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.