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Friday, September 28, 2007

Know Your Foe - Northwestern 2007

The Wolverines hope to continue their winning ways (since the Oregon game) when they play their first road game of the season at Northwestern on Saturday. Michigan is 51-14-2 against the Wildcats and have won seven of the last eight. Last year, the Wolverines beat NU in an extremely ugly game in Ann Arbor, 17-3. This year, the Wildcats will try to bounce back from two dreadful losses the past two weeks to Duke and to Ohio State. But you probably already knew that. For what you don’t know, the MZone is providing the latest installment of 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 with 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.

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.

(Logos from Chris Creamer's SportsLogosNet).

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 losing to the worst football team of any division in North Carolina. 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). Sadly, Northwestern is worse than both of those schools on the football field too.

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, 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. And Stephen Colbert. That pretty much trumps any astronauts or athletes that Michigan might be able to brag about. 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 should be an easy win for Michigan. Then again, Appalachian State should have been a sure "W," too. Will the spread offense of the Wildcats be a problem? Not really – NU’s players aren’t as good as ASU’s. And overconfidence shouldn’t be a concern for the Wolverines. Just like against Appa...never mind. MICHIGAN 31, NORTHWESTERN 13.


Goofus Maximus said...

Don't forget about Mike Greenberg...
Hopefully both Mike's will be able to talk about what it feels like to get beat down by michigan...

kehrsam said...

That pre 1967 logo has to be the most unfortunate helmet design of all time. Jimmy Claussen's head should be inside that logo.

beast in 'bama said...

If Northwestern were really as smart as they claim, they would draw on their illustrious, voluptuous alumni and change their nickname, mascot, logo, et. al. to the Northwestern University Cleavage.

Would distract everyone.

leonard said...

"Also, why is the name Northwestern? Shouldn't it be Midwestern?"

While we're pointing out the obvious, why does "Hail to the Victors" proclaim Michigan to be the champions of the West? Shouldn't it be champions of the Midwest? Or the occasional champions of the Big-10 (11).

whetstonebuck said...

Marg Helgenberger. Sigh. My day is complete.

Love this weekly report. Informative, unique and funny.

Dave said...

Second the Marg Helgenberger love. Mmmm.

John said...

Finally a week that victory is so guaranteed that the Reverse Blog Psych is not needed.

Plus I still can't believe they lost to Duke. How pathetic.

Captainron said...

I'm a loyal Wolverine fan, but I just want to point out, we Michigan fans have no room to dog any other school for losing to anyone this year. Let's not piss off the karma gods any more this season.

I'm ok with keeping the reverse psychology thing going, just in case.

Yost said...

Cap'n Ron,

Oh, there will be reverse blog psychology in the Open Thread tomorrow. I'm not fucking w/ success like Benny is.

Jeff said...

I do like this feature too. As a Northwestern grad student now, I've got to say you're right about Evanston being a nice place to live. I loved Ann Arbor, but Evanston is almost as nice and it's adjacent to Chicago.

In terms of women's athletics Northwestern's women's tennis team has been the Big Ten champions EVERY year since 1998. But it is disappointing how few sports they play. Since they don't have a track team, there is no track here on campus which is a major shame.