The Wildcat way
by Shannon Lane
“In Fitz We Trust.”
At one of the first football games I attended this year, I happened across a bleacher in the Ryan Field student section that was littered with stickers bearing this message. For some schools, this simple phrase may just be words drunkenly uttered at a tailgate. But here, I think they mean something.
They mean we respect the method, even if we’re unhappy with the outcome. They mean we stand behind a coach, an athletic program, a university that stands for what’s still right with college sports. Amid scandals in the Big Ten in the past year, Northwestern remains a school that successfully does things the right way.
When I was shopping for colleges as a high school student, I wanted three things: a great journalism school, a good location and a Division I athletic program. I was in no way planning to play on a team. I just wanted to be able to watch and share in the excitement of big-name teams. Yes, I could have gone to Syracuse or North Carolina or Missouri to get those things. I could have gone to Penn State, like many of my New Jersey-based friends did. But it’s hard to cheer for a team I don’t respect.
At Northwestern, I don’t have to sacrifice any morality to cheer on my fellow Wildcats because we follow the rules and still come out on top. In football and basketball, two sports that are under heavy scrutiny for their recruiting, coaching and financial scandals, Northwestern finds the best people it can to fill the program.
Pat Fizgerald has recruited four senior classes in a row that have each gone on to become the winningest class in the school’s history. Northwestern basketball grabbed up future school stars like John Shurna, Michael “Juice” Thompson and Drew Crawford.
While Northwestern may have a tougher sell to make to recruits — the academics are rigorous, the weather gets unbearably cold, the school’s history isn’t the best — it still attracts good, ethical people. There’s something to be said for a major large market school that has stayed out of recruiting mishaps, given Ohio State’s shady past casting a dark shadow over the Big Ten.
This spring, I was shown once again how doing things right can pay off. I’ve had the pleasure of reporting on Northwestern’s dominant lacrosse team in the 2013 season and I learned you don’t have to go to a huge school to get good games and good athletes. Head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller injected life into what was a non-existent program. And she did it by pulling runners off the lakefill and hunting down other players. She did it by pushing her team further than perhaps even she thought it could go. She demanded the best from her players and they delivered. Seven times.
How can you not root for stories like these? Or stories like Northwestern finally winning a bowl game after a 64-year drought? We get to these points because of our hard work and determination, not because we have a decades-long football legacy to uphold or because we overlook a rule for the sake of getting to a 15-year-old running back first.
Northwestern gave me exactly it promised. It didn’t promise student attendance at games or undefeated seasons or ESPN-worthy plays. It did promise integrity and something to believe in. And that’s what it’s given me.
The student athletes
by Andrew Hudson
I never had a college team that I was loyal to before Northwestern. Sure, I was a general college sports fan, but I didn’t feel connected to any one team in particular. That changed pretty quickly once I arrived in Evanston. Over the past three quarters Northwestern sports have made me cheer with glee and scream with frustration.
It might be a love-hate relationship at times. But even when things aren’t going the right way, it’s a relationship I love to hate.
Before arriving at Northwestern, I was unsure about the relationship athletes would have with the rest of the student body. I knew Northwestern was in the Big Ten, so sports were obviously a big deal. But I knew I wasn’t attending Ohio State or Michigan, where athletes are Greek Gods who never interact with us N.A.R.P.s (non-athletic regular people).
What I found was something pleasantly surprising.
Our athletes aren’t put on a pedestal above the rest of the school. Sure, some of them might take some of the notoriously easy classes at Northwestern, but so does just about every other student. Northwestern is a place where the "student" part of student athlete actually means something, where academic standards must be maintained in order to participate in athletics.
During Fall Quarter I was in a philosophy class with five or six athletes, all of whom were in my discussion section. Admittedly, I was intimidated to talk to some of them when I first walked into the classroom at the beginning of fall quarter. Even though some of them were my age, I still had a notion that they were better than me in some way.
I soon realized how foolish those notions were. When I talked to them, they responded. They didn’t speak in some athlete tongue. We started to joke around during discussion section, and after a week or two I thought of them as peers instead of superiors.
That was when I first realized athletes are a part of the community, not apart from it.
I was reminded again during Winter Quarter.
It could have been 10 or 11 or even 20 hours into Dance Marathon (the whole thing blurs together) when the basketball and football team took the stage. The first moments I remember were the teams thanking us. Not just for being great — although some could argue mediocre — fans, but for spending our weekend dancing for a great cause. While encouraging the dancers to keep on chugging, the basketball team broke it down with a rendition of the Harlem Shake. The football team had a dance-off with some players jumping over the dancers to crowd surf.
Though I was in a sleepless stupor, the connection between the athletes and the community was strong.
Another powerful realization came during Spring Quarter. I was sitting in a Peer Health Exchange information session when I noticed there were a couple football players to my right. They weren’t there on a mandate from Pat Fitzgerald, but out of their concern for Northwestern’s relationship with the Chicago community.
You have to wonder how many athletes are told to show up at charity events for public relations purposes. There wasn’t a press conference awaiting these players in front of Tech after the info session. The only glory was the satisfaction of developing a better bond with Northwestern.
There's something special about having players right there with students. It’s great to see the cohesive web that the Northwestern community has strong with its athletes.
by Aric DiLalla
There’s something inherently lovable about the Northwestern Wildcats.
Neither the football nor the basketball team has the best facilities, the best players or the strongest history. Yet they continue to impress. Most importantly, it’s only going to get better from here.
Sure, this season in basketball was a tough one. Northwestern certainly failed to live up to expectations, in many ways due to the wide variety of injuries the team was forced to face. But that hardly takes away from the fact that this Wildcat squad knocked on the door of the NCAA Tournament during the 2011-12 season. Now, with a new, energetic head coach in Chris Collins, the possibilities seem endless.
Collins has already made his presence felt on the recruiting side, reaching out to players that former head coach Bill Carmody never did. More importantly, he has also made it his goal to energize a student body that was largely apathetic at times last season. It may be difficult at first, but this team is destined to do big things. There is no doubt in my mind that Collins will take this program to the stage it desperately wants to reach: the Big Dance.
Yet while it may take a couple years to see the basketball program reach the heights it desires, the football team is already well on its way. For us freshman, there really wasn’t a better season with which to start our fandom. Despite heartbreaking losses against Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan – losses I see at least once a week in my nightmares – the Wildcats went 10-3 and walloped Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.
For those of you who think this is a normal occurrence, think again. Northwestern hadn’t won a bowl game since 1949. I think it’s safe to say this fan base won’t have to wait another 63 years to see another victory. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald is pulling in four-star recruits from all over in shaping what is currently the top-15 ranked recruiting class of 2014. With the addition of the new lakefront facility, don’t be surprised if a Rose Bowl is on the horizon for this club.
The players know how close they were to an undefeated season last year; their practice jerseys and shirts have 5:03 emblazoned on the back, referring to the total amount of time that stood between the Wildcats and a perfect season. With a potential College Gameday appearance on tap for an Oct. 5 matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes, this season is already shaping up to be anything but ordinary. If you ask the players, it’s Rose Bowl or bust.
Even if it weren’t for the success toward which Northwestern is headed, I would still be a dedicated fan. But the fact that the Wildcats are winning and improving makes it that much sweeter. Northwestern is here to stay, and I couldn’t be more excited.
by Luke Srodulski
It’s 6:00 on a Wednesday night. I’m sitting in Sargent Hall, trying to persuade a few friends to come to the basketball game that starts in two hours. They keep making excuses for why they shouldn’t, and I keep trying to debunk them, until one makes a statement that I really couldn’t contest.
“Why should I go? We lost to this team by 20 two weeks ago. Does anybody even think we have a shot?”
Nobody thought the Wildcats could beat Minnesota. Nobody seems to think they can ever beat any of the top teams in the Big Ten or in the country, not even Northwestern students. But that’s exactly why they should’ve come to the game on that chilly evening: It was that much sweeter when they did win.
Coming to Northwestern as a freshman usually involves quite a bit of disillusionment. Northwestern doesn’t have the typical rabid fan base seen at most state schools. Students don’t pack the parking lot to tailgate for games, and they don’t fill up Ryan Field to capacity. In fact, it was Nebraska’s fans who did that best this year.
No one expects much out of the team, whether it’s people outside the school or its own fans. The football team once lost a Division I record 34 games in a row, and the basketball team still hasn’t made an NCAA Tournament.
Though the athletic program is miles better than it used to be, it’s hard to erase the past, and because of that, Northwestern is still put at the bottom of most people’s Big Ten totem poles.
That’s just fine, because it’s much more fun to win when no one else believes it’s possible. Heading into the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State, NU hadn’t won a bowl game in 64 years. That’s what made it so emotional when they were able to pull out a victory.
Defying the odds. It’s what Northwestern is all about. It has the lowest enrollment, the highest academic standards and the fewest reasons to be successful. With the underdog status comes a mindset of having nothing to lose, and the Wildcats certainly play with that mentality. It’s easier as a player and as a fan when this is the case.
It’s exactly why I love being a Northwestern Wildcat. I love knowing that I’m one of very few people who thinks that my team is going to win. I love rooting for a team that is generally ignored, only to burst into the public spotlight with an unlikely victory. I love rooting for the underdog, because it’s a term that I feel represents who I am.
But now, it seems that the Wildcats are inching closer to no longer being considered underdogs. As they steadily improve and earn the respect they deserve, they’ll soon be viewed on the same level as the powerhouses against whom they compete. When this happens, my initial reason for loving Northwestern sports may no longer be relevant, but the passion I have for my beloved 'Cats will undoubtedly grow stronger.
And when they beat the No. 12 team in the nation on a Wednesday night, maybe, just maybe, those fans won’t be sitting in their rooms, unaware that a game is even going on. They’ll be in the stands, decked out in purple gear, waiting to rush the floor and celebrate their Wildcats.