Built up as the “Brain Bowl” or “S.A.T Bowl,” Vanderbilt and Northwestern is a budding rivalry that produced a rare September showdown between the SEC and Big Ten. Today would also mark the second annual College Football Tour Northwestern tailgate. Thirty of us gathered on a gorgeous day in Evanston – the kind of early autumn afternoon that still is clinging to summer with all its might. Whether by el train or car, our group converged on a spot not far from Ryan Field to toss the football, toss a few bean bags, and banter about our favorite teams and conference supremacy. For half of the Big Ten, today would be a B1G disaster on the gridiron. However, this game provided the conference something to gloat about. Fireworks lit up the evening sky as the Wildcats emerged from the tunnel ready to prove that their thrilling victory over Syracuse a week earlier was a harbinger for even greater action to come. The “N” on both the Northwestern helmets and at midfield were decorated in stars and stripes to honor 9/11. Honoring military and country has been a major point of emphasis at NU and they have executed this quite well.
We stood by the Vandy locker room as Coach Franklin prepared to lead the Commodores onto Ryan Field. His motivation tactics involved utilizing a few unsavory words causing nearby parents to muffle their children’s ears. But, the overarching message was “focus.” Vanderbilt charged out with that message revealed in their expressions and they weren’t about to let this battle under the lights intimidate them. A large number of fans made their way from the Music City to support their team to a 10-3 halftime advantage. With each of us donning our Northwestern ball caps that came with the group rated tickets, we held onto optimism as the third quarter got underway. A perfect afternoon blended into a comfortable evening, but it wouldn’t be until the fourth quarter that Northwestern’s defense began to get comfortable. Once NU took a 13-10 lead, the skies began to open up and rain poured down on Ryan Field. Many found the exits, while several others fled for cover under the upper deck. This is when Vandy’s QB Jordan Rodgers (Aaron Rodgers little brother) began to struggle against the waves of purple. A forced fumble by Rodgers resulted in a 29 yard run by NU QB Kain Colter to seal the deal. The Wildcats captured another victory with a white -knuckled finish, and the rain that Northwestern fans were dodging on the way to their cars seemed less bothersome with a 2-0 start.