Saturday marked one of the more disappointing performances for the Northwestern football team in a while. The team and fan morale was high before the game, despite the loss to Ohio State the previous week, because they kept it close against one of the better teams in college football on national television.
Then came the Wisconsin game: the quarterbacks couldn’t pass, the wide receivers couldn’t catch, the defense couldn’t stop Melvin Gordon.
So how does coach Pat Fitzgerald motivate the team after such a bitter loss?
“You pelt them with water balloons.”
The team had just finished its Monday morning meeting. Some players had noticed the camera in the front of the room, the coolers in the corners. They didn’t really know what to think of it.
Then came the ambush.
Players tried to duck behind seats but the coaches came from all angles and thoroughly soaked the team—and the seats, which the media members had to uncomfortably sit in about an hour later.
“It was very much of a surprise,” defensive tackle Chance Carter said. “I was one of the first ones hit.”
Center Brandon Vitabile said he was sitting at the end of a row and thought he had a good plan once the attack started—quickly getting behind his seat out of the line of fire.
“But then they started coming in from this (other) door and I was getting nailed in the back,” he said.
Fitzgerald said the playful attack was meant to lighten the mood before the team begins preparing for Minnesota this week.
“Every once in a while you’ve got to wake the guys up so we attacked them with about 300 water balloons this morning at the end of the team meeting and doused them,” Fitzgerald said. “You’ve got to have fun when you’re doing this and obviously nobody enjoys not being successful but I think the hallmark of the squad has been has been our character and the way that we’ve responded. I talked to them about the glue that keeps everything together is having fun and enjoying the moment and the opportunities.”
Fitzgerald and his staff are known for using fun activities to change the pace during tough stretches. During training camp in Kenosha each year, the players have a water balloon fight and a watermelon eating contest. It’s fairly common knowledge that Fitzgerald is not a conventional coach, and he proved it once again with this gimmick.
“We’ve got half the season left. We’ve put ourselves in a position to achieve our goals, (but) we’ve got to execute better. We’ve got to continue to have more fun,” he said. “I didn’t like our attitude at times on Saturday. I thought we let one bad play be a roller coaster ride or a drop or whatever it might be and that’s typically not who we’ve been so every once in a while you’ve got to shake them up.”