clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Beginner's Guide to Northwestern Football: 2017 Edition

Hey freshmen, we've got you covered on the basics of the NU football experience.

NCAA Football: Duke at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

New students and followers, welcome to Inside NU. We realize that some (most) of you may not have read all of our preview content this offseason, and we also know that Northwestern’s Class of 2021 and transfers are new to Wildcat football.

So, for all of those who are new to the Northwestern community, or those who just want to brush up on your NU football knowledge, we've got you covered. If you have no idea about the team at all, don't worry! Most newcomers are in the same boat as you, and the general student body probably isn't that far ahead of you. Whether you venture over to the football mecca that is Ryan Field for all the home games or just one half this season, here is your guide of the basics you need to know to enjoy Northwestern football.

Do I have to pay for tickets?

Not if you’re a student! Just show your ID and you’re all set. That’s one of the many perks of attending this fine university.

Ryan Field

Illinois State v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This is where the magic happens. Ryan Field, located about a 20-25 minute walk from North Campus, has a cozy feeling. And don't worry about that walk; there are gameday shuttles that take students from campus to the stadium all day. There are no bad seats in the Big Ten's smallest stadium (capacity-wise), which means you can stroll in late after a Saturday brunch or tailgate and still be able to see the action. If you get to the game early, you can almost assuredly sit near the front row, which means your chances of getting on TV are pretty high. You won't have to deal with super long concessions lines and overcrowded concourses, which is especially enticing given the new food options Ryan Field has lined up for 2017.

Pat Fitzgerald

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Northwestern Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Known as Fitz to those in the Northwestern community, Pat Fitzgerald is the football team's head coach, and he's a living legend for the school. He played for NU from 1993-1996, leading the team to its last Rose Bowl appearance as an All-American linebacker (though he didn't play in the Rose Bowl game because of a broken leg). He grew up in nearby Orland Park, and has been on the Northwestern coaching staff since 2001. He's been the head coach since 2006, and he isn't going anywhere anytime soon. He signed a 10-year (!) extension this offseason, so he'll be the coach during your entire time in Evanston (and much to the chagrin of some of our commenters, all of his current assistants will probably stay the same too). Fitz is genuine, he’s passionate, and he’s a man of the people. You’ll love him. Oh, and he makes for some good memes and gifs.

You don’t really need to know any of the assistants, but if you’re more of an advanced football fan, it might be helpful to know that Mick McCall and Mike Hankwitz are the offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively. Defensive backs coach Jerry Brown is definitely the best dancer of the staff, though.

The Fight Song

You've probably already learned the fight song during Wildcat Welcome, but you'll want to know it well for when Northwestern hangs 45 points on whoever its playing (just kidding, that doesn't happen often). But still, whenever the team scores, the band will get going, and you'll want to join in.

Here are the lyrics:

Go U Northwestern!

Break right through that line.

With our colors flying, We will cheer you all the time, U Rah! Rah!

Go! U Northwestern!

Fight for victory,

Spread far the fame of our fair name,

Go! Northwestern win that game.


(Yell) Go! Northwestern Go!


(Yell) Go! Northwestern Go!

Hit 'em hard!

Hit 'em low!

Go! Northwestern Go!

(Repeat chorus)

Here's a video so you can put those words to music.

As our own Zach Pereles and Ian McCafferty aptly pointed out in last year's guide, the lyrics go "Hit 'em HARD, hit 'em low," not "Hit 'em HIGH, hit 'em low." The song was written in 1912, but it was clearly ahead of its time in terms of preventing concussions in football by advocating for low hits. No word on what the author thought about targeting penalties.

Justin Jackson the Ball Carrier

Justin Jackson is the team's star running back. He's poised to become the school's all-time leading rusher, and he's got a great gameday tradition built around him. Whenever Jackson gets a carry, the stadium PA announcer will say, "Justin Jackson the ball carrier." Yes, he says "the ball carrier" after any running play, no matter who is running, but the name's stuck with JJ. After the PA announcer says, "Justin Jackson the ball carrier," students will mimic him, replying with the same "Justin Jackson The Ball Carrier!" It gets a little old after his 30-somethingth carry of the game, but it's a deserved honor for Northwestern's star back.

The growl

This one's kind of cheesy, but it happens a lot during games. On third downs and big plays, the students put their right hand up like a claw and growl, which is really just a scream.

You'll also hear this a lot during gamedays, which is I guess meant to be a Wildcat sound.

It’s not great.

“Put Your Hands up in the Air” “Turbulence”

Once upon a time, Northwestern played the obscure Italian dance song “Put Your Hands up in the Air” to pump up the crowd. It was a strange, manufactured tradition, and it has since been redacted. Now, after a disappointing one year interlude of “Let Me Clear My Throat”, Northwestern will now be playing “Turbulence” by Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke. Um, okay.

Clayton Thorson

You should probably know the quarterback of this football team. For those who’ve never watched football, and there are definitely a few of you, the quarterback is important. Let’s just leave it at that. Northwestern’s quarterback is Clayton Thorson. He's a redshirt junior, and he got engaged this offseason. He could be in the NFL someday, so hopefully he has a monster season.

Speaking of the NFL...

Northwestern may not be the most successful college football program ever, but it does have its share of pro talent. The fan favorites are Trevor "Touchdown Trevor" Siemian — the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos — and Austin Carr, who is on the active roster of the New Orleans Saints after being the Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year in 2016. Another one to know is Anthony Walker Jr. — formerly known as The Franchise — who's vying for playing time for the Indianapolis Colts at middle linebacker. For bigger football fans, less recent graduates like Zach Strief, Ibraheim Campbell, and Sherrick McManus are probably the best Wildcats in the pros, but they won't garner the same recognition around campus as Siemian and Carr.

Things can get pretty crazy

A lot of the time, Northwestern football defies logic. Sometimes, the team can pull off wins that nobody sees coming — hello, Notre Dame. The team made a habit of this in the early 2000s, gaining the nickname of Cardiac Cats. But sometimes, the Cats can lose super weird games to bad teams — see Illinois State last season. There are a couple of top-10 teams coming up on the schedule in Wisconsin and Penn State, so maybe the Wildcats will be able to pull off another shocker (despite giving no indications through two weeks that they have any shot at doing so)....

The team is 1-1 this season, beating Nevada and losing to Duke

After coming into the season with high expectations, Northwestern started slow in both games, but was able to salvage a win at home against Nevada in Week 1. Unfortunately, the team couldn't overcome a sluggish first half in Durham against the Dukies, ultimately falling 41-17.

But this Saturday, we’re playing Bowling Green. Bowling Green just lost to South Dakota, an FCS school. Do you know what the FCS is? Well, those are the schools that in the NCAA but not in the FBS and are therefore not eligible for the CFP. I’m sure you, the 5-minute old football fan, understand what all these acronyms mean.

New students, try not to trip when you run/walk across the field on Saturday! Have a great time at the game, and GO CATS.