Nadkarni: As Northwestern enters a new era, Crawford is a proud relic of an old one


Rohan Nadkarni, Reporter

This has to be the worst a Drew Crawford-led team has ever performed.

In high school, Crawford was facing future teammate John Shurna in regional playoff games en route to winning multiple conference championships. Last season, Crawford avoided most of Northwestern’s losing due to injuries he suffered early.

Unfortunately, Crawford will not be a part of the Wildcats’ first ever NCAA Tournament team, whenever that happens. But right now, Crawford stands as the last remaining pillar of what almost was.

Chris Collins ushered in what Athletic Director Jim Phillips hopes will be a “#NUEra.” Crawford, when he dons purple for the last time at Welsh-Ryan Arena Thursday against Penn State, will take with him memories of the old era, an era hard to appreciate because of its bitter ending.

Crawford was used to winning. In his first two years at NU, the team won 20 games each season, the first two times in program history the team topped that number. In his third year, the team won 19 games. Each season, as March approached, fans waited with bated breath to see if this would be the year. 

Though Shurna might be the preeminent figure of the latter half of Bill Carmody’s tenure, Crawford has written his own legacy. While Collins works hard to forge his own path, it’s important we don’t tie Crawford to his latest coach, but instead remember how close he came with his first one to pulling this school to a place it has never gone.

It was Crawford who put up big points down the stretch against No. 6 Purdue his freshman year to give the Cats their biggest upset of the season. The next year, Crawford played a key role in a 1-point win over Illinois to avenge a loss from earlier in the season.

In his junior year, Crawford recorded his very own rendition of Michael Jordan’s flu game. Playing with an illness, Crawford scored 20 points in a home upset over No. 6 Michigan State.

The last two years of Crawford’s career have been robbed by injuries and roster turnover. Unlike a future NU great, we won’t even get to see highlights of Crawford’s big games at Welsh-Ryan because a video board won’t arrive until next year, the one Carmody could never get.

We don’t need to rehash everything that happened in the Carmody era. Everyone moved on for a reason. But a complicated ending to those days has made us distance ourselves from a stretch that certainly had its fair share of memories.

So as Crawford prepares for his final days in Evanston, it’s time to embrace the past. It’s time to embrace the teams and players that nearly overcame all of NU’s built-in disadvantages to take us to the tournament.

The Carmody era, and players like Crawford and Shurna, are an irreplaceable part of where the Cats are as a basketball program today. Collins brings glamour, fan support, donations and will probably bring a berth in the Big Dance in the near future.

But we shouldn’t forget what Crawford represents. His senior season was mostly a farewell tour. It was a treat for people like you and me — the fans.

So I won’t remember Crawford as part of this new dawn in NU basketball. He’ll forever be part of the teams that came ever so close, the teams that won historically.

And I don’t think there’s a better way to remember him.

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Twitter: @Rohan_NU