Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois is known as the “Wrigley Field” of college football. It doesn’t quite have the history of the Cubs, but it boasts a very classic and old-school stadium atmosphere. For a while now, NU has been calling themselves Chicago’s Big Ten Team. Attempts to market this slogan are popping up around the city, and the evidence is beginning to show with more rumps in the seats in Evanston – perhaps because Chicagoans are slowly realizing that Northwestern is no longer The Big Ten’s little brother.
Northwestern has become a fixture in the postseason and has played the role of spoiler very well. Ryan Field (formally Dyche Stadium) is set in the first city north of Chicago, and it rests a few short blocks from Lake Michigan. The setting is lovely and from the upper deck, you can grab a glimpse of Chicago’s sparkling skyline.
Get to the stadium a few hours before kickoff to catch “Walk With Us,” the pregame teamwalk that also tips a hat to the late Randy Walker, beloved coach of the ‘Cats from 1999-2005. Fans, the band, and Willie Wildcat all join to welcome the team to the tune of “Go U Northwestern.”
Tailgating flanks each side of the stadium where parking lots fill with folks, food, and festivity. Around campus, further from the stadium and closer to Lake Michigan, lots fill with pregaming fans prepping for kickoff. Near Ryan Field, Wildcat Alley provides a more family friendly atmosphere as game time approaches. Games, the band, and local fare are offered to visitors of this gathering.
The stadium is the smallest in the Big Ten, but arguably one of the most delightfully vintage. Built in 1926, it has maintained its charm, and as a fan, you really feel one with the action. Northwestern supporters have been subject to years of a painful product on the field, but since the mid 1990s, the Wildcat brand has become nationally recognized. While some college football enthusiasts are slow to catch up to the reality that Northwestern is a legitimate competitor, it doesn’t take away from this classic gameday atmosphere in Evanston.