A win for every generation of Northwestern football fans

Basking in the victory. (I'm on the right.)

Basking in the victory. (I’m on the right.)

I wandered around Jacksonville’s EverBank Field after Northwestern’s spectacular 34-20 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs on New Year’s Day 2013.

I was waiting to meet my student media friends who were inside getting postgame quotes but I was also thinking about what this Gator Bowl win means to Northwestern fans.

It’s easy to say: “Northwestern earned their first bowl victory since 1949!” That’s great. It’s very good that the media won’t talk about that year anymore. It’s also pretty cool that NU won their first bowl game in 64 years on the same date they won their previous one.

But that sentence doesn’t even begin to capture the feelings of fans that have lived and died with every play of every game for the decades of frustration that have occurred since the 1949 Rose Bowl win.

A middle aged man sat in front of me at the game. He was freaking out about the play clock, the play calling, everything. I’m passionate but I don’t go crazy over really small plays in a 60-minute game.

At first I thought he was being irrational. But he wasn’t. Unprompted he turned around to me in the third quarter and said “I’ve been following this shit since 1970. I can’t take any more of this.”

I’ve been following this team for seven years. He’s been following this team for 43 years.

43 years. 0 bowl wins. Until now.

43 years. It started out well. The first two seasons (1970 and 1971) were winning campaigns!

Then they didn’t have another one until the miracle 1995 Rose Bowl year.

43 years. He witnessed the longest losing streak in D1 football history. He witnessed Northwestern winning a total of three games from 1976-1981. He witnessed some of the most inept football at the major college level one can imagine.

Bowl losses are frustrating. The Alamo Bowl was awful. The Outback Bowl was spectacularly awful. The Ticket City Bowl and the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas were both miserable.

But not even having a prayer of a bowl is much worse. It’s a feeling of hopelessness I can’t even imagine. I’m too young. This guy has been following Northwestern for 18 more years than I’ve been alive. It takes a hell of a fan to stick with that many years of futility.

Hell, I’ve lost almost all patience with the Mariners and it’s only been a decade of misery. This guy had gone through so much more.

For non-sports fans, imagine your greatest passion. Perhaps it’s reading. What if you read nothing but lousy books for 43 years? No matter what book you picked up, every time it ended up ranging from lousy to terrible. Even worse, the books were thoroughly depressing every time. And of course for other fans, it wasn’t 43. It might have been 50. It might have even been 64.

Would you keep reading? Or would you find another hobby?

Well fans who have stuck with the story of the Northwestern Wildcats were rewarded Tuesday.

Wikipedia pages rarely produce emotions unless they’ve been tampered with by someone. But the bottom of this chart is one of the most satisfying things I’ve seen in a long time.  Maybe it’s the bold font of the word “won” after all those years of blank spaces and losses.

Pat Fitzgerald was crying tears of joy after the game. His postgame speech to Wildcat nation was inspiring.

“We talk to our guys all the time: ‘act like you’ve been there before,’” Fitzgerald said. “Well, we’ve never been here before! But as David Nwabuisi just said, ‘we’re here now and we’re here to stay!’”

He went on to thank all the fans for their support through the years.

The man in front of me was in tears too. He was also speechless. The man who’d been yelling the whole game was at a loss for words. As the old cliché goes, there weren’t too many dry eyes in the place.

People laugh at bowl games a lot. They say the games are meaningless exhibitions. I guess that depends on your definition of meaningless.

For long-time Northwestern fans, this win means everything. I know how much it means to me and I’m only 25.

There’s more to accomplish of course. Fitz isn’t satisfied. Neither are Northwestern fans.

This story is just beginning.

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