My anticipation was growing for weeks, as the opening of the 2015 college football season, couldn’t get here soon enough. My opening three game trip had me going to three Big Ten games in 10 days. On this trip, I would visit three stadiums I had never been to, see high-profile teams and famous coaches. But my trip featured so much more than just football. I kept a journal of my journey, along with my game day experiences from all three games.
My trip started when I arrived in Minneapolis and quickly checked into my great hotel and visited the Mall of America. The mall itself is amazing — you can do just about anything there. Great restaurants, movie theaters, an ice skating rink and an amusement park, are all onsite. I enjoyed an early dinner, and jumped on the light rail for a trip to Target Field, to bear witness as the Minnesota Twins were hosting the Chicago White Sox. The Twins just happen to be my favorite major league baseball team and I was treated to a 3-0 Twins win! The light rail system is fantastic, as you can get to just about anywhere in the city.
It was time to go back over to the mall for some lunch and some actual shopping. I found a few of my favorite stores, and I was also able to buy some good college gear. Jerry Kill was quoted on ESPN.com about how he did not like seeing Wisconsin red in Minnesota, and he is the one person I would advise to not shop at the Mall of America. Anyhow, I noticed several TCU fans strolling the mall, with the No.2 Horned Frogs were in town to take on the Gophers later that evening. After a good afternoon nap, it was time to get back on the light rail and head over to the University of Minnesota for the game. The Gophers play their home games in the new TCF Bank Stadium, located on-campus located on the edge of downtown. The stadium has a horseshoe design and was designed to be expanded in the future. A sold out crowd was on hand for the season opener.
- Football began being played at Minnesota in 1882 making the football program one of the oldest in college football. The first game in 1882 was a 4-0 victory over Hamline University.
- The Gophers claim seven National Championships dating back to 1904. The most recent was in 1960.
- Minnesota and Wisconsin began playing against each other in 1890, a 63-0 win over the Badgers. Since then, the two teams have played every season except for in 1906. This is the longest running rivalry in the nation!
- From 1934 to 1936 the Golden Gophers won three straight national championships, and are the last Division I school to do this. During this stretch, Minnesota won 28 straight games.
- Henry L. Williams led the Gophers to eight conference titles, and one National Championship. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame with a career record at Minnesota of 136-33-11.
- The Gophers have produced 22 members of the College Football Hall of Fame, including Bobby Bell, Carl Eller, Bronko Nagurski, and Bruce Smith. Smith was the 1941 Heisman Trophy winner.
- Wisconsin, the most played college football rivalry with the winner getting arguably the best college football trophy — Paul Bunyan’s Axe.
- Iowa, The Gophers play the Hawkeyes for Floyd of Rosedale, a bronze pig!
- Michigan, The Gophers and Wolverines play for the Little Brown Jug, a trophy they have fought over since 1903. The jug was bought from a Minnesota variety store because there were the Michigan coach was somewhat concerned that Gopher fans might contaminate his water supply.
The Horned Frogs, were the pre-season No. 2 ranked team, and they the game with National Championship aspirations. The Gophers were determined to avenge last season’s loss in Fort Worth. TCU Quarterback Trevone Boykin, a pre-season Heisman Trophy favorite,threw for 246 yards and a TD and ran for 92 yards and another score to help the Horned Frogs outlast Minnesota 23-17. Boykin started his Heisman push by completing 26 of 42 passes, but he also threw an interception, as it seemed the Horned Frogs had a difficult time getting their frenetic offense rolling. Golden Gopher QB Mitch Leidner was 19-for-35 for 197 yards for Minnesota. His touchdown pass to K.J. Maye with 1:32 left pulled the Golden Gophers within a touchdown, but TCU recovered the ensuing onside kick to hang on.
I traveled from Minnesota, via the Wisconsin Dells, ending up in Brookfield, Wisconsin outside Milwaukee. I went to a great high school football game, where Brookfield Central defeated Hale 27-20.
DAY FOUR – No. 21 Stanford at Northwestern
It was off to Northwestern University where the No. 21 Stanford Cardinal were coming for a football meeting of the two academic giants. A warm sunny day greeted me, as I walked the streets to the stadium. The stadium is quaint and located in an urban setting, with many restaurants and shops nearby, as well as vendors selling Wildcat items. We found street parking and walked through tailgates and met several fans offering food and drink. Northwestern fans were excited, and quietly confident about their team. I was surprised at how big the Stanford contingent was, and it was estimated that as many as 5,000 cardinal-clad fans were in the stands.
- Football made its debut at Northwestern University on February 22, 1876 during an exhibition game between NU students and the Chicago Football Club. Northwestern’s first intercollegiate game came in 1882 against Lake Forest College.
- Northwestern was a charter member of the Western Conference, the predecessor of the Big Ten Conference
- The Wildcats have won or shared eight BIG 10 titles, with the first coming in 1903 and the most recent in the 2000.
- n 1903 Walter McCornack led NU to its first Big Ten title. In his career, the Wildcats would lose just once in 14 games (10–1–3).
- The university chose royal purple as the school’s official color, and the team recorded its first significant win, a 10-8 win over Michigan.
- Fifteen Wildcats are in the College Football Hall of Fame including four former coaches, that include Alex Agase, Ara Parseghian, Lynn Waldorf, and Charlie Bachman. Pat Fitzgerald, the head coach was inducted as a player.
- Northwestern players and fans endured one of the longest losing streaks in NCAA history. In 1982, the Wildcats broke the NCAA record, losing their 29th game in a row. The streak ended at 34 games after a 1982 win over Northern Illinois. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, students rushed the field, tore down the goalposts, and heaved them into nearby Lake Michigan.
- In 1925, Northwestern pulled off a huge upset beating Michigan 3-2. The three points, were the only points scored against the Wolverines who posted shut out wins in every other game that season. The following season, the Wildcats celebrated their inaugural season at Dyche Stadium (which became later Ryan Field) by sharing the 1926 Western Conference Title with Michigan.
- When Gary Barnett was hired he announced that he would lead the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl. People may have thought he was crazy, but in 1995 he made good on his promise. “Expect Victory” was the team’s motto, but the team was the only ones who did, as Northwestern began the season as 28-point underdogs to Notre Dame. A shocking 17-15 season-opening win, was followed up by other big victories over Michigan and Penn State. The Rose Bowl was only the second bowl game in team history! They fell to USC 41-32. The subsequent 1996 season lived up to expectations, with the Wildcats repeating as Big Ten Champions, sharing the title with Ohio State. The team was nicknamed the “Cardiac Cats” for many dramatic, last second victories.
- Northwestern Stripes In 1928, Northwestern added a unique sleeve-stripe pattern to its jerseys: a narrow stripe, over a wide center stripe, over a narrow stripe. The jersey was considered one of the first modern football uniforms, and was soon replicated across football. The sleeve striping was such a fixture of the program that the pattern eventually became known simply as Northwestern Stripes. You can see the pattern on their jerseys today, as well as in the end zone paint.
- Willie the Wildcat Before the Wildcats became the official school nickname, a caged live bear cub named Furpaw was the team mascot. In 1923, the team had a bad season and decided the mascot was bad luck. During the following season, the nickname Wildcats was officially adopted by the university after a Chicago writer described the Northwestern defense was described as a “wall of Purple wildcats.”
- Notre Dame and the University of Chicago – In the early years, Northwestern had very strong rivalries with Notre Dame and the University of Chicago. Starting in the 1920s, Northwestern and Notre Dame played for a Shillelagh until the mid-1970s. The trophy game was created at the behest of Knute Rockne, who wanted a rival in the Chicago-area to help build Notre Dame’s fan base. The Irish hold a 37-8-2 advantage over the Cats. From 1897 to 1926 Northwestern also had an intense rivalry with the University of Chicago, as they were the only two private institutions in the Big Ten and are both considered elite universities. Chicago dropped its football program in 1939.
- Illinois – The Fighting Illini first played Northwestern in 1892 and the schools have played annually since 1927, with the Illini holding a 46-52-5 overall advantage. Since 2009, the schools have competed for the Land of Lincoln Trophy.
- Wisconsin and Iowa – Friends from Big Ten Country tell me that as Northwestern became very competitive in football, both Iowa and Wisconsin have developed into major rivals. Evanston has been a tough place to play, as Wisconsin hasn’t won there since 1999 and Iowa has only two wins there since 1994.
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald had been pumping up the quarterback all summer, and Wildcats fans were eager to see, Clayton Thorson, a red-shirt freshman take over at quarterback. Stanford took the opening kick off and promptly used 12 plays to drive 64 yards, setting the stage for a 29-yard field goal from Conrad Ukropina. Jack Mitchell countered with a 31-yard field goal to knot the score at 3-3 at the end of the first quarter. Before the half, QB Thorson scampered 42 yards to give the Wildcats a 10-3 lead at the half. Both teams struggled to move the ball in the second half as the Wildcats continued to bottle up the Cardinal offense. Each team traded field goals early in the fourth quarter, before the Wildcats put the game away by intercepting a Kevin Hogan pass late in the game. The Wildcat defense held the Cardinal to 240 total yards and forced two costly turnovers. The Cats had done the unthinkable, chopping down the tree and sending the Cardinal home with a 16-6 loss!
I started in Milwaukee and worked my way up the Lake Michigan coastline to Green Bay. On my up, I stopped in the port cities of Two Rivers and Manitowoc and took in the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, which was a great experience. Here you learn about the ship builders and history of shipping on the Great Lakes. There are several interactive exhibits and interesting artifacts. The highlight was a tour of the USS Cobia, a restored submarine docked in the harbor.
My next stop was Lambeau Field. I was surprised just how nice the stadium was. I was able to go through a fantastic gift shop which has everything you could imagine for Packer fans! I enjoyed an early dinner in the stadium at one of the restaurants. From there, it was on to the Packer Hall of Fame, which is also located inside the stadium. I finished my day with an actual tour of the stadium, which took us through the tunnel and onto the field.
I spent the entire next day exploring Door County, which sits just north of Green Bay. I had heard plenty about just how nice this area is and I have to say it was all that I had heard and more. My first stop was the Gordon Lodge Resort, which sits right on the edge of Lake Michigan. This place was stunning and featured just about anything a guest would want. From there I discovered both the towns of Bailey’s Harbor and Sister Bay. I drove through villages along the with quaint, little restaurants, where you can dine outside. From there I drove down the west side of the peninsula and stopped in Egg Harbor. There that you can grab a trolley that will take you all over the Door, with a guided tour guide. They offer three types of tours, including one that features wine tasting of the several wineries in the area.
I motored from the Bay and headed UP into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, another area of the country I had never been to before. I grabbed a hotel in Manistique, a little town that sits on the very northern edge of Lake Michigan. It was a cloudy cooler day, and I noticed that the leaves had actually begun to turn color. This area is known as one of the most picturesque areas in the country during the fall color change, as it sits in the midst of the Hiawatha National Forest. I spent a couple of hours just driving around forest lands and going through camping areas. It was beautiful.
I was up early in the morning to make my way to Mackinaw City, Michigan, a beautiful city sits at the very tip of the Michigan mainland, where the waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet. It is home to the famous bridge runs from the connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. From Mackinaw City, or St. Ignace on the UP side of the bridge, you can catch the ferry to Mackinaw Island. It’s a small island, that is just for shopping and dining. There are NO cars allowed on the island, you must take a boat or ferry to get there. This is a great place to get away and just relax.
I toured Michigan, ending up in Flint. Upon arriving at my hotel, I ran into some Oregon Duck fans, in the area for the big match-up with Michigan State. We had dinner together, where I got some good insights into the Duck football program. After dinner I found a high school football game, which is my tradition every Friday night I am on the road. I took in the game between Clio and Brandon. Brandon defeated the hometown Mustangs
I was up early, and on my way to the University of Michigan. Michigan was hosting Oregon State for what would be Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s home coaching debut. The game was a noon start, and by 10 a.m., the tailgates were in swing. The Wolverine fans I met had been disgruntled over the years with the failed experiments of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. The fans were hoping that Harbaugh would return a tough, physical presence to the program. I was surprised at just how many Beaver fans had made the trip from Oregon. All the Beaver fans I talked, were welcomed by the Wolverine contingent. I made several friends as I walked all around the stadium, taking pictures and socializing.
I walked into the Big House and found my seat along the 40-yard line. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed at just how big this place really is. Even so, the stadium is very fan friendly and I really don’t think there is a bad seat in the house! I can tell you, this is now my favorite stadium in the Big 10.
- Michigan began competing in intercollegiate football in 1879 and joined what would become the Big Ten Conference at its inception in 1896
- Michigan is number one in the nation in all time wins and has the second highest winning percentage in college football history behind Notre Dame. The Wolverines have a total of 16 undefeated, untied seasons! The Wolverines have 11 claimed national titles and 43 conference titles.
- From 1900 to 1989, Michigan was led by a series of nine head coaches, each of whom has been inducted into the college football Hall of Fame either as a player or as a coach. What I find totally amazing is the fact that since 1901, the Wolverines have had only 12 head coaches!
- Fielding Yost, became Michigan’s head coach in 1901 and guided his “Point-a-Minute” squads to a streak of 56 games without a defeat, spanning from his arrival until the season finale in 1905. Yost had a career record of 165-29-10.
- Bo Schembechler took the reins of the football program in 1969, leading to a 194-48-5 record in 20 seasons. Schembechler recruited current head coach and quarterback Jim Harbaugh. While playing for Shembechler, Harbaugh guided the 1985 team to a 10-1-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Nebraska.
- Three Heisman Trophy winners have been Michigan men, Desmond Howard, Tom Harmon and Charles Woodson.
- Michigan stadium is the largest in the country. Seating capacity is 107,601.
THE WINGED HELMET – College football’s most iconic helmet dates back to 1938 when Fritz Crisler arrived from Princeton. “Michigan had a plain black helmet and we wanted to dress it up a little,” Fritz recalled. “We added some color (maize and blue) and used the same basic helmet I had designed at Princeton.” There was also strategic reasoning involved in the winged helmet. Fritz thought this unique design would be helpful to his passers when they tried to spot their receivers down field.
GO BLUE BANNER Since 1962, the Wolverines have entered the stadium from a tunnel where the only thing the players can see as they approach the field is the large 30-foot wide banner that reads “GO BLUE.” When entering the field, the players and staff run toward and leap to touch the banner.
THE VICTORS Michigan’s famous fight song, The Victors, was written in 1898 in celebration of a its first Western Conference football championship. Louis Elbel, a music student at Michigan, wrote the words and the music. The Victors was first played in public by John Philip Sousa’s band in May of 1899 in Ann Arbor, and Sousa later called it the, “best college march ever written.”
Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan
the leaders and best
Hail! to the victors valiant
Hail! to the conqu’ring heroes
Hail! Hail! to Michigan,
the champions of the West!
Michigan State – The teams first played in 1898 and have met almost every year since 1910. The winner of each year’s game receives the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
The Beavers wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, taking the opening kickoff and driving 79 yards for a touchdown, as QB Seth Collins found Hunter Jarmon in the back of the end zone for 21-yard score. That would be the highlight of the game for the Beavers. The Wolverine offense struggled early, as Jake Rudock was inconsistent, but the Wolverines would be able to run. De’ Veon Smith led a punishing ground game, that propelled the Wolverines to a 17-7 halftime advantage, as he scored twice, on one-yard plunges. Smith later added a third TD in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. Defense was the key for the Wolverines, as they bottled up the Beaver offense, holding it to just 138 total yards. The resounding victory was the first at Michigan under new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.