Rewind to January 2013. A 10-3 record and their first bowl win since 1949. “We’re here now, and we’re here to stay,” were the words of victory.
October 2013. College GameDay showed up in Evanston. A Primetime game, under the lights, on a national stage. Undefeated and ranked in the top 20 in every poll.
November 2013. Winless in the B1G and a bowl game feeling like a distant memory.
Players are in shock. Coaches are at a loss. The national is media hinting that last year was an aberration. The momentum of a growing fan base is going back to the ole faithful and die hards- a mere splattering of purple across a hollowed out stadium.
Not only has there been a losing streak, but a string of heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, last second losses. The kind which give fans ulcers. A Hail Mary with 4 seconds left, a holder sliding on the wet grass with one tick on the clock, leading to a triple overtime loss, controversial calls- you name it.
Many are asking how this team, a group of talent and guts, is the same team they saw a month ago.
The question boils down to two thoughts.
For one, how does a team’s season simply spiral out of control to the point of no return? Looking at the beginning of the season, there was complete, total control- some may even say cockiness. Viewing the team now is like going back in time, when losses were common place and there were no Bowl expectations.
Is the responsibility on the coaches? Is it on the players? Is it simply a lack of depth; exposed by a rash of injuries, or is it proof that “smart” schools cannot win consistently? Everyone seems to have a different theory.
Second, do players, coaches and administrators realize the effect a season like this has on its fans? Not just Northwestern, but Georgia, who lost to Auburn on a 4th and 18 last second heave and Stanford, who had their national title hopes crushed by a last second field goal by USC, led by an interim coach. Could this be the reason that in-stadium attendance across the country is trending downward, because fans cannot handle the heart ache?
With two weeks left in the season, all is not lost. If we can handle the excruciating losses over the past two years, we can handle anything. A Bowl game is not entirely out of the realm of possibility; with a little luck and a lot of heart, it could happen.
Fast forward 9 months. What does next season have in store? More injuries? More last second losses? Another 10 win season with a huge Bowl win? No one can know for sure, but what we do know is, if we want to “be here and stay here” we cannot adopt the infamous Cubs saying “There’s always next year”. When the ‘Cats get there and stay there, Ryan Field will once again be filled with purple.
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