American Football Database
1956 Northwestern Wildcats football
ConferenceBig Ten Conference
1956 record4-4-1 (3-3-1 Big 10)
Head coachAra Parseghian (1st season)
MVPAl Viola
CaptainTed Ringer[1]
Home stadiumDyche Stadium (Capacity: 55,000)
← 1955
1957 →
1956 Big Ten football standings
v · d · e Conf     Overall
Team W   L   T     W   L   T
#3/3 Iowa 5 1 0     9 1 0
#7/7 Michigan 5 2 0     7 2 0
#12/9 Minnesota 4 1 2     6 1 2
#9/10 Michigan State 4 2 0     7 2 0
#15/NR Ohio State 4 2 0     6 3 0
Northwestern 3 3 1     4 4 1
Purdue 1 4 2     3 4 2
Illinois 1 4 2     2 5 2
Wisconsin 0 4 3     1 5 3
Indiana 1 5 0     3 6 0
† – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll / Coaches' Poll

The 1956 Northwestern Wildcats team was an American football team that represented Northwestern University during the 1956 Big Ten Conference football season. In their first year under head coach Ara Parseghian, the Wildcats compiled a 4-4-1 record (3-3-1 against Big Ten Conference opponents), finished in sixth place in the Big Ten, and were outscored by their opponents by a combined total of 112 to 107.[2]


September 29, 1956Iowa State*W 14-1331,108
October 6, 1956Tulane*
  • Dyche Stadium
  • Evanston, Illinois
L 13-2032,000
October 13, 1956at No. 17 MinnesotaT 0-062,006
October 20, 1956at No. 8 MichiganL 20-3481,718
October 27, 1956at IndianaL 13-1923,000
November 3, 1956No. 6 Ohio State
  • Dyche Stadium
  • Evanston, Illinois
L 2-642,000
November 10, 1956at WisconsinW 17-754,645
November 17, 1956Purdue
  • Dyche Stadium
  • Evanston, Illinois
W 14-032,000
November 24, 1956Illinois
W 14-1340,000
  • *Non-conference game
  • Rankings from Coaches' Poll released prior to the game


On December 9, 1955, Purdue head coach Stu Holcomb resigned his position and signed a five-year contract as the athletic director at Northwestern.[3] Three days later, Holcomb fired Northwestern head coach Lou Saban and his entire staff of assistant coaches.[4] On December 16, Holcomb announced that he had signed Miami (OH) head coach Ara Parseghian to a three-year contract as the Wildcats' new head coach. Parseghian had led the 1955 Miami Redskins football team to a perfect 9–0 record.[5]

Game summaries

On September 29, 1956, Northwestern defeated Iowa State, 14–13, before a crowd of 38,000 at Dyche Stadium in Evanston, Illinois. With six seconds remaining in the game and Iowa State driving deep into Northwestern territory, Chuck Latting fumbled at the seven-yard line.[6]

On October 6, Northwestern lost to Tulane, 20–13, before a crowd of 32,000 at Dyche Stadium in Evanston. Tulane scored all 20 of its points in a wild second quarter. Northwestern's Bob McKelver rushed for 116 net yards on 12 carries.[7]

On October 13, Northwestern and Minnesota (ranked No. 17 in the AP Poll) played to a scoreless tie in front of a crowd of 62,006 at Memorial Stadium in Minneapolis. Minnesota had been a 14-point favorite and moved the ball well, out-gaining Northwestern 271 yards to 142. However, the Gophers were unable to score, turning the ball over on fumbles three times, including one at Northwestern's goal line. Heavy rain slowed the teams in the second half.[8]

On October 20, Michigan (ranked No. 8 in the AP Poll) defeated Northwestern, 34–20, before a Band Day crowd of 81,227 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Fullback John Herrnstein scored three touchdowns for Michigan.[9]

On October 27, Indiana defeated Northwestern, 19–13, before a homecoming crowd of 23,000 at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington. The game was tied, 13–13, at halftime. Indiana intercepted a Northwestern pass with four minutes remaining to set up the winning touchdown.[10]

On November 3, Ohio State (ranked No. 6 in the AP Poll) defeated Northwestern, 6–2, before a homecoming crowd of 42,000 at Dyche Stadium in Evanston. Northwestern guard Al Viola blocked a punt in the first quarter that rolled out of the end zone for a safety. With 16 seconds left in the first half, Ellwood threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Leo Brown.[11]

On November 10, Northwestern defeated Wisconsin, 17–7, before a homecoming crowd of 54,645 spectators at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. The attendance was the highest in the history of Camp Randall Stadium to that point. Northwestern's first touchdown of the game was scored by center Ted Ringer when he recovered a loose ball in the end zone following a fumble by teammate Wilmer Fowler. The outcome was Northwestern's first conference victory under Ara Parseghian.[12]

On November 17, Northwestern defeated Purdue, 14–0, before a crowd of 32,000 at Dyche Stadium in Evanston. Northwestern recovered five of seven Purdue fumbles and intercepted three passes. Four of the fumbles were recovered by Al Viola. After the game, Edward Prell wrote in the Chicago Tribune that Northwestern had in 1956 been "brought back to life by its new 33 year old coach, Ara Parseghian."[13]

On November 24, in the annual Illinois–Northwestern football rivalry game, Northwestern defeated Illinois, 14–13, before a crowd of 40,000 at Dyche Stadium in Evanston. Bob McKelver kicked two extra points for Northwestern, which proved to be the difference in a game in which each team scored two touchdowns.[14]


Two Northwestern players were picked by the Associated Press (AP) and/or the United Press (UP) as first-team players on the 1956 All-Big Ten Conference football team.[15][16] They were:

Position Name Team Selectors
Halfback Bob McKelver Northwestern AP
Guard Al Viola Northwestern UP


  1. "Year-by-Year Results" (PDF). 2007. p. 148.
  2. "Northwestern Yearly Results (1955-1959)". College Football Data Warehouse. David DeLassus. Retrieved August 7, 2015.
  3. Edward Prell (December 10, 1955). "Holcomb Accepts N.U. Challenge: New Director of Athletics Quits Purdue". Chicago Tribune: p. 3-1. open access
  4. "Holcomb Drops Saban, N. U. Staff". Chicago Tribune: p. 4-1. December 13, 1956. open access
  5. "Parseghian Named N.U. Football Coach". Chicago Tribune: p. 3-1. December 17, 1956. open access
  6. Howard Barry (September 30, 1956). "Wildcats Top Iowa State by 14 to 13". Chicago Tribune: p. 2-1. open access
  7. Cooper Rollow (October 7, 1956). "Tulane's 2d Quarter Beats N. U., 20 to 13". Chicago Tribune: p. 2-1. open access
  8. Robert Cromie (October 14, 1956). "Wildcats and Gophers Play Scoreless Tie!". Chicago Tribune: p. 2-1. open access
  9. Hal Middlesworth (October 21, 1956). "U-M Fights Off Wildcats, 34–20: Herrnstein Runs for 3 Touchdowns". Detroit Free Press: p. 1D. open access
  10. Robert Cromie (October 28, 1956). "Late Indiana Score Beats N.U., 19–13". Chicago Tribune: p. 2-1. open access
  11. Charles Bartlett (November 4, 1956). "Buckeyes Overcome Stubborn N.U., 6 to 2, For Big Ten Record of 16 Victories in Row". Chicago Tribune: pp. 2–1, 2–4. open access
  12. Howard Barry (November 11, 1956). "N.U. Wins, 17–7! Record 54,645 See Wildcats Claw Badgers". Chicago Tribune: p. 2-1. open access
  13. Edward Prell (November 18, 1956). "N.U., Notre Dame Triump; Wildcats Hop on 5 Purdue Fumbles, 14–0". Chicago Tribune: p. 2-1. open access
  14. David Condon (November 25, 1956). "N.U. Rallies to Beat Illini, 14–13". Chicago Tribune: p. 2-1. open access
  15. "Hawk Trio On All Big Ten". The Spencer Daily Reporter: p. 4. November 30, 1956.,3709370.
  16. "Mel Dillard on All-Big Ten Team; Iowa Puts Men in Four Positions". Alexandria (IN) Times-Tribune: p. 3. November 30, 1956. open access