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Confessions of a Northwestern fan

BY RYAN MURPHY | OCTOBER 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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I'm a sophomore at Iowa. I love watching the football team play in Kinnick Stadium on fall Saturdays. I'm a Hawkeye fan — and have been for nearly 10 years.

But there's one thing separating me from almost any other Hawkeye fan in Iowa City.

I've been a Northwestern Wildcats fan since I was 3.

So that puts me in an interesting position on Saturday night. Do I go with the school I pay to attend or the school that has owned my heart for more than 15 years?

I realize a Northwestern win would send you — and thousands of other Black and Gold-clad fans — into a tailspin of blame and woe, and it wouldn't bother me a bit.

I realize that this week, I'm alone on my own campus.

You may be thinking, "How can you do that; it's blasphemous."

The truth is, I really can't help it.

How did I become a Northwestern fan? Even I really don't know. All I know is I walked into Ryan Field in 1995 with a family of all Hawkeye fans but walked out with a way-too-big jersey bearing the number of Darnell Autry — Northwestern's superstar running back at the time. I still own that jersey. A Northwestern fan was made.

As a kid, I lived and died with the 'Cats more than any other team. Despite being surrounded by Illini, Fighting Irish, Buckeye, and Wolverines fans, the Wildcats became my team.

I remember sitting in Ryan Field in 2004 and watching Northwestern beat Ohio State for the first time in 33 years. I remember running around my living room when Zak Kustok found Sam Simmons to beat Michigan, 54-51, in 2000 — a game I consider one of the greatest Big Ten games of all time.

Plays such as Victory Right and players such as Brett Basanez meant something to me. I have met both current head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his predecessor, the late Randy Walker. I even ate lunch in Walker's office.

I remember all the highs and lows — and trust me, there have been a lot of both in my lifetime.

But at the same time, I have always followed the Hawkeyes and rooted just as hard for them (when they weren't playing Northwestern). I was sitting dejectedly at the 2003 Orange Bowl, screaming at the top of my lungs at the 2005 Capital One Bowl, and beaming from ear to ear at the 2009 Outback Bowl. Although they're definitely my No. 2 team, I still love the Iowa Hawkeyes.

My bedroom at home shows this dual fanhood. On one side of a shelf sits Northwestern's Sports Illustrated cover from 1995 with a statue of Willie the Wildcat. On the other side is Iowa's 2009 Sports Illustrated cover with a Herky the Hawk statue. Hanging above it is a half Northwestern, half Iowa flag.

When I wasn't able to get into Northwestern, I was more than happy to come to Iowa. I haven't regretted it for a second. But I can't give up rooting for the team I have followed for more than 15 years. It's too much of a part of who I am. When people sneer at the Wildcats, and say it's "just Northwestern," it still irks me a bit.

I got a field pass to last year's Northwestern-Iowa game in Evanston, and it meant that much more because I was standing on the source of so many of my childhood memories. Getting to see another classic contest between the Hawkeyes and 'Cats was all the more special.

As much as I love the Hawkeyes, my passion for the Wildcats is still there. It probably always will be. There's nothing that can extinguish all the memories — good and bad — that I have had in Purple and White.

Come Saturday night, I'll be in black with the rest of the student section. I'll enjoy seeing the duel between the offenses of Northwestern and Iowa. There'll be a lot of offense.

But when "Go U Northwestern" hits, and Pat Fitzgerald leads the 'Cats onto the Kinnick Stadium field, I'll still have a smile on my face.


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