Sunday, September 13, 2015

Wildcats beat Panthers

     In my four years as a student at Northwestern, I never went to a football game, and attending one Saturday afternoon, I tried to cast my memory back more than three decades and figure out why. 
     The best I can come up with is I had no inclination to go, and nobody asked me.  I can't recall what I did on Saturday afternoons instead; studied, I suppose. 
     It probably helped that the NU football team in the late 1970s and early 1980s was particularly lousy—they only won one game during my undergraduate years there, and students had to satisfy themselves with tearing down the goalposts after they set some kind of collegiate record for losing.  I also vaguely recall that, coming from an Ohio high school with a powerhouse football team, it was something of a relief to not have to think about football.
     The Wildcats certainly did well Saturday, crushing the Eastern Illinois Panthers 41 to 0 by the end of the third quarter, at which point my wife and I decided, after two and a half hours of football, we could go to dinner knowing the game was safely in the bag.
     We were there because our kid was there. All the incoming freshmen were, running onto the field before the game in one of the many ceremonies cooked up since I've left. Clever, in that it gets the new student to at least one game, and puts 1,000 additional spectators in the stands, though the game seemed well-attended. He waved to us as he passed by, which we took as a triumph.
     This weekend is Parents and Family Orientation at Northwestern, crammed with receptions and seminars and events, that my wife and I have been gamely attending. I've found that, in general, I am infected with more school spirit as a parent than I possessed as a student.  I am not, by nature, a joiner, and as a young man, the idea of being part of something as vast and old as a university struck me as a dubious honor, something I should hold at arm's length. I never bought a college ring, or a yearbook, or a piece of purple clothing. I wanted to shine on my own, not reflect glory by association. Besides, they let me in, so really, how exclusive a place could it be?
     Watching the game, we shouted and cheered and, I noticed with a mingling of amusement and horror, I sang faintly along when the band played "Alma Mater."
     "Hail to purple... hail to white ... hail to thee, Northwestern."
     So what changed? Some mellowing with age, I suppose. I've had my life to achieve ... well, not a whole lot, not compared to my classmate Ben Slivka, who donated a dorm. Though I did raise a kid who got into Northwestern, which is certainly something. He picked this school, and the school was kind enough to return his embrace. To feel anything short of at least appreciation, if not affection, would stink of ingratitude.   
     I tried to squint, and see the campus as it might be to someone viewing it with new eyes, and not somebody who has been visiting off and on for the past 37 years, mostly to use the library for the past 33.  A big, beautiful place.
    And the game was fun. The weather was perfect, the predicted rain did not come, a slight autumnal chill in the air. The announcer, perhaps in deference to Northwestern's storied academic rigor, kept inserting a few fancy words into his play-by-play patter.
     "He is met by a plethora of Northwestern tacklers..." he said at one point.
     "Brought down by a deluge of Northwestern tacklers," at another.
      On our way to our car, we stopped at a shop on Sherman and bought a decal that reads "NORTHWESTERN" in big block letters for the back window of the van. I never had one as an alumni, would have been horrified at the thought of displaying that kind of thing. But Saturday it was my idea to buy it. When it was merely my school I couldn't take pride in the place. But now that it's his, satisfaction comes easily, a natural part of the pride I feel for him. 

Racing toward his future.


  1. Northwestern is an exclusive school and you must have been bright to get in. Don't be humble and no need to trivialize the school, albeit tongue in cheek.

    Well it's good you are embracing the school spirit a bit more. You aren't the cocky 20 yr old any longer, than goodness.

    My younger brother went there for pre-Med there, then onto Stanford Medical school in Cal and is a successful orthopedic surgeon today. We are proud of him. Being born in '71, he was there later than you were, but he enjoyed the frat life, etc. The graduation ceremony was great.

    Good luck to your son and I'm sure you will enjoy some more football games. This was an enjoyable read.

  2. You say you bought a sticker which is something you would never do as an alumni, but aren't you one once you graduate?

    The only football games I went to were the ones I had to march in w band, even now I only go to see the show at halftime.

    1. Perhaps I expressed myself poorly. I meant, for my own sake, as an alumnus, I wouldn't have put the sticker on. But as the father of a student I would. That doesn't mean I cease being an alumnus.

    2. Oh, got it, probably should have read it after more coffee.

  3. When I attended the University of Chicago sometime in the Middle Ages we were taught to take pride in its academic glories and to look down our scholarly noses at such institutions of shallow pursuit as Northwestern. That Robert M. Hutchins had ended the football program was a matter of pride. (He didn't eliminate all athletics -- I recall there being a very competitive fencing team.) As was the fact that when the school song was played nobody knew the words.

    All of this was put into perspective some years later when I read somewhere that Northwestern graduates tended to enjoy higher lifetime earnings. I do take a mild interest in the athletic exploits of my other alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, and could probably recite the words to "Varsity" if tasked to do so.

    Taking pride in being a Northwestern daddy is probably O.K. As is attending games until the weather turns inclement. Certainly better than joining the lemmings at one of the football factories. (And how much bragging could one do about a kid getting a degree from the University of Alabama.) There is, after all, a smattering of truth in what one-time University of California President Clark Kerr had to say about running a modern American University. Kerr, who retained his sense of humor after being fired by Ronald Reagan on trumped up charges based on false information provided by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, wrote that his three essential functions had been providing sex for the students, football for the alumni and parking for the faculty.

    Tom Evans

    1. I guess I'm showing my lemming roots here, Tom, but Alabama is ranked #96 among National Universities by U. S. News. For whatever that's worth (which is surely very debatable), it's above Loyola, IIT, DePaul and UIC, along with a whole bunch of others. I like Bucky Badger as well as the next guy, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were more than a few 'Sconnies who'd trade their #41 ranking for being the university with the highest number of football national championships to go with a Top 100 ranking. And, uh, FWIW, I hate Alabama...

      Imagine talking about football on EGD! Almost unheard of, but while it's the topic, and since you mention U of C dropping football, there was a piece in the N. Y. Times the other day in which the president of Notre Dame stated that N. D. would leave big-time football if the NCAA decided to start paying players. Which in turn prompted a column by Joe Nocera stating flatly that he's bluffing. Nocera also referred to a Bloomberg View column by Northwestern's president emeritus saying: "What is lost in the fog of legal cases and discussions about 'Big Time' athletics’ future is what the universities would do should unionization occur or, more generally, should a 'pay to play' model come into effect. I suggest that most, if not all of the private universities who participate in the so-called Power Five conferences -- the Big Ten; ACC; SEC; Pac-12; and Big Twelve -- would opt out of the model. These private universities are: Boston College; Duke; Miami; Northwestern; Stanford; Syracuse; the University of Southern California; Texas Christian; Vanderbilt; Wake Forest." He mentions N. D. and a couple others in the next paragraph.

      Anyway, there's an interesting discussion going on regarding the historical interplay of athletics and academics at universities, though none of these pieces mention the U of C example, which is certainly a compelling one.

    2. Tom, no offense, you seem like a great guy-but I know 2 people who turned down Univ. of Chicago, after touring it because they felt some of the students were odd. This is well past the day when you were there though. Wink.

  4. If I'd been you, though the Wildcats' ineptitude would have certainly been a deterrent, I'd at least have shown up when the Buckeyes came to town. If nothing else (and there was plenty else, of course), they've got the Best Damn Band in the Land, or so they say. Perhaps Nikki or Coey (another marching musician, IIRC) will set me straight on that. : )

    The good thing about putting a Northwestern sticker on your car is that nobody hates them enough to bother vandalizing it out of spite, I would assume...

    1. The Ohio State's claim of being TBDBITL is pretty darn true. I love watching their shows, it's amazing what they pull off every week. I never wanted to be in that band, we all knew the behind the scenes stories, so when the scandals came to light recently I wasn't at all surprised.

    2. Thanks for the reply, Nikki. Uh, the scandals may have slipped my mind. : (

    3. Marching was by far my least favorite part of being in the band, but I can appreciate it when it's well done. Wouldn't even have considered it in college, even if I had still been playing. It's a major time commitment.

    4. And the uniforms were not terribly flattering to the female form, or at least to mine! #priorities

  5. I just remember the nasty chant the NU students had during that long, long losing streak:
    That's all right,
    That's OK,
    You're gonna work for us someday!

  6. Ah, Rosh Hoshana and the Challah bread.

  7. כְּתִיבָה וַחֲתִימָה טוֹבָה

  8. I'm curious how the parent orientation process at Northwestern compares to Pomona. My children entered college four years apart. For the first, there were a few events; for the second, it was a well-oiled propaganda machine. I'm wondering if that was more a reflection of an evolving process or just different college cultures.


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