Todd: Quarterback injury d

Christine Todd

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IOWA CITY, Iowa – One part of Halloween still haunts me: senior quarterback Mike Kafka’s slow-motion fall to the Ryan Field turf.

Kafka’s injury did what we all hoped it wouldn’t. It completely zapped the energy from the stadium on Central Street. Northwestern fans deflated after holding their breaths for almost two quarters. And the Wildcats’ momentum disappeared. What had been a nailbiter became a near-blowout at the tweak of a hamstring.

At that point, all I could do was shiver in the bitter cold and gaze with curiosity at the sea of white across the field. How must it feel to travel with your team and, with them, kill the hopes of the eager, ever-hopeful home team?

This weekend in Iowa City, Iowa, I found the answer to my question. When Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi fell to the ground with a high ankle sprain and the drunken Iowa fan next to me yelled, “Who even is our backup quarterback,” I have to admit, I smirked at the eerie similarity. (And at the fact that I was now on the other side.)

But I have a feeling my experience was a little different from that of those Penn State fans visiting us Oct. 31.

I was a little late buying a ticket to the Saturday’s game, so I didn’t have a seat down by the south end zone with the rest of the NU fans. I tried to scooch in but was eventually forced out. By whom? Actual ticketholders. Why? Because the game was sold out. Wait, what?

Sold out. It’s a phrase I’m unfamiliar with. But here’s what it meant at Kinnick Stadium: 70,585 seats filled, more than 99 percent of them by rabid, over-inflated black-and-gold clad fans.

When I left the small corner of purple and marched up to the 70th row of the stadium, I was an eggplant in the middle of a cornfield. At first, I was terrified. I figured I’d be jeered at, ostracized. But this was before the Cats put numbers on the board, so I encountered a different attitude.

The Iowa fans were nice to me – downright jovial, even. One offered directions to my seat. A few went so far as to slide down the row to give me space to sit. Not only was there no animosity; there was an overly willing drive to please. I quickly realized this friendly treatment was likely a form of condescension: They saw me as a poor, lost child, abandoned from the minority huddle of purple 60 rows below and a few sections over. They felt it was their duty to comfort the lonely fan of the losing team.

How quickly the tables turned. The Cats jumped ahead. NU’s defense began to seem impenetrable. Kafka and Persa both contributed at quarterback. All around, Iowa fans asked who in the world this Vandenberg was. Where was he from, and why was he playing? They wanted Stanzi back. I even overheard a woman talking to a friend on her phone: “Let me tell you, if I hear one more person boo Stanzi, I’m going to poke them in the eyeballs.”

I chuckled. Then I thought again to the chilling image of Kafka’s injury the week before. My mind moved to how I felt, standing in the cold with my fingers crossed, wishing Kafka would just bounce back into the game, healthy and happy and ready to win it. I realized I could relate to the hordes of Iowa fans surrounding me. I felt a split second of pity, then I had another realization: It happens. You just have to deal with it and move on, exactly how NU had, from Penn State to Iowa.

But Iowa wasn’t ready to agree with my peaceful mantra. The people around me couldn’t attack the players with their hateful glares, so they aimed at me, at least at my purple T-shirt – which I was later told I should burn. This was from an incensed Iowa fan passing by as I walked the mile back to campus from Kinnick. The same fan told me he hated me and we had nothing left to discuss. I’m not sure he realized I was perfectly fine not talking to him.

Even in the midst of angry Iowa fans, there was something – perhaps even on par with NU’s win over the nation’s fourth-ranked team – that kept me smiling. It was difficult to pinpoint, but I think it had something to do with that awful deflated feeling at Ryan Field on Halloween.

As NU took the ball with 1:16 left, a fan behind me summed it up perfectly: “The bubble has been burst.”

This time, it was the Cats causing the deflation.

Assistant sports editor Christine Todd is a Communication junior. She can be reached at christinetodd2007@u.northwestern.edu.

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