Practically the only storefront on Central Street in Evanston, Ill., that didn't have a Northwestern pennant in its window was the Christian Science Reading Room. At the counter in Mustard's Last Stand and in the back booths at Prairie Joe's cafe, the Saturday-morning regulars ate greasy fare and harbored faint hope that later in the day Michigan would upset undefeated Ohio State. A Wolverine victory would give their beloved Wildcats the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Over at the campus bookstore, employees fiddled with a radio and cursed the lousy reception. And in the Nicolet Football Center, about 20 Northwestern players sat in front of a TV screen, waiting for the start of the Michigan-Ohio State game and trying to convince themselves that one warm-weather bowl was just as good as another, which, of course, was a lie.
The company line at Northwestern was that the Citrus Bowl, the team's destination in the event of an Ohio State win, was a fine bowl and that Orlando was a veritable paradise. After all, the Wildcats hadn't made a postseason appearance since the 1949 Rose Bowl. Who were they to turn their noses up at the home of Mickey and Minnie and wish for the Rose Bowl instead?
For a while the Northwestern players and coaches who had gathered to watch the game feigned indifference to the outcome. Then the game started.
First quarter: Heaps of cold cuts and trays of chicken wings, ordered up by coach Gary Barnett, are delivered. In the back of the auditorium, placekicker Sam Valenzisi says, "We're only here because of the free food. Hey, if you told me we'd be 10-1, I would have looked at you as if you had snakes crawling out of your ears. I've got no problem going to Orlando."
But if the Wildcats didn't care, why did a Rose Bowl banner hang in the lobby of the auditorium? And why were the words Rose Bowl at the top of the list of team goals Barnett had hung in the auditorium before the season?
Second quarter: Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka tears through the D for a long gain. Wildcat linebacker Pat Fitzgerald moves forward in his chair and yells, "Go, go! Carry that rock!"
Score: Wolverines 10, Buckeyes 6. Northwestern offensive lineman Brian Kardos and tight end Shane Graham hum the Michigan fight song, The Victors.
Third quarter: Michigan quarterback Brian Griese rolls out. "Throw the ball, son," Barnett snaps at the screen. Griese throws. Barnett writhes. Complete. "This is like watching a long putt and hoping it'll go in," says Barnett.
Fourth quarter: With Michigan up 31-23 but the Buckeyes driving, Barnett wonders aloud if anybody has brought some of those diapers designed for adults with incontinence. "I'm going to need them," he says.
With 2:43 left, a dozen roses are brought into the room. Amid the growing anticipation, Barnett is struck by the improbability of his team's good fortune. He leans over to his wife, Mary, and says, "Fairy dust, it's fairy dust."