Fourth Down.

(An emo-as-hell essay as we hit the game week leading into my last football season as a student.)

 

My time grows short. This is my last chance.

Me, Dan Persa, and John Shurna have something in common: we're all seniors at Northwestern University. (Well, technically, Persa was a senior last year, but this year he's a grad student with senior eligibility in terms of football.) Persa is the be-all end-all of NU's football team, Shurna the clear-cut star of NU's basketball team. Me, I'm an idiot with a blog. And the three of us are fighting time.

When I got to Evanston in 2008, I didn't so much hope Northwestern would win a bowl or qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in 60-odd years or forever, respectively, while I was a Northwestern student; I expected it to happen. (I know the bowl wins is an arbitrary thing to root for, especially with the diluted bowl system, but, it's what the team sets out to do every year.) My elders were pessimistic about these chances: they been disappointed year after year after year by Northwestern, but now, I told myself, things were different. They had been watching different programs, hopeless squads that had no business competing. I was watching teams with a chance. What they'd seen in sepia, I saw in unadulterated purple. NU would achieve while I was a student, I knew it. Pictured it in my head. 

Although both teams fell short my freshman year, their performances simply ironclad my belief. An OT loss to Mizzou in the Alamo Bowl and the Cats were on the verge of a tourney bid with multiple wins over ranked opponents, including No. 7 Michigan State and a ranked Purdue on the road, but with a weak out-of-conference performance and no wins in the conference tourney, NIT. Neither team upheld my expectations, but this was just a beginning, a sign of better times to come.

Sophomore year, things got even closer. The Outback Bowl happened. Crippling losses to Penn State happened in basketball. I had a good senior friend this year who spent the end of the year lamenting that he, too, had fallen into the realm of the tourney/bowlless, just like everybody before him. But I had it in the back of my head that I was different. My college career was half-over, but as my newly-minted blog header implied, my Ryan Field was half-full, with two more opportunities per squad.

The TicketCity Bowl wasn't even fun. I thought Northwestern would lose the entire time. On the hardwood, Jared Sullinger was a jerk. NU lost a bunch of basketball games in overtime and blew massive leads in football on two occasions. Now, everyone who was already at college when I got here is gone, along with my boundless optimism for NU sports and three quarters of my time here at college. 

In my whole life, few things have scared the living shit out of me more than the fact that this is my final year at college. Northwestern is a billion things to me, and all of them seem perfect, and everything about the outside world seems scary and cold. Commuting to Crystal Lake to work on my JR last year sobered me up, by which I mean it made me realize I had to remain unsobered up as possible while I still had time. I've seen my post-grad friends, with their formerly formidable beer pong shots and new-found tendency to become drowsy at 2:30 a.m. on a weekend night when I used to chill with them until four on Tuesday nights. It's like seeing my own ghost. It's made me realize that every experience I've enjoyed about this place and these years has a number assigned to it, and it's not getting larger. 

Sports is only a fraction of what I'm going to miss about college. But it is one of them. And I only have one season left of both basketball and football. I'm staring down the barrel of graduating with none of the athletic successes I foresaw three years ago happening. 

I love Northwestern and will always root for its teams. But for better or worse, this year is it. Not just for the reasons "this is it" applies to NU football and basketball without thinking about me whining, to wit, the fact that an NU team without John Shurna won't be too good and the same goes for Dan Persa. What makes this "it" for me is the ticking time bomb that is my progress towards my graduation. I know excruciatingly little about what I'll be doing in June, but I sure as hell won't be a student at Northwestern University. I won't be here to see my quarterback walking - well, hobbling, most of the times I've seen him - to class, or clink Big Cups with basketball players at the Keg. I won't get dap from dudes on the teams I watch. Unless I'm living in Chicago, I probably won't see the majority of the games in person. I won't be storming that court. I won't be rushing that field. I won't be spamming my listserv, standing up in chapter and saying "ROADTRIP TO INDY, WHO'S WITH ME". If my career aspirations land me a job at a newspaper, there's a pretty good chance I won't be writing this blog. 

I find myself writing posts about class of 2013 recruits and feeling greatly indifferent about the future athletic endeavors of high schoolers with whom I will never attend college concurrently. While I'll be ecstatic whenever NU breaks through,  I feel a distinct need for things to happen now, lest things feel dramatically less exciting. I want to rush that court, to see that bowl win. I've long expected it to happen while I was here. Seeing it happen to some punk group of freshmen in 2016 would make me bittersweetly jealous. 

I can't escape the fact that the difference between my emotions regarding the 2012 Wildcats making the NCAA Tournament and my emotions for any-year-after-2012 Wildcats making the NCAA tournament is looking like it will be astronomically large. Sure, I'll care. But it won't be the same. I read the comments and see the majority of you are alumni with probably as much, if not more passion, than you had as students. But if everything comes up short, I think I'm going to feel more like I got robbed than like I participated in NU getting closer and closer to its goals. Again: it won't be the same. I need this to happen now.

So, with a year left, I'm scared. Much like the past 60-or-so classes of NU seniors before me, I find myself staring down the barrel of collegiate sports purgatory. And I'm wondering if I was a silly, hubris-infested chump to think that my time might be different than theirs, even if my teams were close.

So I'm desperate.

Desperate, but hopeful. No, time isn't on my side. But there are still a few grains of purple sand that have yet to trickle to the bottom of my hourglass, and I sure as hell have a few things going for me: a preternaturally talented quarterback oozing strength seeking vengeance on his Achilles tendon and a 6-foot-10 small forward with the ugliest prettiest jumper ever and malice off the bounce. And like me, they have nothing to lose. 

So, Northwestern athletics: My time is short. This is my last chance.

Let's fucking do this. 

Go U. NU.

Go Cats. 

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