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Northwestern Earns A Victory in Defeat

In 50 years, when my grandkids ask me why I love sports and why I devoted an entire career (hopefully) to covering them, I will tell them three stories:

1. In 2010, my Dad took me to my first Green Bay Packers game. Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings stepped on the field and the entire stadium erupted in boos. The teams played close, and the Packers led, 28-24, with seconds left and the ball in the hands of Favre. As he threw to the back of the endzone, I clutched my Dad’s arm and did not blink. I swear that ball was in the air for 15 minutes before it finally landed in the hands of Percy Harvin. The Vikings fans were celebrating so raucously that they hardly noticed the referee say, “The previous play is under review.” Half of one of Harvin’s feet had landed out of bounds, and suddenly the cheers were coming from the fans in green and gold. I high-fived the person to my right, hugged my Dad and—no joke—the person behind me kissed the top of my head. Looking back I definitely should have been weirded out, but in the moment I felt as though every fan in that stadium was my family.

2. One day, I got off a phone call with my Grandma during which we talked about football for almost 20 minutes. I said to my Dad, “I didn’t think she even liked football.” He smiled and responded, “She only follows it because she knows you love it.” Every conversation we have now follows the same pattern: “How is school? Do you have a boyfriend yet? How could the Packers lose to the Bengals?” (side note: she now has a framed picture of Aaron Rodgers on her desk. Somewhere along the line, I think I was replaced by Aaron Rodgers as her favorite person. I am OK with that.)

3. In 2013, Northwestern played Ohio State. I woke up at 3 a.m., walked outside, and saw at least half of my fellow students heading to the set of College GameDay, despite the fact that the sun was a solid four hours from rising. We stood together in line for three hours, waited two more for the show to start, and showed the country on national television that there’s a lot of pride in this little Chicago suburb. Thousands of fans waited out a classic Midwestern thunderstorm in Welsh Ryan Arena, then packed Ryan Field and passionately drowned out a significant number of visiting fans. Even once the clock showed zero, and the scoreboard claimed Northwestern had lost, the fans chanted their support of a team that had certainly not let them down in terms of effort and heart.

I remember these moments because I shared them with the people and communities I love. Ultimately, the scores of the games get lost in the shuffle of new seasons and new teams, but the communities that are strengthened in the midst of the tailgates, thrilling victories, heartbreaking defeats, and 3 a.m. GameDay wakeup calls are what will endure.

I’ve never felt closer to the Northwestern community than I did this weekend. There were no contentious debates, no political divides. Generations of NU fans came together for one reason: to cheer on the Cats.

So in my eyes, this was a victory.