When the winning team got back from Ann Arbor, more than a thousand students and alumni greeted them at the stadium: That hadn't happened in Evanston since the Punic Wars. If local football fans think the sudden and glorious eruption of the Colorado State Rams last season was a big deal--St. Jude hadn't vacationed in Fort Collins for a while, either--consider the effect on a school where sophomore running back Darnell Autry is not only the nation's fourth-leading rusher with 153.4 yards per game, but a theater major. And where one of the offensive guards, Ryan Padgett, is just as concerned with his medical school applications as he is with beating Notre Dame in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus.
"It's already been quite a ride," Coach Barnett said. "And we certainly got our wake-up call against Miami of Ohio."
Those searching for a villain in Northwestern's tale of uplift and religious awakening need look no further than the long-suffering team's formerly fragile psyche. Two weeks after the incredible upset in South Bend--brought off in large part through some complex offensive play-switching that kept the Irish "D" back on its heels--the Wildcats hosted Miami of Ohio, out of the middling Mid-America Conference. The Cats took a 28-7 lead late into the third quarter, then frittered it away with a series of blocked punts and bungled snaps. Final score: Miami 30, NU 28.
The next week, only 26,000 fans showed up in Dyche Stadium to see the Cats thrash tough Air Force 30-6, and only 29,000 materialized when they beat Indiana 31-7. Want mustard on that dog? But A.M. (After Michigan), the telephones in the ticket office are ringing off the hook, just as they did when the lowly New York Rangers threatened to win their first Stanley Cup in forty years; when the Mariners put out the call: "Refuse to Lose"; when CSU beat Brigham Young and Arizona on the road last year.
"I guess people thought we were a fluke after Miami," Barnett said. "But our team's playing with confidence now. We went to Michigan believing we could win the game, and we did."
Led by inside linebacker Pat Fitzgerald (67 tackles), the Wildcat defense, which used to reside only at the NU law school, has not allowed a touchdown in the first quarter all season long, and when powerful Wisconsin (October 21) and Penn State (November 4), the winners of the last two Rose Bowls, come calling, every seat will be filled, and you can bet the rejuvenated fans will be flinging roses onto the AstroTurf.
But hey, Jude. The work isn't done yet. Can you really get Northwestern back to the Rose Bowl? Okay, fine. How about those Boston Red Sox? Don't they deserve a World Series win one of these years? And what about the Cubs? If you wait much longer with that one, Harry Caray won't remember he was at Game Seven. And while you're at it, Jude, how about scoring an Emmy for Susan Lucci? Just once. That woman is insufferable.