According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, after Northwestern won the first meeting in 1892:
Evanston could hardly hold the students of Northwestern University...Every student was armed with a tin horn. A big pile of boxes and barrels was set fire to. Every member of the football, as he would appear, was immediately taken in hand and given a ride around the fire. Then to the deafening music of the tin horns the crowd marched to the Woman's Hall, where speeches were made.
But the tin horns haven't blared often for the Northwestern Wildcats, as the overall record is pretty lopsided in favor of Michigan at 54-15-2. Eleven of those victories - including the first meeting - came before Bo Schembechler took over Wolverines football, who went undefeated against Northwestern during his tenure as Michigan's head coach. One of those wins for the Wildcats came in 1925, beating a Michigan team that Fielding Yost referred to as"the greatest football team [he] ever coached" as well as "the greatest team [he] ever saw in action." The teams played in horrible conditions, with an inch of water sitting on the muddy field. Michigan's only points came off of a Northwestern safety, which the Wildcats deliberately committed on fourth down. Rather than punt the ball from their one-yard line, Northwestern elected to back into their own endzone. The move probably looks silly now, but at the time it was clever. A safety gave Michigan two points, but, unlike today's rules, not the ball. The Wildcats retained possession at their own 40-yard line and eventually won the game 3-2. It was Michigan's only loss that year, and the three points scored by the Wildcats were the only points given up by the Wolverines that season. Further, the safety rule was changed the following year.
The Wildcats would win a few more times before crushing the Wolverines 55-24 in 1958. Northwestern led Michigan 43-0 at halftime, and when the score hit the wires, sports desks called back, asking the wire services to fix the "typo." They would win the following year in '59 and again '65 before the Wolverines took control of the series. After losing in 1965, Michigan would win the next 19 games against the Wildcats until back-to-back losses in 1995 and 1996 (Northwestern won the Big Ten title in both seasons). Since '95 and '96, Northwestern has been playing their best football in history, and even though the Wildcats are only 1-4 against Michigan under current head coach Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern looks poised to challenge the Wolverines every year and Pat handed Michigan one of the most painful losses in team history in 2008. This year, the two teams will meet on November 16th, in a game that
could should have big implications on the winner of the Legends division and the Big Ten.
November 10th, 2012, Michigan 38 - Northwestern 31
Who remembers Pat Fitzgerald jumping up and down like he just won the National Championship after a Michigan penalty with about four minutes left in the game last year? The penalty helped the Wildcats score what could have been the game-winning touchdown. But that wouldn't be the last scoring in the game. If not for a heave, a tip, and Roy Roundtree, Fitzgerald might still be celebrating the call and a victory.
After handling the Wildcats easily in his first year as head coach, Brady Hoke and the Wolverines saw a different Northwestern team come to Ann Arbor in 2012. Northwestern was in the middle of its best season in over a decade coming into the game with a 7-2 record. Michigan was looking to bounce back at 6-3 after losing to Nebraska and Denard Robinson to injury two weeks prior. Both teams were looking to keep their hopes for a Big Ten title alive.
The two teams traded rushing touchdowns in the first quarter, with Michigan's coming from Devin Gardener and Northwestern's from running back Venric Mark. The second quarter saw much of the same, as running back Thomas Rawls scored for Michigan and quarterback Trevor Siemian led the Wildcats through the air to score just before halftime. After halftime, Northwestern scored ten points on the Wolverines before running back Fitzgerald Toussaint caught a touchdown pass before the third quarter ended, cutting the Wildcats lead to 24-21 entering the fourth quarter. Michigan would score first in the last frame on a Devin Funchess touchdown reception. But the Wildcats would once again respond with a touchdown of their own, giving them a 31-28 lead with just under four minutes to play. On the first play of Michigan's ensuing drive, Devin Gardener threw an interception, and the Wildcats looked to run out the clock. After converting a 4th down and 1, Northwestern only needed one more first down to seal the victory. But Michigan's defense forced a punt, and Jeremy Gallon returned it to Michigan's 38-yard line with 18 seconds left in the game. Instead of trying some short, sideline passes, Devin Gardener tossed up the Hail Mary and Northwestern tipped the ball right into Roy Roundtree's hands. Brendan Gibbons would punch in the 26-yard field goal and send the game to overtime tied at 31. In OT, Michigan scored in five plays on a 1-yard rush by Devin Gardener. The Michigan defense would once again hold strong, stuffing the Wildcats on four plays to end the game and stop Pat Fitzgerald's jumping. Check out game highlights here.
After beating Northwestern, the Wolverines would take the next game against Iowa before losing back-to-back heartbreakers against Ohio and South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. Michigan finished 8-5 on the season and ranked #24. On the other side, Northwestern would finish the season strong by winning out and crushing Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. The Wildcats finished 10-3 (only their third 10-win season) and ranked #17.
November 4th, 2000, Michigan 51 - Northwestern 54
game barnburner can be summed up in one word: offense. Coming into the game, Michigan's defense hadn't given up a point in two games, but that would change as both teams combined for over 1,000 yards of offense and over 100 points. Winning the Big Ten title twice along with a National Championship in the previous three seasons, the Wolverines looked to extend their three-game winning streak against the Wildcats after losing two in a row in '95 and '96. Michigan was 6-2 and ranked #12 when they arrived in Evanston for the game. However, Northwestern was in the midst of their best season under head coach Randy Walker with a 6-2 record and a #21 ranking
The scoring started on a 1-yard run by Northwestern quarterback Zak Kustok a little over two minutes into the game. But Michigan would held into the second quarter with a 14-7 lead on a touchdown run by running back Anthony Thomas and a pass from quarterback Drew Henson to wide receiver David Terrell. The Wolverines would keep their foot on the gas at the start of the second quarter, jumping out to a 28-10 lead on two more Terrell touchdown receptions. However, the Wildcats would kick two more field goals and running back Damien Anderson would find the endzone to cut Michigan's lead to 28-23 at halftime. In the second half, the teams first traded passing touchdowns, then rushing touchdowns, before the Wolverines ended the third quarter with a field goal and a 45-36 lead.
But nine seconds into the fourth quarter, Kustok ran for a touchdown to bring the Wildcats within two points at 45-43. Northwestern would add a field goal before Thomas ran it in again for a 51-46 Michigan lead with 8:34 remaining. After a failing to score, Northwestern got the ball back for what seemed to be their last shot at winning the game. With 3:35 left in the game, the Wildcats started to drive from their own 10-yard line and ended up with a 4th-and-goal from the 7-yard line. Northwestern would score on the 4th down play, but it would be called back due to an ineligible man downfield penalty. On the replay of 4th down, Damien Anderson would end up wide open on a flair route but drop the pass. Looking to run out the clock, Michigan handed the ball off to the A-Train. On the second play of the drive, Thomas was stripped, and the Wildcats recovered and scored with 20 seconds remaining to take the lead. Michigan would have one last chance to tie the game on a 57-yard field goal attempt but botched the snap. Highlights here.
After the loss, the Wolverines would win against Penn State, #12 Ohio, and #20 Auburn in the Florida Citrus Bowl to end the season 9-3 and ranked #11. On the other sideline, the Wildcats would split their remaining regular season games and lose in the Alamo Bowl to #9 Nebraska, finishing the season with an 8-4 record. Both teams ended up being Big Ten Co-Champions with Purdue.
Octbober 5th, 1996, Michigan 16 - Northwestern 17
After beating the Wolverines in 1995 for the first time since 1966 (ending Michigan's 19-game winning streak in the series), the Wildcats looked to do the same coming into the '96 game. The previous season saw Northwestern win the Big Ten and finish ranked #8 at 10-2, arguably the best season in Wildcats history. The Wolverines, however, were getting used to second-year head coach Lloyd Carr after finishing 4th in the Big Ten in his first year. Coming into the game, Michigan sought revenge against a team they normally beat, while Northwestern looked to solidify its place as a power in the Big Ten. Michigan was undefeated at 4-0 and ranked #6 in the nation; Northwestern was 3-1 after stumbling in the season opener against Wake Forest and ranked #22.
The first three quarters were all Wolverines, as Brian Griese led the offense and Michigan's defense shutout the Wildcats, giving Michigan a 16-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The game was Michigan's to lose, and that's exactly what they did. Silenced all day, Northwestern's offense woke up in the final frame and scored 17 unanswered points to end the game. The first touchdown came two minutes into the fourth quarter, and from that point on, the game was all Wildcats. They went for two, and succeeded, cutting Michigan's lead to 16-8. On Michigan's next play, Northwestern forced a fumble. They recovered and went on to kick a field goal, shaving the Wolverines lead to 16-11. Future head coach Pat Fitzgerald (a star linebacker for the Wildcats at the time) and the Wildcats defense stuffed the Wolverines on five plays, forcing a punt which they would turn into another field goal, slimming the deficit to 16-14 with 5:25 remaining. Michigan would make an attempt to run out the clock, picking up two first downs on their next drive, but the Wolverines offense stalled once again. The Wildcats would get the ball back at their own 20-yard line with 1:43 left in the game. Making quick work of the Michigan defense, Northwestern drove to the Wolverines 22-yard with 17 seconds remaining, setting up the game-winning 39-yard field goal. Check out fourth quarter highlights here.
After the crushing loss to the Wildcats, the Wolverines went on to finish the season ranked #20 at 8-4, highlighted by an upset victory against #2 Ohio and a loss to #16 Alabama in the Outback Bowl. The Wildcats would finish strong, losing only once in Big Ten play to share the title with Ohio. They ended the season ranked #15 at 9-3 and lost in the Florida Citrus Bowl to #9 Tennessee.