Greatest Games Page
Lists of the Best Games in
What are the
in Northwestern football history? If every fan were asked to list
his or her top 25 games, no two lists would match. Do you list
those games you actually attended? Just games in your lifetime? And how do you
the games? Do you look at margin of victory, entertainment value,
overall team effort, the importance of the game to the program or to
season, or other criteria altogether? Even if each fan used the
judging criteria, I believe each list would still be unique.
lists of the greatest games NU has ever played. The first list is
mine, and includes games from all eras. It changes as needed (and has
changed quite substantially since it first posted in 2000). I try
to account for
of the usual criteria: buildup to the game, importance of the game (to
the season and to the future of the program), the quality and
of NU's play,
and the strength of its opponent. As noted, the HTP list puts heavy emphasis on games that led to Big Ten championships.
I have listed my top 25
ranked them, with #1 being the greatest game of all time. If you
disagree, let me know! I also listed the games that just missed
the cut for the top 25.
list is by
Chicago Tribune columnist Bill Jauss, from the November 13, 1999
program for the NU-Michigan State game. As an end-of-the-century
wrap-up, Jauss gave his list of the 10 greatest games of the 20th
century. It is unranked and lists the games chronologically.
I do not
know who wrote the
third list. It appeared in the 1982 NU football media
As part of the 100th anniversary of NU's first intercollegiate football
game, the athletic department gave lists of the greatest games, teams,
players, coaches, and rivalries of the first 100 years of NU
The list below gives the athletic department's picks for the 23
games from 1882-1982, also in chronological order.
The Top 25 Wildcat Games of All Time
The Moral Victories
|1. 1995 NU at Notre Dame. NU 17 - Notre Dame 15.
upset in NU
history (NU was a 28 point underdog) and the game that signaled the
renaissance. The Chicago Tribune ranked the game #13 in its list
of the greatest moments ever in all of Chicago-area sports-- that
includes every Bears game, every Bulls game, every Notre Dame game,
every Cubs or Sox game-- all of them.
a four-game series with the Irish by opening its season at Notre Dame
Stadium against the ninth-ranked Irish.
The Wildcats had not won a season opener since 1975. Notre
had not lost an opener since 1986. The details of the game are
part of NU legend, especially Gary Barnett's instructions to his
before taking the field in South Bend:
carry me off the field after we win. Act like you've done this
a drama major, had no problem acting like he had done this before...
The Wildcats led
the entire game. NU's 17 points came 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 were held to only 15 points thanks in part to the outstanding
defensive work by Pat Fitzgerald, Matt Rice and Casey Dailey.
Throughout the season they, along with Autry, would become Wildcat
legends, but this one game ensured that their names would be written in
stone in the history of Northwestern football. What they, and the
rest of the team, did on September 2, 1995 simply cannot be overstated:
before that game almost no one outside of the team believed that
success was possible for Northwestern, and the team itself played by
faith-- belief without evidence-- and faith alone. From this
moment on, there was evidence. Wildcat teams after this game
benefitted from that evidence, but this was the game, and these were
the players to provide it.
NU had been rebuilding under Barnett for three years before this game:
the Dark Ages lifted in 1992. But it is the '95 Notre Dame game
that will forever be the moment known as Day One, the first day of the
The heroes of
the day: NU's incredible defense. [All three photos from AP]
|2. 1949 Rose Bowl Vs. California. NU 20 - Cal 14.
Championship and among the most dramatic games in Rose Bowl
history. The buildup leading to this game was epic. NU,
having just missed capturing the Big Ten crown, was to face its former
coach, Pappy Waldorf, and his #4-ranked, undefeated Bears (the highest
ranked team NU would beat outside of Evanston until the 2009 Iowa
result produced bonfires in Fountain Square, hundreds of snake dancing
fans in downtown Chicago, and one of the great, legendary events of NU
|3. 2000 Michigan at NU. NU 54 - Michigan 51.
'96 Mich. game, only with every aspect doubled: intensity, excitement,
scoring, and emotion. This time, NU had to score the winning touchdown
twice. The 'Cats notched more offense against Michigan than any
team ever. The most thrilling game in Dyche/Ryan history, and the
one that set up NU's Y2K championship. A decade later, many
sports media point to this game as one that contributed to the
evolution and popularity of the spread offense at a national level.
|4. 1995 NU at Michigan.
NU 19 - Michigan 13.
Notre Dame win? Not a fluke. 100,000 very silent football
fans watched in shock as their seventh-ranked Wolverines fell at home.
For the first time in 25 years, NU football was being taken
on a national level. Very seriously. The game itself was
of the best-played in Wildcat history, and sealed Barnett's reputation
a coaching power.
|5. 1936 Minnesota
at NU. NU 6 - Minnesota 0.
defending national champion and #1-ranked Minnesota's 28-game undefeated streak and gave
outright the Big Ten title, a national #1 ranking (for three weeks), and an argument for
share of the national crown.
|6. 1996 Michigan at NU.
NU 17 - Michigan 16.
Michigan seemed impossible in the fourth quarter, when sixth-ranked
Michigan had a
lead. The 'Cats had not really threatened any time in the
three quarters, but managed to assemble a TD and two field goals before
having the ball at midfield with just over 1 minute left. With
down out of field goal range, Musso made a miracle catch for 1st
Gowins executed a perfect kick which was recalled by the refs, who
ready to restart the clock. Forced to kick again, Gowins repeated
flawlessly, giving NU the win with 8 seconds left. NU would
achieve not only its repeat win against Michigan, but the repeat
conference title as well.
|7. 1962 Notre Dame at
NU. NU 35 - Notre Dame 6.
Dyche record 55,752
fans watched NU's rise to the top of the AP poll. Myers to
Flatley was the call of the day, and Notre Dame dropped its 4th
NU. While perhaps not the most exciting game ever, this one
signified NU's dominance at the highest level of college football.
|8. 1925 Michigan at NU
(home game at Soldier Field). NU 3 - Michigan 2.
points scored against
Michigan all season. Years later Fielding Yost insisted that this
was the best Michigan team he ever coached. One of the most
heroic defensive stands by NU. This game led to changes in the rules of
college football (NU's safety was intentional and gave the ball back to
the 'Cats), and it paved the way for NU's decade of glory that would
begin the following season.
|9. 1995 Penn State at
NU. NU 21 - Penn State 10.
Prime time under the lights at
Dyche. NU controlled the game and the national media afterwards.
|10. 1896 NU at Chicago.
NU 46 - Chicago 6.
NU came this
taking the inaugural Big Ten title when it swamped its old-time
traditional rival for the second straight year. Coming into the
'96 game, Chicago was 12-0 and had outscored its opponents 325 to
nothing before hitting the Purple buzzsaw.
|11. 1930 Minnesota at
NU. NU 27 - Minnesota 6.
Win over the national power
at the time paved the way to Big Ten title #3 for the Wildcats.
|12. 2013 Gator Bowl vs. Mississippi State. NU 34 - Mississippi State 20.
first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose eliminated the last vestiges of
the Dark Ages, gave the 'Cats their second win vs. an SEC foe-- their
tenth overall win-- for the season, placed NU #16 in postseason
rankings, and secured win #50 for Fitz, making him the winningest coach
in NU history.
|13. 1959 Oklahoma at
NU. NU 45 - Oklahoma 13.
rocked the dominant power of the day. Oklahoma had recently set
NCAA record winning streak (which still stands), and was ranked #2. NU had been on
rise for two years. This game served as a call that NU had
to elite standing.
|14. 2000 NU at
Wisconsin. NU 47 - Wisconsin 44 (2 OT).
win against the highest-ranked opponent (7th AP / 6th Coaches) in
An exciting game from start to finish, and a defining
for the 21st Century Wildcats.
|15. 1935 NU at Notre
Dame. NU 14 - Notre Dame 7.
week after Notre Dame beat
Ohio State in the original "Game of the Century." The Irish were
6-0. The win led to Pappy Waldorf securing the first-ever
national coach of the year award.
|16. 2004 Ohio State at NU. NU
33 - Ohio State 27 (1 OT)
The "33" game.
Northwestern broke a 33-year losing streak to OSU, beating the
sixth-ranked Buckeyes in overtime in a night game at Ryan Field.
In overtime Noah Herron (#33), on his 33rd carry, scored the
game-winning touchdown (and NU's 33rd point). Overall, one of the
best-played NU games ever, with
every position on the field having performed spectacularly.
|17. 1943 NU at Wisconsin. NU 41 - Wisconsin 0.
Happy Homecoming, Badgers: Otto Graham ran for four TDs, threw one more TD, and kicked 3 PATs.
|18. 1892 Michigan at NU
(home game played in Chicago). NU 10 - Michigan 8.
First Meeting with Michigan, at
the time the most powerful team in the Midwest.
|19. 1926 Chicago at NU.
NU 37 - Chicago 7.
two years after NU's valiant effort against Chicago in the "Wildcat
the tables had turned and NU was the dominant team in Chicago.
game dedicated Dyche Stadium, put an end to the Chicago-NU series
(Chicago's Coach Stagg, knowing his team would never again overpower
refused to schedule them again, out of pride), and secured the Big Ten
for the Wildcats.
|20. 2000 NU at
Minnesota. NU 41 - Minnesota 35.
Right" Hail Mary at the end of the game is now the most famous play in
NU history. It capped a 21-point comeback in a game that kept NU
alive for the 2000 Big Ten title.
|21. 1967 Miami, FL at
NU. NU 12 - Miami 7.
Season opener knocked off the
#1 UPI-ranked team in the country and sent Wildcat fans into a frenzy.
|22. 2018 NU at Iowa. NU 14 - Iowa 10.
this wasn't as good a game as the 2009 win against Iowa (see #23 on
this list), and Iowa was unranked in 2018, but this road win by the
'Cats clenched the 2018 Big Ten West title, and it was the the most
important game of this great season. It also featured "The Catch that
Won the West," Skowronek's reception, arguably one of the top five most
amazing plays in NU history.
|23. 2009 NU at Iowa. NU 17 - Iowa 10.
Hawkeyes were 9-0 heading into this game, and ranked #4 in the BCS--
the highest-ranked team NU has ever beaten away from Evanston (tying
with the Rose Bowl win vs. Cal). The 'Cats managed the epic win
(which would lead to a January 1 bowl invite) while riddled with
|24. 1931 Minnesota at NU. NU 32 - Minnesota 14.
'30s win against the powerful Gophers to determine the conference
title. NU came back from a 14-0 deficit by scoring an unanswered
|25. 1962 NU at Ohio State. NU 18 - OSU 14.
State was ranked #6. This win shot NU from #8 to #3 in the AP
Poll. The game included perhaps the most famous four-down goal
line stand in NU history.
following three games used to be on the HailToPurple.com Top 25
list. However, NU has reached the stage where its greatest
games are wins, and wins only. Most coaches will claim that there
are no moral victories-- Barnett certainly said that more than
once. However, I believe that in NU's football history three
games do indeed stand out as moral victories. Here they are:
1924 NU at Chicago.
Chicago 3 - NU 0.
Wildcat Game. NU should never have been competitive in this game,
but the team fought savagely to stay in it. "Football players had
not come down from Evanston: wildcats would be a name better suited to
Thistlethwaite's boys," wrote the Tribune's Wallace Abbey the following
1924 Notre Dame at
NU (home game played at Soldier Field). Notre Dame 13 - NU 6.
This was also supposed to be a
rout. Rockne had the Four Horsemen. But NU's Moon Baker
the show, and NU football began its climb to dominance.
1996 Rose Bowl vs.
USC. USC 41 - NU 32.
Rose Bowl ending
to the Dream Season. Even though a loss, this was the third of
NU's three true "moral victories," and it was a spectacular game:
Schnur's Rose Bowl record-setting performance,
and Darnell Autry, Gowins, and Musso's heroics as NU took a
brief) lead in the fourth quarter. Plus, how many bowl games' TV
coverage starts with a dramatic introduction by Charlton Heston?
This is the one game in Northwestern's history where the journey was
more important than the destination, and this journey boosted the
program for a generation.
HailToPurple.com Honorable Mention
Games just missing the cut for the HailToPurple.com Top 25, listed from most recent to earliest:
2018 Holiday Bowl vs. Utah:
Third straight bowl win for NU, a profound victory over #17 Utah.
Featured one of the finest quarters of play in NU's history, a 28-0
third quarter beatdown.
Pinstripe Bowl vs. Pitt.: Northwestern held #23 Pitt to
its lowest point total of the 2016 season to claim its third-ever bowl
win. The best goal line stand by NU since the '62 OSU game. Justin
Jackson went crazy, running for 224 yards and three TDs.
at Notre Dame: A wild roller coaster of a match. NU, down 11 in the
fourth quarter, held on with an astonishing special teams performance
to beat #18 ND in overtime, for its fifth-ever win in South Bend.
2009 vs. Wisconsin: thrilling game that set up NU's Outback Bowl appearance.
2009 vs. Indiana: biggest comeback in NU history.
vs. Illinois: a great performance by an injury-plagued team produced
NU's ninth win of the season, final possession of the Sweet Sioux
trophy, and a warm bowl.
vs. Michigan State: Instant Classic II. First 57 minutes: a good,
defensive struggle. Last 3 minutes: some of the most
thrilling, and entertaining football ever played at Dyche/Ryan.
Anwan Jones blocked MSU's "game winning" FG.
down by 20, tore back to win.
1991 vs. Illinois: Best game during the 1973 - 1991 "Dark Ages." On a
rainy day at Dyche Stadium, NU defeated the defending Big Ten champ
1982 vs. NIU: broke The Streak, sent the goal
1971 at Ohio
State: last win against the Bucks until 2004
1945 vs. Purdue: Boilers ranked #4 at the time.
1930 vs. Tulane: Tulane had 15-game winning streak coming in, dating to 1928.
1930 vs. Ohio State: OSU was undefeated coming in. Win was critical for '30 title.
Top Ten Games of the 20th Century
Department's Top Games, 1882-1982
|The flame had
been lit. Two years later NU produce a 7-1 season and a share of
a Big Ten championship.
leading Minn. at
halftime 14-7, NU was booed by its fans. Stung by the boos, the
outscored Minn. 19-0 in the final period.
roster included: Reid,
Voigts, Heap, Kovatch, Bernie Jefferson, Gargas.
Bowl. vs. California
sheer drama, it's hard
to exceed this Rose Bowl victory.
the score hit the wires,
sports desks called the wire services and asked them to fix the "typo."
back to Evanston
via closed-circuit. "[The game] did more than anything else... to
bring students together for a common cause."
Williams: "I was locked
into a zone!"
the defining moment of the season came when tackle Matt Rice stopped
Kinder short of a first down on fourth and two on the Irish 44 with
guard Ryan Padgett, 'we win the next six and go to the Rose Bowl!'"
Bowl. vs. USC
Season of a Century
was still one to savor for the Purple in Pasadena.
||vs. Lake Forest
1 g, 2 t, 2s -
first intercollegiate game...
first Big Ten game,
against Stagg's strong Chicago team.
scored its first victory
over Notre Dame... NU's Harry Allen tackled Salmon in back of the goal
line as he was attempting to punt a soggy ball for the game's only
the leadership of
captain Paddy Driscoll, NU proved it could be a championship
It was NU's first win over the Maroons in 15 years.
Tribune's Wallace Abbey's
account of the game reported that "Football players had not come down
Evanston; Wildcats would be a name better suited to Thistlethwaite's
Notre Dame (home game
at Soldier Field)
was Notre Dame's game,
but Northwestern's glory."
Michigan (home game
at Soldier Field)
than 75,000 fans had
purchased tickets....as Northwestern faced undefeated Michigan
was the last game against
Chicago, because Amos Alonzo Stagg refused to schedule NU ever again.
opening kickoff came down in Pug Rentner's arms on the five-yard line,
and Rentner did not stop until he was across the Gopher goal line.
NU victory over Notre
Dame in 34 years.
the Gopher's string
of 28 consecutive wins.
game at Dyche Stadium.
Otto Graham & NU defeat favored Indiana.
most thrilling victory
in Wildcat history."
kicks game winning
field goal. "...It was the first time had ever attempted a field
goal in four years of varsity competition."
of contention for the Big Ten title."
by 33-yard touchdown
strike to Dick Crawford.
was favored to take
the national championship.
OU's 29 game winning
NU-ND match since
'48. 78 yard TD pass to Irv Cross.
Big Ten champs
stopped on downs in fourth quarter.
straight win in '62
for NU, ranked #1 in the nation.
champs go down
as Mike Coughlin picks off last-gasp pass.
|Also, don't miss the 2003 HTP poll listing NU's greatest individual plays. This list came directly from readers. Unfortunately, it is not updated.