Credit: Via Flickr/Frank Gruber

Ryan Field

1501 Central, Evanston

There was a time, and not terribly long ago, when one could attend a Northwestern football game confident of the outcome, though of course no one could predict just how many touchdowns the Wildcats would lose by. From 1972 to 1994 the Mildcats, as they came to be known, didn’t have a single winning season, and from 1979 to 1984 they lost 34 straight games, establishing what was then the NCAA record for futility. That’s what made their 1995 breakout campaign so stunning. After upsetting Notre Dame to start the year, NU went on to a 10-1 regular season before losing 32-41 to USC in the Rose Bowl. Not all of their squads have been great in the years since—they went just 4-8 as recently as 2006, in coach Pat Fitzgerald’s first season—but they’ve all shared a flair for the dramatic. No opponent is too mighty or too measly for the Cardiac Cats; no lead is safe from being overcome or pissed away. Ryan Field is the only football stadium I know where fans cheer confidently when their team is facing a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit but cover their eyes and pace when nursing a two-touchdown advantage. Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan have fared poorly in recent visits to Evanston, while Eastern Michigan and Miami (Ohio) have given the Cats fits. Last season NU was typically up, down, and all around, starting off 5-0 before falling by three points to Purdue, losing to Michigan State on a fake field goal, and blowing a three-touchdown lead to Penn State. Then they rallied from ten down to beat Iowa—but All-Big Ten quarterback Dan Persa ruptured his Achilles tendon on the winning touchdown pass. They traded big plays with Illinois before losing by 21, were steamrolled at Wisconsin, and then shocked everyone by coming up just short against Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl on New Year’s Day. It was the most interesting 7-6 football team I’ve ever seen. —Mick Dumke