Wildcats' welcome brings back memories for coach

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The crowd was small, no more than 100 people. It was mostly members of the marching band, but also a few fans who live around Ryan Field.

They showed up to greet the Northwestern football team after it returned from last Saturday's 22-17 road win against Iowa. The Wildcats improved to 5-0 for the first time in 46 years, and the welcoming party reminded head coach Pat Fitzgerald and longtime assistant coach Jerry Brown of a more exciting time in the program's mostly bleak history.

"We got off the bus and Jerry looked at me and he goes, 'Kind of reminds me a little bit of '95,'" Fitzgerald said. "We'd come back from road games and we'd have a lot of fans and our band there."

In 1995, Northwestern was one of the nation's top sports stories, winning the Big Ten championship and going to the Rose Bowl behind Fitzgerald, a star middle linebacker, and running back Darnell Autry. Brown coached the secondary that year.

This year's team has a long way to go to be put in the same category, but for a program where attendance is a major challenge, any excitement is a positve step.

"There's a lot of pride here," Fitzgerald said, "and we've got some positive momentum here, obviously starting the season the way we have."