Football: Water balloons lift spirits as Wildcats look to move on


Defensive tackle Chance Carter brings down Wisconsin’s James White in Saturday’s game. The junior was named the Cats’ defensive player of the week following the performance, in which he made six tackles. Monday, Carter had a front-row seat for NU’s coaches’ water balloon attack.

Alex Putterman, Assistant Sports Editor

Media members at coach Pat Fitzgerald’s weekly press conference Monday couldn’t figure out why their seats were wet and the ceiling above them water-stained.

At the end of the Wildcats’ team meeting minutes earlier, Northwestern’s coaches surprised the team with an ambush of 300 water balloons, drenching players in camaraderie and team spirit. As it turned out, the soaked meeting room was all about setting the mood, creating motivation and moving on.

A literary mind might consider the balloon bath a cleansing of Saturday’s sin, the Cats’ 35-6 loss to Wisconsin. A football coach will tend to look at things differently.

“You’ve got to have fun when you’re doing this,” Fitzgerald said. “I talk to (the team) about the glue that keeps everyone together: having fun … Every once in a while you’ve got to shake them up a little bit.”

When Fitzgerald was done and three of his players took the podium, the tone was light as they shared war stories of ducking behind chairs and searching for escape routes from the bombardment. They were aware of the psychological intent of the balloons and appreciative of the pick-me-up gesture.

“Everyone was still upset about the game,” junior center Brandon Vitabile said. “People are still getting over it. That’s just to get us past it, get the smiles on our faces and get a little pep in our step.”

Eventually the conversation reverted to football — to the Wisconsin game in particular — and the mood veered toward somber. Vitabile, sophomore superback Dan Vitale and junior defensive tackle Chance Carter hit their talking points. They explained that the Cats (4-2, 0-2 Big Ten) lost because of poor execution and miscommunication. They mentioned that they’re looking forward, trying to “go 1-0 every week,” not worrying about other teams or long-term Big Ten championship goals.

This kind of flat reflection on previous failures, which has been constant for the players since Saturday’s loss, is dangerous for morale. The Cats, it stood to reason, needed a distraction, an energy boost. Hence the water balloons. The splashy attack’s victims are already dry but its impact could linger, hopefully through this weekend’s game against Minnesota (4-2, 0-2) and beyond.

“It just has to set the tone for the rest of the week,” Vitale said. “We want to have a lot more fun — stay focused but have a lot more fun this week and get the attitude that we want back.”

More press conference notes:

  • Fitzgerald said senior quarterback Kain Colter and senior running back Venric Mark are day-to-day with lower body injuries. Both players were injured in the loss to Wisconsin. “Like always, we’ll limit (injured) guys early in the week,” Fitzgerald said. “But we hope to have those guys going later in the week.”
  • The coach also spoke about what he called a “great relationship” with Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who suffers from epilepsy and is currently on a leave of absence as he focuses on treatment. Fitzgerald and Kill first got to know each other when Kill was coaching at Northern Illinois from 2008 to 2010. “There’s no one more respected and more loved by our coaching fraternity in the Big Ten than Jerry,” Fitzgerald said.
  • Fitzgerald was praising of Carter’s performance against the Badgers, saying the lineman, who was named the team’s defensive player of the week, played one of his best games at NU. The team did not name an offensive player of the week, the first time this season the coaches declined to fill one of their weekly awards.

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Twitter: @AlexPutt02