Ryan: Same old Cats, same old fanbase

Dan Ryan, Sports Editor

Northwestern lost to Nebraska last Saturday, but you can’t be mad. Neither can I.

Now that we’ve had a few days to move on emotionally from having all our hopes and dreams crushed, we can look at what actually happened. The game was a huge letdown, one of the most heartbreaking losses I’ve witnessed in any sport at any level. But NU fans let this team down even before the opening kickoff.

An hour before game time, I was optimistic that a full student section would help counter what was sure to be a large Cornhuskers contingent at the game. We all knew how important this one was: A win, and we earn back a ranking and control our own destiny in the Legends Division.

College football is unique in how involved fans are in the games, and I saw this contest in particular as one in which fan support had a real shot at influencing the outcome. I expected there to be at least as much purple as red at the stadium.

I was wrong.

Even after the game was well underway, the student section still had empty rows of bleachers. It would never fill, and Ryan Field may as well have been situated in downtown Lincoln, Neb., for all the crowd noise. Cornhuskers first downs were cheered, and when the Cats found themselves backed up at their own end zone, the roar was deafening.

“We had to go to (a) silent (count) at the end of the game at our home stadium,” junior quarterback Kain Colter said after the game. “That was a first. We didn’t prepare for that the whole week.”

Well, that’s embarrassing.

Can you imagine that happening at any other Big Ten field? I understand that NU is by far the smallest school in the conference, but that student section isn’t all that big, either. Stories of NU season ticket holders selling their seats to Nebraska fans is even more of an outrage. The showing established that, for all the progress the athletic program has made in recent years, we don’t deserve to watch a top-25 team.

That’s an annoying phrase, isn’t it? “We don’t deserve it.” I hate when my friends at other schools make that crack about our fan base. I always maintained that the student body cared — it just needed a team to get behind. Well, this year we have one — and Saturday, we weren’t behind them.

It’s not that I expect everyone at this school to place the same importance on this team as I do. That would be exceptionally unhealthy. But I heard a lot of “same old Wildcats” talk on campus on Monday, and I think we need to realize that we’re also the same old fan base — we do a lot of whining for such little turnout.

We don’t get to complain about terrible losses like last Saturday’s until we start supporting this team. If a game as important as Saturday’s can’t fill the student section, then there isn’t a whole lot of hope that we’ll see it full this season. Or next.

I guess we can be mad — at ourselves for allowing that to happen. But I don’t want to hear any complaining until it changes.