Wildcats squander attention (Column)

Tania Ganguli

This could’ve all been yours.

The proud alumni pouring into their beloved stadium to see the Wildcats they were able to brag about for all of 2 weeks. The TV cameras treating Northwestern like a real football school. The drunk and painted students heckling tailgating 12-year-olds in Michigan jerseys.

They were ready to embrace this program and this team. The fans were ready to have something to cheer for. You could feel it at kickoff and through most of the first half.

More importantly, the nation was ready. NU’s primetime game with the ESPN SkyCam floating around the field and Holly Rowe stalking the sidelines was the team’s chance.

Forget they could have won the Big Ten, actually, don’t forget that because that’s exactly why this team was such a big deal. Somehow between the Cold Pizza appearances, The New York Times features and the rumors College GameDay was coming to Evanston, everyone forgot that a shot at the Big Ten title was on the line this weekend. You, Northwestern, the Big Ten’s dorky little brother, were about come out of your shell in primetime.

And you cracked.

Coach Randy Walker said his team wasn’t mature enough to handle the media attention, Zach Strief said he had a bad feeling before the game even started and that he didn’t understand how a young NU offensive lineman could not be ready to play Michigan. The Wildcats were three-point underdogs at home to a team ranked four spots lower than them. Disrespect should have driven them.

John Navarre with his arm, Braylon Edwards with his hands, Mike Hart with his legs and Jason Avant with his one-handed diving catch have made NU the backdrop for their personal highlight reels, and I can’t imagine any of the Wildcats have forgotten what that was like.

Michigan has never respected NU, and NU has never given Michigan a reason to respect it. But they could have.

They had the offensive weapons to do that and they didn’t. Holding penalties, dropped passes, poor decision making. Basanez and his receivers looked so confused that I kept expecting Mark Philmore to go introduce himself to his quarterback. Good friends, you couldn’t tell they’d ever played together. And Philmore was the bright spot.

This apparently is what the Big Ten’s best offense looks like when it faces a decent defense.

Walker attributed this to “miscommunication.” Meanwhile, Michigan’s defensive backs seemed to be running those routes fine, popping up where NU receivers were supposed to be and sticking Basanez with more interceptions than he’s had all season.

And that was that. Now the window has closed.

That many cameras probably won’t be back, and the top-25 ranking is gone. The fans and national media that came expecting to see fireworks left annoyed they’d made the effort, and students were genuinely disheartened by this. This was a team that couldn’t handle their adoration. Mark Philmore said NU would never be the favorite because of the stigma that goes along with being Northwestern. If you want to know why, just think back on Saturday’s game. The country was watching as NU missed its chance.

Walker blamed it on the media glare. Players started getting complacent, practice went poorly, and the Cats weren’t prepared.

This wasn’t what the country expected and this certainly wasn’t what ESPN expected. Think they sent their SkyCam toting crew to college football’s black hole for this? When the Cats step on the field, we expect a shootout dammit. And instead what we got was a big sloppy mess.

If anonymity and villification is what you needed, you got it.

And I hope you enjoyed those 15 minutes.

Sports Editor Tania Ganguli is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at [email protected]