Practically the only storefront on Central Street in Evanston,
Ill., that didn't have a Northwestern pennant in its window was
the Christian Science Reading Room. At the counter in Mustard's
Last Stand and in the back booths at Prairie Joe's cafe, the
Saturday-morning regulars ate greasy fare and harbored faint
hope that later in the day Michigan would upset undefeated Ohio
State. A Wolverine victory would give their beloved Wildcats the
Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Over at the campus
bookstore, employees fiddled with a radio and cursed the lousy
reception. And in the Nicolet Football Center, about 20
Northwestern players sat in front of a TV screen, waiting for
the start of the Michigan-Ohio State game and trying to convince
themselves that one warm-weather bowl was just as good as
another, which, of course, was a lie.
The company line at Northwestern was that the Citrus Bowl, the
team's destination in the event of an Ohio State win, was a fine
bowl and that Orlando was a veritable paradise. After all, the
Wildcats hadn't made a postseason appearance since the 1949 Rose
Bowl. Who were they to turn their noses up at the home of Mickey
and Minnie and wish for the Rose Bowl instead?
For a while the Northwestern players and coaches who had
gathered to watch the game feigned indifference to the outcome.
Then the game started.
First quarter: Heaps of cold cuts and trays of chicken wings,
ordered up by coach Gary Barnett, are delivered. In the back of
the auditorium, placekicker Sam Valenzisi says, "We're only here
because of the free food. Hey, if you told me we'd be 10-1, I
would have looked at you as if you had snakes crawling out of
your ears. I've got no problem going to Orlando."
But if the Wildcats didn't care, why did a Rose Bowl banner hang
in the lobby of the auditorium? And why were the words Rose Bowl
at the top of the list of team goals Barnett had hung in the
auditorium before the season?
Second quarter: Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka tears
through the D for a long gain. Wildcat linebacker Pat Fitzgerald
moves forward in his chair and yells, "Go, go! Carry that rock!"
Score: Wolverines 10, Buckeyes 6. Northwestern offensive lineman
Brian Kardos and tight end Shane Graham hum the Michigan fight
song, The Victors.
Third quarter: Michigan quarterback Brian Griese rolls out.
"Throw the ball, son," Barnett snaps at the screen. Griese
throws. Barnett writhes. Complete. "This is like watching a long
putt and hoping it'll go in," says Barnett.
Fourth quarter: With Michigan up 31-23 but the Buckeyes driving,
Barnett wonders aloud if anybody has brought some of those
diapers designed for adults with incontinence. "I'm going to
need them," he says.
With 2:43 left, a dozen roses are brought into the room. Amid
the growing anticipation, Barnett is struck by the improbability
of his team's good fortune. He leans over to his wife, Mary, and
says, "Fairy dust, it's fairy dust."
COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG Saturday was a nail-biter for Barnett and Co. [Gary Barnett]