Did you know Northwestern has been posting old videos of Northwestern’s college football games since the 1920s? Yes, the videos are there, with high-quality sound and the best restoration possible. They even have color films from the early 1960s. It’s wild. But there’s no sound. That’s not wild.
Remember, Northwestern football is ancient. The team predates Ohio State, Alabama, USC, Penn State, and most of the other blue bloods. Don’t let anyone tell you differently, Northwestern has been playing football since nearly the beginning, and the past cannot be rewritten.
The first Northwestern football team was one of the first four college football teams to be established west of the Appalachian Mountains, playing its first intercollegiate game against Lake Forest in 1882.
“The games attracted few spectators. Occasionally students would stop by and watch us practice, but their principal interest was baseball, which was played both spring and fall. I recall two games with Lake Forest in 1882. They were really informal affairs with little organized play on either side.” - Harry Hamill, captain of the 1885 Northwestern team (from Northwestern libraries)
The team trudged on, finally gaining traction and gaining a proper football field in 1891. In 1896, Northwestern put itself on the map with a 46-6 win against the University of Chicago during its first year in the Western Conference, the predecessor to the Big Ten. Northwestern won its first Western Conference title in 1903, and moved to the site of Northwestern/Dyche/Ryan Field in 1905. Then the team was shut down due to safety concerns for two years, ruining momentum. Northwestern was pretty good in 1916, and then finally got back on the map with Glenn Thistlethwaite in 1922.
This is where the highlights start. Here is a really bad silent video from Northwestern’s game against Beloit in 1923:
That’s not very impressive, but it gets better. For one, Northwestern finally got the nickname “Wildcats” in 1924. Secondly, Northwestern took a share of the Western Conference title in 1926 and opened Dyche Stadium. Also, film technology was getting a little better.
Northwestern won another split of the title in 1931 and ended the year fourth in the country. There isn’t quite enough space in this article, but you can watch most of Northwestern’s 10-0 shutout of Ohio State in 1931.
Next up we have the Pappy Waldorf Era, and Northwestern has helpfully posted footage of Waldorf’s third win at Northwestern, a 14-7 victory over Notre Dame in 1935. Look at the referees!
The Wildcats won the Conference that year and finished the year ranked No. 7 in the country.
They still don’t have sound by 1943, but Northwestern was still winning big games. In this 1943 video, Northwestern plays Ohio State, the defending national champions...
and shuts them out 13-0! Also, yes, NU legend Otto Graham features prominently. Watching Graham run in this video, it’s easy to see he’s the best athlete on the field by far. In a critical moment in the history of football, this was also the first time Paul Brown, Ohio State’s coach, saw Otto Graham. Brown and Graham would go on to win 3 NFL titles and 4 AAFC in the 1940s and 1950s. Yeah, they’re only the most important coach-QB duo of the 1950s. Nothing crazy.
Also, look at the shifting offensive lines right before the snap!
This would be good for Northwestern’s current team, given the offensive line issues.
We move on to the Bob Voights era and Northwestern’s first Rose Bowl win in 1949.
A surprise win over No. 6 Illinois in 1950.
Meanwhile, the team was getting more and more inconsistent. Voight left unceremoniously in 1954 and was replaced by Ara Parseghian, who led Northwestern back to national relevance. A win over Oklahoma in 1959 propelled Northwestern to No. 2 in the country.
In 1962, Northwestern would beat Notre Dame 35-6 in front of the largest crowd in Northwestern history to become the No. 1 team in the country for that week. They have the entire game on YouTube. In 1964, Parseghian would leave to become a legend at Notre Dame, frustrated by Northwestern’s lack of resources. He went 95-17-4 at Notre Dame.
After that, everything fell apart. Alex Agase struggled for half a decade, was decent for two years, and then the bottom completely fell out of Northwestern. There really wouldn’t be another good Northwestern football moment until the Lake the Posts Game!
That’s where we’ll end this overview, with Northwestern students ripping goalposts out of the field.