Monday, September 19, 2011

What it means to be a Northwestern Football Fan

With the first loss of the season upon us, it's made me reflect on my experience as a Northwestern football fan and made me realize one reason I love my college the way I do. 

At my four years at Northwester University I performed as a member of the “Wildcat” marching band at every single home game and one away game a year. Through this experience I became connected with the tradition of Northwestern Football. I would probably never gone to a football game if I wasn’t part of the band, but I’m glad I did.

Northwestern University is not the kind of place that shuts down for a football game or a basketball game. If you went to the library during a football game you’d find people studying. During away games I would often be practicing in the music building and there would always be other people practicing as well and I love that about Northwestern.

Let me explain. 

This is a place where there is a wide diversity in the student experience in not only accepted but also is celebrated. If you are someone who never goes to a football game but is actively involved in other organizations, good for you. For every person who never goes to a football game, there are sports fans who never go to a concert at Pick-Staiger. Are both of these people missing out? Yeah, kind of, but is it something to get annoyed at? Of course not, people connect with Northwestern in different ways and the fact that this campus isn’t singularly focused on Northwestern sports throughout the year allows for this great diversity.

It’s a beautiful thing.

When I first got to Northwestern, there was a lot heard about the football team not being very good. This is the team that has the record for the longest losing streak in Division I history which was 34-games. I mean in 1981 season they were outscored 505 to 82 points. However after experiencing a 8-4 season and a trip to a bowl game I didn’t really know what people were talking about.

Then in the 2001 season in which we went 4-7, and in 2002, it got worse and we went 3-9. Many of these loses were heartbreaking. The team really earned the nickname the “cardiac cats.” It was in these two seasons that I started to understand older Northwestern fans. For generations, fans of this team saw them lose, so it meant that much more when they won. And I felt that the next year in 2004 when the ‘Cats went 6-6.

Since then Northwestern has had winning seasons except for 2006, but even with these wins, Northwestern hasn't one a bowl game since 1948 and hasn’t been the outright conference champion since 1995.

Northwestern University is not a school of die-hard football fans and it’s a not a team that is well-respected by people outside of the fandom because they don’t win championships. While some people may see these two things as negatives, I don’t.

If everyone on campus were rabid football fans I don’t think I would have ever really been able to get into the games. The fact that there was a range of casual fans allowed me to feel comfortable cheering on a game that I still barely understand.

People who are fans of Northwestern football aren’t doing it to be cool. They aren’t random followers who just want to hook on to a winning team. If you see a person cheering on Northwestern, it’s because they have a meaningful personal connection to the school.

Being a Northwestern football fan has taught me to not take good things for granted, to never give up and that winning is NOT a measure of success. You don’t give up on a team because they have a loosing season the same way you don’t give up on a friend that makes a mistake. Most of the time life isn’t winning game after winning game so you’ve got to know what it means when things don’t go your way.

One of my favorite Northwestern football memories is marching out of Iowa’s stadium after loosing 27-17 holding my head up high with pride as Iowa fans heckled us.

To me that’s what being a Northwestern football fan is really about.

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