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Intro to My Columns, First Look at Vandy, and Some Other Stuff

Hi Everyone

For those who aren’t familiar with my Northwestern University Wildcat Football column, you need to know a few things:

I am a Northwestern University graduate.

I was in the Northwestern University Marching Band (NUMB) where I played Trombone. My senior year, I was the Spirit Leader. (The NUMB SpiriTeam was recently cited by Sports Illustrated as one of the “best college traditions.” You probably don’t understand just how true that is.) (Okay - I saw this somewhere but cannot find the original source, so being a proper scholar I will withdraw the assertion until I can find the proper citation. I still stand by the next next sentence. :-) ) Being in NUMB and being Spirit Leader is one of the best things that has ever happened in my life.

I went to NU, was in NUMB, and served as Spirit Leader during the “Dark Times” (pre-1995). I saw a lot of futility. LOTS…

I was a letter-winning varsity athlete at NU in Fencing (Sabre). While I was at Northwestern, the NU Fencing team was one of the very few men’s (and women’s) sports teams with a winning record.

My direct connection to NCAA football - As far as I know, I hold the NCAA record for most penalty yards assessed against a fan - 60 yards over the course of 4 years. I’ll explain more later.

I bleed purple. I cheered for NU before it was cool or easy to do so.

I write the column because I want to. I do it the way I want to. If you want really professional analysis - this column isn’t it. See columns out of the various Chicago papers or read www.laketheposts.com or www.sippinonpurple.com.

More meta-analysis of the column another time.

First Look At Vanderbilt - The Northwestern of the Southeast:

Vanderbilt University is the SEC’s only private university. It is small, exclusive, and highly competitive (academically). In other words, Vanderbilt is the Northwestern of the SEC. Saturday’s game is the Nerd Bowl - the academic top guns of the SEC versus the academic top guns of the Big Ten. Our SATs are higher than yours Vandy!

But we’re not playing Jeopardy! Or Trivial Pursuit. We’re playing football.

So looking at football, here’s a short analysis:

Vanderbilt Commodores: Down on their luck and just had a head coach change mere weeks before the season started. On paper, the Northwestern game is one of the easiest for Vandy this season. Which is a polite way of saying the season is going to be very tough for them.

Northwestern Wildcats: NU is coming off of two of their best seasons in their program history. There are many questions regarding the ‘Cats - can Persa step up? Will NU find a running game? Will the defense rise to the occasion? Can the ‘Cats avoid injuries, penalties, and dumb losses?

Ask me again in 48 hours.

Then again, everyone expects predictions. So in keeping with the season outlook column, I’ll give The Good, The Bad, and The Probable. (BTW, the Vegas line seems to be NU by 3 or 4.)

The Good:

The Commodores get sunk. Everything works right the first time for the Wildcats - the QB, the running game, the secondary, and the ‘Cat’s play clean. Persa launches a bomb that goes 40+ yards for a TD. The result is a rout - the Wildcats blast the Commodores. Coach Fitz puts the 2nd team in during the 3rd quarter and even subs them out to keep everyone healthy and to avoid looking like they were trying embarrass Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, Vandy finds out who has the toughest nerds - and that would be the Big Ten Conference. The Auburn Tigers point to the game as proving that NU really was “that tough” during the Outback Bowl.

Final score: Wildcats 38 - Commodores 10.

The Bad (Really bad…)

The “dumb loss” bug hits early and hits hard. Persa has a tough night and gets dinged a bit to begin the season. The running game shows zero progress over last year while the secondary gets burned multiple times. Meanwhile Vandy shows that the abrupt coaching change didn’t hurt (and may have helped). The folks in Tennessee start thinking that they may see multiple state teams in post-season bowls.

Final score: NU 13 - Vandy 24.

The Probable

NU defeats Vandy in the Nerd Bowl. The Wildcats start slow and conservatively. Persa throws a bunch of short passes that gradually eat up yardage (and time). NU’s running game isn’t exactly inspiring, but they do just enough to keep Vanderbilt’s defense honest. The Northwestern defense plays well enough to get the job done, but does get burned deep once or twice. It isn’t pretty, but a win is a win. Wildcat fans pray that their team gets a lot better and more aggressive before facing Penn State, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Or anyone else in the Big Ten.

Final score: Northwestern 17 - Vanderbilt 14.

My post game analysis sometime next week.

The Modern Era of Wildcat Football Started 15 Years Ago

2 September 1995 was the start of the Miracle Season, which ushered in the Modern Era of Wildcat Football. The Northwestern Wildcats beat Notre Dame 17-15 in one of the most shocking games in both teams’ histories.

I remember being at my sister’s house in South Carolina and casually watching the game start. Frankly I expected the game to be a crushing defeat for the ‘Cats, but being a true Wildcat fan I was watching my team no matter what. Especially since the only reason there was a rare NU appearance was Notre Dame’s sweet TV deal.

As the game went on, the ‘Cats battled the Fighting Irish in a way that no one (at least outside of the Wildcat Football Team) expected. As the clock wound down, you could see the sheer disbelief on the ND side. They were walking around in shock. And when the clock hit 0:00, I think my victory screams could be heard from South Carolina all the way to Evanston. After a few minutes of jumping around screaming about the victory, I had to excuse myself and go into the guest room where I was staying - I cried tears of joy and wonder. It was the closest thing to a football miracle I had ever seen. I imagined what it would be like being the NUMB Spirit Leader at that game.

I was at NU during the Dark Times. I had seen a lot of futility. There was always hope in my heart, but it was really tough to be a Wildcat fan. And then I finally saw the Promised Land.

The aftermath of the game should not be underestimated by either teams’ fans. It kickstarted NU’s football program and garnered the team a great deal of very positive attention. Success helps beget success. Conversely, I think it hurt Notre Dame in a way that haunts them to this day. They’d had bad seasons before, but losing to Northwestern was almost a firing offense at the time. (In retrospect at the end of the 1995 season, NUs victory wasn’t as huge an upset as it seemed on 3 September 1995. 15 years later it seems like even less of an upset, given the fortunes of both teams since 1995.) As various people have pointed out in the past year, since 1995 NU has been perceived as a team on the rise while Notre Dame’s reputation has gradually fallen.

Go ‘Cats!

BJ Mitchell (Former NUMB Spirit Leader)




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