No. 13 Northwestern plays at No. 18 Michigan in a Big Ten mega-game Saturday. As the nation starts taking the Wildcats and Wolverines seriously, fans need to be filled in on the bizarre games these schools have played the past four years. I graduated from Northwestern in 2015, so I got to see all of them first hand. Call them Bad And Badder, and Sad and Sadder.
Four times, Brady Hoke's team pulled it out, and four times my heart was broken. The details:
Oct. 9, 2011 (The Bad): No. 12 Michigan (5-0, 1-0) at Northwestern (2-2, 0-1)
I am a Jewish kid from New York who went to sleep-away camp in the Berkshires. If you just did the quick math, you should realize I have about 75 cumulative friends (you're right: acquaintances) at Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana. This was the first game against one of those Big Ten rivals.
Here I am that Friday enjoying a night out with my friends from left to right: Jared (high school friend, Michigan), Sam (high school friend, Northwestern), me and Ben (camp friend, Michigan).
Wow, I look like an innocent, happy college freshman. Little did I know what was to come in the next four years against Michigan.
The game was my first night outing at Ryan Field. Northwestern started the season off with wins at Boston College and home against Eastern Illinois before losses at Army (Army!) and at Illinois (who started the season 6-0, then went 0-6 and fired Ron Zook). Michigan was 5-0 behind the fearless leadership of new coach Hoke.
I was in the press box for the first time, live blogging the game for the Northwestern student website, North By Northwestern. The first half had the Northwestern section of the crowd buzzing. (I say that because the majority of the crowd was maize and blue). Northwestern picked off Denard Robinson three times, two of which fell into the hands of then-redshirt freshman Ibraheim Campbell, a fourth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 2015 NFL draft. Northwestern led 24-14 at the half and appeared to have found the groove missing for the previous two games.
Then Robinson went off in the second half and Michigan scored 28 unanswered points to win, 42-24. Northwestern lost the next two to drop to 2-5. The Wildcats did win four of their last five to reach the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas where Ryan Tannehill tore them apart for 329 passing yards in a Texas A&M win). Meanwhile, Michigan won four of its remaining five games to reach the Sugar Bowl. Michigan beat Virginia Tech there and finished the season ranked No. 12 in the AP and No. 9 in the Coaches Poll (everyone loves Brady Hoke!).
Nov. 10, 2012 (The Badder): Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) at Michigan (6-3, 4-1)
Yes, I know badder is not a word, but it was on this day.
Northwestern was ranked No. 21 in the Coaches Poll and through nine games, both teams had a legitimate shot at the Big Ten Legends Division Title (R.I.P. Legends and Leaders). After non-conference defeats to Alabama and Notre Dame, the Wolverines lost to Nebraska, the program both were chasing for the Legends crown. Northwestern lost by a point to Nebraska and in the final minutes at Penn State.
I stayed with Jared in Ann Arbor and experienced the savagery that is a Michigan football game day. I am not going to sugarcoat it. Ann Arbor on a game day is absolutely absurd. If you have not done it, do it. That said, you don't need to do it more than once. I was there during Michigan's homecoming weekend, so I saw parents and alumni doing some really screwed up things for their age. I also saw the famed Mud Bowl, which is really cool, if you see it just once.
This was a 12 p.m. ET game, and Ann Arbor was a drunk mess by 8 a.m. By the end of the weekend, I just wanted to crawl into my Northwestern nerd dorm and stay the rest of the fall. Will Michigan kids call me soft? Whatever. I do not care.
Robinson was out and sophomore Devin Gardner made his second straight start for the Wolverines. I remember thinking I wanted Northwestern to beat Michigan at its best, with Robinson, which is ridiculous to think about now. Anyway, the game was a see-saw battle most of the way. It was 14-14 at the half. Northwestern opened the third quarter with a touchdown and a field goal. Michigan followed with two touchdowns to go up 28-24.
Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter went down in the fourth quarter, and things looked tough for the Wildcats. Wait. The union guy? Yes, him. Total side note: This is the road weekend Colter used as an example in his testimony on how much time players spend committed to football for an away weekend. Colter passed for 96 yards and ran 24 times for 82 yards in this game.
His temporary replacement was Trevor Siemian, who platooned with Colter as Pat Fitzgerald's "QB 1B" in the two-quarterback system. Siemian, who is now the third-string quarterback for the Broncos, tossed a touchdown to Tony Jones with 3:59 left. Northwestern went up 31-28.
Michigan got the ball back, and on the first play, Gardner heaved a bomb that was picked off by NU's Demetrius Dugar, who brought the ball to the 50-yard line with 3:37 left.
The game should have been over right there. But Northwestern never lets anyone go away, especially Michigan.
Here I am with my friend Eric (high school and Northwestern friend) during Northwestern's final regulation drive.
Oh, how sad this picture is.
Even after a first down, with Colter back, Northwestern punted at 0:27. Punter Brandon Williams kept the punt inbounds and Jeremy Gallon returned it to the Michigan 38-yard line with 18 seconds left.
Then Gardner heaved a ball 53 yards that magically fell into Roy Roundtree's hands.
I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have watched this play. Unlike many Northwestern fans, I do not blame cornerback Daniel Jones. He was in position and got a piece of the ball. This is absurd. S*** luck. No other way to put it. It is not Jones' fault Northwestern should have ran out the clock on offense or punted the ball out of bounds.
Michigan spiked the ball and kicked a field goal. In overtime, Michigan Stadium sounded like everything I thought it would. The building of more than 112,000 was shaking.
Michigan got the ball in overtime and ran five plays before Gardner rushed in for a touchdown. Northwestern rushed four times for eight yards. Game over. Michigan won, 38-31.
By the way, I was totally taunting the Michigan fans around me. Jared's student seats were really good, so we got to sit in like the fifth row and I was going at the Michigan fans. When Tyris Jones got annihilated on the final play, they started heckling me.
I will forever hear the echo of "Hail to the Victors" in my head after this loss.
Nov. 16, 2013 (The Sad): Michigan (6-3, 2-3) at Northwestern (4-5, 0-5)
One day, I will write a book about the 2013 Northwestern Wildcats season, but for now, I will try to get you up to speed as fast as possible.
Northwestern started off 4-0, which included wins at Cal and home against Syracuse. The Wildcats were ranked No. 16 in the AP and No. 15 in the Coaches Poll when they hosted ESPN College GameDay on Oct. 5 for the first time since the 1995 season when they went to the Rose Bowl. Undefeated Ohio State came into town and the game, on ABC in prime time, was reminiscent of the 2012 Michigan see-saw battle. Northwestern took a 23-20 lead into the fourth quarter, but Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes pulled ahead and won 40-30.
The life dropped out of the Wildcats. They lost four more before playing Michigan. They lost seven straight in all and missed a bowl game after starting 4-0. They lost two games in overtime and one on a Hail Mary. No 5-7 team will ever be as talented.
Back to the Michigan game. The Wolverines were not exactly lighting up the field. After starting 5-0, Michigan lost three of four going into Evanston. Both programs' struggles, coupled with freezing rain, made the 2013 game one of the saddest to watch (But not the saddest. Stay tuned.)
I was on color commentary for WNUR 89.3 FM, Northwestern's student radio station, with my friend Sam (different Sam from earlier). Don't worry about the first 58 minutes. They were terrible. No one scored a touchdown.
Northwestern led 9-6 when Michigan got the ball with 2:18 left at its own 22-yard line. Gardner moved the ball downfield like a snail. He literally threw the ball into Campbell's hands and Campbell dropped the potential game-ending, bowl-saving interception (remember, he is now a Cleveland Brown).
On third and 23 from the Northwestern 43-yard line and 18 seconds left, Gardner hit Gallon for a 16-yard pass and Northwestern kept him inbounds. Inbounds! Michigan could not spike the ball because it was fourth down, and the clock kept running. Hoke frantically sent kicker Brendan Gibbons onto the field and wide receiver Drew Dileo slid in place as the holder. Gibbons cracked the 44-yarder as time expired and tied the game at 9-9.
For the record, Michigan's offensive line was not even close to set and the officials should have called either an illegal motion or a false start. But that is neither here nor there.
All of a sudden, the teams got to start at the opposing 25-yard line and scoring became an option. On each team's first drive, Gardner threw a touchdown and Colter ran for one. Both teams scored field goals in double overtime.
Finally, in triple overtime, the sad game that would never end, ended. Gardner rushed for a touchdown and converted the two-point conversion. Northwestern went backwards on its drive and lost, 27-19 (28 of the game's 46 points were scored after regulation). For the second straight year, Northwestern went down in overtime.
Here is my totally unbiased reaction to the whole thing:
Nov. 8, 2014 (The Sadder): Michigan (4-5, 2-3) at Northwestern (3-5, 2-3)
Oh, yes. And it gets worse. This is the saddest.
Northwestern's up-and-down 2015 saw it beat Wisconsin and Penn State, but lose to Northern Illinois at home and at Iowa by 41 points. Meanwhile, Hoke was already starting to pack his bags from Ann Arbor, already losing to Utah and Rutgers by this point.
Another side note: How bad was Hoke at Michigan? He only won 18 conference games and four of them (22.2 percent) were these ludicrous Northwestern games. As a Wildcats fan, I am so happy we get the new guy and not Hoke!
It was Family Weekend. Here is my brother, Corey, and I getting ready to #BeatHoke!
This was the worst football game I have ever seen in my life. By leaps and bounds. I mean it is not even close. I called high school games once upon a time. The quality of play in those games blows this debauchery out of the water.
On a cold Evanston afternoon, no one even comes close to scoring for most of the first half. No one even attempts a field goal until 21 seconds left in the second quarter when Matt Wile has a 41-yarder blocked by Nick Van Hoose.
Many readers have probably seen Michigan-Northwestern referred to as the M00N game. That is because this legendary graphic was seen for most of the game.
— Lost Lettermen (@LostLettermen) October 4, 2015
Number 1(NU) & 2(UMich) scoring defenses playing each other tmrw got me reminiscing about the M00N tragedy last year pic.twitter.com/1zqMpsb52b
— Juan Legend (@JonHuang_) October 9, 2015
I was sitting with my family, and they were horrified by the whole thing. The stadium was mostly bored. I mean this was terrible to watch. Two Big Ten teams that would end 5-7 could not stop tripping over themselves.
Michigan fumbled to open the second half. Then Northwestern missed a 36-yard field goal. Michigan eventually scored a touchdown, and Northwestern kicked a fourth-quarter field goal. Michigan added a field goal to make it 10-3 with 3:10 left.
Northwestern magically drove the ball down the field on its final drive and scored a touchdown on a three-yard pass from Siemian to Tony Jones (Northwestern's only two scores were on its final two drives). At this point, Northwestern had such a weird season, Fitzgerald went for two with 0:03 on the clock. He would not lose to Michigan for a third straight year in overtime.
But Siemian slipped and the game ended.
If you want to watch the highlights of this awful game, be my guest. I have sulked over them many times.
Northwestern somehow upset Notre Dame in South Bend the next week in overtime and followed with a win against Purdue. A home loss to Illinois in the final game ended bowl hopes.
Oh, I almost forgot. Northwestern went 1-6 in basketball against Michigan during this span, including two overtime losses in 2011-12 and a buzzer-beater in 2014-15. Northwestern actually won its latest matchup with the Wolverines, an 82-78 double overtime win in Evanston last March. Maybe that is a sign of things to come on the football field.
I do not hate Michigan. I actually admire the passion of their fan base and "Hail to the Victors" is great when you do not hear it over and over after a Roy Roundtree miracle catch.
When it comes to football, the Wolverines have simply been cruel to the Wildcats. Now, Northwestern is 5-0, ranked No. 13 and actually in the discussion for the College Football Playoff. I do not want that ruined by this new Jim Harbaugh fellow.
The two schools will take two years off from each other after this season, so three years of bragging rights are on the line. More importantly, so is bowl positioning. Northwestern is 5-0, 1-0. Michigan is 4-1, 1-0. Defense will be a key factor, but not at the #M00N level.
Enjoy, America. I am not asking for your pity but hope you now understand the plight of Northwestern when it comes to Michigan.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.