I have never felt this way about a team I support.
Before those of you who have endured decades of Northwestern football discredit my right to make such a claim, I’d like make my case for why I believe I’m entitled to one.
Although the ‘Cats have only played 20 games since I received my acceptance letter in December 2020, my fandom, my connection with the team has spanned closer to 20 years.
My dad became a season ticket holder in 1995, the year he graduated from Kellogg, and he always likes to say he did so knowing the team wasn’t going to be good every year, or even most years, but being able to see other Big Ten teams in person would make it worthwhile.
As any longtime fan or anyone with an ounce of knowledge on this program’s history would know, he was incredibly fortunate with the timing of that purchase. The success of the team in his first few years with season tickets, combined with my mom graduating from Northwestern’s law school in 2000 made the Wildcats a key part of their lives, and eventually, mine as well.
Just hours into my life, on Aug. 30, 2003, the ‘Cats opened their season with a 28-20 win at Kansas, galvanized by current Washington Commanders president Jason Wright’s four rushing TD’s. The first of many moments in my life marked by purple.
By 2007, Ryan Field had become a second home, and the football team had become my team. Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, you’d think one of the many professional sports franchises would’ve been my favorite, but for better or worse, the Olsen household nurtured me into an NU fan, first and foremost.
In 2009, I got my first taste of journalism when I asked Fitz at a preseason luncheon why he gave Jeremy Maclin a chance to return a punt (which he took 75 yards for a TD) in the prior season’s Alamo Bowl.
In 2010, I saw Mikel Leshoure accumulate over 300 rushing yards against the Wildcat defense at Wrigley and J.J. Watt block a Stefan Demos extra point in a 70-23 Badgers victory at Camp Randall in back-to-back weeks.
I was at the M00N game, the 2013 Ohio State game and Clayton Thorson’s collegiate debut vs. Stanford.
I cried in Raymond James Stadium after the Wildcats’ fake field goal attempt on fourth and goal came up short in overtime down three against Auburn.
I breathed a sigh of relief at the Music City Bowl when they were able to hang on against Kentucky.
I will never forget the atmosphere inside of Lucas Oil Stadium after Cameron Green’s touchdown reception made it a three-point game.
And, perhaps most importantly, Jack Mitchell’s 41-yard field goal to knock off Notre Dame in South Bend was one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed.
I’ve ridden the highs and lows of this football team for as long as I can remember.
And may be in my DNA, but purple is in my blood.
Yet, in spite of all of this, I have never felt more disconnected from, more disenchanted, more disheartened by a team in my life.
My parents moved to Miami over the summer, and flew back to Chicago for Homecoming this past weekend. They left the football game midway through the second quarter, by far the earliest they’ve ever given up on one in nearly three decades. Knowing what was going to happen, I elected to just stay in my dorm and begrudgingly watch the BTN feed. I turned it off at halftime.
I could talk about topics specifically related to the team — how the offense isn’t good enough, how the defense isn’t good enough, how much change this program will have to undergo in the offseason to get things heading in the right direction — but at this point, most of the pertinent issues go beyond that.
Sports are supposed to be an escape, a release from reality. For many, including myself, they provide a few hours where we can let all of our emotions out, and once the clock hits triple zero, we can go back to living our lives.
Yes, the ecstasy of some wins and heartbreak of some losses will stick with you for longer than the duration of the game, but if you ask any fan, they’ll tell you they wouldn’t have it any other way.
The emotional reward of supporting a team is why you do it. You suffer through the down years because you have hope that one day, your team will be back on top, and when that day comes, you enjoy it even more because you know it can all come crumbling down in an instant.
Right now, the emotional roller coaster of rooting for this team just doesn’t seem worth it.
Instead of a track ahead that takes you up into the sky, it’s just a slow descent into the earth. There’s nothing to be optimistic about, no belief that the ship can be righted, no hope for what the future holds.
Even if we remove emotion from the equation of being a fan, there’s nothing to latch onto when it comes to this team. Between each exciting Evan Hull run or Adetomiwa Adebawore sack, there’s ten plays of miscues, mistakes and misfortune. That’s just not a viewing experience anyone should want to indulge in. The entertainment value is non-existent.
Given all of the resources that have been put into this program in recent years, this season is setting up to be the worst in the team’s history. Going 1-11, which might be the most likely outcome at this point in time, when the school has spent a billion dollars to build a new practice facility and stadium, is simply inexcusable. If that happens, winning three games or less in three of the last four years would be, all things considered, a complete failure.
Ultimately, that comes back to Pat Fitzgerald. He’s gone 4-14 since receiving a 10-year extension in January 2021. Normally, I don’t believe in pure results-based analysis, but when it agrees with analytics and the eye test, it’s an even bigger indictment of the situation at hand.
It’s down to him to reignite the passion in this fanbase, to rebuild the connection between the team and its fans, and it’s down to him to make the years ahead look less bleak.
If he can’t do that, it won’t be long before athletic director Derrick Gragg will have a massive decision to make on what to do with a man who has become synonymous with Northwestern football.