The 1995 Season:
decades of struggling through losing seasons, Northwestern began making
efforts in the early 1990s to turn around its football program.
Coach Gary Barnett had taken measures during his first three seasons to
improve the team. But the results of this work were not fully
realized until 1995, when the team produced some of the most
spectacular wins in school history. Here is a timeline of the key
events of 1995.
- Spring 1995:
In practice, Chris Hamdorf and Lloyd Abramson vie for the starting
quarterback position, with Tim Hughes and Steve Schnur struggling to
make the back-up spot.
- Summer: The
core of the team remains in Evanston to work out. During one
practice, strength and conditioning director Larry Lilja plants a Rose
Bowl flag atop Evanston's "Mt. Trashmore," and the Wildcats repeatedly
scale the hill during their practices.
- July: Redshirt
freshman cornerback Marcel Price dies in Nashville, his hometown, after
being accidentally shot by a friend.
- Early August:
Starting quarterback Abramson leaves the team.
- August: The
'Cats hold their fourth annual outing at Camp Kenosha. Barnett
and the team finish each of the days' sessions by singing "High Hopes."
- August 27: To
no one's surprise, NU remains unranked, with zero points, in the final
1995 preseason AP Poll.
- September 2: WIN #1. Northwestern defeats Notre Dame 17-15 at Notre Dame
Stadium. Coming into The Game that Rocked College Football, NU
was a 28-point underdog. Northwestern had not won a season opener
since 1975. Notre Dame hadn't lost one since 1986. The
'Cats had not beaten the Irish since 1962. Notre Dame was ranked
ninth in the country, and Lou Holtz was expecting his 200th career
win. Instead he suffers one of the highest-profile losses of his
career, as the Wildcats lead the entire game. NU's 17 points come
from a Steve Schnur pass to Dave Beazley, a Sam Valenzisi 35-yard field
goal, and a 26-yard touchdown pass to D'Wayne Bates-- Bates' first
Wildcat reception. The Irish are held to only 15 points thanks in
part to the outstanding defensive work by Pat Fitzgerald, Matt Rice and
Casey Dailey, and by Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus' infamous slip
during Notre Dame's two-point try.
- September 3:
Notre Dame slips to #25 in the AP Poll, but Northwestern remains
- September 9:
NU has a bye week and continues to enjoy the Notre Dame win, as Barnett
prepares the team for Randy Walker's Miami Redskins the following
- September 10:
Despite not playing the previous Saturday, Northwestern cracks the AP
Poll for the first time since 1971, ranked #25.
- September 16:
In their home opener, Northwestern is stunned by Miami of Ohio, 30-28. NU came
into the game an impressive 16-point favorite and builds a 28-7 lead
into the fourth quarter. A series of offensive and defensive
blunders, and several Wildcat special teams disasters lead to a
last-second Miami winning field goal, knocking NU out of the national
- September 23: WIN #2. The 'Cats get back on
track by thumping Air Force
30-6 at Dyche Stadium. The win snaps an 11-game home losing
streak and begins a 12-game home winning
streak. Darnell Autry rushes for 190 yards, and Pat Fitzgerald
notches a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery.
- September 24:
NU remains unranked in the AP Poll for a second week.
- September 30: WIN #3. Playing their third
straight game at Dyche Stadium, the Wildcats beat Indiana 31-7. Autry scores two
TDs and rushes for 160 yards, and Paul Burton ties a school record with
a bounding 90-yard punt. NU is 3-1 for the first time since 1963.
- October 1:
Northwestern returns to the AP Poll, ranked #25.
- October 7: WIN #4. Stunning an on-hand
crowd of 104,642 into silence and shocking a national TV audience,
Northwestern tops Michigan,
19-13, in Ann Arbor. It is NU's first win over Michigan since
1965, and its first win in Ann Arbor since Ara Parseghian's great 1959
team. Fitzgerald has another fantastic day, and Valenzisi
bolsters his claim for All-American honors by booting four field
goals. The offensive highlight comes when Schnur laterals to
Bates, who then fires a perfect flanker-option pass to Darren
Drexler. Schnur then tosses a 2-yard touchdown pass
to fullback Matt Hartl.
- October 8: The
win over the Wolverines propels NU from #25 to #14 in the AP rankings.
- October 14: WIN #5. In the Metrodome,
Northwestern rallies to beat Minnesota
27-17. Down 14-3, the Wildcats storm back to ruin the Gophers'
homecoming. Autry rushes for three touchdowns.
- October 15: NU
continues its climb in the AP Poll, to 11th.
- October 21: WIN #6. Northwestern secures
its first winning season since 1971 and bowl eligibility by hammering Wisconsin 35-0. The game, NU's
homecoming, is the first sellout at Dyche Stadium since 1983 and the
'Cats' first shutout since 1986. The 'Cats plague Wisconsin, and
the Badgers turn the ball over seven times. Valenzisi suffers a
career-ending injury and is lost for the rest of the season.
- October 22:
The AP ranks NU #8 in the country. It is the first time
Northwestern has cracked the top ten since 1963 and the first time it
has earned 1,000 points in the Poll since 1959.
- October 28: WIN #7. Northwestern edges Illinois 17-14. NU rallies
from 14-3 down to ruin another opponent's homecoming. Brian
Gowins kicks a 49-yard field goal, Schnur and Bates execute a 34-yard
touchdown pass, Autry carries the ball 41 times for 151 yards, and Eric
Collier intercepts the Illini's final shot at the win.
- October 29:
Garnering 1,216 points in the AP Poll, NU rises to #6.
- November 4: WIN #8. With an ABC crew
broadcasting the game to the nation from Dyche Stadium, underdog
Northwestern beats Penn State
for the first time ever, 21-10. It is the second-straight sellout
crowd of 49,256 for Dyche. Autry scores the first TD after a
six-plus minute drive that features Schnur passing to Drexler and
Bates. The defense stones Penn State, highlighted by Chris
Martin's interception late in the first half. The win guarantees
NU at least a second-place Big Ten finish and a January 1 bowl.
- November 5: NU
climbs to #5 in the country.
- November 11: WIN #9. Enjoying their third
sold-out game, the 'Cats beat Iowa,
31-20, for the first time since
1973. The highlight comes with just under three minutes left:
Rodney Ray forces a fumble, and Hudhaifa Ismaeli returns it 31 yards
for a touchdown. The win is costly: Pat Fitzgerald breaks his leg
and is out for the rest of the year. For the next week NU
holds its spot at #5 in the nation.
- November 18: WIN #10. The Wildcats conclude
a perfect Big Ten season by beating Purdue
23-8 in West Lafayette and going 8-0 in the conference. Chris
Martin returns an interception 76 yards for a touchdown and blocks a
punt for a safety, Schnur and Bates connect on a 72-yard TD, and
Darnell Autry bursts for 226 rushing yards. Big Ten Commissioner
Jim Delany greets the 'Cats in their locker room after the game and
presents them with the Big Ten Trophy, NU's first since 1936.
- November 19:
After clinching at least a share of the Big Ten title, NU rises to #4
in the country.
- November 25:
Michigan beats Ohio State in Ann Arbor, 31-23. The loss knocks
the Buckeyes out of title contention and gives Northwestern the sole
possession of the Big Ten title and an invitation to the Rose Bowl,
NU's first since 1949. During the OSU-Michigan game, ABC carries
a live feed from Evanston to show the reaction of Coach Barnett and the
players on campus during the Thanksgiving break.
- November 26:
With OSU's fall and NU's Rose Bowl invite, the Wildcats rise in the AP
Poll to third, their highest ranking since being ranked #1 in 1962.
- December 3: In
the final AP regular-season Poll, NU holds onto its third-place
spot. Wheaties announces that it will feature NU Football on an
- December 9:
Darnell Autry places fourth in balloting for the Heisman Trophy,
Northwestern's highest finish in the trophy race since Otto Graham
placed third in 1943. Later in the month Sam Valenzisi and Pat
Fitzgerald, NU's injured stars, will be named All-Americans, the first
from NU since 1983.
- Late December:
Depending on who is giving the estimate, between 50,000 and 60,000
Wildcat fans converge in Pasadena for the 1996 Rose Bowl. It is
believed to be the largest group of 'Cat fans ever assembled for a
Northwestern game. The team appears on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Autry
and Barnett make the cover of TV Guide, and alumnus Charlton Heston
provides a cameo, reprising his role of Moses, when the team visits
Universal Studios. NU comes into the Rose Bowl an underdog to USC.
- January 1:
Northwestern plays a heroic game, even taking a lead in the fourth
quarter, but falls to USC
41-32 in the Rose Bowl. Schnur passes for 336 yards, and Autry
notched his 13th straight game rushing for over 100 yards, picking up
110. Bates finishes with 145 receiving yards. And NU
finishes its season 10-2.