Whether Northwestern and Illinois are truly rivals is debatable, but what is certain is that the two teams have played a number of memorable games over the years. Wildcat fans likely remember well last year’s matchup between the two squads at historic Wrigley Field, but a number of other games in the history of the contest have been quite memorable. Here’s a look at some of the best games between the Fighting Illini and Wildcats over the years.
November 20, 1943 (Evanston, IL): No. 9 Northwestern 53, Illinois 6: The year 1943 was legendary quarterback Otto Graham’s final season at Northwestern. That year, Graham finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, and his personal accolades helped the ‘Cats to a very successful season. Northwestern entered its final game of the season against Illinois at 5-2 and was ranked ninth in the country. The ‘Cats had just lost their second game of the season against No. 1 Notre Dame 17-6. But in Graham’s final football game as a Wildcat, Northwestern pounded the Illini 53-6, capping a great season for the ‘Cats. Illinois finished an unimpressive 3-7 in 1943.
November 24, 1956 (Evanston, IL): Northwestern 14, Illinois 13: The 1956 season did not appear to be treating Northwestern well after several games. After winning their opening game of the season, the ‘Cats had failed to win in five straight contests (they tied one game, 0-0, against Minnesota). But heading into their final game of the season against Illinois, the Wildcats were coming off of two straight wins — Northwestern was able to use that momentum to knock off the Illini in Evanston by a one-point margin.
November 21, 1959 (Champaign, IL): Illinois 28, No. 8 Northwestern 0: Northwestern spent the majority of the 1959 season as the second ranked team in the entire country, after starting the season with six straight wins (including victories over No. 2 Iowa and No. 5 Iowa in consecutive weeks). But the Wildcats faded down the stretch, dropping their final three games. Heading into their final game of the season at Illinois, Northwestern had lost two straight games and had dropped to No. 8 in the polls. The Illini made sure the ‘Cats would continue their slide, dismantling Northwestern 28-0.
October 28, 1995 (Champaign, IL): No. 8 Northwestern 17, Illinois 14: The 1995 season was Northwestern’s most memorable season of all-time, but it could not have happened without this crucial road victory over the Fighting Illini. The Wildcats were 6-1 heading into the Illinois game, and had cracked the top ten in the national rankings. In this game, Illinois held a 14-10 lead late in the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats took the lead with a short Darnell Autry touchdown run. Northwestern went on to win the Big Ten that season.
November 20, 2010 (Chicago, IL): Illinois 48, Northwestern 27: The most memorable aspect of this game was that it was played at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. In the week leading up to the game, officials decided that the endzone near the right field wall was unsuitable for play, as the wall was too close to the playing field. This resulted in a one-way football game, with teams switching sides every time possession changed. The ‘Cats, coming off a big win over Iowa, were playing without quarterback Dan Persa, who ruptured his Achilles the week before. Illinois was able to take advantage, largely due to the rushing accolades of Mikel Leshoure, who racked up 330 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.