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Memories: 1995

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Northwestern Returns to the Rose Bowl

By J.A. Adande
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 29, 1995

EVANSTON, ILL. -- In less than four years, the phrase "taking the Purple to Pasadena" has gone from lunchtime chatter to rallying cry to reality.

Where once the greatest barriers to Northwestern's trip to a Rose Bowl seemed to be inferior facilities, strict entrance requirements and the mental baggage brought on by decades of failure, the hardest part about getting from here to Pasadena, Calif., now is finding a seat on the crowded airlines.

There is such a thing as a "Northwestern Wildcat Rose Bowl Hotline." Walk into the student union and see a sign on the bulletin board that pleads: "NU Alumnus WILL BUY YOUR ROSE BOWL TICKETS. Two or three tickets needed."

And to think, it all began over at the Davis Street Fishmarket in December 1991. John Yale, a member of the football coach search committee, was talking to Gary Barnett, the top candidate, and telling him about his vision.

"John said to me that he had this dream of taking the Purple to Pasadena," Barnett said. "And I just really liked it."

Barnett, then an assistant at Colorado, got the job. A month later he found himself being introduced to the students, alumni and faculty, a community so accustomed to losing that the mere concept of any bowl game sounded far-fetched. In front of them all, he said it: He talked about "taking the Purple to Pasadena."

"I opened my mouth at a basketball game one night and out it came," Barnett said. "So I was stuck. There it was, I laid it out. I thought it was kind of catchy. It sounded good at the time.

"It sounds real good right now."

Forty-seven seasons after the Wildcats last went to the Rose Bowl -- or any other bowl, for that matter -- Northwestern is headed to Pasadena. And at a time of year when campus activity usually comes to a standstill as students hide away in the library to study for upcoming finals, there is the nonstop ringing of phones and cash registers. More than 100 roses were sold at Saville Flowers in Evanston's central business district in the first half hour after Michigan's upset of Ohio State Saturday left third-ranked Northwestern (10-1, 8-0 in the Big Ten) as the only team with a perfect conference record and the Big Ten champions. More than 300 of the ticket-and-travel packages offered by the alumni association at $1,565 per person were sold within the first four hours of availability Sunday, with some orders coming in from as far away as Japan and Hong Kong. And that was before the phone number was officially published. Since then, the most likely sound callers to the alumni office will hear is a busy signal.

When the athletic ticket office opened Monday, the phone traffic was so heavy that the school telephone network's voice mail system crashed.

"We'll take this sort of problem any day," said Shon Morris, the director of athletic development. "There's nothing worse than to be ignored -- and we've been there."

Even though the undergraduate enrollment of 7,400 is the smallest in the Big Ten, there are 47 years of graduates who have have been deprived of this opportunity, and demand for the 22,000 tickets allotted to the school is heavy.

"I've been looking forward to this one," said Williams Stevens, an engineering professor and member of the class of 1944 who came to inquire about tickets Monday. "Boy, oh boy."

Stevens was in graduate school in Wisconsin for the last Northwestern Rose Bowl, and there had been few highlights since. They attained the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll in 1962, but hadn't had a winning season since 1971 and suffered through an NCAA Division I-A record 34 consecutive losses at one point.

Senior Sean Keeler, the sports editor of the Daily Northwestern, had been so convinced Northwestern would never win the Big Ten championship that he drove from his job in Phoenix to Pasadena this summer just to look through the locked gates of the Rose Bowl.

"I told {friends} I had to see the Rose Bowl," Keeler said. "I had to see the Rose Bowl before I died."

Now he'll go again, albeit with a killer travel schedule. Like all but the most optimistic observers, Keeler and his co-workers expected Northwestern to play in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, the destination for the Big Ten runner-up. (The Citrus Bowl was so ready for Northwestern that last week they sent boxes of oranges, which arrived Monday, to the Northwestern athletic offices.)

But after Michigan beat Ohio State Saturday, they spent four hours rearranging their travel plans to get them to Pasadena. On Sunday, they realized that their tickets called for them to return sometime during the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl, so they spent another three hours trying to find a reasonable fare. The result features a return trip from Los Angeles to St. Louis to Cleveland to Chicago. Christina Headrick, editor in chief of the Daily Northwestern, will board a plane at midnight Jan. 1 and arrive in Chicago at 5 a.m. on Jan. 2 bearing the film for the special color edition of the paper they will put out for the next day.

"We're going to treat this like it's the most gigantic story that ever hit," she said.

The Daily Northwestern, which normally would not publish until classes resume next quarter, will print a special Rose Bowl edition this week. The cover headline: Purple to Pasadena. It's more than just a mantra. It's the type of attitude that made this whole trip possible.

"I came on my visit, it was when {Barnett} gave that infamous "Purple to Pasadena" speech at halftime of that basketball game, that kind of gave me chills," said tackle Justin Chabot, who became Barnett's first recruit. "Everybody was cheering, saying Wouldn't that be great?' But I know Coach Barnett believed that. I could hear it in his voice, I could see it in his eyes. It made me believe as well. I wanted to be a part of it."

Belief is what's driving the purple express. For the past three years, Barnett has brought Steve Musseau to the team's preseason training camp in Kenosha, Wis., to give the players motivational speeches.

"He's had three quadruple-bypasses, he's got a heart defibrillator, he's had cancer and he's also a diabetic, so he knows a little bit about adversity," Barnett said.

In his first year, Musseau, a former coach who had two sons play for Barnett's team, talked about trust. Last year's theme was patience. This year, it was faith -- "belief without evidence," Musseau said.

He walked into the meeting room with a sandals, a robe, a beard and a cane.

"Coach Musseau?" Barnett asked.

"No, it's Moses," Musseau replied.

"I think it had an impact," Musseau said this week from his home in Marysville, Wash. "Nobody was expecting it. Not even Gary. I think when I walked into the team room and they were all sitting there and saw me with hat, long, gray hair and beard. Everybody stood around and said, What in the hell is that old man doing here?' After I spoke for a little bit, they realized. I said, You guys have been lost in the desert for 40 years.' I said, It's just time that you go to the promised land. It's time.' "

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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