Rushing onto a football field after a big upset is kind of like the ideal college sports experience, especially if many of your team’s wins against quality opponents are considered upsets. And Northwestern’s thrilling 20-14 win over the then-No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers was very much an upset.
So I, along with 8,000 2,000 1,500 of my closest friends, risk of significant collarbone injury be damned, hopped down the slippery bleachers and over a terrier-sized fence to participate in the mass group celebration that followed the conclusion of the game. I, too, jockeyed within the haphazard human avalanche for a chance to high five Trevor Siemian Godwin Igwebuike some guy decked out in Under Armour gear who may or may not even be on the team. And I, unlike many (including The Preeminent Lord Fitz: “it’s not safe for anybody”) who have expressed opinions to the contrary, believe that what we did was totally justified.
It was really a reflection of how fun the game was and how fun this bizarre football season has been; consider that just a month ago, the ‘Cats had dropped two straight at home to open the season. Winning another conference game against a ranked team and a traveling fanbase that seemed to outnumber all Northwestern alumni (living and dead) on Saturday was monumental. And all 300 students (OK, I promise I’m done now) who braved the heavy sprinkling to see it in person knew it. We earned it, you might say.
It was one of the most exciting football games I’ve ever attended, and the amount of energy emanating from the (no really, this is the last one) students who decided the game was actually worth their while was at an all time high (note: my frame of reference for Northwestern football games includes this game and the last home bout against the formidable Western Illinois Leathernecks).
That said, I hope to God we never feel compelled to do that again. This is a program on the rise. There was a time from 1979 to 1982 in which Northwestern did not win a single football game, an FBS record that still stands at 34 games. There was a 56-year bowl appearance drought from 1949 to 1995, and until January 1, 2013, we had one bowl win in our 137 years as a college football program (we now boast two).
Even though Fitz has yet to win a Big Ten championship, taking the ‘Cats to five straight bowl games from 2008-2012 was a massive step forward. The tremendous collection of raw talent on the field can be traced back to the impact that winning continues to have on recruiting, and with a lakefront athletic facility worth upwards of $220 million on its way in a few years, one can only assume that talent will get better and better.
Maybe, someday in the near future, when the ranked Wildcats lose a road game they have no business losing, the home team’s student section rushes the field because we’re Northwestern, and we’re not supposed to get beat in games like that. No Rutgers students, that line of reasoning does not validate your field rushing after beating a miserable Michigan team. That was just stupid. You had a better record than them going in, too, come on now.
Fitz’s program hasn’t officially turned the corner to sustainable contention yet, but even the most pessimistic fans among us can admit the day is coming in the foreseeable future. As for the here and now, Northwestern hadn’t beaten a ranked team at home in four years until Saturday, which is a big deal. But if the Wildcats beat No. 21 Nebraska under the lights on the 18th, it will be the second such occurrence in the span of two weeks. So if it happens again, I urge you to go crazy and sing “Go U Northwestern” until your voice hurts, but please, enjoy the win from the comfort of the student section.
We need to send a message to the rest of the country that, as the old Northwestern football mantra says, we “Expect Victory” here.