An Oral History of Trevor Siemian’s College Career
Trevor Siemian shocked the world this week by winning the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback job. Although most people (including diehard football fans) hadn’t even heard of Trevor Siemian until this year, we — the founders, writers, and friends of National Ave — witnessed Siemian’s college career firsthand as Northwestern students. Here, we reflect on the emotional roller coaster that was Touchdown Trevor’s career at Northwestern.
Chapter 1: The Colter-Siemian Experience
After sitting out his freshman year at Northwestern, Siemian saw lots of playing time his sophomore and junior year in a rare Dual Quarterback system with Kain Colter. The two quarterbacks had different strengths, but split snaps more or less equally.
Stephen Rees: Kain felt like everything a stereotypical college QB should be like: evasive, capable of using his arms and his legs to pick up yardage in 5-10 yard chunks, and doomed to a failed NFL experiment to turn him into a wide receiver (see Crouch, Eric). And Trevor felt like the exact opposite — a tall, lanky pocket passer who you’d sub out when playing NCAA ‘09 in favor of the third string quarterback with shit passing but a speed rating of 90+.
Peter Stein: Man, we loved Kain Colter. We loved him so much more than we loved Trevor Siemian.
Mikey Hlebasko: I once saw Kain dunk on a guy at [Northwestern athletic facility] SPAC. I am 100% sure Trevor never dunked on anyone at SPAC. In fact, the dude Kain dunked on was probably Trevor.
Jon Schneidman: My roommate grew up in the same town as Kain Colter. He even had a picture of them on the same Little League team. Apparently the dude was a huge doucher. That, combined with my utmost respect for a man who chooses to walk the earth and show his face in public despite his name basically being semen, instantly ingratiated Touchdown Trev with this woebegotten ‘Cat fanatic.
Mario Lewis: Siemian took meaningful snaps for my team for three seasons, I covered him as a campus sportswriter, and to this day I still can’t spell his name. That should tell you all you need to know.
Tom Meyer: I was never really sure what to make of the Platoon system, but I was always grateful to Trevor for not leading the nationwide fight for student-athlete rights. It takes some courage to stand up for your peers, but it takes even MORE courage not to do that.
Elliott Gluck: I pretty much gave up on Northwestern football after [Quarterback Dan] Persa turned out to be not all that strong, so this conversation is meaningless to me. Who knew a pair of seven pound dumbbells could raise a man’s hopes so high and yet take all the joy out of cheering on one’s alma mater in a single fall?
Janesh Rahlan: Kain is the starter, they say. Trevor has to prove himself. He always has since the second grade spelling bee. I’m awake early today. Do I go back to bed or exercise with the team? I know I will regret both.
Chapter 2: The game-Winning drive against Syracuse to start the 2012 season
Siemian’s first game as a co-starter, the 2012 season opener against Syracuse, saw him lead a commendable drive in the final minutes of the game to win it.
Rees: Who knew that a quarterback in New York could be overrated? I still hold that this game was the best moment of Trevor’s career at NU. That single drive was almost flawlessly executed, from the amount of time it ate up, to the textbook perfect hitting of quick out routes and other timing passes with NU’s deep receiver corps (something that Trevor unfortunately didn’t remain consistent with throughout his college career), to that ingenious inducement of the (somewhat questionable) roughing the passer penalty to get Northwestern into the red zone in the final minutes. Trust a Northwestern man to find a way to use the institutional rules to his advantage.
Hlebasko: I vividly remember a recap of this game that gave Siemian credit for keeping this drive alive by taking a late hit out of bounds, as if he had magically convinced the Syracuse defender to basically blow the game. Literally the best thing he did in this game was take a hit.
Stein: The thing I remember most about this game is the commentators just relentlessly talking up Ryan Nassib like he was the next Dan Marino. WELL WHO’S A STARTING QUARTERBACK IN THE NFL NOW, AND WHO’S ELI MANNING’S BACKUP? HUH?
Gluck: I got all excited to talk about Greg Paulus here. Still not over Persa.
Chapter 3: The Bowl Game Win
Northwestern capped off an impressive 9-3 season with its first bowl win in 64 years, as Siemian and Colter led the team to a victory over Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
Lewis: God, I was there and I couldn’t even convince myself we were going to win until I saw the clock strike zero. I have family who have had season tickets for a half-century and they’ve never seen a bowl win. It’s cool how we play bowl teams the year before they get program-defining quarterbacks — Mississippi State year before Dak Prescott (lol Romo) shows up, Texas A&M the year before Johnny Manziel started, Auburn the year before Cam Newton led them to a national championship. Also, we were the only happy people in Jacksonville that month, so that was nice.
Hlebasko: Considering “I’m Socially Liberal, but Fiscally Conservative” gets repeated so much on campus I thought it was in the fight song for the first three years of college, it was only appropriate that when we finally won a bowl game, it was sponsored by TaxSlayer. I remember nothing that happened in this game. Wikipedia tells me the MVP of this game was Safety Jared Carpenter, who I’m not convinced ever actually played at Northwestern.
Meyer: My favorite thing about this game was how it served as a springboard for the ‘Cats. They debuted ranked the next year, used an impressive couple of early wins to gain some respect, then beat that powerhouse program from a few states over to surge to #1 in all the polls. Truly a great seas– oh. Shit. It was Mississippi State who did that. You know, THE TEAM THAT LOST TO TREVOR SIEMIAN (and apparently Jared Carpenter?).
Rahlan: It’s been so long since we’ve won, but really what have we won? Many of us are wallflowers, absorbed in worldly sorrow & joy. Then you win a bowl game and you’re a hero, until you’re not.
Chapter 4: The 2013 Illinois Game
After a 4-0 start in 2013, 16-ranked Northwestern dropped 7 straight games, becoming bowl-ineligible before the final game of the season. In the meaningless finale against quasi-rival Illinois, Siemian had an excellent game, going 31-for-44 with 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions and closing out the year with a moral victory and the vaunted Land of Lincoln trophy.
Stein: I will never forget watching this game, because right after it finished, the bar changed the channel to the Iron Bowl, and then the Kick-Six happened, and that was the most incredible sports moment I’ll ever witness live.
Rees: The 2013 Ohio State game (NU was ranked #16, OSU was #4) was my favorite game I saw at Ryan Field. Even though we lost (and couldn’t even cover the spread thanks to a garbage-time score), the Cats performed admirably well on the field, and the excitement and optimism was palpable from Gameday in the morning on campus (incredible) through the end of a hard-fought game against a superior team. Everything else after that is a giant, Miller High Life-induced blur, although I’m pretty sure I screamed “hat” at a 12-year-old wearing a Juice Williams jersey in Evanston the day after we won the Land of Lincoln (LOL) trophy in Champaign.
Lewis: The Wikipedia for the 2013 NU football team says that we ran a “Multiple 4-3” defense. That’s cool. I blacked out this season after the Ohio State game, it’s all dead to me.
Hlebasko: I sincerely have no idea what happened in this game. I couldn’t cite one thing.
Chapter 5: The 2014 M00N Game
Siemian became the standalone starting quarterback his senior year, with Kain Colter graduating in 2014. In November, Northwestern hosted Michigan in what would later be dubbed the M00N game, because it was scoreless well into the third quarter. After slipping to a 10-3 deficit late in the game, Siemian drove the length of the field in three minutes to throw a touchdown with three seconds left. Coach Fitzgerald called for a two-point conversion, and this happened.
Harry Wood: This game was on family weekend. I brought my dad. He didn’t come back for two years.
Stein: I see a trauma specialist every week, and she thinks that in a few months time, I may be ready to talk about the experience of being at the M00N game.
Schneidman: Watching this game had a vague Season 2 of True Detective level of despair to it.
Rees: THIS IS WHY YOU SUB OUT YOUR POCKET PASSER FOR A MOBILE QB IN NCAA ‘09, RUN A PASSING PLAY WITH FIVE RECEIVERS SPREAD OUT, AND THEN SCRAMBLE INTO THE GODFORSAKEN ENDZONE.
Patrick Kuczynski: That final play — Siemian dropping back, running around and then tripping over his feet with the game on the line. If Siemian was on ANY other NFL team, competing with ANY other quarterback, that would be plastered all over the internet by now. But when you go head-to-head with Captain Buttfumble, history gets buried.
Hlebasko: There was another Northwestern-Michigan game that Trev played in that I want to talk about because it completely defined the Northwestern fan experience for me. Northwestern at Michigan, 2012. I’m drinking at some Michigan frat before the game and I spot three girls across the street wearing Northwestern gear, scream “HEYYYY GO CATS” as loud as I can at them. Two ignore me, one turns and gives me a double-barrelled middle finger. Ten minutes later, I took a shot with Dan Persa, and immediately ran to puke in the bushes. Anyway, Trev led a great drive to give NU a 31-28 lead with like three minutes left, and we intercepted Devin Gardner on the next play. Our punter comes out on the field with 18 seconds left. If he doesn’t allow a decent return he ends the game. What followed was a low line drive directly to the Michigan returner, a hail mary, a field goal, and a loss in Overtime. In retrospect, this was the platonic ideal of a Northwestern game.
Chapter 6: The 2014 Notre Dame Game
Just a week after the brutal loss to Michigan at home, Northwestern found itself sitting at 3-6 and headed to play an away game against perennial powerhouse Notre Dame. Northwestern, led by Siemian, upset the Fighting Irish in a thrilling overtime win, 43-40.
Meyer: Being at this game, you could just feel the momentum building around our star player. There was this real palpable energy every time he took the field. The ND fans had this look when he came out for the last play– I’ll never forget it– it was just like pure terror and a little bit of anger. And wouldn’t you know it, he nailed it. [Northwestern Kicker Jack] Mitchell nailed the kick. He never let us down in those big moments.
Rees: This game was my favorite moment as an NU fan, and it happened in goddamn Indiana.
Hlebasko: We won this game largely because Notre Dame continued handing the ball off while they could have kneeled the clock out, and eventually. Just like the Syracuse game, all of Touchdown Trev’s greatest triumphs required the other team beating themselves. Some NU alums believe he caused the buttfumble and Peyton’s neck injury as part of an elaborate, Ocean’s Eleven-style plan to get the Broncos job. The rest of us know he did.
Stein: If there were a championship belt for embarrassing Catholics, Trevor Siemian would have held it for almost a year, starting with this win and ending when Spotlight came out.
Rahlan: Take the field. The crowd is roaring like it’s a pro-life rally. I put on my helmet, hoping it conceals the despair. I wish this game would end early, but like all wishes they die and turn into hopelessness.
Chapter 7: The Injury
After the shocking win at Notre Dame, Northwestern’s path to bowl eligibility no longer seemed so improbable — they only had to beat middling conference opponents Purdue and Illinois. Unfortunately, during the Purdue game, Siemian suffered an ACL tear. The team held on to win, but lost the next week against Illinois to end the season at 5-7.
Hlebasko: This led to us losing to Tim Beckman, who chewed tobacco on the sideline on national television and treated his players like he was a mix of Ben Stiller in Heavyweights and Ben Stiller in Happy Gilmore.
Stein: To think, what if he hadn’t been injured and could have stayed healthy for the next week, leading us to a victory over Illinois? We could have gone 6-6 and made the Foster Farms Bowl. The whims of the ACL gods are indeed cruel.
Rees: I think it’s fair to say that this is the ACL injury that most devastated Chicago sports fans.
Rahlan: Oh God. It’s all black. But injuries can’t hurt you if you’ve never truly existed.
Chapter 8: The Draft
Nobody expected Trevor Siemian to get drafted. At best, fans thought he might get signed as an undrafted college free agent. But at Pick 250 — the fifth to last pick overall — the Denver Broncos drafted him. It was just as shocking to diehard Northwestern fans as it was to the rest of the world.
Lewis: Nothing about it made sense. Here’s a mediocre quarterback from a mediocre school with a mediocre knee — and he’s being drafted. Not just drafted, hand selected by John freaking Elway. And then Elway starts using words like “technique” and “upside” and “good” and “quarterback.” I felt like I was taking crazy pills.
Meyer: I couldn’t understand anything that was happening. I spent 12 days locked in a dark cave after this, because I was so sure that the light outside had become the root of all insanity. And when I came back outside I heard that the Broncos had started calling Trevor “raw” and saying he just needed development. Things started to make a little more sense then. A 5-year quarterback under the tutelage of Mick McCall would of course look like a blank slate to an NFL offensive coordinator. They didn’t let me stop taking my meds, but that really helped me right the ship in my mind.
Hlebasko: Trevor Siemian was 20 minutes away from going undrafted and being, like, a junior consultant at McKinsey. Instead, he’s starting for the defending Super Bowl Champs. By the way, 90% of the guys I went to school with would rather be at McKinsey right now than where Trevor is. Northwestern is a weird place where weird things happen.
Stein: I always love seeing Northwestern players get drafted. It’s reassuring for the fans (especially after a rough year like 2014) and good for the program. I was ecstatic that [Northwestern Safety] Ibraheim Campbell was taken in the fourth round and I never even dreamed Trevor Siemian would get drafted. When I heard that Trev was taken in the 7th round, I almost squealed. I was so excited. Then I saw that he was taken by my favorite team, the Broncos. I was devastated. I like to see NU players get drafted, yes, but that doesn’t mean I want them on my team.
Rees: Like all Northwestern undergrads, Trevor is the slightly less cool, less attractive, and more intelligent version of another Michigan undergrad — in this case, Tom Brady. I look forward to seeing him when four championships or more behind that defense and under the bright lights reflected from Gary Kubiak’s hair.
Rahlan: I need an eternity to cope with all that is inside me. Melancholy is my oldest and most reliable friend. The man in the suit takes the stage as he always does in this corporate world of ours. He calls my name. I have become a proverb. I exist to please you.