Why do we care about Northwestern football? Why do we care about sports at all honestly?
Sports can and will break your heart. They often times shatter it into millions of pieces. For many, losses can be an exercise of patience. There is a certain level of courage in the passion of a sports fan. We know the heartbreak is inevitable, but we still go back for more every time, unable to distance ourselves from the love we have for our teams and the communities they represent. They can provide the highest highs and the lowest lows. That’s part of the beauty of fandom.
The first thing that comes to mind as to why we care is to consider sports as an escape — a way for fans and players alike to get out of their reality and go somewhere else. The intense passion of a fan can become the heartbeat of a person. Sports span continents and link two people who could otherwise not be more different.
The teams we follow, while they all carry their own identity, also often represent a community in their fans. In some college football towns, tailgates (and camping out for games) begin days ahead of the kickoff, and their devotion has no choice but to be called a “lifestyle.”
Take, for example, the lifestyle of the Spanish soccer team Real Betis’ fans. Betis is a somewhat small club based out of Seville, existing in the shadow of the more famous Sevilla FC. The club consistently finishes in the middle of La Liga (the top Spanish soccer league), and has not been crowned champions in the top league since 1935. However, the club almost always finishes in the top 4 biggest clubs in Spain attendance-wise. Betis has the motto “viva el Betis manquepierda!” which translates roughly to “Long live Betis, even if they lose!”
Betis fans will never give up their support of the players, understanding that no matter the result, the players are trying as hard as they can. The Betis fans are so devoted that one fan continued to bring his dead father’s ashes in a milk carton to matches after his father’s death. Their undying support and loyalty win or lose is admirable. It represents some of the highest level of passion found in this world. It’s why we love sports.
The same should apply for Northwestern Football manquepierda.
Forever the “nerds,” Northwestern has long carried a chip on its shoulder as a collegiate football program, facing tall odds and embracing the adversity. The team has long been known as a spoiler, a team you never can count out due to their consistency and discipline. It has provided fans with incredible highs, upsetting Notre Dame in 2014, beating a seventh ranked Ohio State team in 2004, and even reaching the Big Ten Championship last season.
Sure, those incredible highs have come with (many) inevitable lows, but we all know that’s part of the fan experience. And it’s especially part of the Northwestern fan experience
But true fandom is not the type that only takes place when the team succeeds. It is down in the deepest depths of failure and disappointment where true devotion to a team lies.
Standing out in the snow during a late November HAT matchup when both teams are short of bowl eligibility is a labor of love. The third quarter of blowouts at Ryan Field where the only students remaining are the band (shoutout NUMB) and the few die-hards can also be the times when we feel most connected as Northwestern fans. Moments of defeat and despair can simultaneously bring out the beauty of this small, unique, and resilient fanbase.
It can bring out the same beauty that emerges a colossal NU upset — like the win over Notre Dame to start the 1995 Rose Bowl season, or the 2009 victory to silence Kinnick Stadium and ruin the Hawkeyes BCS hopes.
It’s hard to know what the rest of this season entails, but please do not take for granted the beauty in all of it, no matter what happens. Without this team to root for, we’d all feel a little less connected to those around us who care just as much as we do.
And at the end of the day, there’s a ton of beauty in that, even if the Ohio State scoreline in nine days suggests otherwise.