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 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 true Big Ten football. It’s the real deal, especially lately.
All September afternoons need to be this beautiful. Temperatures in the low seventies and sunshine that glistened off Lake Michigan provided the perfect environment for our 7th Annual College Football Tour Northwestern Tailgate. Colleagues and family, old friends and new all joined for food, drink, and games. Tailgating at Northwestern is spread out, but there are some magnificent spots that can rival any Big Ten venue – we found one today.
The Chicago Cubs just won the World Series – a 108-year streak without this feat. Ryan Field celebrated by flying the W atop the towers rising over the upper deck. The NU band played “Go Cubs Go” to an all-crowd sing along. Breaking streaks like this are always cause for major celebration. Another streak was on the line as well. It’s not quite 108 years of suffering, but the Badgers have not experienced success in Evanston since 1999. Today, that W flag would also stand for Wisconsin.
A less than appetizing start for both Northwestern and Iowa had many questioning the relevance of this game. Both squads had suffered losses to FCS division teams and it appeared as though mediocre was the mark to make this year.
A cup of coffee and an el train ride separate Chicago’s northside from Evanston, Illinois where the venerable Ryan Field awaits its fans in purple. Fitting that the el train that takes passengers up to Northwestern University is the purple line. Filled with Wildcat fans and a few despondent Purdue fans, the el carried patrons ready for an early kickoff on a unseasonably warm November day.
Northwestern did it before. 1995. The Irish opened the season ranked 9th and the Wildcats were supposed to be the welcome mat that Notre Dame trampled over to initiate a fresh new season. But, Northwestern knew that scripts can change. The Wildcats stunned the Golden Domers with a 17-15 victory that the Chicago Tribune dubbed “The Upset of the Century.” This win would propel the purple towards one of the must unexpected Cinderella stories culminating in their first Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl appearance since 1949.
Prince comes to mind when I consider the recent history of Wisconsin’s visits to Ryan Field – the Badgers haven’t partied there since 1999. In the four games Wisconsin has played in Evanston this century, all have ended with Badger players sulking. Kudos to the Wildcats for maintaining an undaunted approach in the clashes with their neighbors to the north. Purple reign, Purple reign. I told you – it all reminds me of Prince.
The College Football Tour tailgate was surrounded by hues of Husky red and Wildcat purple…and swarms of bees. If NU was playing Georgia Tech, we could chalk it up to irony. Instead, it was plain annoying. However, it didn’t sting our enthusiasm on this gorgeous day in Evanston for the battle of “Who’s the best in Illinois?” With the Fighting Illini struggling for relevancy and the Wildcats scrambling to crawl out of the losing-streak quicksand they put themselves into last year, Northern Illinois has surfaced at the top with an opportunity today to make it official.
For a Chicagoan, a Northwestern game is just an el train ride away. I’ve been telling so many people that about the convenience of getting to Ryan Field on a football Saturday, yet I have never used that method to get there myself. Today happened to be the perfect day. Along with this first, this game would also be the very first game that I would attend by myself. Oh, the freedom! My friends enjoy traveling to games with me, but at the speed I like to go, I’ve always felt a bit held up. Today’s game in Evanston would be college football at top speed.
My love affair with Camp Randall began 25 years ago. It wasn’t love at first sight – I was dragged to games as a kid. But, as I attended more games, I grew up with a Wisconsin program that experienced its own growth spurt. We attended many games in the 90s as Wisconsin developed into a championship caliber team. Becoming a student at UW-Madison further deepened the well of memories that this stadium generated for me, and it has carried on into my adulthood.