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A Beginner’s Guide to Northwestern football

Welcome to Ryan Field! Here are some pointers so you’re not completely lost (like the football team is right now).

Penn State v Northwestern Photo by JonathanDaniel/Getty Images

Welcome to Evanston, Class of 2020 (and transfers)! We hope your Wildcat Welcome experience has been a good one, and one that will get only better when you are forced to get to watch the football team in primetime under the lights against Duke on Saturday. Not a football fan? No problem! You’re in the overwhelming majority of the student population. Still, you’ll probably stick around for at least a half and, hey, maybe if you’re enjoying yourself, you’ll hang around until the end. What more could you want out of your first college Saturday night?! This isn’t high school, though, and Northwestern is home to some fun interesting traditions for gameday. Here’s your beginner’s guide so you’re not completely lost.

1. Pat Fitzgerald. Meet the coach! “Fitz” played middle linebacker for the Wildcats in the 1990s, including in 1995 during the magical Rose Bowl season. He’s perhaps the greatest linebacker in college football history. Fitz has held his job at the helm since 2006, but he’s still just 41 years old, making him young enough to coach in shorts and have a solid social media presence. Fitz is a hero around Evanston for his contributions as a player and as a coach, and if you get to the game early enough and get to the first few rows of the student section, he’ll often come around with hotdogs or pizza slices. Yes, the best linebacker in college football history is a man for the people, too.

2. The Fight Song. Learn it. Love it. This is YOUR fight song.

You’ll probably learn (and forget) the lyrics a few times during your early days as a Wildcat, which is totally fine. The most important thing to remember is that it’s “Hit ‘em hard! Hit ‘em low!” NOT HIGH. You can’t hit someone both high and low at the same time. Plus, hitting high is frowned upon. Then again, so is hitting low. Actually, this season hasn’t exactly featured any sort of impressive hitting, whether it be hard, low, high, or really anywhere. Maybe the lyrics should be “Hit ‘em hard! Hit ‘em somewhere!” Plus, the NU marching band is dope (shoutout to the best band in all the land!). If you’ve got the fight song down, it might be worth your time to learn the Alma Mater, which is what the band plays post-game

3. Gameday traditions

Northwestern football has a handful of ‘traditions’ that the student section partakes in on gameday. The first one doesn’t have a name, but during every kickoff everyone takes out their keys and shakes them until the ball is kicked off. The reason behind this is debated, but it’s fun and students have been doing it for years.

The next tradition is a fairly recent one. After any play where star running back Justin Jackson (he’s number 21) carries the ball, the entire student section shouts “JUSTIN JACKSON THE BALL CARRIER.” It started as a joke mimicking the PA announcer, but quickly turned into a way to support one of the team’s best players. More on this later.

Then there’s “It’s time to move the chains.” This one is simple. Every time Northwestern gets a first down on offense (which may not be often) the student section says “It’s time to move the chains. Whoosh” with a hand movement in the direction of the first down and timed with Whoosh. It’s sort of hard to explain, but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. Make sure you know which way the team is going so you don’t get slapped in the face.

Finally, there’s the simplest one of them all. Whenever Northwestern is on defense, you put one of you hands up in a claw and just scream. That’s all you have to do.


No, I didn’t just smash my head into my keyboard. JJTBC is JUSTIN JACKSON THE BALL CARRIER, a Northwestern hero and undoubtedly the most enjoyable “tradition” there is, so much so that he gets his own bullet point. After he’s taken down, the public address announcer will say those magical words, and the entire student section will scream it back. Just do it. Jackson is a beast of a running back, having run for over 1,000 yards in both of his first two seasons in Evanston, and he’s also an awesome and very down-to-Earth guy. Listen to our podcast with him and you’ll find that out and much more.

5. Get to the games early

Chances are you probably have at least one friend who goes to a school with a big time football team, and as freshman they probably won’t even be able to attend many football games. The ones they do go to, they have to pay for and have terrible seat. At Ryan Field, you can sit stand wherever you want as long as you get there early enough.

Games are incredibly more fun if you’re in or near the front row; you’re basically on the field. Also, more importantly, you have a pretty good chance of being on TV.


That photo above would be me (Ian) in disbelief that Northwestern beat Stanford last season. That could be you! If you get to the games early enough.

My finest moment

No, seriously, you’ll 100 percent get on TV.

6. The 1949 and 1995 Rose Bowls (and the 2013 Gator Bowl)

You’ll learn this soon enough, but Northwestern isn’t exactly the most successful football program in the country. However, they have had moments of brilliance in their 100 plus years of football. One such moment was last year when the team won 10 games for only fourth time in school history.

But there are three moments that stand above the rest of seminal moments in Northwestern football history. Those would be the 1949 Rose Bowl, the 1995 Rose Bowl and the 2012 Gator Bowl. Yes, these are all games Northwestern played in, and they WON TWO OF THEM!

The 1949 Rose Bowl was a long time ago, but the Wildcats defeated the University of California 20-14 to clinch their first ever bowl win and their only Rose Bowl victory. 1995 was a magical year where the Wildcats won 10 games (including beating Notre Dame in one of the biggest upsets in history) and the Big Ten, but unfortunately lost the Rose Bowl to USC 41-32.

Remember that first bowl win we just talked about? The one way back in 1949? Well the next bowl win (and only other) wouldn’t come until 2013, when Northwestern defeated SEC opponent Mississippi St. 34-20.

They be few and far between, but Northwestern football does have some great moments.

7. NFL Success (AKA Touchdown Trevor and company)

Northwestern actually has a decent amount of players in the NFL, which the one you’ve probably heard the most about recently being Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian. He’s 1-0 as a starter, making him the most successful quarterback in NFL history.

Along with Siemian, there is also New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl tackle Zach Strief, Chicago Bears cornerback and captain Sherrick McManis and Houston Texans linebacker Brian Peters. Don’t forget Green Bay Packers defensive end Dean Lowry, Cleveland Browns safety Ibraheim Campbell and Buffalo Bills nose tackle Corbin Bryant either. All of them are proud alums of Northwestern and represent the Wildcats on Sundays.

8. Northwesterning

Oh you don’t know Northwesterning? Let us explain.

Urban Dictionary

Northwestern has a tradition of, well, folding under pressure, which actually hasn’t been that true under Fitzgerald. But it doesn’t matter what the stats say. Once it’s in Urban Dictionary, it’s there forever. TimBeckmanLOUDNOISES is a four-star username, by the way.

During your time in Evanston, the Wildcats will come all the way back and then lose by one. They'll blow huge leads (the biggest lead ever, in fact.) They'll slip on a game-winning two-point conversion. They'll lose on a Hail Mary. Northwestern football will find a way to break your heart. But they're YOUR lovable losers.

9. Northwestern will win at least one game that makes absolutely no sense

On the flip side, Northwestern has a tradition of randomly winning games when it’s not very good, especially of late. Two years ago, Northwestern beat Wisconsin and Northwestern students got to rush the field:

And then later that year, the team went into South Bend and beat Notre Dame. That’s right, a team that won five games all year beat two very, very good teams. Get f***ed, Notre Dame. We own you.


Oh, so your friend is laughing at you for going to a school with a football team that’s currently 0-2? Show them this:


and this:

NU Sports

And have them read this. You’re darn right our women’s athletics is downright dominant. Take that, friend that thinks Nick Saban is the greatest coach ever or is insanely in love with Jim Harbaugh. Meet Kelly Amonte Hiller. The GOAT.

11. Have fun

Seriously, it’s your first year of college, just enjoy yourself. Even if the team isn’t good just go to games; they’re events, and always way more fun when there are a bunch of students there. It’s fun to watch the team win, it’s also fun to wallow in misery with all the other fans, in a different kind of way. Even if football isn’t your thing, it’s still the biggest thing on campus every Saturday, and might as well make the most of it. Get to Ryan Field early and often and have a blast making friends.

From all of us at Inside NU, we hope you have a phenomenal first year. College is all about going out and making it memorable. So get out there and do just that. Go ‘Cats!