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Revisiting the infamous M00N game

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We’re really doing this?

ESPN

It was supposed to be a trick play.

Well, to be fair, it wasn’t more of a trick play than it was a misdirection, according to Zack Oliver, one of Northwestern’s backup quarterbacks all the way back in 2014.

The play in reference is the failed two-point attempt by Northwestern at the very end of their 10-9 home loss against Michigan nearly seven years ago, better known as the “M00N” game to the devout sickos of NU football. After 59 minutes and 57 seconds of inept offensive football, the ‘Cats finally found the paydirt when Trevor Siemian connected to receiver Tony Jones on a pass to the back corner of the end zone with three seconds remaining. Given the bleak performance from his team’s offense that day, Pat Fitzgerald’s subsequent decision to go for two and the win was a justifiable one. It just didn’t help that this was what followed.

Sheesh. Poor Trevor Siemian probably faced some ridicule for falling down and ending his team’s chances at escaping M00N with a victory, but as Oliver told Inside NU earlier this week, the fault on this play should not fall to the quarterback.

“It was a play where the tight end, Dan Vitale, pretends to fall down, and if done correctly, the defense overlooks him and he’s able to run back to the left side of the end zone where he’ll be all by himself,” said Oliver, who held signal calling duties for the ‘Cats at the time.

“The right tackle was supposed to jump over and make up for the fact that he [Vitale] was not blocking, and that tackle just got obliterated, so now Trevor’s rolling right knowing he’s going to be throwing back left, seeing a guy in his face and also seeing a guy come up in the middle. Even if he hadn’t slipped, he would have been absolutely destroyed.”

Watching the play back, Vitale’s intentional whiff is very apparent. However, the alert Michigan linebacker was well aware of the play’s odd nature and picked the tight end up in coverage without any trouble, indicating that this play was doomed from the moment the ball was snapped.

So there you have it. One of the worst plays in recent Northwestern history finally solved. However, to distill this monstrosity of a game down to one incompetent play would be doing it the other fine examples a disservice. Here’s what Sippin’ on Purple founder/Inside NU godfather Rodger Sherman wrote down from the first half alone in the original #M00N post:

  • UM’s Devin Gardener was 6-for-15 for 49 yards and an interception (he would finish 11-for-24 for 109 yards and two picks in a game that his team won!)
  • NU had run the ball 19 times for nine yards. The would actually finish the day having lost nine yards total on their 35 attempts via sack-induced horrors from Michigan’s Frank Clark.
  • Hunter Niswander — a right-footed kicker — had to punt a ball with his left foot due to a botched snap, which went about as well as you would have thought.
  • The halftime M00Ning was preserved due to Northwestern’s Nick VanHoose, who blocked a makeable Wolverine field goal right before the break.

“It was really one of those things where it felt in many ways like they were playing football for the very first time that day,” Sherman said, reminiscing on the infamous game and summing it up quite well.

Despite the past decade largely featuring winning season for both programs, the 2014 campaigns were ones they’d probably like to forget. NU would finish with a 5-7 record for a consecutive year, capping off a frustrating two-year downslide that started after the team fell ever so short in a top-20 matchup against Ohio State in 2013, then proceeded to lose five straight one-possession games (for what it’s worth, Oliver said that UM’s Drew Dilleo told him that Michigan wasn’t set on their game-tying field goal in the 2013 matchup and that should have been a Northwestern victory).

For the Wolverines, this was the final year of Brady Hoke’s descent from the mountaintop after his amazing first season. In fact, this wretched game was his final win as the head coach of the Michigan football team, a fitting situation for everybody involved.

This shouldn’t be a noteworthy game. It was a bad game between two bad teams in which the team that people thought to be slightly less bad won. Oliver even said that he was totally unaware of the M00N graphic that’s been retweeted by many NU fans, and said that most of his 2014 teammates did not know about it either.

But isn’t that fitting? That this slop fest, during which the team that went 1-for-12 on third downs came out victorious, is remembered so distinctly for Northwestern fans alone because a graphic (quite ironically sponsored by 5-Hour Energy) lined up in a convenient and funny way. Imagine if whoever was producing the broadcast that day decided it should go Northwestern-Michigan, left-to-right? Michigan fans themselves already don’t remember M00N, there’s no way anybody would have cared about N00M.

Instead, we all got M00Ned.

“It shouldn’t have even been that embarrassing that they lost that game,” said Sherman. “It’s just the way it played out, it was so gross.”

What makes even less sense than this game was what happened immediately after — a 43-40 win in South Bend over a 7-2 Notre Dame team that had been in playoff contention weeks earlier.

“[Northwestern’s win over Notre Dame] was almost as illogical as them finally putting together a touchdown drive at the end of the M00N game,” said Sherman. “All of their drives were bad. They were turning the ball over, they had weird punts. Nothing was going well and then somehow they managed to go the length of the field for the touchdown. There weren’t a lot of positives with that Northwestern team, but I guess they knew how to time things well.”

To be quite honest, the weirdest thing about the Northwestern-Michigan relationship is how easily UM has dominated it in recent memory. Pat Fitzgerald’s 15 years are the greatest winning period in NU history. Meanwhile, Michigan’s past 15 years would be considered largely a letdown to most of their fanbase. And yet, the ‘Cats are a horrid 1-6 against the Wolverines under Fitz, with the only win being the 2008 victory over the a 3-9 Michigan team that was likely the worst in the program’s history.

It’s a weird, abnormal relationship, that’s remembered more for a M00N with face-painted college kids positioned behind the TV graphic. None of it makes any sense. But that also made it a perfectly Northwestern football game.