On December 31, the Texas Aggies and Northwestern Wildcats will meet on the gridiron for the first time. While many might think this game has nothing to offer, it is worth noting that both teams finished the regular season with 6-6 records. In other words, one team will walk away from this bowl game with a losing record while the other will leave with a winning record.
However, many Aggies may not be extremely familiar with the Wildcats. Therefore, I offer this short guide to help familiarize you with the upcoming opponent.
Northwestern University was founded in 1851 and is a private institution. Located in Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern has about 8,400 undergraduates, making it the smallest school in the Big Ten. The school's official color is royal purple and has been since 1892.
The Wildcats started playing football in 1876—the same year Texas A&M opened its doors. The 1876 game was between students of Northwestern and the Chicago Football Club. Their first intercollegiate game was against Lake Forest in 1882.
In 1896, Northwestern became a member of the Western Conference—which preceded the Big Ten. Today, Northwestern is considered a charter member of the Big Ten Conference.
Ara Parseghian was head coach of the ‘Cats from 1956 to 1963. Before taking the job at Northwestern, Parseghian was on Woody Hayes’ staff at Miami University and was elevated to Miami’s head coach in 1951 after Hayes left for Ohio State. Parseghian left Northwestern to become head coach at Notre Dame after the 1963 season.
In 1981, the Wildcats set the NCAA Division I record for consecutive losses at 29. The 29th straight loss came against Michigan State, and the conclusion of the game saw Northwestern students rushing the field in celebration while chanting “we’re the worst!”
After losing 34 consecutive games, “the streak” ended when the Wildcats defeated Northern Illinois on September 25, 1982.
Gary Barnett took charge in 1992. His 1995 squad featured current Wildcat head coach Pat Fitzgerald at linebacker. Fitzgerald won both the Bednarik and Nagurski Awards in 1995 and again in 1996.
Barnett’s Wildcats also won the 1995 Big Ten title—their first title since the 1936 season.
The ‘Cats repeated as Big Ten Champions in 1996 but shared the crown with Ohio State. The Buckeyes went to the Rose Bowl, while the Wildcats received an invitation to the Citrus Bowl—where they were defeated by Peyton Manning and the University of Tennessee.
Following the 1998 season, Barnett left Evanston for Boulder, Colorado, and Northwestern again turned to Miami University for its next coach.
The Miami Redhawks were lead by Coach Randy Walker. Walker’s Redhawks were one of two teams to defeat the Wildcats during their 1995 Big Ten Championship season. Thus, it was no surprise to see Northwestern offer Walker the job when Barnett left. Like Parseghian, Walker also played football at Miami University.
Walker led Northwestern to their eighth and last Big Ten Championship in 2000.
Who will win?
Tragically, Coach Walker died unexpectedly on June 29, 2006, at the age of 52. Current head coach Pat Fitzgerald was promoted to head coach on July 7, 2006, following the passing of Walker.
Coach Fitzgerald will lead the ‘Cats against the Aggies in their upcoming bowl game. Fitzgerald has led the ‘Cats to three bowl games prior to this season—the 2008 Alamo Bowl, the 2009 Outback Bowl and the 2010 TicketCity Bowl. Prior to that, Northwestern had played in only six bowl games.
While this year's bowl represents Northwestern’s tenth bowl appearance, Northwestern fans are hoping it will also be their second bowl victory. Northwestern’s only postseason victory was in their first bowl game in 1948.
Other Northwestern Notes
- Nickname: The Wildcats nickname was officially adopted in 1924 after a Chicago Sun-Times writer described the team’s defense as a "wall of Purple wildcats."
- The Purple Clock: In 1995, the face of the campus clock tower would change from white to purple following a Northwestern football win. The clock remains purple for the entire offseason if the ‘Cats win their final game of the season.
- Rival: The rivalry with the Fighting Illini started in 1892 and has been played annually since 1927.
- Famous Alumni: Some of Northwestern’s more notable alumni are U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, Supreme Court Justice and Ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Joseph Goldberg, former Illinois governor and convicted-felon Rod Blagojevich, former president of Penn State University Graham Spanier, Warren Beatty, David Schwimmer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Springer, Charlton Heston, Shelley Long and Stephen Colbert. These are only a few of the numerous famous alumni who have attended Northwestern University.