Friday, October 27, 2006

Northwestern Preview

The Series

  • Record: 50-14-2 (Michigan leads)
  • Since '69: 22-3-0
  • First Meeting: 10-8 Northwestern, 10/29/1892, 25th Street Field, Chicago, Illinois
  • Last Meeting: 33-17 Michigan, 10/29/2005, Ryan Field
  • Northwestern
    • Most Points: 55-24, 10/18/1958, Ryan Field
    • Since '69: 54-51, 10/28/2000, Ryan Field
    • Biggest Margin of Victory: 55-24, 10/18/1958, Ryan Field
    • Since '69: 19-13, 10/7/1995, Michigan Stadium
    • Biggest Shutout: 9-0, 11/14/1936, Michigan Stadium
    • Since '69: N/A
  • Michigan
    • Most Points: 72-6, 11/18/1893, Ann Arbor Fairgrounds
    • Since '69: 69-0, 10/18/1975, Michigan Stadium*
      *Also the biggest margin of victory and largest shutout in the history of the series.

Data from the Bentley Historical Library


An already-rough season for the Wildcats isn't getting any easier on Saturday. Last week they surrendered 38 unanswered points to Michigan State in a Division-IA record-setting comeback victory for the Spartans. Northwestern's season is essentially lost in the wake of Randy Walker's passing. With Brett Basanez's graduation, Northwestern's strength this year has been their running game, which should be crushed entirely by Michigan's front seven. The Wildcats traditionally use quicker, smarter players to make up for their size deficiencies, but that doesn't really matter when they try to run against Michigan's front seven.

A defense that gives up 38 second-half points to Michigan State is not one that inspires fear. Lloyd's going to call off the dogs early in this one if we get up big. If we have a win in hand, we don't have anything left to play for; we just want to escape without injury. Ideally, I'd like to see Jason Forcier play the entire fourth quarter with a rotating cast of running backs not named Mike Hart. That said, I'll be mightily disappointed if we don't have a two-touchdown lead going into halftime.

In lieu of further discussion of actual football, I move on to historical facts. In 1860, the state of Wisconsin was riven with tension. The abolitionist governor had publicly speculated that Wisconsin might secede should the federal government fail to outlaw slavery. The state had four militia companies and the State Adjutant General surveyed them to determine whose side they'd take if it came to that. The commander of Milwaukee's Irish Union Guards, though an abolitionist, insisted that it would be treason to go against the federal government. The Guards were promptly disarmed and he lost his commission. They refused to disband, and – in an attempt to raise the money to rearm their unit – sponsored a cruise to Chicago to attend a Democratic party rally and hear Stephen Douglas speak.

Old shipwrecks: Just what you want out of your college football preview.

After the festivities, the passengers re-embarked on the sidewheel steamer Lady Elgin. The captain didn't like the looks of the weather, but the pressure from the passengers and business sense convinced him to head back up the lake to Milwaukee carrying between 600 and 700 souls. Some of the passengers turned in for the night, others took advantage of the party boat. The weather was bad, but not catastrophic. It was the schooner Augusta that did her in.

Full of lumber, the two-masted Augusta was heading down the lake to Chicago. Her crew had failed to lessen sail as the storm blew up and now they were flying out of control, nearly capsizing. Her mate had reported seeing the Lady Elgin, but her captain took no notice of it until it was too late. At 2:30AM the Augusta struck the Elgin aft of her port wheel, snapping off her bowsprit, before running swiftly by, now without her headsails. Eventually she limped into Chicago harbor.

Technically, sail vessels always have the right of way, being at the mercy of the elements, but the signs of poor seamanship abound here. In her day, the crew of the Augusta was heavily criticized. They had to rename the schooner and sneak out of port, running all the way down to the Atlantic to sell her for whatever price they could get.

Meanwhile, the Lady Elgin was coming apart fast. Passengers began chopping the hurricane deck apart to make rafts in the hope of making shore, seven miles away near Winnetka. The Elgin broke up within twenty minutes of the collision, leaving maybe 500 survivors in the water. A lifeboat had been cast off early as part of an attempt to survey the damage, but the first mate and a few crew had been launched in a boat without oars. They were the first to come ashore, and the mate scaled the steep bluffs and raised the alarm. By 8:00AM, volunteers had come to the beach to do what they could, including many Northwestern students.

Fortunately, mid-September Lake Michigan is much warmer than mid-October or -November. Maybe 400 people were still alive as the rafts of wreckage approached the beach. However, the storm had worked up a punishing surf and wicked undertow, killing people on the rocks or dragging the exhausted victims down.

One of the Northwestern students, Edward Spencer, was a strong swimmer. Over and over, he plunged into the surf to bring the living safely ashore. In the end, he saved 18 people on his own. A delirious, exhausted wreck himself at the end, he was unable to go back in. Over and over, he kept asking, "Did I do my best? Did I do my best?"

That's real heroism.

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