Will You Be My Rival? April 19, 2012
I worked a summer job in a resort area during my first three college summers. Live at a lake house with three friends, work at a restaurant, spend all of your tip money two hours after you receive it but make more tomorrow – it was pretty much the best possible college summer. Times three.
As you can imagine, working at a resort restaurant that only hires college kids led to several Zack-Morris-falls-for-the-girl-from-King-of-Queens summer romances. Jamie likes Mark but Mark likes Christina, there’s lots of drama, nobody cares by September. Tell me more, tell me more.
My friends and I always joked that there was one summer romance each year that was by default. Several couples that fell in deep summer love, and then two people who seemingly looked at each other and said “well, if everyone is going to see Jurassic Park tomorrow, I guess maybe you and me should go together.” (In my summer of 1993 hypotheticals, the characters have poor grammar.) It’s not that they really wanted to be together or even liked each other that much – it’s just that it seemed like the thing everyone was doing.
This is how I feel about Northwestern.
Much has been made about this sign the last few days. Tim Beckman said from his first press conference that he believes in rivals and would “never wear purple”. Given that he said this a few hours after he was hired, and given that his last three stops were Ohio State (where they hate Michigan), Oklahoma State (where they hate Oklahoma), and Toledo (where they hate the team 22 miles away – Bowling Green), I’m guessing he just made an assumption that the two teams in Illinois – teams that are “protected rivals” according to the Big Ten and must play every year – were bitter rivals.
Thing is, we’re not. Well, we kind of are. But not really. Ok, maybe.
Northwestern fans don’t really think we’re rivals. We used to play for this really sweet tomahawk, but now we play for the LOL trophy (Land Of Lincoln – seriously, the LOL trophy). I kind of hated Lee Gissendaner for ruining our homecoming in 1992 – does that count? For the majority of Illini and Mildcat fans, there simply wasn’t ever much of a rivalry.
For me personally, mostly due to the arrival of the smuggiest smugster that ever smugged, Pat Fitzgerald, I’ve come to find some hate in my heart (yay me!). It still feels gross to think of Northwestern as a rival, but beating Fitzee sure is fun. And every time he speaks of the superior human beings he recruits I want to hulksmash, so maybe, if there’s hope for the rivalry in my heart, there’s hope for everyone.
But mostly I just see Chicago’s (fourth favorite) Big Ten Team as a rival by default. I’d love for it to be Iowa, but they hate Minnesota and, in 5 years, will hate Nebraska more than anyone. Indiana has Purdue, so both of those are cancelled out. Wisconsin probably makes the most sense – we’re in the same division in football and will play every year, plus they have a basketball team now after 50 years of futility, so we could really build something there. But most of Wisconsin hates Minnesota (and some Iowa). We’re not really on their radar, despite sharing a border.
All of this, of course, is our fault. We’ve never been able to sustain enough success to build a football rivalry, and in basketball, it keeps changing (1980′s were full-on Bobby Knight hate, the Bruce Pearl affair made Iowa the hated team in the 1990′s, and then it’s been a mix of Michigan State, Wisconsin, and oh yeah Indiana since). And, of course, for those of us that grew up in southwestern Illinois, Missouri is the team to hate. But that’s confined to one part of the state.
So when you ask a Northwestern fan who their rival is, they’ll likely say “we’ve never really been good enough to have a rival, but the Iowa thing has been fun in football and we always want to beat Illinois in basketball.” And if you ask an Illinois fan, most would say Indiana in basketball (although Indiana hates Purdue more) and some combination of Michigan/Iowa/Ohio State in football (but all three couldn’t care less about us).
Which leads us to today. After years of denial, I think I’m ready to fully acknowledge Northwestern as our rival, at least in football. No more “it feels gross because it gives credence to their football program”. We’re locked in to playing them every year, and Pat Fitzgerald’s smug mug will be smugging it up on the sideline, and the 519 rushing yards at Wrigley is still my most satisfying football moment since the Rose Bowl, so why not? Circle with a line through Northwestern it is.
I mean, I’ve been behaving this way for a long time. My most enthusiastic From-The-Stands podcasts have been after the last two Northwestern games. Every time Fitzee says “that team in orange” or whatever his smug little face says, I want to stomp perfectly good flower beds. And let’s be honest – since I started school in 1991, Northwestern has won 12 times and we’ve won 9 (gross gross groce gross). And their overall record is better. The only thing we have to hold over them in the last 21 years are the two BCS bowls. And our four bowl wins since then (they have none since before my mother was born). AND the 886 days since they last beat us on the football field.
So bring it on, Fighting Fitzees. I hereby commit to sending you 74% of my football hate (can’t muster any basketball hate yet – sorry. It’s all Missouri all the time for me, and oh yeah Indiana). We might be paired together by default, but it’s what all the cool kids do. Northwestern Week on ALionEye.com – now with 20% more hate every year. Purple sucks.