What else could one expect now that such honored alums as Warren Beatty, George McGovern, Ann-Margret, Saul Bellow, Tony Randall, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Richard Gephardt and Charlton Heston have been shaken from their torpor? Quoth Heston, the erstwhile Moses, of his Northwestern days: "The football thing was like you had a crazy uncle in the attic, and you didn't like to talk about him much. 'Old Uncle Fred, he'll be O.K.' " Now Uncle Fred is great.
Barnett sits in his sunlit office, wearing a powder-blue sweater the precise color of his eyes and thumbing through a 1963 Look magazine that has an article listing Northwestern as the sixth-ranked team in the country. That was back when Ara Parseghian was the Wildcat coach—before he bailed out for Notre Dame, conceding that bigger things just weren't possible at Northwestern.
On Barnett's desk is a small rock with the word BELIEVE chiseled into it. If this were any other season, you, being a smart aleck, would have said something like, "Believe in what, Coach? Law boards?" But this is eerie. These simple things that Barnett does and professes—"Where your butt is, that's where your head should be" is one of them—they work.
Most of Northwestern's players were not high school superstars. There's not a single Parade or USA Today All-America among them. But they do believe. Barnett rambles on about some of his boys, smiling: "Chris Martin, he was so short. Only being recruited seriously by Temple. He wasn't around [when I made my visit], so I met with his mom and dad and dog.
"[Guard] Ryan Padgett left our preseason three-a-days and took the eight-hour medical boards on a Sunday.
"[Wideout and biomedical engineering major] Toussaint Waterman took an engineering midterm in Novi [Mich.] with a proctor the night before the Michigan game. He had three big catches in the game.
"[Cornerback] Rodney Ray, his mom made him go here.
"[Groza Award finalist] Valenzisi was a walk-on.
"[Punter] Burton, he just showed up one day. He had no idea what he was going to play. We tried him a little at quarterback, a little at defensive back, then he learned how to punt.
"[Wide receiver] Dave Beazley—his nickname is Big Money—I don't think anybody else was recruiting him.