Last week, four freshmen writers looked back on why they love Northwestern athletics. This time, two seniors give us the big picture.
"Please do not by cynical" By Danny Moran
I write this having just completed my final class and final exam of my Northwestern tenure. Facebook statuses are rolling in signaling the same message, as fellow classmates signify the bizarre feeling that their undergraduate experience is coming to a close seemingly as quickly as it began.
Those emotions may be fresh to some. But as an NU sports reporter and fan for the past four years, the realization that my time was quickly running out came over a year ago.
It was that morose Selection Sunday when the press corps made the gloomy trek to the athletic facilities to hear the inevitable announcement that the Wildcats, for the 74th consecutive year, had missed the NCAA Tournament. I can’t specifically recall a dirge playing in the near distance but I could have sworn I heard Jim Phillips sobbing in the distance.
As Bill Carmody sat behind the microphone stand answering questions about how much it sucked to be him at that very moment (I believe that was the general tone), it washed over me that I had come to Northwestern with the full expectation of seeing the football and men’s basketball teams break their prolonged respective droughts.
In addition to the basketball team’s aforementioned historical futility, Fitz and crew were trying to kill the proverbial monkey on their backs (it soon became a “real” monkey) in the form of precisely zero bowl victories since 1949.
When I arrived in Evanston in the fall of 2009, both teams were trending up and the question did not seem so much if I would be on campus for each drought ending. It was “How soon?” and “What shall I drink?” and “How many drinks will I make?” Irish.
But sitting there in that press conference was the first realization that I had gone three years without witnessing a bowl win or an NCAA Tournament berth. Unlike the countless sports fans and aspiring journalists who had attended this school without a prayer of covering decent teams in revenue sports, I wanted wins, damn it! A sure thing had quickly become another source of anxiety. Luckily, on New Year’s Day, like the superhero we all know he surely is, Fitz saved the day by coaching his team to a Gator Bowl win.
The fact that I have a bowl win on my college resumé may make this next point a bit moot. But looking back at my time here, I could not honestly have looked back at my time here as a fan with disappointment or anger if the football team somehow gave away that victory over Mississippi State.
I learned a long time ago that a ridiculously high majority of time being a sports fan involves coping with disappointment. Favorite teams only exist to give you hope and about 99 percent of the time smash it like a trash compactor. And they can afford to do it because you’ll always, always come back for another serving of sorrow in the hope that the next time they will bring solace.
The noted philosopher Conan O’Brien once said, “Please do not be cynical … It doesn’t lead anywhere,” as he was being booted off The Tonight Show. He wrote some sick Simpsons episodes so I’m pretty prone to listen to what he says.
I was guilty as anyone here of getting down on Northwestern’s athletic teams when they disappointed me over the past four years. But in retrospect, the best advice I can give when it comes to our sports teams is to enjoy everything that comes with these teams.
Yet as midterms pile on midterms with a couple more midterms thrown in there at the last minute, and Dillo suffers another rainout (or worse – a Nelly sighting), you’ve probably figured out that in the midst of the many great opportunities that Northwestern provides, there is also room for disappointment.
Yet at one of the most prestigious schools in the country, we have a scandal-free (fingers crossed) Division I athletic program with the potential to provide some of the most exciting moments of your collegiate career.
There will always be opportunities to be cynical about what goes on at Northwestern.
Don’t let sports be one of them.
Life and times of a Wildcat By Eddie Rios
The shot clock is winding down, tick by tick. The final buzzer awaits. My time at Northwestern has come and gone like a swift field goal kick through the towering uprights at Ryan Field. As I think back on my four years as a Northwestern sports fan, I can say, with all honestly, that it has been the most dramatic yet strangely exhilarating time since following the New York Knicks in the late '90s.
Let me explain: As a native from the Big Apple, I pledged allegiance to navy pinstripes and blue and orange knickerbockers. I grew up spoiled, so to speak, with the expectation of perennial success imprisoning my psyche. Making the playoffs isn’t enough. You have to win it all, or you get nothing.
I never experienced that ceaseless connection to the collegiate spirit until I flew away from the place I called home and adjusted to life in Evanston anew. That expectation of success clouded my view of Northwestern athletics and shaped my perception of winning. But in the course of four years, I wavered between optimist and cynic, with some disappointment in the middle.
I shouted in utter disappointment after the loss to Auburn in the Outback Bowl my freshman year. As I stood at the railing of Northwestern's goal line during the overtime game, after a record-breaking performance from senior Mike Kafka, I watched future QB Dan Persa take the snap and hand the ball off to Zeke Markshausen. He turned right and rushed toward the end zone, only to be stopped at the two-yard line – the hope for the first bowl victory since the Rose Bowl shattered.
On the flight back to New York, a deluge of emotions took hold of me. But after that game, a small part of me felt a sense of pride, that purple spirit with which my peers seemed infatuated. It carried over into the next season when the Wildcats took control of Chicago in the game at Wrigley Field against Illinois. Yet, again, as the 'Cats fought a one-sided affair within the confines of Wrigley's historical ivy walls, we experienced disappointment. After a rebranding as Chicago's Big Ten team, we were a mere shell of what the Windy City had to offer.
On the hardwood, we didn’t fair any better. Despite stellar careers from team leaders like Michael “Juice” Thompson and John Shurna, the ‘Cats have never made the NCAA tournament. The Big Dance brings fans closer to their teams as they embark on the journey through hardship and tears. It’s hard to connect with a team that barely makes noise in the NIT. Now, with a new coach at the held, fans seem to be genuinely excited about what the future holds for the basketball program. Is it Collins’ young, fresh perspective as a highly touted assistant coach from Duke that draws interest or merely the prospect of a new system and a chance for a new start after the Carmody era?
While the cynic in me often feigned apathy, the optimist looked to dominance on another playing field for inspiration. As if no one outside sports fandom was paying attention, the Northwestern women’s lacrosse program managed to win two national championships during my four years. Somehow, a private school in the Midwest year after year found a way to attract talented players through its pipeline without compromising its values.
But then, this year reminded me that the underdog is alive and well. The football team ended a 63-year drought with a Gator Bowl win this year, with head coach Pat Fitzgerald, a revered former linebacker turned touted head coach, at the held. While the basketball team suffered from a variety of detrimental injuries, the team managed to play better than anyone had anticipated. Senior Reggie Hearn capped off the last season of his collegiate career averaging 13.4 points per game and starting in 30 games, a far cry from his days as a freshman walk on.
Deep down inside, I still have high expectations for Wildcats, like any reasonable fan should. But as the program experiences success, fans can only look to the past to see just how far it has come. While the past four years have been a roller coaster ride, the next four look even brighter.