Wildcat History
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Part One
HailToPurple.com occasionally posted passages from several texts giving anecdotal histories of the Wildcats. 

What follows are the collected passages originally posted weekly.  The accounts are given in the order that the events that they describe took place.  Again, these passages are not original to this site:  the sources are given before each quote.

1882: Football Officially Begins at NU

The first installments are from The Tale of the Wildcats, a Centennial History of Northwestern University Athletics, a 1951 classic by Walter Paulison.  Long out of print, Tale of the Wildcats gave an 'official' history of NU football and its milestones.  Here, Paulison relates (via interviews and old documents) the beginning of football at NU:

The first intercollegiate football game in the United States was played in 1869, but seven years elapsed before the sport penetrated westward to the Evanston Campus.  The first evidence of any football activity at Northwestern appeared in an article in The Tripod [the forerunner of The Daily Northwestern] of Feb. 24, 1876, which said:

"The trial game of football on Tuesday last enthused the boys so much that they have formed a Football Association and intend to give the representatives of 'Old Rugby' a hard time to beat them in a scrimmage when they come here again."

Just who the representatives of "Old Rugby" were is not known and the association must have disbanded, because a second mention of the fledgling sport did not appear in The Tripod until Oct. 9, 1879 under the heading "Football Is Played Every Day On The Campus"...

[NU's student football] Association was formed on Oct. 23, 1879 with a membership of 25 students... The Association, it should be noted, was composed entirely of students.  Prior to 1892 the control of athletics rested with the student body alone, undergraduates handling all such details as arranging schedules, financing, transportation, etc.

From 1879 to 1882 football at Northwestern was on a strictly intramural basis.  A marked increase of interest developed in fall 1882, however, and when a delegation of Lake Forest students visited the campus with a challenge, a home and home series was arranged.  The first game, played at Lake Forest on Nov. 11, 1882, resulted in a score of one goal from a touchdown, two touchdowns, and two safety touchdowns against nothing for Northwestern.  In a return game at Evanston, Northwestern won by a score of one goal from a touchdown and one touchdown against two safety touchdowns for Lake Forest.  Numerical scoring was not introduced until two years later.

As far as can be determined these were the first intercollegiate football games in which Northwestern participated.  Aside from a brief paragraph in The Northwestern, giving the scores, no other accounts of the games appeared.

. . . Twelve years after the trial game with "the representatives of Old Rugby," football reached the stage where an organized team was ready to take the field.  In 1888 a handful of men with some previous experience and an intense devotion to the game did much to fire the enthusiasm of students and players.  These men put football on a sound basis.

. . . Every afternoon at five o'clock the players gathered on the campus meadow in front of what is now Deering Library for practice.  "At last," said The Northwestern, "the football spirit has been awakened.  Every afternoon a game will be played on the football grounds of the campus and negotiations are in progress for a game with the Harvards of Chicago."

The first game [of the 1888 season], against West Division High School did not take place until Thanksgiving morning, Northwestern winning 16 to 6 as Paul Noyes, the fullback, accounted for 10 of the points on drop kicks.  Moulding sustained a broken nose while making a "rush" and was lost for the rest of the season.

On Saturday morning, Nov. 24, Capt. Alfred H. Henry was informed by the captain of the Lake Forest team that Racine had failed to appear for a scheduled game.  Would Northwestern fill in?  Henry quickly agreed, although on such short notice he was able to round up only eight members of the regular team.  Two other students agreed to play, and the Lake Forest captain, rather than go without a game, agreed to furnish the other player needed to round out a team.  Under these conditions it is not surprising that Lake Forest won, 18 to 4, but a week later Northwestern won a return match at Evanston, 12 to 6.

1906: Varsity Football Vanishes

Another section from The Tale of the Wildcats, a Centennial History of Northwestern University Athletics,  by Walter Paulison.  Tale of the Wildcats gave an 'official' history of NU football and its milestones, including the temporary end of NU's intercollegiate football program:

A storm of criticism followed the 1905 season.  The brutality and danger of football and the overemphasis placed upon the game were viewed with alarm in many quarters.  A nationwide survey by The Chicago Tribune showed 18 deaths [but none at NU] during the year from injuries.

In the midst of all this clamor against football, Northwestern University, along with Columbia and Union College in the East, took the drastic action of abolishing football.  Northwestern's action is summed up in the following extract from the report of a special committee, headed by Dean Thomas F. Holgate, to consider the athletic situation of the University: 'After full consideration of the place accorded to athletic contests in educational institutions at the present time, and in particular to intercollegiate football contests, and with full knowledge of the efforts recently made to eliminate the evils from such intercollegiate contests, your committee is of the opinion that the wisest course for the University. . . is to discontinue all intercollegiate football contests for a considerable period  of time, if not permanently; and it accordingly recommends that from and after Commencement Day, June 21, 1906, all intercollegiate football contests be discontinued for a period of five years.'

The Board of Trustees adopted the report and intercollegiate football vanished from the campus.  Louis Gillesby, director of physical education at the Evanston Y.M.C.A. was appointed Athletic Director.  He instituted a program of inter-class football.  In his annual report... in 1906-07, President Harris said, 'Fully four times as many students as under the old system have taken the regular exercises and competed in vigorous games.'

In order to correct the abuses that had developed in the conduct of intercollegiate football, the [Big Ten] Conference adopted a set of regulations at a special meeting, March 10, 1906.  These reforms included the following provisions: one year of residence was necessary for eligibility; only three years of competition were permitted, with no graduate student eligible; the season was limited to five games; no training table or training quarters were permitted; student and faculty tickets were not to cost over fifty cents; coaches were to be appointed only by University bodies and at moderate salaries; steps were to be taken to reduce receipts and expenses of athletic contests.

At the same time, the football rules committee modified the game by adopting new rules which included the following provisions: playing time of each half was shortened to 30 minutes, six men were required on the line of scrimmage, one forward pass was allowed to each scrimmage, hurdling was forbidden, and the neutral zone was established.

The 'reform' rules established by the Conference encountered much criticism, especially those concerning the three-year limit and the training table.  The Conference stuck by its guns, however, and insisted that there must be full observance if a school wished to retain full membership.  Michigan bitterly opposed a number of the rules and withdrew from the Conference, not to return until 1917.

1908: Football Returns to NU

An installment from The Tale of the Wildcats, a Centennial History of Northwestern University Athletics by Walter Paulison.  Here Paulison describes the return of varsity football to campus in 1908, after a two-year absence:

. . . Northwestern students and alumni were none too happy about the abolition of intercollegiate football [in 1906].  Although the inter-class games resulted in more men playing the game than formerly, the feeling gradually developed that the system of home football could not be maintained without the interest and inspiration of some intercollegiate competition.  During the fall of 1907, a widespread demand for the return of intercollegiate football was made by both students and alumni.  In December a petition signed by nearly 90 percent of the student body was presented to the Board of Trustees asking permission to play three intercollegiate games during the 1908 season.

In a report to the Board of Trustees reviewing the football situation at the University, President Harris pointed out that 'the request of the students deserved respectful consideration; first, because of the very remarkable way in which the students had shown themselves loyal to the action of 1905.  It is not possible to say too much for their self-control and public spirit.  Second, the high character of the student body was assurance that the game, if allowed, would be conducted on a high moral plane.  Third, it deserved consideration because the principle of democracy, which is vital to the development of the right college spirit, demands that no part of the University, the trustees, the faculty, or the students, shall disregard the desires of any other part, or unnecessarily override them.  This request was very dear to the students, and it was felt their wishes  ought to be followed unless there are better reasons to the contrary.'

. . . It was finally agreed that the football reforms instituted by the rules committee and the Conference had been effective and that the reasons for abolishing the game as an intercollegiate sport had been remedied.  As a result, the Trustees agreed to grant the petition with the provision 'that the alumni be asked to make up a guarantee fund of $1,000 to cover any possible deficit.'

And so, after a two-year moratorium, intercollegiate football returned to Northwestern in 1908.  Restoration of the game did not mean that the University was able to field a team that in any way equaled the fine 1905 squad.  Coach McCornack had left to enter the practice of law in Chicago, most of the players with varsity experience had graduated, and, more important, many rule changes had been made in the game, including the introduction of the forward pass.  Indeed, it was to take years before Northwestern recovered from the effects of the two-year layoff from football.

1911: The First Homecoming

From The Tale of the Wildcats, a Centennial History of Northwestern University Athletics by Walter Paulison. 

Alumni had made a practice of returning for a football celebration for a number of years before 1911, but it was not until that fall that the event was officially labeled 'Homecoming.'  The Daily Northwestern announced the affair as follows:

For the first time in its history Northwestern is to have a
Homecoming Day-- one on which all the "old grads" can
get together and have a good time. . . .

According to the Daily, 'elaborate preparations are underway to make this the big day of the season, and in addition it is hoped that this will become an annual event.'

These hopes were realized, for during the succeeding years Homecoming grew into a stupendous affair with elaborate torchlight parades, lavish decorations of fraternity and sorority houses, and huge pep rallies and bonfires on Long Field.

Compared to these latter-day celebrations, the first Homecoming was tame indeed, but it was a start, and it can't be said that the affair was taken half-heartedly.   The Alumni Association appropriated funds to cover expenses; the Evanston Commercial Association passed a resolution to decorate business places; the Athletic Department reserved choice seats for alumni at the football game with Chicago, and President A.W. Harris sent a letter to alumni urging them to attend.

In urging a big turnout for the Friday night parade and rally, The Daily Northwestern said:

Bring your tin pans, lard buckets, whistles, noisy-phones,
racket makers, muskets-- anything and everything that 
looks or listens LOUD and come along to the big
pandemonium tonight . . . forget your books, forget
the board bill, forget everything but that you are alive.

. . . . A crowd of 7,500, many of whom were 'old grads,' attended the game and saw Stagg's Maroons defeat the Purple, 9 to 3.

The following year an inspired Purple eleven gave the Homecoming celebrants something to cheer about by upsetting Illinois, 6-0.  After the game, students and alumni formed a snake dance that wound its way to Fountain Square for an impromptu celebration. 

A student circus with fraternity and sorority acts was one of the highlights of the 1915 Homecoming, while in 1917 a near riot prevailed as the Homecoming crowd celebrated a victory over Michigan.  In 1919 a spectacular pep rally and reunion day was held in honor of the termination of World War I. 

These early Homecoming celebrations set a pattern which has been adhered to in recent years.  The only break occurred during World War II, when the parade and house decorations were discontinued for a three-year period.  They were resumed in 1946 on a grander scale than ever before.  Over 50 floats were in the line of march and the house decorations bordered on the colossal.

1915: Paddy Driscoll: NU's  First  Star

This installment was a featured article from NU's athletic department.  The uncredited column, written to commemorate Paddy Driscoll's 1974 induction into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame,  gives an account of Driscol, Northwestern's phenom 90 years ago.

"He started it all." -- Waldo Fisher, retired Northwestern associate athletic director.

Those words were spoken about a legend, a memory, and most important, a tradition.  They describe Northwestern's immortal John Leo "Paddy" Driscoll.

During a career full of successes which most only dream about, Paddy won recognition as an All-American and election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  [At the 1974 NU-Purdue game], Paddy was remembered for all of his successes, as he was honored for his induction into the National Football Hall of Fame posthumously.

A native of Evanston, Paddy began his career at Evanston High School as a 128 pound fullback.  After [becoming] a prep legend, he chose to continue his exploits at Northwestern. 

Northwestern fans were treated to a preview of his tremendous talents when he returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown in his first varsity game-- against Iowa in 1915.  From then on, there was little doubt Paddy would gain stardom.  Driscoll added weight and became a 145 pound triple threat All-American at Northwestern.  His collegiate coach, W.L. Kennedy, termed Driscoll "the greatest football player ever produced in the country."

Paddy will be remembered forever as an artist and devotee of the dropkick.  He was simply sensational.  Once he was knocked unconscious, only to return and boot a 55 yard field goal, the longest of his career.  As a professional player, Driscoll still holds the NFL records for the most field goals dropkicked during a career (40), the most dropkicked in a game (4), and the longest dropkicked field goal (50 yards, on two occasions).

After World War I cut short his Northwestern career, he went on to lead Great Lakes to a 17-0 Rose Bowl triumph.  He teamed up with George Halas on a touchdown pass, and averaged 47 yards on six punts in the game.

In 1921, Paddy became player-coach for the Chicago Cardinals, where he established all his professional dropkicking records.  A three sport star in baseball, basketball, and football in both high school and college, Driscoll played infield for the Chicago Cubs baseball team during one summer between football seasons.  A further example of his athletic versatility was when he led St. Mel's prep cagers to a National Interscholastic basketball title in 1925.

Paddy proceeded to advance in the cage coaching profession, moving to Marquette in 1936 for five years.  Then he switched sports again and became an offensive backfield coach under former teammate George Halas with the Chicago Bears in 1941.  When Halas stepped down as head coach in 1956, Driscoll received the head coach position and immediately directed the Bears to a 9-2-1 record and the Western Conference Championship.  He remained with the Bears until his death in 1968.

Driscoll's NFL Hall of Fame bust

1924: Northwestern Becomes The Wildcats

The Chicago Tribune's Wallace Abbey is credited with giving NU's Purple team the nickname "Wildcats," after its valiant effort in a close loss to Chicago.  Below is Abbey's famous quote from the front page of the Tribune, in the context of the first three paragraphs of his column.

Something more than ordinary wildcats are required to subdue wildcats gone completely vicious, entirely aroused, by the temptation of a great prize, a big, juicy piece of "meat."  Let us call that "meat" the Big Ten football championship and consider the following situation at Stagg Field yesterday afternoon, to which 32,000 hoarse fans will attest today:

It was the fourth quarter of the annual Chicago-Northwestern grid battle.  Football players had not come down from Evanston: wildcats would be a name better suited to Thistlethwaite's boys.  Baker was there, and he was the chief wildcat giving his supreme effort.

Stagg's boys, his pride, the eleven that had tied Illinois a week ago, were unable to score.  Once they had been on the 9 yard line and had been stopped stone dead by a Purple wall of wildcats.  The game was fast waning. . . .

1925: The Soldier Field Shocker

The following article appeared in the winter 1995 edition of Northwestern's Alumni News magazine.  It was written by George Beres , a former NU Sports Information Director.

According to the Alumni News , Beres was told the story of NU's 1925 epic game against Michigan by the late Tug Wilson, "a key figure in one of the legendary victories of Northwestern Football history."  Following the Beres article, I have also included a passage describing the game from Walter Paulison's 1951 book, Tale of the Wildcats.

The infamous game at Soldier Field ranks #8 on the HailToPurple.com list of the 25 greatest games in Northwestern History.  It is also on Northwestern's official list of NU's greatest games from 1882 to 1982.


NU and the Mud
Cost Michigan
the 1925
National Title


The 20th century still was young as two men stood hunched together under the stands of Chicago's Soldier Field, watching the rain fall in torrents.  It was the morning of November 7, 1925-- 40 years before anyone thought of carpeting a football field with water-resistant plastic grass.  On that day, lightly regarded Northwestern was to play the nation's #1 team, Michigan, in the lakefront stadium.  Never would the weather play a more dominant role in deciding the outcome of a football game.

It had rained most of the week, and the gridiron was a quagmire.  As the two brooding figures watched, sections of the field disappeared before their eyes under growing puddles of water.  The playing field was beginning to resemble choppy Lake Michigan, which churned just beyond the stadium's east gates.  The shorter of the two men, Michigan coach Fielding Yost, wanted nothing to do with it.

"Tug, I coach a football team, not a swimming team.  How can I tell them to play a game on a field we can hardly see?"

Tug Wilson was the young Northwestern director of athletics, later commissioner of the Big Ten Conference.  He told me years later, "I said to Fielding: 'Look, we've already sold 40,000 tickets to this game.  You know we can't afford to call it off."

Yost's Michigan team had outscored its five previous opponents 180 to 0.  But he knew, as Wilson did, that rain was the great equalizer, the ally of the underdog.  His Wolverines were well on their way to a national championship, and he wanted nothing to do with a game neutralized by the elements.  He stared balefully at the water-logged gridiron and continued to plead that the game be postponed.  But he knew it was a lost cause-- that the one thing he couldn't argue with was gate receipts.  So Wilson-- and the budget-- prevailed, and Michigan sloshed out into the mud to do battle.  Ironically, fewer than 20,000 fans showed up for the game, as half of the advance sale ticket holders refused to venture out into the deluge.

Object as he might to the weather, Yost was shrewd enough to adapt to it as best he could.  He held pre-game practice on higher ground north of the gridiron and dressed his squad in rubber trousers.

Walter Eckersall, University of Chicago Hall of Famer who refereed the game, told Wilson afterward: "In my 25 years of football, I never saw worse conditions.  There were pools of water on the field, and in some places the players' feet sank into the field two or three inches."

A Michigan student manager grabbed a life preserver off a Chicago bridge and brandished it on the sidelines.  The hapless Wolverines could have used it.  Northwestern took the opening kickoff and was stopped inside its 30.  The Wildcats immediately established the stalemate pattern for the game by punting on first down.  Clearly, it was a liability to have possession of the ball on your side of midfield.

That first punt became the game's pivotal point.  Michigan's All-American quarterback, Benny Friedman, fumbled the ball, and Northwestern recovered deep in Wolverine territory.  Three attempts into the line gained nothing.  Then Wildcat fullback, Tiny Lewis, moved back to the Wolverine 18 to try a drop-kicked field goal.  The kick had just enough distance to get over the crossbar, barely missing one of the uprights.  For the first time in six games, Michigan had been scored upon!

The field goal, coming on the first series of the game, was with a comparatively dry ball.  Soon the ball became waterlogged, making it even harder to handle and further neutralizing the offenses.  The supply of balls was limited.  Eckersall was able to put new ones into play only twice: at the start of the third and fourth quarters.  For the rest of the game, nature dictated identical game plans for both teams: make two attempts to gain, then punt on third down.  When two plays failed to gain a first down (there was only one in the game), it became routine for Eckersall to call time so he could wipe the ball for the anticipated third down punt.

After Friedman's early disaster, neither team risked fielding a punt.  There was no danger of the ball rolling.  When it landed, it stopped dead in the mud.  The game's only first down came when Michigan back Bill Hernstein slipped and slid for a gain of 11 yards.  Conditions deprived Michigan of its potent pass weapon, Friedman to Bennie Oosterbaan.  Only one pass was thrown, and it fell incomplete.

The Wolverines refused to panic.  Their willingness to play a waiting game looked as if it would pay off late in the third quarter.  Northwestern had used three plays in a a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to move the ball beyond its own 10.  

Then came the play that haunted Yost the rest of his career.  Instead of punting on fourth down, Wildcat captain Tim Lowry had Lewis down the ball in the end zone for a safety, giving Michigan two points.

The rules of the day gave Northwestern the ball again with first down on its own 30.  When Lewis eventually punted on third down, his kick carried well into Michigan territory.  Neither team threatened again.  Rain kept the remaining action near midfield, and Northwestern floated away with a stunning 3 to 2 victory.

Michigan still went on to win the Big Ten crown.  But the loss in the rain washed away its chances for the mythical national championship.  Yost took little comfort from the fact that on the same day his team was wallowing in the mud, similar conditions existed throughout the Midwest.  The weather was so bad 160 miles to the south in Champaign that the great Red Grange of Illinois came up with negative rushing yardage against Chicago.

At national rules meetings after the season, Yost demanded and got a revision of the safety rule that Northwestern had exploited against Michigan.  The new rule required the team that suffers the safety to give up the ball, kicking to its opponent from the 20-yard line.

But the legislation came too late to retrieve the 1925 national title Yost always insisted he deserved-- the title Michigan left buried in the mud of Soldier Field.

From Tale of the Wildcats, by Walter Paulison:

[The game] was against Michigan, the site was Soldier Field, and the weather was so miserable that postponement was seriously considered.  More than 75,000 persons had purchased tickets, but so bad was the day that only about 40,000 were in the stands at the kickoff [yes, this is double what Tug Wilson claimed in the article posted above.  Apparently no one was overly concerned with getting accurate attendance numbers during the monsoon].  The field was deep in mud and standing water, and rain continued to pour down throughout the game.

Shortly after the opening kickoff Benny Friedman fumbled a punt [return], and Barney Matthews recovered for Northwestern on the Michigan five-yard line.  Lewis was stopped at the line in two attempts [or maybe three; who knows?], so stepped back and kicked a field goal.

Thereafter the game developed into a kicking duel, as proper ball handling was almost impossible.  In the fourth quarter [or maybe late in the third... ] Michigan marched to the 10-yard line before the Wildcats dug in and held for downs.  A gale was blowing directly in the faces of the Northwestern players, so it was decided to take a deliberate safety rather than run the risk of a blocked punt.  The ball was snapped back to Lewis, who fell on it back of the goal line for a safety.  A few minutes later the game ended with Northwestern ahead by the strange score of 3 to 2.

"That safety," says Capt. Lowry, "was a joint decision made by quarterback Bill Christmann and myself.  I don't know why he never received more credit, as I think he always played a heads-up game."

NU and Michigan slog through the first quarter in Soldier Field.
Photo NU Archives

1935: Waldorf's Irish Killers

The next two installments are from Pappy: The Gentle Bear, by Steve Cameron and John Greenburg.  Pappy tells the story of Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf, Northwestern's longest-serving and most winning coach.  The book focuses on Waldorf's tenure at Cal, but gives some wonderful insight into his time at NU as well (Greenburg lives in Evanston and has written extensively about NU's 1949 Rose Bowl).  The book is in print.

NU had won the Big Ten title in 1930 and '31, but by the time Pappy arrived-- prior to the '35 season-- the 'Cats had slumped.  Waldorf decided to focus on the Notre Dame game.  One week before the NU-ND matchup, the undefeated Irish had beaten Ohio State in the first "Game of the Century."

When Waldorf assessed his first Northwestern team, he decided that the players were decent, but not overwhelming.  So he dusted off a strategy he learned form Zuppke.

'I'll always remember his advice,' Waldorf said.  'He told me, "When you're faced with one of those years when your material is only fair and you're not going to win many games, put your eggs in one basket.  Pick a tough team and lay for it.  Knock it off, and you've got yourself a season."

'That's exactly what I did my first year at Northwestern.  The target I chose was Notre Dame.'

. . . . Waldorf stressed that playing on a college football team was only part of the total educational experience a university offers, and players were at school primarily to get an education.  In addition, he told them his door was always open.  He invited players to discuss their courses with him and he saw to it there were no conflicts between practices and classes.  His players were allowed to miss practices or games if their studies required it.

. . . . When Northwestern hosted Purdue in the first night football game in Big Ten history, the Boilermakers took a 7-0 lead by returning a punt for a touchdown.  Following the kickoff, the Wildcats marched down to Purdue's 2-yard line.  With first and goal to go, the ball was snapped to sophomore fullback Fred Vanzo, who fumbled just as he was about to score.  Purdue recovered and went on to win by that same 7-0 margin.

The target showdown came on November 9, and it set up perfectly for Waldorf, since Notre Dame was coming off a stunning 18-13 upset of a supposedly unbeatable Ohio State juggernaut. . .  Notre Dame boasted passing and punting sensation William Shakespeare - yes, a direct descendant of the English playwright.

This chain of events set up one of the most literary match ups in college football: Shakespeare against Northwestern end Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. . . . As the grueling afternoon wore on, the Northwestern defense continued to befuddle Notre Dame's attack.  As for Longfellow, Henry made two huge plays as Northwestern scored a 14-7 upset in a game which propelled Waldorf to national Coach of the Year honors.

[After the game, line coach Burt Ingwersen found Waldorf worried about the next game, rather than celebrating the victory] 'Aw, Lynn,' drawled Burt, 'You should be kickin' up your heels. . . Remember when they took us to that nightclub a few months ago and all those guys started dancin' with the hostesses?  You just sat there nursin' a drink and that ol' boy kept callin' you an ol' pappy.  How'd you like it if we started callin' you "Pappy"?' 

And the name stuck.

As one of the rewards for the national coaching honor, Waldorf's picture appeared on boxes of Wheaties.  'Unfortunately, General Mills didn't send me any cash.  Instead, they sent cases of that breakfast food to our house,'  Waldorf said.  'I got tired of eating Wheaties, Louise got tired of eating Wheaties, our two daughters got tired of eating Wheaties, and even our dog Pixie got tired of eating Wheaties.'

The book's authors did not include it, but the GoUPurple research
team dug it up: above, a copy of the Pappy Waldorf
Wheaties box from 1935.

1936: a Season of Dominance

We conclude our quote from  Pappy: The Gentle Bear with an account of the Ohio State and Minnesota games during the 1936 season, which provided NU with its fifth Big Ten title.

In the fourth quarter of their game with Ohio State, Northwestern lined up in a formation no one had ever seen before-- an unbalanced line with two tackles and the quarterback just to the right of the center, left end Johnny Kovatch standing a yard off the line of scrimmage in a wing position and right half Don Geyer a yard off the line in a gap between the right tackle and right end.  Waldorf called it 'The Cockeyed Formation,' but in fact, it became football's first slot formation and it gave tailback Heap four targets in the days when most teams sent out only two receivers.

Heap connected with Kovatch on a 42-yard gainer.  Three plays later, Heap scored from five yards out and Northwestern had scrambled to a 14-13 victory. . . .  That cardiac comeback injected NU with the confidence they needed to take on Minnesota, which had used the infamous "buck lateral" move to score four touchdowns in its previous two games.

Halloween afternoon, 1936, was Northwestern's first home sellout in six years, and Pappy had a trick planned for the Gophers-- yet another defensive wrinkle in which a tackle would not charge from the line of scrimmage.  This was the first attempt at a 'read and react' defense, and it also involved elements of what now is known as the zone blitz.

Minnesota came to Evanston with a 28-game unbeaten streak, and hundreds of sports writers from coast to coast were present to chronicle the momentous collision.  In addition, there were nine radio hookups, including the CBS and NBC national networks.

On Minnesota's second play, Andy Uram broke loose on the buck lateral as Northwestern blew its special coverage.  Uram should have scored, but he slipped on the rain-soaked field and went out of bounds at the Wildcat 23-yard line.  Ultimately, the Gophers got nothing when a fake field goal went awry and the game stayed scoreless at halftime. . . .

Years later, Pappy described the final minutes of that game, saying, 'There were five minutes to go, Minnesota had the ball on their 20-yard line and called for an off-tackle play.  Uram came off tackle.  Vanzo, who had been in all 55 minutes, was in at the right side to tackle him.  Just as he was tackling Uram, he flipped the ball to (Rudy) Gmitro, their fastest man.  Gmitro, in the 100-yard dash, could beat Vanzo by 10 yards.

'Our films showed that, as Vanzo was coming up on his knees after making the hit on Uram, Gmitro was six yards down the field, and yet 40 yards further down the field, just as Gmitro dodged our safety and had a clear field for a touchdown, it was Vanzo who caught him from behind.  How he got there, I will never know.

'After 55 minutes of awfully hard football, as hard as any boy ever played, he had the courage to get up and go after what seemed to be the impossible, and it saved the game for us.'

Despite the Gophers' remarkable rushing statistics on a muddy track of 256 yards on 36 carries, an average of 7.1 yards per rush, they had been shut out.  Their four-year unbeaten streak had come to an end.

1936: a Season of Dominance, Part Two

The current installment was a featured article from NU's athletic department.  Written in 1986, the article is not credited, but Frank J. Mack and Charles Loebbaka were contributing writers for the department during that autumn.  The department's account of the 1936 Wisconsin game, given below in its entirety, provides a nice continuation of the previous passage, which focused on Pappy Walforf and the beginning of the 1936 season.

It was Saturday, the day of the Wisconsin game.  Just last Monday, Northwestern students had celebrated a 6-0 victory over Minnesota by striking classes to dance and prance about campus in a euphoric stupor.

And now, the Badgers were in town, about to provide the Wildcats with a form-fitting glass slipper to cap a cinderella story.

A perfect fit; NU took a 26-18 victory in front of more than 30,000 fans at Dyche Stadium and with that the Cats brought home their first (and last) undisputed conference title [Ed. note: not much optimism exuded here-- clearly NU's staff in '86 were still in the midst of the Dark Ages].

Northwestern entered the season minus eight lettermen, four of which had started the previous year.  They were regarded in the media as a second division team, and victories over Ohio State and Minnesota were considered major upsets.

After [Wisconsin and NU] traded punts, Northwestern, known as a safe, steady and consistent team, struck first when halfback Don Heap of Evanston returned a punt 32 yards to the Badger 28.  After a Badger offsides penalty, Heap kept the Cats rolling when he found an opening and dashed 15 yards to the nine-yard line.  After a running play gained two, NU went back to Heap, who tore through the line for the touchdown.  The extra point made it 7-0. 

But that's when the Wisconsin passing game introduced itself to the Evanston crowd.  Right halfback Clarence Tommerson did most of the damage on the day.  After the NU score, he drove the Badgers from their own 33 to the Wildcat 19 before a penalty and a sack pushed them back and forced a punt.

The Wisconsin defense held on the ensuing series, and Tommerson and Company were back on the go.  The 6-2 halfback marched his squad from its own 28 to the score.  Roy Bellin highlighted the charge with a 35-yard run around end, and he finished it when he caught a pass in the endzone from Tommerson.  The extra point was no good and NU held the lead, 7-6.

The Wildcats answered Tommerson's challenge with a 67-yard scoring drive.  Fred Vanzo returned the kickoff 15 yards to the NU 33, where it was fullback Steve Toth's turn to cut up the Wisconsin defense.  After he and Ollie Adelman combined combined for a first down, Adelman connected with Toth to the Wisconsin 38.  Four running plays moved the Cats down to the 15, and then Toth sprinted through a gaping hole, eluded the Badger safety and scored standing up.  Toth kicked the extra point for a 14-6 lead, and that's how the half ended.

The Wildcats almost broke things open just before intermission when Adelman fielded a punt at his own 15 and ran 85 yards into the endzone.  The play was called back, though, because Adelman's knee was on the ground when he fielded the punt.

While the first half was nothing to yawn about, the action in the second half provided "some of the flashiest football seen here for some time," as The Daily Northwestern put it.

The Wildcats widened their lead just four plays into the period.  Heap received the kickoff, broke several tackles and went 77 yards before being brought down at the Wisconsin 18.  After two runs up the middle gained no yardage, John Kovatch took an end around in for the score.  The extra point was blocked for a 20-6 NU lead.

Wisconsin, not to be outdone, worked double time for its second score.  Starting at their own 45, the Badgers moved to the seven-yard line on the seven plays.  Bellin scored on a sweep on the next play, but the touchdown was called back because of an offsides penalty.  Tommerson brought Wisconsin back to the five, and on third and goal, he ran it in.  The extra point was missed and NU led, 20-12.

The Wildcats put their title on ice on NU's next possession.  After the kickoff, Northwestern powered its way to another score without throwing the ball once.  Heap, Toth and halfback Bernard Jefferson carried the load, and Toth finally barreled his way in from three yards out.  His extra point attempt was wide and NU was up 26-12.

Wisconsin tallied once more behind its passing attack.  The Badgers started at their own 18 and completed six passes en route to the score with three minutes left in the game.  The final toss went from Howie Weiss to Vernon Peake for seven yards.  The extra point was no good.

But the clock struck midnight on the Badgers' upset bid.  For the year-long underdog Cats, though, the bell never tolled.  Though NU had to face Michigan the following week (Northwestern won 9-0 for a perfect 6-0 conference mark), the victory over Wisconsin clinched the title.  It also sparked another celebration on the Evanston campus, as an official day without classes was scheduled for the end of the season.