Strike up the bandwagon



Sam Eifling is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected].


To Northwestern’s football players and their coaches, immediate families and best friends: Make some room. The NU bandwagon is filling to capacity, and we can’t all sit on a lap.

Abercrombie brats, delerious student journalists, long-suffering alumni, road-tripping frat boys, indifferent faculty, clueless moms, Evanston shopkeeps, blithe freshmen — it’s getting a tad crowded, and it’s a lead-pipe cinch that not all of these neophytes know the words to “Go! U Northwestern.” Depending on whom you ask, there’s even a jumping-on-the-bandwagon bandwagon rolling.

Consecutive road wins over ranked teams have made the Wildcats hotter than snowpants in a sauna, and they’re only picking up steam.

Sports Illustrated kept a straight face when it wrote “in the driver’s seat” and “Rose Bowl” in the same sentence with “Northwestern” in this week’s issue. CBS Sportsline now ranks NU 25th of 115 Division I teams after stowing the Cats at No. 91 (between New Mexico and Army) in the preseason. NU has earned the No. 15 slot in Jeff Sagarin’s venerated computer rankings, which help determine the Bowl Championship Series. ESPN’s Lee Corso has Randy Walker on his short list for coach of the year.

For anyone who didn’t spend the last four years in a coma, all this has to come as a surprise. NU was projected to beat Iowa this season, maybe. Iowa. Winless, helpless, hopeless, hapless Iowa.

Instead the R-word is popping up for the first time since 1996.

Whether this bandwagon has enough gas to reach Pasadena won’t be seen until next month. Meantime, the Cats are still converting non-believers. And for such a mighty high team, they’re not acting high and mighty.

“Obviously, people are going to shy away from you when you’re losing,” junior linebacker Kevin Bentley said. “What’s there to be proud about in a 3-8 season? Now we’re what, 4-1? Now you’ve got a lot to be proud of. You take pride in that stuff. I never knew anyone to take pride in a loser.

“Not to say that we’re losers…”

But?

“…but that’s what we did last year. We lost more than we won.”

By now they’ve won more than they’ve lost, won more than they won all last season. Michigan State shut the Cats out 34-0 last year, then got obliterated last week. The Hoosiers abused NU 34-17 last season, but no one is giving them a Hawkeye’s chance in Columbus to beat the Cats tomorrow.

What gives? The players offer logical explanations for their success, citing the maturity of the team’s upperclassmen, who four years ago composed perhaps the best recruiting class in school history.

Plus, there is the continuation of coach Randy Walker’s nigh-sadistic conditioning program. It hasn’t won him any brownie points among his players, but this year they’re bigger and faster and stronger and less injury-prone and …

“We knew we were going to be good,” freshman fullback Gilles Lezi said. “No one else knew but us.”

Well someone could have clued me in because I for one didn’t see this coming, and now I have to repent along with the rest of this campus. There’s a slew of giddy Cats fans having to bow in Wayne’s World we’re-not-worthy fashion.

In the 10 NU games I attended last season, there were merely glimpses of the unabashed dominance the Cats have displayed this season. A play here, a drive there, the Cats looked decent at best. The only bandwagon rolling was that which (correctly) predicted a win over Iowa.

But this is something else entirely. The combined scores versus Duke, Wisconsin and Michigan State last year were NU 34, opponents 81. The 2000 scores in those games come to 122-66.

What does it all mean? Don’t look at me; I’m all but through reading the tea leaves. If I knew anything about football, I would have been yelping the R-word from Day 1.

All I can do now is ask for a seat and thank you for keeping it warm.