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21st century Northwestern sports moments that made us cry

Tears of joy and tears of sorrow are all, in the end, just tears.

You all remember this kid, right?

I’m sure you do. He was a collective representation of how we all felt during that fateful 2017 NCAA Tournament game against Gonzaga. At points, he cried tears of joy; at others, tears of sadness and sorrow.

For me, that game was a rollercoaster of emotions. While I didn’t cry, I was unbelievably angry with how it ended. It didn’t help that plenty of my friends sent me photos of the crying kid and said “Hey look, this kid looks like you!”

But enough about me. Regardless of how that tournament ended (more on that in a minute), it was a tearjerker. That entire 2016-17 men’s basketball season was. However, in recent history, there have been countless times in which we’ve cried at Northwestern sports. Let’s dive right in.

The Pass, and what followed

March 1, 2017 is a day enshrined in Northwestern athletics lore.

You’ve heard it time and time again. The Taphorn to Pardon pass was the catalyst for some of the most memorable Northwestern sporting events in recent history. The Pass virtually locked up the Wildcats first ever NCAA Tournament bid, which was cemented at a packed Welsh-Ryan Arena watch party on Selection Sunday.

The ‘Cats faced Vanderbilt in the first round in a game that came down to the wire. NU was saved by a Matthew Fisher-Davis mental lapse and moved on the face Gonzaga.

We all know what happened next. Northwestern fell just short of a miraculous second half comeback after referees missed a blatantly obvious goaltend by Zach Collins.

While the season may have ended on a low note, it provided us with not only the ‘Cats’ first ever NCAA Tournament bid but their first ever March Madness victory. From basketball to basketbawl.

Women’s basketball wins the 2020 Big Ten Championship

This makes the list for two reasons. For one, the win over Illinois on Senior Day to lock up their share of the Big Ten regular season championship was an unbelievably special moment. On that day, purple reigned, both at the top of the standings and from the confetti cannons.

But this team was thinking much bigger. Then came COVID.

After clinching their share of the title, the ‘Cats had most likely locked up at least a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament. A three-seed was likely, depending on their Big Ten tournament performance. Despite an unsavory conference tournament exit, the Wildcats had no opportunity to avenge it. The seniors on that team lost the opportunity to do what they’d built their NU careers up for, and it hurts to think about. In the end, though, it was an unbelievable season, and deserves to be treated as such.

The 2013 Gator Bowl Victory

This victory over Mississippi State put Northwestern back on the map.

A hard fought effort by Pat Fitzgerald and Co. was what led to the ‘Cats’ first bowl victory in 64 (!) years. Their last bowl victory prior to that? The 1949 Rose Bowl win over Cal.

Just ending the drought is enough of a reason for this to make the list, and that’s about the only reason why it’s here. There was no remarkable comeback. It wasn’t a nail-biter. Northwestern had a two-touchdown lead entering the fourth quarter and never really looked back.

But finally ending that drought lifted an albatross off of the program’s shoulders, and Wildcat world wept.

The 2015 Outback Bowl Blowout

I hate Rocky Top.

It’s just an annoying song. That’s what it boils down to. Hearing Tennessee fans sing it from the, well, rocky tops of Raymond James Stadium as they blew Northwestern out of the water didn’t help either.

The 2015 football season had tremendous promise. Five games in, the ‘Cats were 5-0 and were ranked No. 13 (!) before losing back-to-back games to Michigan and Iowa by a combined score of 78-10. They then went on to win the rest of the games and climbed to No. 13 in the Playoff poll to finish the regular season.

Cue Rocky Top.

The Outback Bowl was an embarrassment across the board. To cut straight to the chase, NU lost 45-6, with the Wildcats’ only score coming in the second quarter on a Justin Jackson scamper (Jack Mitchell missed the extra point).

Even worse, the Volunteers recorded a 100-yard pick six with eight seconds left, and Rocky Top blared one final time.


Women’s lacrosse wins five championships in a row

Unlike other tearjerkers, this one doesn’t have a specific moment where we cried, but boy was it special.

Where did the tears begin? After the first natty? After the ‘Cats went back-to-back? How about three in a row? Did I mention that in two of these five seasons NU went undefeated?

There were few moments of sadness during this miracle run. One may think of the seniors that ended and shed a tear, but they went out on top. It was euphoric.

During this span, head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller led Northwestern on a 106-3 (!!!) stretch. Yes, a winning percentage of .972. It only ended when, in 2010, the ‘Cats lost in the national championship game to Maryland. Had they emerged victorious, Northwestern could’ve won EIGHT championships in a row, as they won national titles the next two years.

Dan Persa goes down in celebration

What do you remember about Nov. 13, 2010?

I don’t remember much. I was 10. It was a Saturday. Football was on. Northwestern played host to no. 13 Iowa. At the time, the Hawkeyes were 7-2 and eyeing a Big Ten title. Meanwhile, the ‘Cats attempted to play spoiler. And spoil they did.

In what was a dramatic contest throughout, the Wildcats finally took the lead on a 20-yard score from quarterback Dan Persa to Demetrius Fields with 1:22 left in the fourth. Then, as the dual-threat signal caller ran to celebrate with his teammates, he went down.

Persa ruptured his Achilles tendon, inexplicably ending his season on a celebration.

Northwestern upset Iowa, and the students rushed the field, but Persa was done. The ‘Cats finished the regular season 7-5 after losing their last two games and faced Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl.

NU lost a close one, 45-38, posting just 150 passing yards. The offense was one-dimensional without its ticker. Had he not been injured on a celebration, the remainder of the 2010 football season could have gone very differently.

Women’s basketball drops the 2019 WNIT Final

They came so damn close.

Entering the 2019 postseason, not many expected much from the women’s basketball team. They had missed out on the NCAA Tournament after going 16-13 (9-9 B1G) in the regular season and losing their first game of the Big Ten Tournament to Michigan State. Off to the QNIT. NU drew Dayton in the first round and made the most of the matchup by trouncing the Flyers 74-51.

What followed was a captivating run all the way to the championship game. The Wildcats won by seven at Toledo, by two at West Virginia, by three versus Ohio and finally by five at James Madison, defining the term road warriors. They just couldn’t cap it off.

In the end, the Wildcats suffered a heartbreaking 56-42 defeat to Arizona in the championship game. A remarkable run was left unfinished, and perhaps prepared them for an outstanding 2019-2020 campaign. Regardless, what a win it would’ve been.

The ousting of Mick McCall

Ending this article on a lighter note.

I have nothing against Mick the man. Mick the 12-year NU offensive coordinator? That’s a different story.

I got the news that McCall had been fired prior to the start of a women’s basketball game this past December. I was on the camera crew, and when I heard the news, I celebrated with a fellow crew member. We were promptly told to get back to work, and I promptly texted everyone I knew saying McCall was gone.

While McCall being ousted meant the end of an era, it was surely necessary. We’ve all seen the stats. We knew it was time. I’m pretty sure Lake Michigan flooded a bit from the collective tears of joy we all shed.

I’m sure I missed some special moments where we collectively cried, so sound off in the comments and let me know what I missed!