Five years ago, the eventual-World-Series-champion Chicago Cubs barely won a crucial game five in front of a crowd of almost 42,000 people in Wrigley Field to keep the team's championship hopes alive.
Though nowhere near a championship run, Purdue worked to buff its bowl resume in the same venue for its 86th matchup against the Northwestern Wildcats. The Boilermakers (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) ended the first half 13-7 after a buzzer-beating touchdown in the back of the end zone kept the Wildcats (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) within striking range of the Boilermakers.
The game in the former venue of the Chicago Bears and the forever home of their 2016 World Series-winning baseball counterparts is just the second in the 86-game series to not be hosted on either team's home fields, according to ESPN.
In Wrigley 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.
Even with the miracle catch and a brave attempt on fourth down, Northwestern continued the touchdown-less streak from both sides when a Northwestern running back was sent into the sidelines by a swarm of Purdue defenders.
Junior cornerback Jamari Brown went down twice during the second quarter, both times while covering a Northwestern receiver. Brown exited the field with 36 seconds left in the first half while sophomore defensive back Sanoussi Kane took reps in his place.
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.