’95 ‘Cats + ’04 Red Sox – Evil Empire = Unrealistic Hoops Hope Breakthrough
The ‘Cats (14-10,4-9) host the Iowa Hawkeyes tonight at 8pm ct (BTN) at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Thanks to this Lindsey Willhite report on the ‘Cats there is much good news to spread around. John Shurna, according to the report, is coming off of his best practice “by far”. Jeff Ryan, the senior who has been hampered by back and knee injuries all season has returned to the practice floor. And, kudos to Bill Carmody for putting up $1000 for Dance Marathon (Lindsey’s piece talks about the NU players shooting with benefactors to be of NU’s somewhat famous Dance Marathon. Carmody wisely levered his donation and will credit it to the Dance Marathoner who brings the most fans to the game tonight (well played coach!). The only bad news is that sophomore G Alex Marcotullio is nursing a dislocated left thumb, but it appears he will be fine to play. The ‘Cats, as we e all know, are seeking a season sweep of Iowa and are now in the midst of the final third of the season which sets up to be the most favorable part of the schedule. LTP will be likely filing a report tomorrow as I’ll be in the air during the game (but may still catch the game thanks to JetBlue). Now, on to the post…
’95 ‘Cats + ’04 Red Sox – Evil Empire = Unrealistic Hoops Hope
The beauty of the conference tournament is that you’re never really out of making the Big Dance technically until the end of the conference tournament. Every few years a cellar-dwelling BCS level team will make a crazy run and once in a while even win their respective tournament. For whatever reason it seems this Cinderella phenomenon usually happens in Mid-Majorville where a hyphenated directional school with a sub .500 overall record will grab the nation’s attention before promptly losing by 40 to Duke in round one. With Northwestern’s NCAA at-large chances essentially gone, “Four Days in March” is our final hope. It got me thinking, “what if we did run the tournament as our way of getting “IN”?”
OK, caveat. I’m not greedy. I’d take ANY way of getting in the Big Dance to end NU’s hoops drought. But, it does beg the question, if you’re going to finally break through, how do you think/want it to happen? There are a couple learns I’ve had with other championship-starved teams in my fandom that have given me some perspective. The spoiler for me in all of this is that my teams of childhood fanatacism share a common thread – perennial loser who turns the tide in epic fashion. Considering I’m a New Englander by birthright you can probably guess where this post is going (as if the headline didn’t give it away). But we’ll start in Evanston.
Most of us share the common connection of being NU fans prior to 1995. The beauty of that season and that story is the seemingly no-brainer Hollywood script aspect of it all. It wasn’t just that NU had struggled through 23 consecutive losing seasons, it was epically bad losing seasons including ( I can’t believe I’m mentioning it!) of course “the streak”. The FBS consecutive games losing streak is still held by yours truly. So, despite many of us buying in fully to Gary Barnett’s “Expect Victory” mantra and glimmers of hope (and exceptionally cool motivational tactics), to say I ever dreamed of 1995 would be crazy. It wasn’t in my realm of conception. You know the story by heart. Northwestern opens the season beating Notre Dame, at the time the all-time winningest college football program and the face of college football success. NU held the all-time worst record in college football. The classic reality grounding loss to Miami (OH) and then the Big Ten Championship run that went through the likes of Michigan, Penn State and the like all the way to the Rose Bowl. I still contend that story is a major motion picture and I’m set on being involved to tell that story (I’ve told the NU administration the same thing). Truly epic stuff.
Fast forward nine years to the 2004 MLB ALCS. I had the fortune of catching ESPN’s 30/30 last weekend which was on this exact subject matter. It was called “Four Days in October”. The Red Sox are down 3-0 to NY and down to their final outs. Dave Roberts steals second of Mariano Rivera and scores a dramatic game-tying run. Big Papi wins it with an RBI single and the Red Sox stay alive for Game 5 of the ALCS. You know the story. The Fox announcers beat every viewer over the head with the fact no team had ever come back from 3 games to zero to win a postseason series. Big Papi strikes again in the longest postseason game in history. Yankees 3-2 and the series moves to Yankee Stadium. Enter Curt Schilling’s bloody sock and an epic (there is that word again) performance that will forever be remembered as the Sox force a game seven. The Red Sox go on to complete the improbable ALCS-clinching win to seemingly exorcise 8-plus decades of World Series starvation. They beat St. Louis in a 4-game sweep.
I grew up a Providence College basketball fan. I attended every single game from about 1979-1991. The once-proud Friar program was a cellar dwellar for the first seven years of my fandom. Then Rick Pitino came and transformed the plump Billy Donovan in to an All-American PG and the Friars ended a very long NCAA drought by simply knocking down heavyweights, including mighty Georgetown en route to the 1987 Final Four.
So, what does this do to my calculus on how Northwestern will end the NCAA Tournament drought? It gives me unrealistic hoops hope. I’ve rationalized that this season can’t be the one after the rocky start. My sports history of fandom tells me that when we do it it will likely be epic. The 1995 football parallel would be opening with a win at Duke and proceeding to go 16-2 (ish) in the Big Ten knocking down perennial powers like Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Ohio State in dominating fashion. Squeaking in to the Tournament just doesn’t seem to be on par with the misguided fortune I’ve enjoyed in my teams’ breakthrough seasons.
I rationalize with each passing season that all it does is make us stronger as fans and it will be THAT much sweeter when we do break through. I admit, I’m spoiled based on my pro teams’ success. The Red Sox winning again in 2007 was fantastic, but nothing like 2004. I never thought I’d say it. Also, with NU’s Joe Girardi (read: very likable) the evilness of the Evil Empire has diminished in my view. The Patriots’ success has set-up a mentality of anything less than a Super Bowl win equals disappointment. The Celtics most recent title was almost ho-hum (although that likely has more to do with me not being a big NBA guy). The point to all of this is that breakthrough season for NU hoops in my mind is something that will be difficult to live up to relative to the ’95 Cats, the ’04 Red Sox. Even in college hoops parallels, my beloved Friars set the bar of magic being a Final Four run in their breakthrough season. It isn’t fair to NU hoops. Therefore, I won’t be greedy. I’ll take “Four Days in March” and be delighted.
‘Cats Over ’85 Bears?
As Stephen pointed out in the comments, 1995 NU football is a 16-seed against the 1-seed for ESPNChicago.com’s bracket tournament on best all-time Chicago teams. To vote for NU and score an upset that would be bigger in this city than the Miracle on Ice text “MADNESS” to *33776 and vote ‘B’ for Northwestern!