Post-mortem: Putting things in perspective

Mark Lazerus is a Medill senior. He can be reached at [email protected].

Following the greatest debacle since Kevin Costner made “Waterworld,” Randy Walker needed time to cool off. The bus ride home after Northwestern’s kick-in-the-gut upset loss to Iowa was a testy one at best, and that night was turning out to be no better.

So Walker, fearing he “might have done some damage to somebody” in his household, grabbed his black labrador Magic and went out for a two-hour walk to gather his thoughts.

And after sparing his family and fine china, Walker returned a calmer, more reasonable man.

After all, the Wildcats are still in position to grab a share of the Big Ten title, and aren’t exactly out of the Rose Bowl picture. Put that in perspective: Early in the year, it was assumed the Cats would be generally dismal with occasional flashes of mediocrity. Talk of bowls and titles was met with chuckles by the general public.

So here’s NU, 7-3, 5-2 in the Big Ten, and now it’s the end of the world.

Sure, the loss to Iowa was awful, and it’s likely the Cats pissed away the Rose Bowl. It was a pure choke — the planets aligned but NU forgot to take the lens cap off the telescope.

The team knew at halftime that Purdue was losing, and that a win would put it in the Big Ten driver’s seat. But the Cats came out just as flat in the second half and blew the greatest opportunity of their careers. Now they find themselves squabbling with Michigan and Ohio State for elbow room in the back seat while Purdue likely will cruise right past Indiana to Pasadena.

But while fans are wailing and gnashing teeth over the loss, the Cats are looking at the positives — a win against Illinois will likely put them in at least a Florida bowl, which is a hell of a lot better than last year. And if things don’t go NU’s way, is an Alamo Bowl bid really that terrible? Beats being home for the holidays.

NU fans are spoiled. They get either spectacularly good or spectacularly bad. It’s either 0-8 in the conference or a Rose Bowl. In the three seasons in which the Cats have reached a bowl, they’ve been Big Ten champs.

Fans don’t seem to understand that outside of Florida State, every great team has an off-year. Not that NU is a great team — yet. But if the Cats do win Saturday, they will have claimed three Big Ten titles in a six-year span. Michigan won three in a seven-year span from 1992-98, and that’s arguably the most successful program in college football history. So while the Cats may still be a second-division team in the Big Ten, they’re slowly climbing the ranks to annual competitiveness.

And that means Alamo Bowls and Sun Bowls have to be accepted. Michigan was in the Holiday Bowl, Alamo Bowl and Outback Bowl in successive years from 1994-97. Then it ripped off two straight Big Ten titles and a national championship. You can’t go to the Rose Bowl every year; the Big Ten is too competitive.

NU seems to be developing into an annual competitor, if not contender, on the recruiting boost from the 1995 Rose Bowl year. And if that continues, and NU can build a program in the mold of an Illinois or an Iowa (both of which are recovering from horrific seasons much like NU’s past two), then in a few years NU fans can look at an Outback or Alamo Bowl as an “off-year.”

But for now, don’t dwell on the Iowa loss. Instead, just be thankful you can term it an “upset” without being laughed at.