I call your attention to that wonderful 33-second clip because it is the only useful and acceptable instance of jingling keys that I have ever witnessed. It serves as the No. 1 form of entertainment for newborn babes.
So until a bunch of diminutive diaper-wearers without finely-tuned motor skills are crawling onto the field behind Fitz in purple and black on Saturday at Ryan Field, this is my request for jingling your keys: Cease and desist!
The origin of the key jingling during kickoffs at Northwestern games is unclear. Northwestern University archivist and former student Kevin Leonard (WCAS77, G82) says he believes the tradition began innocently enough, as no more than a means of generating noise to compliment the yells from the student section.
Let’s assume this to be true. In that case, Northwestern students meant no harm. But regardless of whether that version of events is accurate, it is far from the association that jingling keys has come to be known for.
As the Wildcat football program delved into atrociousness (the team won precisely three games from 1976 to 1981), the tradition took on far more sinister connotations.
In order to compensate for our futility on the field, it became well established that students use the key jingling gesture to express to other universities' fans, basically, “You guys may be winning on the scoreboard, but soon you’ll be parking our cars.”
It is about as charming as the Nixon White House tapes.
Assuming that Northwestern students started this routine with the best intentions, it cannot be determined when exactly this transformation happened. It could have been an inventive and demoralized NU student looking to make up for his team’s on-field shortcomings. For all my conspiracy theorists out there, it could have been a legend started by opposing fans to make the Wildcats look even worse than their record.
But the real origin is not important in respect to where we stand today. As Carleton Young famously said to Jimmy Stewart at the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Northwestern students sure have been into printing that legend.
The practice has been mentioned on campus tours. A 2009 NBN article about sports traditions at Northwestern referenced it as well.
We own that back-story now. It’s an open part of our football lexicon. It may have seemed cute and harmless for a while, like a baby alligator. I’ve got news for you: Our gator has grown up — and it’s one ugly looking fella.
I sincerely doubt (and hope) that a majority of students engage in this practice with an ironic, hipster-ish spin to it.
But here is why it needs to stop.
If you arrived on the Evanston campus in the fall of 2009, you have been lucky enough to witness Northwestern football win 60 percent of its games, going 27-19.
Despite the sporadic success during the Randy Walker era of the early 2000s and the famed 1996 Rose Bowl appearance, the last four-year period of sustained success was from 1959-1962. That is exactly 50 years ago.
While the program has, still, yet to chase down its elusive first bowl win since 1949, Pat Fitzgerald has finally reestablished a consistent winning tradition that we have been fortunate enough to witness. The first part of the saying goes, “You guys may be winning on the scoreboard….” At this point, that is a dated reference. Adding the key jingling on top of being ahead on the scoreboard now only serves to make us look like up-and-coming versions of Mr. Burns.
Key jingling is elitist and unnecessary. And worse than that, it is lazy and uncreative. Iowa does it. Michigan does it. Wisconsin does it.
If we have to move into that irritatingly elitist zone that Duke and Notre Dame so comfortably occupy, I would rather have our enemies say of us as they leave Evanston, “I’ve got to give it to those Northwestern kids. That was the most creative douchery I’ve ever seen.”
Nebraska comes to town on Saturday for arguably the biggest regular season game of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure as head coach. A win would move the Wildcats to 7-1, surely vaulting them back into the Top 25 and perhaps even into the BCS standings.
It takes on even greater meaning considering this is Nebraska’s first trip to Evanston since 1931. When the series renewed last season at Memorial Stadium, it was the Wildcats who scored the stunning 28-25 upset win. While there is surely an exception or two somewhere, every account I have heard of from that game said the Cornhusker fans in Lincoln could not have been more gracious in defeat. It would be nice to return the favor, without care to the final score.
The game will be televised locally on ABC. The country is starting to pay attention to and see our football program as legitimate and treat us with respect. Respect is a two-way street and by ending this tradition, we can return the favor.