Long on the ‘Edge of Glory,’ it’s time for Northwestern to make the leap

Jonah Rosenblum

Northwestern is on the verge of a bowl victory.

I’ve heard that phrase every single year and it’s beginning to sicken me. If I have to hear about being on the verge one more time, or if I have to hear about the metaphorical mountain that the Wildcats are still climbing one more time, I will scream like Luka Mirkovic after a made free throw – but not in a good way.

Northwestern has been on the verge for way too long. The football team is on the verge of a bowl victory. The basketball team is on the verge of a NCAA Tournament bid. Myriad articles have been written, television broadcasts have been produced, bets have been cast – all of this has gone on for too long. It’s time to win.

I realize how spoiled I must sound. For Mike Wilbon and countless numbers of Northwestern students who suffered through winless seasons, such bellyaching must seem laughable. But I think even the alums who suffered through the worst of times would have to admit that they’re getting kind of sick of all these near-misses. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Well, how about fool me eight times? That’s right, because eight times in the past 16 years, Northwestern has advanced to a bowl game, only to fall short. The Wildcats have lost to some very good teams (Nebraska in the 2000 Alamo Bowl) and some very questionable teams (Bowling Green in the 2003 Motor City Bowl). Some of the losses have been easier to swallow. Losses in the 1996 Rose Bowl and 2000 Alamo Bowl seemed acceptable following magical Big Ten title runs. Other losses, in which Northwestern managed to pull defeat from the jaws of victory, have been harder to justify. Take the 2010 Outback Bowl, for example.

For the past four seasons, the Wildcats have compiled magical upsets, produced top players and finished with impressive regular-season records, only to fall short in the postseason. How many times can a dream be deferred before it simply dies out? How many bowl losses will it take for Northwestern fans to lose heart and head home? Well, judging from how many losing seasons Chicago Cubs fans have been willing to tolerate, it might take a while. But I’d rather not run that risk.

Momentum is pulsating through this program right now, but as much fun as the climb has been, they’re sick of looking down from vistas halfway up the mountain. They want to reach the top, and they want to reach it now. This is the time for the greatest class in Northwestern football history to pull off one of the greatest achievements in program history. Defeating Texas A&M will not be easy, but it would be a majestic crowning achievement for senior greats like Dan Persa, Brian Peters and Jeremy Ebert.

All year, this Wildcats team has shown that it is capable of beating anyone in the nation. As coach Pat Fitzgerald has rightly pointed out, Northwestern has been in every game it has played this year. It could have held on against Michigan, taken down Illinois or come back against Iowa. Instead, the Wildcats were on the wrong side of the scoreboard for five straight contests. Now it’s time to be on the right side when it matters most.

It’s not all that complex. The Wildcats just need to play a magnificent 60 minutes of football for once. Northwestern hasn’t done that in very many bowl games. It played pretty well against Missouri, but a couple of poorly executed plays, including a 100-yard punt return and a failed overtime drive, doomed the Wildcats. They played horrendously to begin the Outback Bowl, and Mike Kafka threw five interceptions to hand Auburn opportunity after opportunity. And they didn’t look good in Dallas until the very end, when it was already too late.

That’s not acceptable. This team is capable of beating Texas A&M. It proved that in Lincoln. This team is motivated, as some of the greatest players in program history prepare to don the purple and white for the last time. A .500 record isn’t where the Wildcats expected to be at this point of the season, but now is their chance to address all the hypothetical debates and show the nation just how good they could have been. Scratch that, just how good they are. All it takes is 60 minutes of football.

If not now, then when?

This article is the ninth in our 15-part Road to Meineke series. We will be posting an article every night, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas, to help prepare you for Northwestern’s matchup with Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. Join us again tomorrow night as football beat writer Josh Walfish provides a rundown of the Wildcats’ upcoming contest with the Aggies.