Cheering for the other team


    Illustration by Steph Shapiro / North by Northwestern

    Each generation passes certain traits on to the next. They can be physical qualities or behavioral idiosyncrasies. Take my mom and I. We’re a lot alike. We both have brown hair and brown eyes and we both studied journalism at Northwestern.

    We’re family, and with that comes disagreements and different interests, the biggest of which is sports.

    Geraldine, my wonderful mother who loves me and raised me, earnestly cheered for the opposing team after a good play at my Little League games. She didn’t understand that wasn’t cool. Every year when my dad and I watched our beloved Yankees in the playoffs, her patronizing inquiry into whether these were “the playoffs of the play- offs of the playoffs” masked her real question: “How many more godfor- saken games could these children in pinstripes possibly play?”

    Her willfully ignorant questions infuriated me. I interpreted them as contempt for the pastimes I adored. What I didn’t really understand then is that my mom’s disinterest in sports dates back to her days as a cub reporter for The Daily Northwestern.

    The Daily was my mom’s passion,the fulcrum of her student life. Even as she hopscotched from one major metropolitan newspaper to another, a legion of Daily alums remained her closest friends. In an era when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were the closest things to journalism rock stars, she treasured the newsroom’s camaraderie, everyone working together to find scoops and produce a quality paper. When she was on The Daily’s masthead, one of the paper’s great journalistic triumphs was an investigative piece about how Northwestern’s then-tennis coach was taking kickbacks from recruits. She still boasts about this story as if she wrote it herself. It wasn’t that she enjoyed sticking it to these jocks, but she valued unearthing truths about a corrupt institution. Later in her career she covered the Catholic Church. So this was probably good training.

    With Watergate in the rearview mirror and Robert Redford playing a beat reporter on the big screen, many consider the 1970s a golden age for journalism. But for Northwestern football, the 1970s was an awful decade. The team won a total of eight games in my mom’s time as a student. In the four years after she graduated, they won one game.

    As the Wildcats struggled to win games, my mom rose up the ranks of The Daily. In the fall of her junior year, she edited and claims to have had a hand in writing “a series of articles on Northwestern’s status and role in the Big Ten.” The lede of the article echoes a sentiment that I heard too many times as a kid: “Faced with a football team that has not won a game in over a year, the Northwestern community may be asking itself whether Big Ten competition is too much to handle.”

    My mom has never been a fan of these teams and the resources they drain from the school. In her opinion, the school should devote that money to quality academics.

    This season, Northwestern’s football team proved its mettle, but even with the terrible squads of the ‘70s, pulling out of the Big Ten was inconceivable. Whether it’s our basketball team’s futile quest for their first NCAA Tournament bid or our football team’s ulcer-inducing fourth quarter meltdowns, I always have hope.

    Not my mom. She’s never cared. The faith that I have in a group of men running around a frozen field in tights to pull off miracles, irrational as it may be, isn’t a quality I got from my magnificent mother.

    That article about Northwestern and the Big Ten came out on Nov. 12, 1976. The next day, the football team went out and won their only game of the season beating Michigan State 42 to 21. The story gets somewhat murky here. My mom claims that the entire football team marched into The Daily’s offices in Norris and reamed out the staff for this piece. Whether or not this is true only adds to the narrative and fuels our playful jousting over my sports fanaticism.

    As our football team steadily improves, I dream of witnessing Northwestern play in the Rose Bowl. My mom, on the other hand, refused to go to Pasadena in 1996 when the ‘Cats made history and won the Big Ten. My dad, who graduated from a college that had no Division I teams as a result of an infamous basketball betting scandal, pleaded with her to go, talking about how much fun it would be to witness that history. Like in the mid-’90s, my Dad and I will ask her to come to their next Rose Bowl appearance someday. But I already know her answer: “No way!”


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