EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern coaches and players were beginning an 11-day preseason training camp at the University of Wisconsin Parkside in Kenosha, Wis., when down the aisle walked Moses.
The bearded one shuffled along in sack cloth and sandals, his staff preceding each step, and before raising his arms to the heavens, he slapped a tape of Frank Sinatra's "High Hopes" into a boom box.
"You have been lost in the desert for 40 years, and it is time to get out and find the promised land," said Moses, otherwise known as Steve Musseau, 72, former football coach at Mater Dei High, Orange Coast College and the University of Idaho who now presents seminars on self-esteem.
Moses parted the Red Sea. Musseau's task was going to be much tougher--training Northwestern football players to visualize victory.
"I had them sing along with Sinatra," Musseau said. "At first, they were reluctant."
Now, three months later, the players open and close each Thursday practice crooning "High Hopes" together.
"It was all about faith," Musseau said. "They had to believe in themselves. They had to believe as a team. They had to believe it could happen with no history to indicate otherwise."
Now, three months later, the sign still adorns the locker room door: "Believe without evidence."
"We gave them some exercises on visualization and goal-setting," said Musseau, who lives near Seattle. "They wanted six wins--enough wins to go to a bowl game--but they also had a main goal, a goal to go to the Rose Bowl."
Now, three months later, Northwestern has won eight games, and for only the second time in the 113 years they have been playing football, the Wildcats are expected to go to a bowl game.
One slip by Ohio State, and Northwestern could be playing in the Rose Bowl--Holy Moses!--the greatest story to be told in college football this season.
"I knew they were going to beat Notre Dame to open the season," said Musseau, who joined the team on the sidelines for the game. "I knew it, just knew it. And when they did, I stayed behind on the field. I stayed for more than a half-hour on the field to bask in all the glory."
These are Coach Gary Barnett's chosen people. They have been recruited on the premise that they will be the ones remembered forever for turning around Northwestern's football program.
"That's what he told us," said junior linebacker Pat Fitzgerald, the Big Ten's leading tackler. "But the first couple of years here, I'd go to class and maybe one or two people would know I was a football player. No one would notice if I missed a class. Now you skip a class and the professors are calling: 'We missed you. Where were you?'
"When Coach Barnett recruited us, we were all nobodies, no blue-chip All-Americans, no flashy players. But now people ask, 'How did Penn State let you go? Why didn't Notre Dame sign you?' Everything has changed, and that's Coach Barnett. That's the difference."
This is Gary Barnett's miracle, beginning with the imagination-defying declaration five years ago--"Expect Victory"--and continuing with relentless recruiting, caps and sweat shirts adorned with hokey sayings and a contemptuous disregard for history.
"It's hard to talk to Coach Barnett about Northwestern football without coming away thinking one of two things," said Steve Schnur, one of Barnett's first recruits and the team's starting quarterback. "Either the guy is completely crazy, or he's pretty damned determined. I chose No. 2; that's why I am here."
That still does not begin to explain college football's most dramatic renaissance. This is Northwestern: Expect Overwhelming Defeat. The facts are staggering:
--The Wildcats have not had a winning season since 1971, have not won more than four games in a season since 1971.
--Since 1964, the team has had a 75-252-5 record.
--Coach Ara Parseghian went 0-9 here in 1957, with his team scoring 57 points.
--Coach Rick Venturi left after compiling a three-year record of 1-31-1.
--Coach Dennis Green has taken the Minnesota Vikings to the NFL playoffs. At Northwestern he won 10 of the 55 games he coached.
--Coach Lou Saban lasted a year. His team finished 0-8-1.
--The 1981 Wildcats were outscored, 505-82.
--Northwestern lost 34 consecutive games before thrashing Northern Illinois in 1982.
"After that game, the students tore down the goal posts, carried them down the street and threw them into Lake Michigan," said Bill Jarvis, equipment manager for the last 20 years. "That win was a relief. This is a celebration."
This is something extraordinary. No longer do the students pelt their marching band with marshmallows to remain entertained on game day. No longer do they chant at opponents:
\o7 That's all right\f7 ,
\o7 That's OK,
You're going to work
For us some day.\f7
"There was always a sense of pride about going to school here," kicker Sam Valenzisi said. "But football is the last piece of the puzzle. Now you have the alums pulling out their old sweat shirts and wearing them with pride."