When I was at Northwestern University, we didn’t win in any sports.
“That’s all right, that’s OK, you’re gonna work for us someday!” was the chant we sang at football games. Games that were free to attend as students, because otherwise who was going to go? We were in the second-longest losing streak in NU history when I started, which would be the third-longest losing streak in Division 1 history.
I did go to some football games and participated in the tradition of throwing marshmallows. Why? I dunno. I never attended a winning game, which is a shame, because students would tear down the goal posts and carry them to Lake Michigan, where they’d dump them in.
A few years later, when I was a South Florida resident and NU went to the Rose Bowl, the goal posts were sunk in concrete, because it had actually become too expensive to replace them each week.
That gives you a sense of how seldom we’d won in many, many years previous.
I never went to a single basketball game while I was there. Women’s basketball did pretty well in the Big 10 during my tenure at Northwestern, but the men’s basketball team never even had a brush with the Big Dance. March Madness was something students from other universities felt.
So it was weird this year, seeing us make it to the 64 teams in the NCAA tournament for the first time. Ever. And then we won the first round against Vanderbilt. So tonight’s game against Gonzaga? It was kismet. Destiny.
Except it wasn’t.
It’s funny, because I actually remember the first time I heard about Gonzaga as a basketball powerhouse. I was a student at Northwestern and this little college came out of nowhere to win it all. That was Gonzaga’s first time in the spotlight.
I had no idea where this school was, but as I was a student at a university that stank up the joint when it came to the big sports (we did great in women’s field hockey!), I could appreciate the underdog.
But today? As I watched Gonzaga drive over Northwestern in the first half, I hated them. Who did they think they were?
In the second half, as we outperformed them, I felt justified and happy that we showed them what NU was worth.
In looking at Twitter afterward, seeing the comments from graduates from all eras, I was a bit puzzled for a moment. Why were we proud? Is it because we showed the world we weren’t just a college where brainy people went to be brainy? Is it because we did something no Northwestern class had ever done before?
Is it just because we take pride in the accomplishments of others, moreso when it comes to sports than when it comes to academics?
Northwestern’s long been proud of its graduates in science, journalism, and the acting profession. We have a lot of those. We’ve never had many graduates to be proud of in sports, despite being in the Big 10. (Yes, we’ve had some, but not the long lists that we have in various majors.)
Why are sports different? Is it just because it’s something that we, as a nation, put extra emphasis on? I don’t know.
But damn, if I wasn’t proud of my Wildcats.
Photo via #B1GCats on Twitter.