Almost two months ago, the Chicago Cubs played their last game in Wrigley Field of the year, capping off a polarizing and change-filled season with a 4-2 loss against the playoff-bound St. Louis Cardinals.
In a stadium left empty since late September, the Purdue Boilermakers brought new life to the historic venue in one of Wrigley Field's few football games since the Chicago Bears called it home until 1970, winning, 32-14.
In the field, senior quarterback Aidan O'Connell and the rest of Purdue's offense looked almost as fearless as Kris Bryant himself as they took deep shot after shot down the converted ballpark field.
Their fearlessness only took them so far, however, as deep passes were thrown like baseball swings for the fences that quickly turned into strikeouts as a freezing-cold third down offense couldn't push past the Northwestern defense. Purdue's run game, a crucial component in cold-weather games, froze over as it had so many times before, generating a net 23 yards of offense by the end of the first quarter.
The usual accuracy that had given O'Connell national recognition in the wins over then-No. 2 Iowa and then-No. 3 Michigan State plummeted in the cold, as the senior missed wide-open attempts downfield to receivers he could usually find streaking for a touchdown. Short-field completions became the lifeblood of the struggling Purdue offense, who had previously relied on screen passes and shorter wheel routes to create a faux-running game around O'Connell.
Northwestern receiver Malik Washington made a reception to rival the helmet catch in terms of improbability. The ball slipped from his hands, where it balanced neatly on his left leg until the receiver was able to recover it once again after a spin.
As the weather warmed, so did Purdue. The brisk Boilermakers thawed out as the sun shone through the blue Chicago sky, finally connecting on their several gutsy calls while sending lobbed shots downfield past a worn-down Northwestern secondary.
Purdue seemed to pull out the same deep pass to junior receiver Milton Wright on the left hashmarks three times. Two went in for an easy over-the-shoulder catch and a touchdown, while the third attempt came just short as Northwestern corner Cam Mitchell finally figured out how to keep up with Wright and drag him down before he brought the pass home.
Purdue's defensive line broke through for a sack for the first time since their matchup against Michigan State. The line created a string of four sacks in a row with four different players late in the fourth quarter, capped off by a near-strip sack by junior defensive lineman George Karlaftis.
The three-hour drive from West Lafayette and brisk fall weather did not deter Purdue fans from filling Wrigley in a sea of black by left field. Even as Northwestern flags covered the tops of the outfield stands, every deep strike sent the Wrigley crowd into an uproar, making audience members and players alike feel as if they were playing in Ross-Ade Stadium.
0️⃣ number of @BoilerFootball players with more receiving TDs (3) in a game vs. Northwestern than Milton Wright (@MW_Agent0) today.The WR tied the single-game record vs. NU, last done by John Standeford in 2000, and you watch 'em all ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/Hk4O1Bo7Ih— Purdue On BTN (@PurdueOnBTN) November 20, 2021
The crowds poured into Wrigleyville hours before the game just as they would during the MLB season, packing the several bars and restaurants by Wrigley in anticipation for the Northwestern Classic and a day filled with exciting college football matchups.
Even with the redone field, hundreds of players on the sidelines and repurposed dugouts, the baseball atmosphere never wavered from the historic stadium. The usual "seventh-inning stretch," a tradition where baseball fans sing along to "Take me out to the ballgame" before the top of the seventh inning, played during the end of the third quarter with the same energy from hometown fans and beyond.
Northwestern previewed one of their first out-of-country games against Nebraska when the Wildcats play in Dublin, Ireland late next August. The game was originally scheduled to play in 2020, but was pushed by two years due to the initial spread of COVID-19. The game will take place in Aviva Stadium, a venue owned by the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Football Association of Ireland.
Purdue will move on to its last game of the regular season, the ever-anticipated Old Oaken Bucket rivalry game. The match will be held in Ross-Ade stadium at 3:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on FS1.