Paxton: Enjoy the recent highs, Northwestern fans. They’re special.

Cole Paxton, Gameday Editor

When I first got into Northwestern sports, the Wildcats were pretty putrid. It was winter 2015, and I, a second-semester high school senior recently admitted to Northwestern, wanted a taste of Cats sports and something to do. So I watched a lot of basketball.

I liked it. I relaxed and learned about the NU team. It didn’t help that the Cats lost 10 straight games, including six in a row in January decided by single digits, but it was low-stress entertainment and plenty of fun.

Nearly four years after this first introduction, as I wind down my time in Evanston, I’ve thought often about the memorable NU sports moments since I’ve been here. They are plenty, they are significant and they are exhilarating. They are worth enjoying.

We should remember them fondly, and remember them happily.

Who knows when the Cats will have another era as glistening as the past three-plus years. There’s no telling when the best thing about NU sports will be that there are games — and that they will be televised — like in January 2015.

Recent Northwestern performances have made it easy to rue what could have been, to find fault with an end result, to let the negative overshadow the positive. Football won 10 games in 2015, but the season ended miserably in the Outback Bowl. Sure, the destruction by Tennessee left a lasting image and advanced statistics downplayed the Cats’ season, but accruing 10 wins and playing on New Year’s Day is a big deal for NU. I enjoyed it, and I hope I’m not the only one who did.

I could go on with dozens of other examples. The uncalled goaltend against Gonzaga in the 2017 NCAA men’s basketball tournament may evoke more visceral reactions than the call of Northwestern on Selection Sunday and Bryant McIntosh’s game-sealing free throws against Vanderbilt, but the latter are historic accomplishments. Those aren’t the moments that should become footnotes.

Same goes for women’s golf that spring, which launched a stunning semifinal comeback against USC but came up short against Arizona State. Baseball storming through that year’s Big Ten Tournament, then falling one game short of a wildly improbable NCAA Tournament bid? Ditto. Women’s tennis’ surprise run to the Sweet 16 last year before running into a buzzsaw? Likewise. All of these teams experienced disappointments, and fans can feel that discouragement.

But if I’ve learned one thing from living and breathing NU sports in three-plus years, it’s this: A struggling team can be just around the corner, and the good times don’t necessarily last forever. That makes the uplifting moments all the more significant.

Actions off the field understandably lead to cynicism about NU sports. It can feel icky to support Chris Collins’ team as serious allegations about his program remain unresolved. As many of my colleagues have accurately posited, a glistening $270-million practice facility strikes a dissonance as mental health programs and spaces for underserved communities don’t get the requisite support.

My writing here is not meant to discount these concerns. They deserve continued scrutiny and critical eyes, and I hope that will continue in the pages of The Daily. These issues do not, however, mean that we must discount every on-field accomplishment or view every victory as tainted. Social good and game wins are not mutually exclusive pursuits.

To the latter point: My next words in The Daily will come from Indianapolis, where the Cats are improbably contesting their first-ever Big Ten title game. It will make for an exhilarating weekend. If everything goes right for NU, of course, a trip to the Rose Bowl awaits.

Pasadena, California, on New Year’s Day would be hard to top. Then again, so is a season that would fall one victory short of that trip. It sounds quite a bit better than a 10-game losing streak.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @ckpaxton