As it relates to a hot topic in Wildcat fan circles, I present this week's Friday Flashback a few hours early...
After suffering through the loss at the Alamo Bowl on Monday night, many NU fans tuned into ESPN2 on Wednesday hoping to ease the pain with a long sought after basketball win over Penn State. For the first 35 minutes of that contest it looked like Coach Bill Carmody’s Wildcats would come through and ease Wildcat Nation’s pain. Unfortunately, Talor Battle intervened and NU fandom suffered another devastating loss. I saw one post on Wildcatreport.com which mentioned that some of the frustration over the basketball loss might be residual anger over watching the end of the Alamo Bowl. Although I think people try to separate the two teams, I believe there might be some truth to this theory. At the very least, I believe the basketball loss was amplified because like the Alamo Bowl game, Northwestern’s team had the chance to win, but failed to accomplish the feat. I certainly felt a similar sense of disappointment after both losses. Feeling this disappointment led me to wonder whether this was the worst week in NU fan history. Now, NU fans have suffered a lot of losses over the years, but when both football and basketball were sitting at the bottom of the Big Ten fans were, sadly, somewhat desensitized to losses. I believe what makes this week so painful is the magnitude of the losses, however, I have two other candidates for worse weeks.
Candidate 1: January 1, 1996 – January 6, 1996
I don’t need to remind a lot of Wildcat fans about the significance of January 1, 1996, but in case you’re a newcomer to Wildcat Nation that happens to be the date of Northwestern’s last Rose Bowl appearance. In that game the Wildcats took a 32-31 lead in the 4th quarter, however, a blown coverage on Keyshawn Johnson put the USC Trojans ahead to stay. The Trojans ended up winning 41-32 ending NU’s dream season on a sour note. Much like this year, following that loss many Wildcat fans trekked back to Evanston to watch basketball and ease some pain. The Wildcats faced Ivy League opponent Brown on January 2, 1996 and after suffering through the devastation of the Rose Bowl hustling back to Welsh-Ryan from the airport to see the ‘Cats destroy a lesser opponent seemed like a great cure for Wildcat Nation. Unfortunately, Brown beat the ‘Cats 60-56 at Welsh-Ryan Arena. On the heal of the Rose Bowl loss, you can imagine how bad NU fans felt about losing to Brown. Then, to make matters worse, the ‘Cat hoopsters got destroyed by Michigan 83-51 in their Big Ten opener a few days later. The only saving grave of this awful week is thanks to NCAA violations, Michigan had to forfeit their win. Still, losing the Rose Bowl then getting beat by Brown makes for a rough stretch of Wildcat fandom.
Candidate 2: November 17, 2007
This date from just last year might qualify as the single worst day of Wildcat fandom if not the worst week. In the period of less than an hour, Northwestern’s football team got blown off the field by Illinois, thus eliminating any serious bowl talk, and the basketball team lost by one to DePaul. I remember well the excitement before the day started—the hope of a Bowl and a great hoops season. I also remember the total devastation when it was over—no bowl and a loss to an intracity rival. As my family and I drove back from the awful 48-28 loss to Illinois, I called a friend asked him to place his phone up against his computer speaker so I could hear the internet-only broadcast of the basketball game and report the result to everyone else. Reporting the final missed shot by Sterling Williams was one of the more depressing things I’ve done. It brought out a host of negative reactions from my family, but at least we kept the car on the road. However, I do think the waiter at the restaurant we stopped at on the road was very confused as to why these three people seemed so angry.
Is either of these two weeks worse than this week? Honestly, I don’t know. I think the single day blow of last season was pretty bad, but losing the hope we held this year for a great bowl win and a fine start to the Big Ten hoops season certainly didn’t make for a happy start to the year for NU fans. I’ll leave it to you all to decide for yourselves. Also, feel free to share your opinions and other memories.