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Autry still big Wildcat fan from afar

Former Northwestern star running back Darnell Autry’s memory isn’t perfect when it comes to rival Illinois.

“I don’t think I lost to them,” Autry said on Tuesday night. “I think in my three years I’m undefeated against Illinois as far as my memory serves me.”

His memory didn’t serve him.

Autry had success against the Illini, but not as much as he recalled. Northwestern went 2-1 against its rival during Autry’s tenure. The Wildcats lost 28-7 during his freshman season, and they won 17-14 and 27-24 in the next two years before he left school early for the NFL.

Autry was later emailed his true record against Illinois and responded Wednesday with, “Ahhhh man! 2-1!!! Yeah, it’s always a tough game between U of I and NU. I suspect that will be the case this year too.”

Since leaving Northwestern, Autry’s life has taken him all over the place. He played two seasons in the NFL. He acted in commercials and television shows for awhile in Los Angeles. He returned to Northwestern to earn his degree. Now, the 35-year-old Autry is in Arizona developing a production company and hosting a weekly radio show called "Outside the Spotlight" on VoiceAmerica.com.

Autry still follows Northwestern closely and has been pleased where his former teammate Pat Fitzgerald has taken the program.

“I couldn’t be more excited with Fitz at the helm,” said Autry, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1995. “He’s been where the guys are. He understands what it takes. He understands what it takes to get to a Rose Bowl.

“I’m thinking and hoping it continues to grow and get bigger and bigger. Fitz, he’s in full swing. It’s a really exciting time for Northwestern.”

As Autry knows firsthand, Illinois week is a big one, too. Even though Autry last played for Northwestern in 1996 and didn’t grow up in the Chicago area, he still gets excited when the Wildcats face their in-state rival. It was a game that always mattered to him as a player.

“It was in-state,” Autry said. “Most of the guys recruited by Illinois were also recruited by Northwestern. There’s a lot of pride there.”

Autry was always disappointed as a player that Illinois and other Big Ten schools dominated the Chicago scene. He believed Northwestern has finally turned the corner on that market.

“It always upset me that we couldn’t get Chicago to be Northwestern’s town,” Autry said. “We had Wisconsin bars and Michigan bars, but we couldn’t get Northwestern up and running in our town. I feel now it’s different. We got good representation out in the Chicago area. I think it’s great.”

As Northwestern travels to Illinois this week, Autry had a good feeling the Wildcats would be triumphant again.

“I think it’s time,” Autry said. “After their bye week, we should have heads read. I think they’ll be ready.”