Diebold: As seniors depart, cherish the in-between moments

Joseph Diebold, Assistant Gameday Editor

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During Wildcat Welcome my freshman year, Northwestern went to Army and lost. After a bye week, the Wildcats went to Illinois and lost. Then they lost three more games in a row.

Wildcat Welcome, indeed.

Since that five-game losing streak, there have been highs and lows, bowl wins and blowout losses. There were last-minute losses to Michigan and Nebraska in 2012 and … last-minute losses to Michigan and Nebraska in 2013.

Through it all, we always cared. Fans, players and coaches often say they care about championships. That’s how we judge success in sports. It’s also not really true. What matters isn’t the victory celebrations, it’s the thousands of little moments that lead to them, or, far more often, lead to falling short of them. Those moments, the bumps in the road, are what make the championship celebrations so joyous, the defeats so devastating. Sharing those moments with a community is why we come back, year after year, hoping that this one might be different.

More than “GameDay” or the Gator Bowl, tiny moments stick with me from four years of NU football. Kyle Prater fighting through injuries to turn into the receiver we all thought he could be. Tony Jones dropping three sure touchdowns against Notre Dame, when you couldn’t do anything but laugh. Countless thumping hits from Ibraheim Campbell and Chi Chi Ariguzo. Those moments, the in-betweens, are the real special ones.

Most people didn’t grow up fans of NU. Sure, some kids who are legacies or from the Chicago area have bled purple since birth, but the rest of us grew up experiencing NU mainly through quick highlights on “SportsCenter” and cut-ins from other games to see what Ohio State or Michigan were up to. It’s fair to say the Cats have a hard sell with new students.

NU doesn’t usually make a mark on college football nationally, at least for anything good (Play for two hours while the scoreboard spells “MOON” and then end the game with your quarterback slipping on a two-point conversion attempt? That’s a different story). Fans in Tallahassee and Tuscaloosa and Eugene and Waco aren’t waking up on Saturdays and thinking about NU’s game that day. Experiencing NU football can sometimes feel like being invisible.

That it still meant so much, that it gave us all these memories, is a testament to the seniors who will run onto Ryan Field for the final time Saturday.

Players like Prater, who never should have ended up in Evanston, who finally harnessed his gifts. Players like Treyvon Green, who was nobody’s first choice running back but has answered the call in big moments the past two weeks. Players like Collin Ellis and Trevor Siemian, who will be in sweats on Saturday, robbed by a cruel game of the chance to put on the purple helmet one last time.

It’s those players — more than anything else — that I’ll remember.

It wasn’t always pretty. It was often maddening. It was mostly heartbreaking. But it was fun as hell that for 12 Saturdays every fall, I woke up and had NU football to look forward to. Thanks, class of 2015.

Email: josephdiebold2015@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @JosephDiebold

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