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Gary Barnett: Bill Belicheck of the 1990's?

Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press has the story of how two student manager's foiled Northwestern's sign stealing in a 1997 matchup with Michigan.  Gary Barnett's Wildcats had upset Michigan the previous two seasons, and Michigan had their hands full at halftime.

"There was a guy on their sideline that day, and he had our signals down pat," [Jonathan] Datz said. "Every time, he would scream into the defense what we're going to do -- pass or run -- and he was almost always right. ...

"They were blowing up draws, calling our counters and destroying our screen passes -- all a big part of our plays that year. I was just screaming mad. [Mike] Youtan and I are thinking to ourselves, 'This guy has us.' "

Datz and Youtan rushed to the coaching staff to tip off the Wolverine head coaches, who didn't really believe them until Northwestern snuffed out a trick play on 3rd and 25.  Finally realizing what was happening, the Wolverines started using decoys to signal in plays, thus nullifying the Northwestern strategy.  The Wolverines went on to go undefeated, and share the National Championship with Nebraska.

Datz went onto law school, and the guy on the Northwestern sideline followed Barnett to Colorado.  Datz also ended up in Colorado, becoming a deputy district attorney in a suburb of Denver.  This spring, Datz went to interview a victim of a car break-in, and while waiting for her to return home, engaged her husband in small talk.  Found out the husband came to Colorado to coach football with Gary Barnett.  He then asked about the sign stealing, and the husband revealed himself as the sign stealer.  (Talk about your small world.)

And sure enough, a review of the ESPN game broadcast confirmed former Colorado assistant athletic director David Hansburg was the Northwestern graduate assistant who sniffed out Michigan's signals in 1997.

If Datz and Youtan hadn't sniffed out Hansburg's plot, would Northwestern have defeated Michigan in 1997?  Hard to say...but there is a delicious irony in the fact that if Northwestern and Gary Barnett had upset Michigan in 1997, Nebraska would have been the undisputed champion that season.

Imagine that...