NU lacks special rivalries

Wade Askew

Here at Northwestern, we are often told how spoiled we are to experience Big Ten athletics at such a prestigious school. We have few academic peers who have sports teams that compete at the same level our Wildcat teams do, and for that we should be very thankful.

Still, we miss out on many of the aspects that make college sports – particularly football – so special. The tailgating. The crowds. The complete “game day experience.” The culture. The unhealthy fanaticism.

But one key aspect of college athletics that we miss perhaps most sorely is our utter lack of a clearly defined rival, the kind that causes us to write ballads of hatred, circle dates on our calenders and gives us the chance to earn bragging rights for an entire year.

Sure, we have the battle for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk against Illinois, and more than a few NU students and alumni abhor Ohio State and/or Michigan, but there is no one team that all NU fans just love to hate, nor is there a school out there to reciprocate that hatred. There is no North Carolina to our Duke, no Oklahoma to our Texas, no Auburn to our Alabama.

Many students who hail from this state, it seems, grew up actually pulling for our chief “rival,” Illinois, whereas most out-of-state kids couldn’t have cared less about the Illini for most of their lives. Plus, there is no attempt to instill a burning sense of disdain into the hearts of incoming students.

For instance, we have no disparaging lyrics in our fight song, neither official nor unofficial, which is, to me at least, just plain bizarre.

Take the Georgia/Georgia Tech rivalry, also known as “Good Old Fashioned Hate.” Tech fans sing, “If I had a son, sir, I’ll tell you what he’d do. He would yell, ‘To hell with Georgia,’ like his daddy used to do,” as a part of their “Wramblin’ Wreck” fight song – which, by the way, also includes the word “engineer” four times. Nerds.

Meanwhile, Georgia fans fire back by chanting, “To hell with Georgia Tech!” at the end of their fight song, “Glory.” (Note that the words “Georgia Tech” are replaceable with whomever the Dawgs happen to be playing that weekend.)

Those types of traditions are unbeknownst to the NU nation, and as a result we miss out on much of the passion and intensity that make college sports great. When the stakes are raised for an otherwise average regular season matchup for the sole reason of pride, the results can be magical.

I experienced this like no time before in this past weekend’s Georgia/Florida contest (c’Monday, you knew I’d find an excuse to write about this game, right?).

Saturday, the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville turned into the World’s Largest Grudge Match. The game was fueled by pure emotion and intensity, and it all started with the arguably the gutsiest, but most certainly most controversial, call of Georgia coach Mark Richt’s career.

In case you missed it, the coach known as one of the most classy, stoic and respectful coaches in the game commanded his players to be flagged for excessive celebration on its first touchdown of the game – not for individual show-boating, but instead for a team celebration. So when freshman phenom Knowshon Moreno leapt over a mass of linemen from one yard out on the Dawgs’ first possession, the Georgia bench cleared out and swarmed the tailback in the end zone.

After the stunningly brilliant ploy by Richt to create emotion and intensity in a team that had beaten the Gators just twice in the last 17 years and had a propensity to come out of the gate flat, the game morphed into something much bigger than a game.

I’ve seen Georgia win a pair SEC Championships and Florida win a National Championship in the past six years – neither team displayed the emotion in those title games that was on the field in last week’s bar-room brawl of a game.

That’s because, in an odd way, there was more at stake on Saturday than there ever was in those championship games. It was no longer about who would get a leg up in the crowded SEC East Division race. It wasn’t about records. And Lord knows it wasn’t about Tim Tebow’s Heisman chances or Matt Stafford’s attempt to prove to the nation he is every bit as good a sophomore quarterback as his counterpart.

No, this one was all about pride. Everything else went out the window during that first-quarter celebration. As cliché as it sounds, it was about who wanted the win more.

And when Georgia finally prevailed 42-30, as the team flooded the field once again to put to shame that first-quarter celebration and Richt, soaked in Powerade (not Gatorade) ran down the sideline, waving to the half of Jacksonville Municipal Stadium that was still packed with red-clad Bulldogs literally foaming at the mouth, on his way to embrace his wife, I did something I’d never done before after a game.

I teared up.

Now that’s a rivalry.