On Jan. 1, 1949, the Wildcats won their first bowl game, a Rose Bowl victory against Cal. Everyone knows Northwestern's football history isn't good, but its bowl streak after that win is rather shocking.
The Wildcats' next bowl appearance was the Rose Bowl at the end of the 1995 season. That day, Northwestern started a nine-game bowl losing streak. A linebacker named Pat Fitzgerald was the standout of that 1995 Wildcats team. He was part of the 1996 team that lost in the Citrus Bowl.
Fitzgerald came back to Northwestern as head coach and has built a good program. But he lost four straight bowl games as a coach. He felt the weight of the Northwestern drought more than anyone. Now it's over.
Northwestern beat Mississippi State 34-20 to win the Gator Bowl. Not many bowl wins this season will be more meaningful to a school.
It was hard to tell if Fitzgerald's voice was cracking during ESPN2's postgame interview because he had spent three hours yelling and motivating his team, or if the emotion of finally bringing a bowl win to Northwestern was getting to him.
"I'm just ecstatic for our entire football program," Fitzgerald said in the postgame interview. "This was the one last negative we needed to erase."
Northwestern got off to a great start, returning an interception for a touchdown. The throw was one of many bad ones Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell would make. Northwestern had an early 13-0 lead, but it was just 13-10 by halftime. Fitzgerald said he told his team to make history in the second half.
"I don't know if there's been a better team in Northwestern history with the response we had in the second half," Fitzgerald told ESPN2.
Mississippi State tied the game early in the third quarter, but then Northwestern took control of the game. The Wildcats' offense was effective running and throwing the ball. The defense forced four turnovers. By the end, Northwestern had the bowl win it coveted. It finishes the season 10-3 with three losses in games it led in the fourth quarter. As historic as this season was for Northwestern, this team was probably even better than its 10-3 record.
The way Fitzgerald has built up the Northwestern program, the next bowl win shouldn't take too long to get.
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