Friday, January 1, 2010

Berwanger's link to Northwestern history

Much was made of Northwestern's bid today to win its first football bowl game in more than 60 years. Despite a remarkable comeback (helped incredibly by a series of Auburn penalties), the Wildcats lost in overtime.

The close call extended the Wildcats' decades-long streak without a bowl victory. Their last win was a 20-14 victory over California came in the 1949 Rose Bowl -- a game marked by controversy.

On a play from the Cal 1 yard line, Northwestern running back Art Murakowski fumbled at the goal line. California's Will Lotter fell on the ball. The question became whether the ball crossed the plane of the goal line before Murakowski lost control.

The side judge made the signal -- touchdown. His decision brought lots of criticism for the official, especially from West Coast sportswriters.

Today, the officials would have used video review of the play to confirm the result. That was not possible 61 years ago, and the call stood.

The official's name: Jay Berwanger.

Berwanger, the winner of the first Heisman Trophy, who had officiated the college game several seasons, simply said he called it "as I saw it."

Eventually, the controversy passed, especially with the public support of the Big Ten supervisor of officials.

Berwanger started officiating in 1941, took time off while he was in the military, then resumed through the 1952 season. The 1949 Rose Bowl was his only bowl assignment.