought, "Oh, you were going to leave?" But the rest of it was, "Well that's good enough for us, that's all we need to hear. Thanks coach."
Shannon Jones (Sophomore kicker): I remember Steve Schnur sitting next to me and slapping me on the shoulder and saying, "So what are you gonna do after we win the game?"
William Bennett: Coming out of the tunnel, the fans would yell, "Give us a good game Northwestern! Good luck today!" It was not in a pump you up manner, it was like, "you guys suck, give us some competition."
Matt Rice (Junior defensive tackle): I sacked [Notre Dame quarterback] Ron Powlus in the second quarter, and I was laying on top of him, and he grabbed onto my arm, and was holding me down, and I couldn't get off him, and he was trying to draw a penalty on me. And I remember the ref coming up and saying, "Let him go, Ron." The ref knew exactly what he was doing.
Chris Martin: My sophomore year against Notre Dame, there were a few big plays that I gave up. One was to Derrick Mason. It was an out-and-up down the sideline, and I had it covered, but he made a hell of a play on the ball. So fast forward to my senior year, it was a personal challenge. And it was almost bizarre, it was at the same point in the game, late in the third quarter, I was guarding Derrick Mason one-on-one, and Lou Holtz goes back to the same play that he called two years prior against me. An out-and-up with the same player, Derrick Mason. And this time I broke it up.
Steve Schnur: I can remember being asked to go outside right away and do interviews, and I didn't even have any shoes on, and that was something we weren't used to, all the microphones in your face. None of us were used to that. My most vivid memory is standing in front of all these guys interviewing me, and somebody threw a soda can that was about half-full from up in the stands, and it hit me right in the back. But I was too euphoric to feel it.
J.A. Adande: I was covering the US Open when they beat Notre Dame. Word quickly spread in the press box, and there were a couple Northwestern grads up there, and we got all excited. I think I asked [former Northwestern tennis player] Todd Martin about it, to get his reaction. He was a classmate of mine. So that was a big moment, but we thought that was going to be the highlight of the season, or even the highlight of my Northwestern-watching life.
Greg Meyer (Offensive coordinator): My younger daughter, Makenzie, was five years old at the time, and when we went to the Notre Dame game, my wife and both daughters came to the game with one of the neighbors. We end up winning the game, and everybody's going crazy, and they're getting ready to leave coming down the stairs, and everybody's high-fiving, and my neighbor puts Makenzie on his shoulders, and Makenzie pats my wife on the shoulder and says, "Mom, mom, this is so cool, I can't wait till we tell dad that we beat Notre Dame today."
Post-Miami (Ohio) press conference
Rob Johnson: One of the galvanizing moments happened in the press conference after the game. There was a question that was asked of me, I believe by Larry Watts, was, "What do you say to [backup long snapper] Larry Curry?" And I kinda snapped at him and said, "Look, there's not one person that's responsible for that loss. There's 95 guys in that locker room, and everybody had a hand in us losing that game." And that was the truth. It was the final lesson that we had to learn as a team. It brought us together. Everybody loved us before, they were blaming us now. It was one of those last little lessons that we had to learn. We weren't good enough to relax, we had to come out and give our best effort the entire game in order for us to have the season we wanted to have. And I truly believe if would've not lost that game, we would've lost another game or two down the road.
Ryan Padgett: I still to this day have a grin thinking about Rob in the news conference after the game just protecting Larry. And protecting us as a team. We found a way to screw up 130 plays. It's all of us. We're not going to let you skewer this one guy and put his head on the stake. To this day, that still cheers me up.
Sam Valenzisi: This year, I sort of had a little bit of a flashback on the opening kickoff, because we kicked it deep into that right hand corner, and they tried the return coming all the way across the field, except I got there and cut off Amani Toomer in ‘95. This year, we didn't. When Jehu Chesson hit the sideline and turned up the sideline, I turned the game off. And I'm not shy about saying that. I turned it off.
Brian Kardos (Junior offensive tackle): And I remember very early in the game, we had a sweep called around my end. And I lined up, and I dug in my cleats, and got my adrenaline rush, and I fired off into that defensive end with everything I had and I mean, everything that I had. The most strength, the most energy, the most drive. And he fired into me, and we're pushing against each other, and I'm blocking him, and Darnell makes a cut and gets tackled. And in all my life previously, when I expended that much energy, I'd push a guy 10, 12, 15 yards downfield. I looked over to the sideline, and we were only about two yards downfield. And I went back to the huddle and said, "holy shit."
One of the key plays in the game that extended Northwestern's lead to 19-13 was a double-pass. Schnur threw a lateral screen to D'Wayne Bates, who then threw down the middle of the field to Darren Drexler.
D'Wayne Bates (Freshman wide receiver): Barnett recruited me as a quarterback/athlete. I was on the scout team at quarterback in 1994. I did some receiver because of the injuries we had. I was back and forth at quarterback and receiver. It wasn't really official until spring ball in 1995.
We had practiced that play for months, going all the way back to camp. We always practiced trick plays, and never really ever called ‘em. And I was a former quarterback so me catching and throwing was something I had done many previous times. And when coach Barnett called it, I was like, "Okay! There we go!" We knew Michigan was playing so many people in the box to stop Autry, and when we threw it outside, those linebackers we're gonna flow, and Drexler would be wide open on the backside. Excellent play design, perfect time to call it.
Steve Schnur: When I completed the touchdown pass to Hartl, I can remember how open he was, and as soon as I let go of the ball, I thought, "Oh my God, I've underthrown him." Luckily he slid down to the ground and caught it. I totally short-armed it. My first thought was, "Oh my god, I threw it in the ground." He saved me.
Brian Kardos: We were coming out of the parking lot, and of course the Big House is 100,000 people, so we're coming out of the parking lot, and the bus started to get mobbed. And we're like, ‘oh shit.' Well, it was the Michigan booster club alumni association, and the bus stops, and they open up the door, and the guy who was the president came onto the bus, and he said, "I just want to tell you guys, if you can beat us in the Big House, we're cheering for you guys to go all the way to Pasadena." And he gave us a "Go ‘Cats."
Stewart Mandel: They played at Minnesota, and the game wasn't on TV, but there was some sort of close circuit TV, and one of the hotels in Evanston had a watch party for students, and lots and lots of people went. I remember thinking, "Wow, I can't believe this many people care about watching the game."
The Minnesota game was played in the Metrodome, also the home stadium of the Minnesota Vikings.
Chris Martin: I loved that horn that they had up there.
Rob Johnson: The Minnesota Vikings have like a Nordic horn that they blow, and [offensive lineman] Graham Gnos and I ran through the bowels of the Metrodome, and we went and found it in a room in the basement of the Metrodome. And before our walkthrough on Friday, we walked it out to the field and blew it, and everybody was cracking up.
Gary Barnett: I would go for a run every day, and that's when I would come up with my ideas. And so as I was running, I was trying to think what Wisconsin would be, and all of a sudden, I realized it [would be] the sixth [win]. Marcel wore number six. And so on the cover of our scouting report, it said, "Wisconsin is Big Six." And it was one of those things, when they're ready to hear, they'll buy into whatever you're saying, that's what they did. So to them, that game was for Marcel Price.
Matt Rice: I remember [linebacker] Geoff Shein painted his face for that game. He had almost like a skeleton facial art. And Wisconsin's All-American tight end goes across the middle, and Geoff Shein just put a hit on him that just reverberated through the stadium.
Ben Bolch: The one thing that told me this was a huge deal was that the Penn State game was played in bitter cold, and I had some friends from my town, and I got them tickets. We were trying to get to our seats, we were snaking through this area underneath the stadium, and we were waiting in this line to get to our seats. And I was like, "Since when do we have to wait in line to get to our seats at a Northwestern football game?" If they weren't so good, and this wasn't such a big deal, I would've just left. It was ridiculously cold, but I wouldn't have left for anything.
Sam Valenzisi: I remember standing on the field on my crutches, and [Penn State] coach [Joe] Paterno comes to talk to me. He asked how I was doing, and he said he never liked it when good Italian boys got hurt. I grew up in Ohio, and my dad coached high school football for 45 years. And it was Penn State, Ohio State and Notre Dame in my household. To have coach Paterno come to talk to you, and pat your cheek like your grandfather, that stuff doesn't happen to everybody.
Brian Kardos: In the first quarter, we called a sweep to my side, and I got a really nice block on the defensive end, and I pushed him out of bounds, and we were getting up off the ground, and somebody comes over and grabs my shoulder pad. And I was about to punch him, but I realize he's helping me up. And I turn around and look, and it's Joe Paterno.
Brian Kardos: There's a moment in the second quarter. We had the lead, and unfortunately we had just had to punt. We come over to the sideline, and our offensive line coach comes up to us with the white board. And Rob looks at him, and about three of us held out our hands and said, "we got this." And he looked at us, and kind of nodded his head and smiled. And he put the board down. He had never done that.
Ray Robey: For the first time, I noticed the crowd at Northwestern. They were always sort of quiet and subdued. And I remember for the first time, during the fourth quarter, not being able to hear Fitzy make calls. I remember going, "Oh my God, our crowd is here! We have a home game!" And I remember looking to the large stand, and I remember seeing a sign that said, "Barnett 3:16" and a sign next to it that said "Rose Bowl." And I thought, "Oh my gosh, we're going to the Rose Bowl." That was the coolest.
Stewart Mandel: Even though I wasn't covering football, I tried to do a story on Keith Jackson covering the game. I got in touch with ABC, and I left a message for him, and left my dorm phone number, and everybody was like, "Oh my gosh, what if Keith Jackson calls and leaves a voicemail." He did not call.
J.A. Adande: It's funny, I was actually working on a story on Keith Jackson for the Post, and I had interviewed him at Colorado for the Nebraska game. But I had follow-up questions, and we actually shot the art for the story in the press box at Northwestern. So when the story ran, you can see the "N" on the field behind Keith Jackson.
Dave Eanet: Right before the game, we got word that the prime minister of Israel had been assassinated. So ABC wasn't going to carry the early part of the game, because they were on news coverage. And we carried our games at that point on WBBM, which was all news. But the station made the decision to go ahead and carry the game.
Dave Eanet: College GameDay was there, which was not what it is today, it was much smaller. But it was still a prestigious event, it was starting to catch on. And they moved it into the lobby of Welsh-Ryan.
Stewart Mandel: I have friends who worked at the student radio station, and they helped out on College GameDay, and [GameDay host] Chris Fowler went out drinking with them that night. They thought that was the coolest thing ever.
Chris Martin: I think I made a comment in the paper the week before about how we just don't like Iowa, and I guess it became bulletin board material for Tim Dwight and their locker room. I'll never forget the first play of the game, I'm on the opposite side of the field as Tim Dwight, and he comes running across the field. I'm out of the play, and he tries to cut block me. And I tried to step on his hands getting up. That's what I was always taught by coach Brown. He tries to cut you, you step on his hands.
Jerry Brown: They had a receiver that was really good, and we shut his ass down. My DBs played a really good game.
Chris Martin: They had Tim Dwight. We knew if we were going to beat Iowa, we had to keep him bottled up. And we did.
Dwight had one catch for 5 yards.
Autry and the Heisman ceremony
Darnell Autry was named one of five Heisman Trophy finalists.
Darnell Autry (Sophomore running back): I found out shortly after the Purdue game that I was going to be a finalist, but I didn't really grasp what that meant. And you go to New York, and they fly your parents out there. I was really excited that my parents got to be there for it. A lot of New Yorkers had no idea who I was. They were very familiar with Tommy Frazier, really familiar with Eddie George. And us being underclassmen, we can only do certain things, but Eddie George and Tommy Frazier, they were already seniors and done, so agents could meet with them, it's a little different. But I thought it was really cool. We went to a hospital to see some kids, which was great, a couple people asked who I was, which was awesome. I had never been in New York before, and that was eye-opening. And it was great to be a representative of the team.
Autry ended up finishing fourth in the voting.
Darnell Autry: I know my father was like, "I think you can win." I did not [have a speech prepared]. I was just happy to be there. Did I think I was going to win? No. I didn't think about it at all. I know my father was like, ‘I think you can win.'
Rose Bowl experience
Gary Barnett: I had a mature team, and I trusted them. If I didn't trust them, and they weren't mature, I would've been different. You ever driven a stick shift? You remember learning? It was really hard, wasn't it? Two feet, three pedals. Here you are with a steering wheel, you also have a shift, and you have to move these three pedals at the same time. And then you know when you drove your first automatic, what a difference it was? Well I was driving an automatic transmission car at that point. The first three years I was here, I was in a stick. So that's the way it was, I had an automatic transmission car, and it was running. And so I didn't want to get in the way. We did certain things to make sure they didn't go crazy, but one of the things about Northwestern kids, they're not smarter, they're more responsible. And they were responsible, for the most part.
Casey Dailey: I'm from the L.A. area. I had worked at Disneyland a couple summers prior to that season. And I had ended up working on the Jungle Cruise. And I had taken the Penn State football team on my vessel. So I had taken them around, and I'm doing my little schtick, making lame jokes, and I remember thinking, man, here I am, here are these guys, they're having a good time, joking. And then to go full circle, the people were great when we went, they got me back on the Jungle Cruise.
Don Holmes (Sophomore linebacker): My birthday was December 11, and before I left town, I talked my parents into allowing me to get a Northwestern tattoo, with the mascot in the middle of the N. And I put a rose in its mouth, for the Rose Bowl. And we were practicing at the Citrus Bowl in California, and we had already been down for about a week. My parents had come down the following week, we had about five, six days left before the game, and I had just been interviewed by Channel 7 News, and I saw my parents so I went over to talk to them, and my mom says, ‘Hey, your dad has a surprise for you.' So I go over to him, and I'm like, ‘What's the surprise mom's talking about?' He pulls his sleeve up, and he had the same tattoo.
Stewart Mandel: We did the stupidest thing, but it's cool that we did it. [My friend] Adam Fox convinced us it was a thing in L.A. to camp out the night before the Parade to get your spot on the parade route. And we didn't actually sleep that much, we were up till like 4 in the morning. And the next morning the parade starts, and you're like, "Oh, it's a parade. Why did we do this again?" But then we walked to the stadium, and we're all kind of dragging, and as soon as you see the stadium, you just light up.
As mentioned in the oral history, Gary Barnett was in serious discussions with UCLA about their coaching vacancy. He decided instead to stay at Northwestern.
Dave Eanet: They had a rally at Welsh-Ryan Arena, and I was the emcee for that. They had Jim Delaney, the mayor of Evanston, and some other political types. And it was a great turnout. Students turned out, fans, and it was just a really cool night. They introduced each of the coaches one by one. And I remember introducing Gary as "The coach of the 1995 Wildcats... and the coach of your 1996 Wildcats," and the place goes crazy. And being back in Welsh-Ryan, where Gary had proclaimed the famous, "We're going to take the purple to Pasadena," it sort of came full circle.
Interest in the team
Stewart Mandel: The entire campus, and the whole city of Chicago, was into it. It was a gradual build-up, and the Michigan game was the big moment, because then it was like, "Oh, okay, this is real. This team is really good." The stadium was still half-empty for the home games before that, and then the Michigan game happened, and it just seemed like after that, people really started to get into it. Every week that they won, it got more exciting. Every little milestone they reached, the more people got into it. It was like, "Oh my gosh, they're in the top 10. Oh my gosh, they're on the cover of Sports Illustrated." Just reaching six wins was a big deal.
Ryan Padgett: There was more recognition from your classmates, and there would actually be allusions from your professors to the game that weekend. And I remember at least two or three of the games, people jumping and swamping the field after a win. I think Wisconsin was one of them. What a feeling. The game's over, and suddenly there are all your buddies.
Stewart Mandel: It really made me a college football fan for life. I saw the unifying effect that an exciting football season can have on a campus. I mean, that campus could not have been any less into sports before that season. And by the end of it, it was the whole campus. Car flags everywhere. It just really showed the power of college football.
Ryan Padgett: When Notre Dame said there was no offer, I had two weeks to find a scholarship. And I got out my box of 80 schools that had contacted me over my recruiting cycle, and I called every single one of them and said, "I'm that All-American, remember me?" And [my recruiter at Northwestern] said, "Yeah, sure, why don't you come out to Northwestern!" I remember calling my mom from O'Hare after my visit on my way home, and she was all excited, she said a scholarship spot had just opened up at Washington. They had one last spot, and she said the coaches were going to come over with the offer. And I remember telling here, "I'm gonna go to Northwestern." And she was in tears. So I pretty much walked up to Barnett's doorstep and said, "Hey, can I play for you?" For it to end up like that...
Ron Vanderlinden (Defensive coordinator): I've been to three Rose Bowls, three Orange Bowls, and a lot in between. I've been very fortunate. But that I think would be the most special year of my coaching career.
Ron Vanderlinden: I'd have to say that was the best [defense I've coached.] What made it so special was that we led the nation in scoring defense, but did not have a player drafted that year. That's remarkable. The great Penn State defenses I've been a part of, the Colorado defenses, they had a lot of great draft picks and NFL football players, but at Northwestern, we didn't have a lot of them. We had some good players, but none of them were NFL players. None of them were guys that had phenomenal overall ability. They all played very well within the system.
Pat Fitzgerald (Junior linebacker): Coach Barnett is a big part of who I am on a daily basis, and some of the things I really believe in as far as what it means to be a teacher and a coach.
Pat Fitzgerald: It was the best group of men that anybody could wish to be a part of in college. We're still really close now. I'm just thankful for who they are. It was a great group of guys. And now to see the success they're having in life, and as fathers, is really inspiring to me.
Rob Johnson: I'm more proud of being associated with the guys today because of who they are in their work lives, in their communities, in their families, than being proud of anything we did on the field. I don't think you can say that about most top level football programs. It's a really special place because of the people it attracts.
Ryan Padgett: We got together this summer. This is like a family. I haven't seen 'em in 10 years, but we still have all these great memories, funny jokes. You give 'em a hug, and you'll tell 'em you love 'em, and you'll always be that to each other. You know, I live far away, in Seattle, and with my career, it's hard to be out there as much as I'd like. But that doesn't diminish it at all.
Darnell Autry: After 20 years, people still care. There are professional athletes that are in the Hall of Fame, that have made millions, that don't get the same kind of love that our team gets.