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A beginner’s guide to Northwestern football: 2018 edition

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

NCAA Football: Bowling Green 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 2022 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 of a single game this season, here is your guide of the basics you need to know to enjoy Northwestern football. Some of this primer is adapted from last year’s guide.

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

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 implemented last season.

Pat Fitzgerald

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 in 2017, 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, unless you’re the nihilistic kind of fan. 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.

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 the original edition of this 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.

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.

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 senior, and he got married this offseason. He could be in the NFL someday (maybe), so there’s that. Here’s a story on his recovery from a torn ACL at the end of last 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 — a quarterback on the Minnesota Vikings — 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 and Justin Jackson, who just got signed to the Los Angeles Chargers’ 53-man roster after setting the school’s all-time rushing record last season. Another one to know is Anthony Walker Jr. — formerly known as The Franchise around Evanston — who’s getting regular reps at middle linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts.

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 Northwestern-Akron 2018, Northwestern-Illinois State 2016 and more. There are a several ranked teams coming up on the schedule in Michigan Wisconsin and Notre Dame, so maybe the Wildcats will be able to pull off another shocker (despite giving no indications through three games that they have any shot at doing so)....

The team is a disappointing 1-2 this season

Northwestern came into 2018 with high expectations, albeit with a difficult schedule, but the beginning of the season has not been kind to the Wildcats. NU opened the year with a nice win against Purdue (good result), but lost to Duke (bad result) and Akron (horrible result) and the ensuing two weeks. Technically, Northwestern is first in the Big Ten West because of win over Big Ten foe Purdue, but losing to Akron, in the fashion it did, puts a huge damper on the season. Still, NU’s Big Ten goals are still in front of it. It looks like the season will be a fight to get to six wins and bowl eligibility.

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.