"[Defensive end] Casey Dailey, it was us and Fresno State. We recruited him to be our punter.
"[Linebacker] Danny Sutter—us and Illinois State. But he had a good bloodline. [His brother Ed, a former Northwestern linebacker, now plays for the Cleveland Browns.]
"[Nickelback] Ismaeli was taught at home in Pittsburgh until 10th grade. He has a special training table, because his food has to be blessed.
"And Fitz [linebacker Fitzgerald]...he's a guy who just studies the game. A coach on the field."
Barnett stops for a moment and looks at a glass-encased Rose Bowl ticket on a table. It's from 1949, when admission to the game cost $5.50. Northwestern versus California. Barnett has kept it in his office as a kind of carrot.
Because he looks and acts like a grad student, Barnett tends to disarm people, to make them feel calm and analytical. It's hard to remember that this man is a coach, not to mention the runaway winner of almost all the 1995 coach of the year awards. But his approach to the game—levelheaded but intense, aggressive but wise—is the magic cloak that has shielded the Wildcats from self-doubt. Northwestern players don't thump chests, fire guns or do the dance when they play well. They don't dump ice coolers on Barnett's head or carry him off the field after big wins. That's because Barnett told them that such things are foolish. Do not carry me off the field after we beat Notre Dame at their place for the first time in 34 years, he forewarned them. He didn't say if. He said after.
"Every place has disadvantages," says Barnett, whose safety, Bennett, was president of his high school senior class; whose right tackle. Paul Janus, graduated third in his high school class: whose backup tailback, Faraji Leary, was a four-year member of his high school honor roll. "It's just that when you're losing, everybody knows those disadvantages. When you're winning, all they know are the advantages.
"At Colorado, when people said we had problems, it wasn't really the players. I thought in all my time there that we had only one thug. What we had were inner-city kids in a white community, and they were under intense scrutiny—that was the problem. It's much better here. Evanston is 29 percent minority. And we don't have the kind of campus where kids are going to get into trouble. You can't control what players do when they're out, but generally the kids they're around here are first-class, leaders."
Betsy Mosher is Northwestern's associate athletic director for intercollegiate services, which essentially means she's in charge of NCAA compliance. She is proud that the NCAA has never sent investigators to Northwestern.
Mosher was troubled last year when starting running back Dennis Lundy was found to be gambling on football games. Lundy was suspended for his final game, and Northwestern hired a private detective to make sure nothing else unseemly was going on among members of the team. Mosher feels certain nothing was. Still, some of the players were called in to talk to FBI agents, and although no charges have been filed, a gambling investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office is not over. Mosher knows the football team's success will bring even more scrutiny. "The better we get, the more people will look and want to find something," she says. "But compliance here is, amazingly, part of the culture. I feel confident they won't find anything."