As all you freshman get ready for your first home football game, there are a few things you need to know so you don’t look foolish. After reading this guide, you’ll be walking, talking and looking like a real life Big Ten sports fan. Click an image to head to a section of our guide.
Get these into your head, quickly, wee freshmen. We don’t care if this isn’t for an academic grade – you want to hit the ground running in Evanston? Then you should learn a little bit about Northwestern athletics.
- Northwestern is a legitimate sports school. Surprise! It is one of the eleven schools in the Big Ten Conference, also home to the historically famous Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines, to name the two most renowned. So don’t be surprised to know that your first home football game against Minnesota is actually a pretty big deal. It is.
- Northwestern fields eight men’s teams and 11 women’s teams in varsity athletics, and numerous club teams and cheerleading/spirit squads. Feel free to attend any games or try out for teams at your leisure.
- Before we were the Wildcats, we were officially the Purple, and unofficially the Fighting Methodists. It’s not as bad as the University of Pennsylvania Quakers, who haven’t bucked the trend of awkward and outdated fashions or social norms. Religious mascots? So 1870s.
- Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose Bowl. We’ve been to a bowl game six times since. We’ve come up short every time. Don’t mention this again.
- Northwestern basketball has yet to get into the Division I NCAA Tournament. It’s the only team of the “Big Six” conferences that can say that. But we did host the first ever Tournament in Patten Gym in 1939. Consolation? Not really.
- Our crown jewel is the women’s lacrosse team, which has won five straight NCAA championships. None of these games have been easy to win. Speaking of University of Pennsylvania, their team always seems to be an annual punching bag opponent of ours.
- The top dog on campus is probably football head coach and Northwestern alumnus Pat Fitzgerald (a pretty good coach), who was recently Hall of Fame-enshrined as a former player (again, pretty good). Know him. Love him. If he says to drop and give him twenty, you do it. Unquestioningly. With a smile on your face.
It’s what makes us Northwestern. These traditions are ours and unique to our campus, so take part as a student and fan and be prepared to experience these often.
- The Fight Song, “Go U Northwestern!”: The absolute, unequivocal one tradition you need to know before you walk into your first Northwestern game. Enough said. Learn the lyrics and tune, and learn them fast. Learn the songs here.
- Wearing purple: Since purple is our official color, it wouldn’t kill you to at least blend in and dress in the same wonderful hue, the color of winners. Actually, it might kill you to not — no one likes that stubborn, half-witted imbecile who dresses in polos and denim jean shorts because “purple cramps my style,” and spends half the game identifying this one flaw with pride.
- The Key Jingle: In a not-so-humble manner of displaying immense pride and arrogance to opponents, it is customary to take your keys and jingle them before every kickoff. The idea is that, even though we may lose, you’ll someday be driving our cars as valets. Not conceited at all, right?
- The Growl: Hold your arm up angled upwards with your hand in a claw, and scream your head off. It’s done during every opponent’s offensive play to distract them, and done the loudest during every third down. You get no freebies at Ryan Field, kids.
- The Clock: The clock tower located in the middle of the Rebecca Crown Center turns an illuminating shade of purple every time the football team wins, and turns back to white if we lose. Purple, good. White, bad. Okay?
- Our mascot: Willie the Wildcat is probably the most loved character on campus. Give him a high-five, a hug, or a claw whenever possible. Those who are privileged enough to wear the costume must keep their identities secret, so you never know who’s behind those big eyes and whiskers!
- “Go U! N-U!”: The most often-heard chant in the stands, it’s made to rally behind the team when the crowds become too quiet. A few repetitions of these to stir up the noise brings back the swagger in the players, and puts the attention back on the field.
- “Push On” and the Alma Mater: The two other songs with the most significance behind “Go U,” knowing the lyrics to these should also be something every good Northwestern boy and girl must know. The Alma Mater is sung at halftime and the end of every game, arm over shoulder with your fellow student.
- The Marching Band: An essential part of the game day experience, NUMB is right in the middle of the student section, playing all the music necessary to keep the attention focused on the game. From the Star Wars Imperial March theme to “Accidentally in Love” to the fight song, the quality of the band is never lost on students.
You don’t call yourself a fan of a band if you don’t have their “Greatest Hits” album, or at least a few memorized down pat. Here are some fond memories of Wildcat glories of the gridiron.
- 1995-1996: Starting by beating Notre Dame and Michigan, the ‘95 – ‘96 Wildcats capped off the season with a trip to Pasadena, California for the Rose Bowl, one of the most tradition-filled and prestigious games in college football. Led by a dynamic offense and a suffocating defense with a particular linebacker named Fitzgerald we’ve come to worship, this was the mother of all Northwestern football seasons. Mention this year, and witness die-hards’ eyes glaze over with fond memories.
- “Victory Right,” Northwestern @ Minnesota, 2000: A hail mary pass from quarterback Zak Kustok is tipped by wide receiver Kunle Patrick in the end zone and caught by wide receiver Sam Simmons for a game-winning touchdown with no time on the clock. Got all that? Perhaps the most unbelievable play in all of Northwestern football history. The real punchline? The tip was designed.
- Win over Ohio State, 2004: The first time in 33 years that Northwestern defeated Ohio State, it was capped off by a wild overtime in a rare night game that left the stands empty, as everybody rushed the field in the frigid cold.
- 2000 Michigan vs. Northwestern: The arrival of the spread offense rang in this night, in a 54-51 shootout that had tension throughout the game. The season culminated in a shared Big Ten title, but it also gave legitimacy and legend to the burgeoning offense that is now popularized in many college programs. Did we mention that it was a really good game?
- 2006 Michigan State vs. Northwestern: Let’s not talk about the 1980s. Let’s not talk about Northwestern’s futile history. Let’s also not talk about this game. Northwestern finds itself on the losing end of the biggest comeback in NCAA history, up 38-3 at halftime, and failing to score in the second half. The ‘Cats would go on to lose 41-38 in humiliating fashion. Got all that? Good. Let’s never speak of it again.
So, no team hangs around in history for over 100 years without developing bad blood between a few kids around the block. So when it comes to people you should now hate without question, these folks top the list for Wildcats. Learn to hate them. And hate them well.
- Illinois – Officially, our main rival is the one closest in proximity, the Fighting Illini of Illinois. Each year, Northwestern and Illinois square off for a trophy that was, until last year, called the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk. Because of the sensitivity to Native American imagery, 2008 was the last year to compete for the Tomahawk, which Northwestern won handily. 2009 will be the first year for the replacement trophy, the Land of Lincoln trophy. Regardless of title, we’ll be ready to knock these poor farmboys down again, be it for Native Americans or really tall white guys with executive powers and funny hats.
- Iowa – There’s nothing but bad blood between the football fan nations of the Iowa Hawkeyes and our Northwestern Wildcats. Hawkeye loyalists arrogantly claim that Northwestern is like their “upstart brother,” and ridicule the Wildcats with every loss and scoff at every victory. The purple-blooded counter that their records speak for themselves, and happily find reason to overturn Iowa’s perception wherever possible. In particular, Iowa was selected for the higher ranked Outback Bowl last season despite having lost to Northwestern and held a lesser record to boot. Northwestern fans haven’t forgotten the snub, over which Iowa fans are gleefully quick to hold over us.
- Missouri – This one doesn’t have the tradition of other rivalries, but any time a team prevents you from winning your first bowl game since 1949, and you lose in morale-crushing fashion in overtime save for a few deflating gaffes, you have good reason to hate their school, team, mascot, players and their starting quarterback’s family to whom they give constant camera time in the waning moments of a bowl game.
- Ohio State and Michigan – They’re the two premier teams in your conference. You always, always, always hate the kings of the hill. (Well, maybe not Michigan) If one of the best team in your conference has a mascot that happens to be a poisonous nut (seriously, folks, that’s what a freakin’ buckeye is), you almost feel ridiculous losing to them.
- Most of the Pac-10 – For all the little reasons, we can hate the Pac-10. In some ways, small and large, the Pac-10 has been a thorn in Northwestern’s side in recent times, as well as the rest of the conference. Arizona State cracked us on the head a few years ago, USC beat us in the ‘96 Rose Bowl, which is good enough to hate them, and UCLA recently beat us in the 2005 Sun Bowl. On top of that, Stanford football head coach Jim Harbaugh has said some not-so-nice words about us lately. Harbaugh said, “You know, somebody really ought to take notice of this stuff. You have eight or nine wins and so you’re a great football team? Well, what if you played four patsies in your nonconference and then you only won half your conference games and so you get to go play in the Alamo Bowl and everyone says you’re a great team.” It’d be worth hearing, if Stanford actually won sometimes. And if Harbaugh didn’t treat himself to a private $80,000 bathroom in his office to reduce “drag” time by walking down two floors, despite budgetary cuts to the school’s programs and scholarships.
- ESPN – Yeah, we know, these guys are tops in the sports media business. But the list of careless and foolish errors that the network has committed against Northwestern’s good name go a long way. A few examples:
- Mispronouncing Bachér as Bock-er, and mispronouncing Coble as Cobble.
- Refusing to label Northwestern as NU, but as NW, NWU, or commonly, N’WESTRN. Really?
- Assigning play-by-play announcers who clearly haven’t done their research. Look, we know that you hate your bosses for putting you in the booth for a Big Ten-MAC afternoon matchup instead of the Top 25 game later that night, but would it kill you to do some homework on us and not sound like an idiot? Oh, “Northwestern’s a smart school”? My goodness, we had no idea!
You have 19 total teams to watch. You probably take classes with some of the players. Heck, maybe they’re offering free Chipotle at the games. Whatever it takes, find some time to watch some entertaining Wildcat athletics.
- Football – The goals for this program in the upcoming campaign are simple: Win, go to bowl game, win bowl game. With a frustrating defense and methodical offense, a crack at the Big Ten title isn’t out of the question.
- Men’s Soccer – It’s a rare occasion when Northwestern soccer isn’t nationally ranked, and this year is no different. Coming off another NCAA quarterfinal appearance and ranking as high as No. 2, this unit is ready to get it done despite losing the winningest class in school history, led by a seasoned defense and a loaded offense.
- Men’s Basketball – Fresh off a successful but bitter NIT appearance, the Wildcats are looking for their first-ever NCAA tourney bid. Losing 3-point school record-holder Craig Moore hurts, but the parts are in place for Northwestern to inflict damage in their upcoming schedule.
- Women’s Fencing – Yes, the fencing team can do more than stab you. They can stab you well. A strong, seventh-place finish in the NCAA tournament has the Northwestern team looking to re-up and take a slice into the new season. Stick a foil in it, it’s done.
- Women’s Softball – Coming off a strong showing in the NCAA Super Regionals in 2008, losing to eventual champions Arizona State, Northwestern softball was poised to make another run, but slipped early in 2009 for a step back, losing in the NCAA Regionals. The Wildcats are expected to reload and blitz through the Big Ten once again, led by senior pitcher Lauren Delaney and an ever-dominant offense.
- Women’s Lacrosse – Maybe we’re getting spoiled by winning five straight NCAA championships. Maybe it’s not becoming a challenge when we crush regular powerhouses like UNC and Duke on an annual basis. But it sure is fun, isn’t it? Tewaaraton Trophy winners have led the team in the past, and senior Katrina Dowd came into her own last season. In the “Mix for Six?” Sign us up, please.
You won’t go see every game, and you won’t remember every single player on scholarship and their respective jersey number or statistics. But if you want to look like you’re “in the know” or give a crap about Northwestern sports, just name-drop these student-athletes and you’ll come across as a true purple fan.
- Corey Wootton (football) – It won’t take long to recognize this guy: A near-surefire first rounder in next year’s NFL draft, this behemoth tops out at 6′7 and looks like he could crush your puny Quiz-Bowl seasoned brain to pulp while taking out quarterbacks on lunch break. He’s big, and he’s good — done and done.
- Andrew Brewer (football) – Probably the nicest guy on campus, and the one with the most to prove. A quarterback turned wide receiver, Brewer has been plagued by injuries the past two seasons and needs to lead a very green WR corps to offensive success. No pressure, kid.
- Kevin Coble (men’s basketball) – The leader of the men’s basketball team, his ridiculous shot-making ability is what makes him a headache for defenders. This year is his last chance to take Northwestern to the Big Dance, so expect him to cash in on his experience and expanded role this year to take the ‘Cats far.
- Misha Rosenthal (men’s soccer) – A lockdown nightmare for offenses between the posts, Rosenthal won’t let many shots past him without trying, and Northwestern will need him razor-sharp with an overbearing schedule that will keep him busy. In re-establishing the rhythm of the offense and the team, Rosenthal will be the one ground that the Wildcats will be able to count on.
- Amy Jaeschke (women’s basketball) – The strongest and most consistent Lady Wildcat last season more than held her own when she could for the team, which is looking to improve from a dismal ‘08 – ‘09 campaign in Coach Joe McKeown’s second year at the helm. She’ll be aided by a strong freshman class and veterans in Jenny Eckhart and Kristin Cartwright.
- Ariel Baxterbeck (volleyball) – Last season’s performance was a promising encouragement and hint to what could be a hallmark farewell season for the senior, having been plagued by injuries and limited time. A leader on the court for the Lady Wildcats, the California native will be supported by a hungry veteran team looking to bounce back after taking a step backwards in last year’s campaign, and make the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2005.
- Maria Mosolova (women’s tennis) – Successful since before she even stepped onto Northwestern’s campus, Mosolova is one of the most heralded tennis players in college today, having earned the No. 1 ranking last season, before finishing the season ranked No. 2. The Moscow native will look to improve on her NCAA tournament standing, bowing out in the quarterfinals. Northwestern should not be surprised to see her go the whole way this season.
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Correction appended: The original version of this article said that Northwestern’s official mascot was the Fighting Methodists and that Northwestern lost to Cal in the 2005 Sun Bowl. Thanks to commenters Thor and Sylvia for pointing those out.
Photos by kylemac, Bohman, Tojosan, j0nb0n on Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons. Final two pictures by Jamie Wiebe and Tom Giratikanon / North by Northwestern.