It’s SB Nation rivalry week, which means we here at Inside NU are looking at all types of rivalries related to Northwestern sports. But this article is about more than just Illinois or Io_a. Here, I look at the games within the games, or the games unrelated to the games. But I’m sure current and former students as well as fans will appreciate at least a few of these.
Pat Fitzgerald vs. Phones
Fitz’s public anti-technology platform shouldn’t be news to anyone on this site, but it’s still one of the more confusing yet uniquely Northwestern bits in the college football world. I’m of the belief it’s largely a façade, and even though No. 51 is an old-school coach and personality, I think he uses modern technology and data on the regular (see: going for two). Nevertheless, he made national headlines last year at Big Ten Media Days when he proclaimed that phones were part of not just the downfall of society but declining college football attendance.
I guess Fitz got what he wished for last year.
The real game is in the stands pic.twitter.com/u6PmKWOc8L— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 23, 2019
Fans’ bladders vs. Ryan Field bathroom lines
I remember coming across something that said Ryan Field was a pleasurable place to watch a college football game for its family-friendly atmosphere and short bathroom lines. I’ll confess I forget where I read it, but that’s not something I’d make up. The welcoming atmosphere? Sure. Short bathroom lines? We mustn’t be talking about the same Ryan Field. At least at the restrooms near the student section, the line can extend nearly all the way to the food court during peak times. Sure, maybe I’ve been lucky to attend packed, meaningful games that made those lines long, but I’m sure many Ryan Field regulars can attest to the halftime struggle after a morning of tailgating.
Field Trip Day vs. Ear drums
Screaming children are a staple of Welsh-Ryan Arena. I’d venture to say that it’s probably the most family-friendly atmosphere in the Big Ten. Especially when opponents attempt free throws or the noise meter comes up on the jumbotron, you’re reminded of how many young fans are in attendance. It’s not surprising given Northwestern’s many partnerships with local youth groups, but one day reins above the rest. Field Trip Day, when NU partners with Chicagoland schools to bring nearly 4,000 students to Welsh-Ryan to cheer on the women’s basketball team, happens every December right after final’s week. The crowd makes for an otherwise unheard of electric atmosphere for a mundane non-conference matchup, but if you’re over the age of, let’s say 15, you may want to bring ear plugs.
Northwestern vs. a September nonconference opponent
You all know this song: A slow start to the season, emphasized by a bad home loss in a buy game. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, a buy game is when a Power 5 team pays an FCS or Group of 5 team hundreds of thousands, or sometimes north of a million dollars to play them at home. Need I rattle off the bad September losses of the last few years: Northern Illinois in 2014, Western Michigan and Illinois State in 2016, Akron in 2018. They paid Akron $1.2 million AND collapsed in the second half to send the Zips home with a win as well. For a program that, aside from 2019, experienced a few years of stable success, early-season noncon games seemed to serve as the biggest of obstacles.
The football squad vs. Big Ten women’s basketball referees
The group of WBB superfans stole headlines for a minute in February when the Tribune wrote an article on them, but the real war they wage is on whoever has been assigned to referee a Northwestern home game. Having covered many games both courtside and up in the press box, they are the most vocal fans in the building, and they make sure to sit right behind the basket in the student section. On more than a few occasions, they’ve chirped back and forth with the officials. Since attendance normally hovers around 1,000 fans for women’s games, you can typically hear what they’re saying loud and clear, especially after foul calls or no calls. And they don’t limit it to Welsh-Ryan. In November they took the show on the road to Marquette, where they were escorted out of the arena.
TransLoc Rider App vs. The actual bus schedule
This is the transportation and attempted efficiency nerd in me speaking. As someone who considers himself fairly successful at using the Northwestern and CTA bus systems, there’s nothing more annoying than inaccurate information on the Rider app, which shows you where the buses are and how soon they’ll arrive at selected stops. When it works, it’s great and can be a huge time-saver and way to avoid making longer walks in brutal cold. But there have been plenty of times, when I’m banking on getting to an early class on time in the winter, and the app malfunctions, leaving me waiting for a bus that either isn’t coming or is quite a ways down Central Street.
Welsh-Ryan rims vs. Free Chick-fil-A
If you’ve attended, watched or listened to a men’s basketball game at Welsh-Ryan, you know the real game for the fans is at the foul line. In a year that featured just three conference wins and eight total victories, spectators had few things on their mind other than a free chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A. The magic number was eight missed free throws from the opponent, and everyone would go home happy — everyone in the stands, that is.
With Norfolk State's eighth missed free throw of the night, everyone at Welsh-Ryan wins a free Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwich! pic.twitter.com/bwcnzAH612— Mac Stone (@MacStone00) November 23, 2019
I’ll even quote myself from a WNUR Sports broadcast:
@CBB_Central: “Frazier shooting 86% from the line, not the guy you want if you’re a fan of chicken.”— Eli Karp (@karp_eli) April 6, 2020
Me: “Yeah, this is tough, you’ve got 4 Illinois rotation players shooting 76% or better, those aren’t numbers conducive to a free chicken sandwich.”
The magic of @WNURSports.
Kevin Trahan vs. Tennessee fans
No better way to finish this list than by circling back to this site five years ago. It’s pretty straightforward: editor-in-chief emeritus Kevin Trahan didn’t hold back in critiquing all things Tennessee ahead of the 2015 Outback Bowl. Vols fans struck back, and it created one of the most entertaining comment threads (722 comments long!) I’ve seen on an Inside NU article. I truly wonder how many Tennessee fans created accounts just to comment.
Let me know in the comments your favorite Northwestern-related rivalries, because I surely didn’t cover them all here (and yes, we’re here for your creative McCall takes).