Rivalries, Rules & Other Fall Camp Tidbits

And…we’re underway! The first fall practice is behind us as the ‘Cats donned helmets and no pads for the first official practice of the 2012 campaign. The 19-session practice had a few dramatic moments, including freshman RB Malin Jones being down for nearly 15 minutes before being carted off the Evanston field, but have no fear, it was merely dehydration.  A few other nuggets gleaned from Chris Emma of PurpleWildcats.com and NU’s own reporting of the first day:

  • Roderick Goodlaw has moved from LB to DE
  • Freshman “star” Ifeadi Odenigbo platooned at both LB and DE
  • According to Chris Emma, Mike Trumpy looked solid while NUSports.com boasted about Treyvon Green’s play
  • Evan Watkins, sporting #81 at his new position – superback – seemed to show some good hands on day one
  • Kyle Prater got the post-practice media love from ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg with this video interview.

Rivalry Rules

Despite the fact that the Illini have recently regained bragging rights from Northwestern in what was a series we had owned for some time, you’ve got to love the venom that seems to be eminating from “that team down south”. From the second Illini AD Mike Thomas set foot on campus he seemed to have a Northwestern chip on his shoulder claiming he would make the Illini the “king of Chicago”.  Northwestern’s marketing position of “Chicago’s Big Ten Team”, aimed at both claiming our backyard city as our town and also a slight play on words to try and attract the hotbed of college football frenzied alums to give our program a shot as their #2 has clearly irked Illini fans. Thanks in part to the work of Mike Polisky, the medial relations team and Pat Fitzgerald’s likable personality with the media influencers in Chicago, (and likely a sizable media buy to the major papers in town) there is a noticeable domination of coverage of the ‘Cats over the Illini in the past few seasons. 

The Illini have been in reactive mode from a marketing standpoint despite winning back-to-back games in the series. Thomas’ clear shot across the Northwestern bow only buoyed the ‘Cats marketing position, validating by clearly drawing fire from the home state team. Then, when new head coach Tim Beckman took the reigns, he poured gas on the fire that is our brand awareness by eliminating purple from his wardrobe, posting a Ghostbusters-like red slash through the Wildcats logo that hangs outside the lockerroom and refuses in public to mention Northwestern by name, instead calling us “that team up north”.  This of course after the “na na na na na” cheap shot of playing “Sweet Home Chicago” on the PA system after last year’s Illini win over Northwestern (however, another cheap shot, a knee to the nuts of a Wildcat player by Illini Jonathan Brown did little to court any respect with NU fans).  Now, you’ve got to think that Jim Phillips and Mike Polisky are downright chuckling at the validation each Illini move does to help reinforce the first-to-market position of the ‘Cats recent media blitz.

From the moment he was hired as athletic director, Mike Thomas has set out to make Illinois the “king of Chicago” and the state’s definitive college program.

 Late last week Illinois stood on their soapbox by revealing their own marketing mantra – “ILLINOIS. OUR STATE. OUR TEAM.” According to the Illinois press release:

The theme will be used in a variety of ways including advertising, street banners, team posters, schedule cards, stadium signage and video board graphics. … The “ILLINOIS. OUR STATE. OUR TEAM.” campaign will be incorporated into a large-scale brand evaluation program that the DIA will partner with Nike beginning in 2013. The 18-month collaboration will result in an updated brand identity including new football uniforms for 2014.”

The ‘Cats of course made marketing waves recently with the unveiling of Under Armour’s first foray in to the Big Ten with a rather overwhelming positive outcry for new Northwestern uniforms. At the end of the day, this sideline marketing spat means little when it comes to on-field results. However, I can tell you that I have pent up disdain for the Illini this season like none I can remember. I really, really want this game.

Recently, the ‘Cats decided to quickly take a pass on getting involved in trolling for Penn State players in the wake of the NCAA sanctions.  They were not alone in the Big Ten in deciding to take a pass on being proactive. However, the Illini, in my mind, again went backwards with their brand by reportedly having eight different assistant coaches on campus in full Illini gear which net one transfer.  Good for them. I can’t wait to see them in Evanston this year. It’s time to get the Land of Lincoln trophy back. When we do, I sure hope we act like we’ve been there before. Afterall, our rivalry game is a few weeks before.   

Rules To Live By

This will come in to play as we get closer to the season, but there are a pair of new rules that I want to call attention to everyone as they are “must knows” so that we can continue to uptick the education of our fanbase.

 The Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP)  approved moving the kickoff and touchback lines beginning with the 2012 football season.Get this.  Teams will kick off at the 35-yard line instead of the 30. Also, players on the kicking team can’t line up for the play behind the 30-yard line, which is intended to limit the running start kicking teams used to have during the play.

Also, touchbacks on free kicks will be moved to the 25-yard line instead of the 20 to encourage more touchbacks. Think about that. Think about how important our kicking game will become as we’ve been pretty average at getting the rock in the endzone on kickoffs. Touchbacks on other plays (ex – punts that go into the end zone, or fumbles that go out of the end zone) will remain at the 20-yard line.

The other new rule that goes into effect this season is if a player loses his helmet (other than as the result of a foul by the opponent, such as a facemask), it will be treated like an injury. The player must leave the game and is not allowed to participate for the next play. Think about this for a minute. It’s under :30 to go in a game and a player’s helmet comes flying off his head, unprovoked. It’s essentially the same as getting a penalty that marks off a chunk of time, which in essence could end the game. The player must come out and the injury timeout rules are in effect to prevent a team from gaming the system to stop the clock. If you don’t think this is a huge deal, just ask the coaches about what they’re doing to safeguard against this. The rules committee claimed that unnecessary helmet loss happened about twice per game. It’s hard to argue with the sentiment towards safety, but this is going to cause at least a few teams a last minute headache.

Finally, for those of you, like me, who concentrate on the OL on the point of the snap, there is a pretty big new rule in effect here as well.  Offensive players in the tackle box at the snap who are not in motion are allowed to block below the waist legally without restriction. All other players are restricted from blocking below the waist with a few exceptions (for example, straight-ahead blocks).

Chicago Connection For ‘Cats Games

It’s that time of year again when we get the NU Bar Network up and running so that no matter what city you are in you have a place to convene with fellow ‘Cats fans. Be sure to check out your city and update me with new info as bars tend to change from month to month in various cities. However, if you’re in Chicago and looking for a great way to get safe transportation that can include everything from a game ticket to a ride to food and drink then look no further than our gal pal, Gia D., who is running point on the shuttle options from Kendall’s Pub as part of her duties as VP Marketing of the NU Club of Chicago. All the info is below:

Football Home Game Bus Trips

Looking for a convenient, inexpensive way to get to Northwestern home football games? Want to save $10 on tickets to the SOLD OUT Nebraska game or Iowa Homecoming game? Join fellow alumni at Kendall’s Pub (2263 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago 60614) before heading to the game together on a chartered bus. Game ticket, light appetizers, roundtrip bus service from Kendall’s to Ryan Field one hour of domestic drafts, and beer on the bus are included.
Vs. Nebraska
Date: Saturday, October 20, $60
Register at http://alumni.northwestern.edu/events/7036Vs. Iowa
Date: Saturday, October 27 (Homecoming), $45
Register at http://alumni.northwestern.edu/events/7056

 LTP Ticket Challenge

Gia D. gets double bonus points for also convincing a pair of friends to pick up season tickets as she sold them on the tailgate atmosphere, the home schedule and the abundance of single men at NU games. Way to go Gia! Also, Alan A. added a +1 to his ticket package to make it a 3-seat deal so he can bring friends and potential new season ticket holders. Way to go guys! Send us your story of converting NEW season ticket holders and help push us over the 100-ticket mark. If we can keep up the current pace, we’ll reach our goal of 200 NEW season tickets by the home opener on September 8 vs Vanderbilt. Don’t forget to include that our first two home games are a night game (7pm ct vs Vanderbilt on September 8) and a late afternoon start time (2:30 pm ct) for the BC game on 9/15! Email us at laketheposts@gmail.com.

  • Jim B

    I like the new kickoff rules because a) safer for players b) it benefits NU more than other teams that have stonger kickers c) it improves the chances our kick coverage teams don’t give up a big return as fewer returns are likely to be taken out of the endzone.

  • Butler

    I still think NU should play “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)” by Frank Sinatra after every home win.

    • willycat

      Love the “Chicago” song idea and here is hoping that we hear it loud and often. Also good to hear that “Kendall’s” is starting the chartered bus option, including tickets and refreshments to Ryan Field. I have been advocating such an approach which solves a major excuse for some to not attend games in Evanston, lack of parking. Hope other restaurants/ pubs also get on board and truly make NU Chicago’s Big Ten Team.

    • skepticat

      NU has been playing Chicago-themed music — including “Sweet Home Chicago” and, if I’m not mistaken, one of the Sinatra songs — for years now after the games. Apparently somebody from Illinois attended one of our games.

  • wcgrad

    I fully embrace the new helmet rule.

    I’ve seen way too many plays where players have lost their helmets mid-play, and to my untrained eye, that seems like the player is not securing his helmet properly. Is there anyone who has played football recently who can say how often helmets fall off in a non penalty situation?

    In addition, if play needs to be stopped, I think officials will be more inclined to call penalties if/when it does happen. I seem to remember Persa losing his helmet on a play on which no penalty was called during the Michigan game, and being ruled down. I still wonder why a facemask wasn’t called on that play. It’s possible that could change with new rules.

    • skepticat

      The refs blew it on that play in every way imaginable. The only thing that would’ve been different, after missing the facemask penalty and then putting Persa at risk by not immediately whistling the play dead when his helmet came off, is that Persa would’ve had to have sat out on the next play, since the lack of a penalty call would imply the helmet came off “unprovoked”. Although I seem to remember that being a 3rd down, so I guess the impact would’ve been minimal. But still: incompetence exacerbated.

      • GradCat

        I could be remembering incorrectly, but I think we actually earned the 1st down on that play. However, the refs later ruled the play dead upon Persa’s helmet coming off. So really, it served little purpose. They didn’t blow it dead immediately (the point being to minimize risk of injury) but still screwed us over by bringing it back.

  • cece

    I’m no fan of anything Illini related, but they are just doing the same thing with their marketing strategy that we are doing with ours…marking territory. so does that mean our strategy was good in the first place? or that it is silly too? there are varying opinions.

    but the thing that is most clear? you can have a great marketing strategy but if you do not have the best product, you lose in two ways. right now, Illinois is winning on the field. here’s hoping that stops.

  • Pittsburgh Wildcat

    I am absolutely laughing my a** off at the massive inferiority complex they have in Chambana.

    Rittenberg/Bennett tweeted earlier this morning that the Illinois’ players who are held out of practice for medical reasons are wearing purple jerseys — and that it’s purely intentional.

    • Pittsburgh Wildcat

      Clarification for accuracy: the original tweet came from the Ill. beat writer at the Champaign News-Gazette and was retweeted by Rittenberg/Bennett.

    • skepticat

      Wow, what an a-hole coach. “Broken leg, eh? Well then you can sit here in a dunce jersey and think about how you’re a failure and disappointment to your team.” That’s beyond the pale.

  • Indycat15

    A helmet should never come off. Period. Unless it’s removed at the chinstrap.

    When attached properly it should be so tight it’s uncomfortable to wear and it should be painful to pull it over your ears. Many players don’t put enough air in the helmets or wear the ear pads too loosely within the helmet, or worse, don’t have their chinstraps properly tightened. I took some giant blows and never once had my helmet dislodged-it drives me nuts when I see players’ helmets fly off in a game, because it should never happen. Proper helmet fit reduces concussions, as does proper mouthpiece usage (another area where players often skirt the rules-especially on the high school level), and so I’m a huge fan of the rule change. I expect that the coaches will be personally involved in inspecting the players’ helmets from now on.

    • Cletown Joe

      Couldn’t agree more with your comment, Indy. We used to get callus like skin on our foreheads during two-a-days in high school football cause the helmets were so tight and uncomfortable. The way helmets bounce around on guys heads now-a-days is crazy. Proper fitting helmets would all but eliminate the issue with this new rule and would certainly avoid some injuries.

    • gocatsgo2003

      Huh? Should be so tight it is uncomfortable to wear and painful to pull over your ears? In what decade?

      There have been many advancements in helmet technology that allow the helmet to fit comfortably while offering sufficient concussion protection.

  • skepticat

    I actually think Mike Thomas’s comment about wanting to be the “King of Chicago” is somewhat in bad taste, not to mention trite. Then again, Jonathan Brown really owned up to that image last year. But just another example of how far removed from the city they actually are down there.

    I also don’t understand this kickoff rule. If kickoffs are too dangerous, just stop doing them. Otherwise why waste everybody’s time watching kickers boot the ball 5 yards out the back of the endzone? The NCAA’s little twist — giving touchbacks a 5-yard “bonus” — I think will also be self-defeating. Why wouldn’t teams kicking off just try to kick the ball short to avoid spotting their opponent 5 free yards?

  • NUNUNUNU

    I think the new kickoff rules are going to hurt NU this year. Moving kickoffs up to the 35 yard line are going to really cut back on the number of returns Venrick Mark gets to make. I know we’ve been burned on special teams a lot in the past, but I recall a lot more big returns by him than our opponents last year.

    • Doug

      True. But generally our offense is capable of moving the ball and our defense is not capable of stopping the other team.

  • Indycat15

    Have to laugh about the purple jerseys at Illinois. I don’t think we as Northwestern fans can take the moral high ground when discussing the ostracization of injured players. Don’t think for a second that RW didn’t do the same thing 10 years ago. I’m not sure if Fitz still does it or not. The ‘goal’ is to ‘motivate’ an injured player to get back to practice as quickly as possible, and not milk a minor injury to get out of practice. No one likes practice.

  • Pittsburgh Wildcat

    By the way, for what it’s worth, Trib has a fan poll going on which team will have more wins this year: NU or Illinois.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/poll/chi-120804-illini-nu-poll,0,3549453.poll

    I just voted and it’s 572-546 for the team in orange. Take a couple of mins and vote for NU.

  • Hongkongcat

    As a marketer I love the “our home, our state” thing because it’s such a terrible idea. Associating The NU brand with the Chicago brand rightly connects us with our iconic city. Just say “Chicago” and a flood of positive images come to mind. Now think of the state of illinois and try to draw a mental picture. Not much comes to mind because Illinois is not a strong brand. And nobody from Chicago says they are from Illinois. Recruits in Chicago and suburbs aren’t proud of the state of Illinois, (this ain’t Nebraska), recruits from out of state don’t even know how to pronounce “Illinois”, and the recruiting appeal is limited to the lower 2/3 of the state where Illinois is considered to be an actual thing. Let’s just hope they stick with this mantra. It’s a winner, for us!

    • VAWildcat

      Having grown up in Peoria before escaping to Evanston, that was exactly my reaction. It’s a terrible slogan. As far as I’m concerned, they’re welcome to the rest of Illinois as long as we can have Chicago.

    • Mr Marbles

      @ Hongkongcat

      recruits from out of state don’t even know how to pronounce “Illinois”

      Quite a few in-state recruits too. I meet lifelong Chicago residents all the time who don’t even know how to pronounce “Illinois.” I always wonder to myself how it is possible to live here for 50 years and not get clued in on the correct pronunciation.

    • willycat

      Hell, Zook couldn’t even pronounce Illinois correctly during his introduction news conference. Regarding RW and injured players, he wouldn’t even allow them on the sidelines during games. Glad Fitz has changed that rule.

  • ende

    I can’t wait until we play Central Illinois this year. I think that it will be a fitting finish to the year, especially around Thanksgiving time, the time when we can try to better break bread with our Native American inspired Big Ten rivals.

    • Central IL Cat

      After returning home to Central IL for the summer I can’t wait to take it to Illinois this year. You can only take so much of Thomas and Beckman’s hubris before you want to explode.