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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Know Your Foe - Northwestern

The Wolverines close out the home portion of the Big Ten season on Saturday when they host the Northwestern Wildcats. Michigan has won 50 of the 66 meetings (there were two ties), including six of the last seven. Last year the Wolverines held down the vaunted Northwestern offense and cruised to victory in Evanston. This year, the Wildcats will try to rebound from being the victims of the biggest comeback in college football history last Saturday while Michigan looks to uphold is #2 ranking. So, with that info now behind us, once again it's time for the latest edition of the MZone's KNOW YOUR FOE.

History - Northwestern was founded in 1851 by Methodists. Though the school is non-sectarian, some religious overtones remain, including two biblical passages on its crest (along untold souls mortgaged to the Devil after allowing the former football laughingstock to play in the Rose Bowl in the mid 90s). Since the departure of the University of Chicago in 1946, Northwestern remains the only private Big Ten School. Interestingly, Northwestern and U of C almost merged in the 1930s, but the plan was killed by the Northwestern trustees. And if you think Northwestern's teams suck now, could you imagine how bad they'd be if they were combined with the University of Chicago? It would be an embarrassment that would eclipse the academic power such a school would possess. Also, why is the name Northwestern? Shouldn't it be Midwestern? Shouldn't Northwestern be in Seattle? Yes, probably, but the university's name comes from the founders' wish to serve the states of the former Northwest Territory, which included Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. They should have just called it the Big Ten Territory.

Location - Evanston, Illinois. Due to its proximity to a major metropolis, I wouldn't consider Evanston a college town, a la Ann Arbor or Madison. But there's no doubt the university has had and continues to have a major impact on the town. Hell, the village was named for Northwestern's founder, John Evans. In the 1960's, the university changed the shoreline of Evanston by dumping landfill into Lake Michigan to allow more land for campus buildings. Lately, the relationship between the village and the university has turned frosty as, per the founding charter, Northwestern does not have to pay property taxes. Ever. Sort of like actor Wesley Snipes.

And though it's not necessarily a "college town," it's still a great place to live. A lively downtown, easy access to Chicago, and a beautiful beach (when it's warm enough) make Evanston one of the more desirable and expensive suburbs of Chicago. It's also home to numerous famous people, including the Cusacks, Jeremy Piven, Charles Gibson, Donald Rumsfeld, and Eddie Vedder. Not bad for a town of about 75,000.

Nickname - Wildcats, named by a Chicago Tribune reporter in 1924 . Wow, that's original. In a conference with unique nicknames, the Wildcats stand out - and not in a good way. And not only are the nicknames in the conference unique, almost all have significance to the school or state they represent. Where else could the Hoosiers be but in Indiana? Not in St. Louis, that's for sure. But the Wildcats got their name from a newspaper story, not because there were once wildcats (or even wild cats) roaming the North Shore or anything like that. Lame.

Mascot - Willie the Wildcat is the costumed mascot for the university. The original mascot was a live bear cub named Furpaw (remember, this was before they were known as the Wildcats). But in 1923, after a losing season, the university abandoned Furpaw (as a mascot) because they believed he was bad luck. If Northwestern continued this practice of changing mascots after bad seasons, they'd be on about their 80th mascot by now.

Colors - Purple and White. A lot of people don't like purple on uniforms, but I think it looks great. Purple's not the problem with Northwestern - it's what they've done with it. They've been all over the board with their uniforms, including going with the trend in the '90s of adding black. Black and purple are not a good combination. Unfortunately, this also corresponded to the time Northwestern stopped being a laughingstock on the gridiron, so they kept the black well beyond the time it was trendy. Thankfully, the only semblance of black remaining is on their facemask and as trim. Despite this dalliance with black, purple is the identifying color of the university. Back in 1995 when the Wildcats went to the Rose Bowl (I still can't freaking believe NORTHWESTERN went to the Rose Bowl!) coach Gary Barnett proudly proclaimed "The purple's going to Pasadena."

Logo - After struggling through the '70s to find a logo, Northwestern settled on their current version in 1981 and have not changed it since. The stylized bold N is sometimes adorned with a snarling wildcat, but the N is the symbol of the university and has been the only adornment to the football helmets for 25 years. While the current N is solid, and has provided the university and its sports teams an identity for a long time, I think Northwestern made a mistake in 1967 when they went away from using this guy.

(Logo from Chris Creamer's Sports Logos Page).

Fight Song - The Northwestern fight song, Go U Northwestern, is a solid middle of the pack song for the Big Ten. Theodore Van Etten, inspired by a 20-7 victory over Indiana, wrote the song in 1912. It's pretty sad when your fight song was written because of a victory over Indiana - in football. The song was originally titled Go Northwestern Go but was changed soon after. This is one of the rare fight songs that actually references the university in the title and not some sports cheer. I guess that reflects Northwestern's academic prowess and athletic incompetence. The lyrics are quite simplistic, and they really only apply to football with "Break through that line," and "Hit 'Em Hard! Hit 'Em Low!"

In addition to the fight song, Northwestern fans enjoy other chants and cheers to occupy themselves while their team is blowing a 38 point lead. They jingle their keys before the opening kickoff, and throw marshmallows onto the field. I'm not sure whether Northwestern or Michigan originated these annoying traditions. They also like to chant "That's all right, that's OK, you'll all work for us someday," which might apply when they're playing tOSU, but not Michigan.

Academics - No surprise that Northwestern has the highest academic ranking of any Michigan opponent this year. Their law, medical, business, and journalism schools are consistently ranked near the top. The U. S. News' ranking of America's Best Colleges has NU at #14 nationally. That's the third highest ranking for a school with Division I-A football, behind only Stanford (#4) and Duke (#8). But since those schools have football in name only, I'd say Northwestern is the highest ranked I-A football school.

Despite, or maybe because of, the strenuous academic environment at NU, the students are involved in some pretty lame activities. Primal Scream has to top this list. It's held on the Sunday before finals week every quarter. Students are encouraged to lean out of their windows and scream at the top of their lungs. Maybe they need to do this since they don't get to do much cheering at sporting events.

Athletics - Northwestern was one of the founding members of the Big Ten. But they've practically stood still athletically since then. The university fields only eight men's and eleven women's Division I teams (Michigan fields 12 men's and 13 women's teams). The football team has won only one bowl game - ever - and endured a Division I-A record 34 game losing streak that was broken in 1982. The men's basketball team has NEVER appeared in the NCAA tournament, one of the few schools from a major conference to have such a distinction. Sure, Northwestern often has a decent men's swimming team, the women's lacrosse team won the first-ever national title (men's or women's) at the school a couple of years ago, and the football team is now at least sometimes competitive. But overall Northwestern athletics are, uh, not good (my polite way of saying "an embarrassment").

Famous alums - OK, so I've ripped Northwestern for their mascot and their sports teams, but I have to admit: Their alumni list is about as impressive as any in the country. When you combine a powerful academic school with one that's also strong in high profile areas such as drama and journalism, you're going to get a list with a ton of people that everyone knows. From the entertainment field you have Ann-Margaret, Zach Braff, Stephen Colbert, Cindy Crawford, Marg Helgenberger, Charlton Heston, Shelly Long, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jeri Ryan, and David Schwimmer. That's a pretty good babe quotient there too. From the business world Northwestern can claim the CEOs from Wells Fargo, Motorola, Paramount Pictures, Office Depot, and AON. Numerous journalists are NU alumni including Christine Brennan, Gregg Easterbrook, Rachel Nichols, Michael Wilbon, and Brent Musburger. The school has also produced a number of presidential election losers (William Jennings Bryan, George McGovern, and Adlai Stevenson), but no Presidents.

The Game - This could be a letdown game for Michigan. After playing most of the difficult games on the schedule, the Wolverines need to keep their concentration to arrive in Columbus undefeated. Though it won't be pretty, it'll happen. Michigan 24, Northwestern 10.


Anonymous said...

Benny, how can you put up a post about Northwestern and NOT mention the women's soccer team and hazing?

TitleIX said...

cuz women's sports don't matter????? (read: SARCASM)

Anonymous said...

I've always had a certain affection for NU. Something about it being a perenial underdog - and I loved when they won against OSU two years ago. The sheer joy on Basinez and co.'s faces was well worth watching the whole game for.

Stewart's Mom said...

How could you ignore SI writer and uber-weiner Stewart Mandel, a proud NW alum?


Anonymous said...

TONEY CLEMONS CHOOSES MICHIGAN!!!! I think the next 5 years could be the best years of my life!! Ryan Mallet and Tony Clemons... the future is bright! GO BLUE!

Doug in SF said...

Man, I LOVE that old Wildcat logo. They'd sell a gazillion t-shirts of that. Or whatever they typically draw to a game.

js said...

Don't forget Maize and Babb

Anonymous said...

To be fair to the Wildcats, they blew a 35 point lead ( 38-3 ); at no time did they have a 38 point lead.

Mark said...

You know, the NU students at least recognize that their nickname is lame. When my dad was there in the 70s, the students voted to change the nickname to the Northwestern "Purple Haze." Shame the administration didn't recognize the need for some good stoner humor.

PUBoiler78 said...

How could you forget Greenie? If you've listened to one Mike and Mike show, you'd know he's a proud alum of Northwestern.

phoennix10 said...

Yost, Check this out:


Loosely translated from Japanese:

"Michigan will beat Ohio State on November 18th and and win the Mythical National Championship" (as fast as you can two times)

Anonymous said...

What happened to the Cowherd content? Did you pussies back down just because the O'Mighty Cowherd sent you guys an email? Grow some stones bitches.

Yost said...


Nice to see you read the blog, oh, about every 6 months or so. That got resolved in March.

BaggyPantsDevil said...

Is it just me, or was the '67 wildcat actually Scratchy from the "Itchy and Scratchy" cartons?