The title has a couple meanings. Of course the first being the fact that the teams only ran offense in one direction. That was kind of different to get used to. The second is also apparent if you look at the final score. Northwestern was really hurting on offense without Dan Persa. I had a blast in Wrigleyville today, and I will try to hit on some of my experiences in this post. No post will ever convey the excitement that was in the air all day. I don’t think they will ever have another football game at Wrigley after the end zone debacle, but if they do count me in.
The day started with an early wake up and a train ride from Northwest Indiana to Chicago. A short trip on the El put me right in the middle of the madness that is Wrigley. I really did not know where to go first after I hit the street. Sheffield Avenue was transformed into Wildcat Alley, but College Gameday was live at McDonalds. I went towards Gameday to see if Erin Andrews wanted to pose for another picture. I was way too late to get inside the fences, but I did get a nice spot right outside the fence. For some reason the atmosphere at Gameday seemed a little lacking so I went for a short walk.
Just across the street in front of the marquee the Northwestern band was performing. After watching them for a few minutes I walked down the road to pick up my tickets, and that is where the fun started. I decided to take a lap around the stadium, and found my destination until the stadium opened. As I said earlier Sheffield Avenue was closed down and turned into Wildcat Alley. They had a live band at one end and a alumni tent at the other. I found a few alums who took pity on a Purdue fan, and didn’t mind me hanging out with them. I had a blast in the tent, and even got an added bonus as Northwestern made their entrance though the tent. They let injured quarterback Dan Persa lead the way with Pat Fitzgerald right behind him. At that point I decided to go into the stadium, but it was not open yet. Wildcat Alley was still going strong when I left the stadium later at night. They had planned to be up and running for over twelve hours. Now that is partying. While I was waiting to get in the Northwestern band basically surrounded me while they ate their meal.
I entered the stadium through the right field gate, and immediately went to my seat in section 242. I snapped a couple pictures of the end zone that was deemed unsafe. I decided to give myself a tour, and went up to the upper deck to get a few pictures. The field really looked great tightly placed on a baseball diamond. I took some heat from quite a few Cubs ushers for my White Sox sweatshirt, but they were very nice. I got a great history lesson from one usher behind home plate about the past football games at Wrigley. He had tickets near the Bartman seat which of course was right on the sideline then. Sometimes the best moments in a stadium come before many people enter it. This was one of those.
By the time I got back down to my seat the gawkers were out in full force. Everyone wanted to come over and see the end zone that would not be used. Camera crews and reporters were filing reports and talking to the fans getting their thoughts on the decision. Of course we weren’t happy down on that end. The decision moved most of the action away from us. I do see the legal reasons for the move though, and in all reality the day was not ruined because of it.
When the game started it was kind of like an afterthought. After a long time partying who wanted to watch football. Many fans were slow to get to their seats. Illinois took control early only needing three plays to score a touchdown. Michael Leshoure carried the ball all three times for 66 yards. On Northwestern’s third play from scrimmage redshirt freshman quarterback Evan Watkins fumbled the ball giving the Illini great field position right in front of us. That is until the ball was marched down the field to the other end to a chorus of boos. A quick touchdown made the score 14-0, and the Wildcats were in danger of losing control quickly. For some reason on Illinois third possession they decided to run a trick play and throw the ball with a receiver. Granted he was a former quarterback, but when you can’t be stopped running the ball why throw it? Brian Peters stepped in front of the pass and returned it 59 yards for the score. More importantly he scored on our side of the field! The crowd around us went absolutely crazy. Peters must be an iron man because he was on the kickoff team after the touchdown, and stayed in the game on defense. Most players would be gassed after sprinting down the field twice in a row. A defensive score was big because Illinois was driving again after Northwestern fumbled three times in its first two drives losing the ball twice. The score could have easily been 21-0, but instead it was 14-7. After the Peters pick Mikel Leshoure ripped off a 70 yard run to set up another Illinois touchdown. Not to be outdone, Mike Trumpy took off on an 80 yard touchdown score the next drive to pull Northwestern to within seven again. That was the last score of the first quarter which saw 35 total points scored. This was definitely a shoot out in the making.
We almost saw our second score of the day in the second quarter when Venric Mark nearly returned a punt. His big gain set up a field goal that cut the Wildcat deficit to seven. Northwestern would eventually tie the game at 24 setting the crowd into a frenzy. The Illini kicked a field goal as time expired in the half, and took a three point lead into the break. One oddity during the intermission was the fact that the teams swapped benches during the break. Since both squads were only using one side of the field the league did not want one team to have an advantage. So at the half the teams swapped sides. Just another first for me as a fan. I loved how the Northwestern coaches were using a school flag as a shield so the other team couldn’t see their signals. Of course I am sure someone was in the press box who could pick the signals off if they really wanted to.
Illinois pulled away in the second half by continuing to run the football. Northwestern could never get anything going. They only managed three points in the half after scoring 24 in the first half. That is to be expected in a way though with a redshirt freshman quarterback who is thrown into the fire. Being a Purdue fan I know how well that works.
Rushing was the order of the day. Mikel Leshoure had a record breaking day for Illinois. He ran the ball 33 times for 330 yards and two touchdowns. That is ten yards a carry! He set the single game record for his school on his huge day. The 330 yards was also a Wrigley Field record. Leshoure had 156 yards rushing in the first quarter, and over 200 by the half. I thought that we might be seeing a NCAA record, but it was not to be. He spent some time on the trainers table so I am sure that the coaches did not want to get him hurt once the game was in hand. On the day Illinois had 559 total yards. 519 of those yards were on the ground. That is a dominant effort. Mike Trumpy had a solid day for Northwestern rushing as well. He finished the day with 129 yards rushing and a 9.9 yard per carry average.
The win by Illinois makes them bowl eligible for the first time since they were in the 2008 Rose Bowl. It may also have saved Ron Zook’s job. This was not the first time the two teams met at Wrigley. They both last played there in 1923. I saw a great story that talked about how the Cub fans at the time were probably complaining that it had been fifteen years since they last won the series. Little did they know how long it really would be until they won another one.
I thought that the Bulls were out of town because the circus was in the United Center. After spending the day in Wrigleyville I would say that the circus was right there. Having a big game at 2:30 local time with Gameday starting at eight in the morning local time leads to some people walking around like zombies by the end of the game. Some of the fans may have had a higher BAC than Northwestern had points. I saw some interesting things during my ten hours around Wrigley today. Like I said before though I would do it again in a heartbeat. I picked Northwestern to win the game yesterday for some reason. I guess I had the Purdue goggles on. The Wildcats were the team that I was rooting for so I picked them. I should have known that late in the year the home team never wins big games in that stadium.
As the week goes on I will post pictures from the game. I took enough that I will have two posts with pictures. I have broken them up into pregame and game posts so the posts are a manageable size.