More than five years ago I started this blog with the primary goal of doing my part to get Ryan Field packed with 47,130 purple-clad fans every week. As a fan, there are very few things you can do to influence the on-field performance, however, on Saturday, we got to see first hand what those things are thanks to the nearly 30,000 Nebraska fans that came, saw and kicked our fans asses in fandom. We may have lost on the field by a point, but we got slaughtered in the stands. The single most emailed item of the 2012 season was without question Kain Colter’s postgame quote which should be blown up in to a two-story quote and posted on the Ryan Field towers as a scarlet letter to our fan base when he confessed that he couldn’t hear his lineman on the two final drives and was forced to go to a silent count. “We didn’t prepare for that the entire week.”
Why would you? You’re at home. Or so you thought. Let me be clear on this folks. Two wrongs don’t make a right. There are all sorts of questions that should be answered by Mick McCall and Fitz, specifically around personnel packages on Saturday, moreso than even the offensive playcalling. Yet, we as a fan base have to take responsibility for this loss as well. While I realize this readership is akin to being the churchgoers getting scolded for those who didn’t attend church, I’m hopeful you can help spread the word.
The fact that fans and media are openly questioning strategy is a sign of progress for the program as “real programs” get that daily. It’s a good thing. The fact that Fitz has become far less defensive with the media is a good thing – it’s a sign of embracing the spotlight and expectations. However, the fact four sections on the east side of the stadium were converted from season ticket holding sections to a road game is a joke. Yes, we can bitch all we want about the two fourth quarter meltdowns that have precluded us from being a top ten BCS team this year. However, we as a fan base must take accountability as well.
If I get accused of the following being interpreted as accepting mediocrity, I will blow my lid. One of the obvious eye tests on Saturday was that Nebraska had more athletic talent across the board than we did, particularly at the defensive skill positions. Amazingly, we at least had a draw with the trenches, as I’m chalking the final 140 yards of Nebraska offense up to secondary injury exploitation. We held them to nearly 100 yards below their rushing average. However, our WRs were partially to blame for not being able to separate and Trevor will take the blame for consistent underthrows as well. Why all this talent talk? Well, talent is the lifeblood of a program, and Fitz has significantly upgraded the talent in the past two seasons despite what I believe is one of the toughest sells to a 17-year-old.
Northwestern fans will tell you that if you’re a kid who respects the value of a good education that NU is a no-brainer choice. It’s a B1G school in a world class city with a coach who gets the big picture of life. All true. I’ve got one question for you. If you were one of the dozen or so recruits who were sitting exactly two rows behind me (including Matt Alviti who sits there every game seemingly recruiting other recruits) on Saturday, facing the east stands and you had an offer from Nebraska and Northwestern, what would you do? A kid getting recruited by both schools is laser focused on making the NFL, despite what rationale you may he think he should have. Nebraska boasts the most impressive list of Academic All Americans in the country. I know what I would’ve chosen after Saturday. Yet, Fitz still competes at the BCS program level and wins.
You try walking a kid around our facility the week after he’s visited Ohio State, Illinois or even Indiana. Let’s say it is September. What do you say? “Don’t worry, see those 15,000 empty seats, they won’t be there when we play in the conference!” Or, do you just fib and tell them “we sell out most of our B1G games” and conveniently forget to mention that each sellout consists of at least 40% of the opponents’ fans?
You can tell me that winning cures all, and that is true, but doesn’t fan support impact recruiting which helps you win? Better yet, in the game on Saturday, did you see the impact noise can have on the outcome? Venric Mark blitzed Nebraska for an 80-yard TD run to put us up 11 on national TV and it was less noisy than the Bronx cheer for Nebraska’s first punt return catch. Seriously?
I’m so sick and tired of reading about fans who have been told to sit down. You know what, let’s set-up a program to text or grab security and have those people ejected and their seats taking away for being detrimental fans. I don’t care if you’re a 40-year season ticket holder, if you don’t stand up, make noise and support the team, go watch at home. Perhaps we can take some of the donation money and install ejector seats. We’ll give NU administration control of the seats and when they see fans sitting on their ass, they can eject them right out of the stadium and launch them in to Lake Michigan. Wouldn’t that be fun to watch? Better yet, why don’t we create a section sponsored by the golf team where fans can sit content and not have to stand and cheer and do a polite golf clap. We’ll serve them Luke Donald wine, some scintillating assortment of fine cheese and we won’t even tell them they’ll be at an Evanston Township High School game.
Folks, if the Nebraska invasion didn’t force us to change, nothing will. Can you imagine what it felt like to be a player on Saturday in the fourth quarter? As we needed a stop, the momentum of the noise was working against our own team in our own building. It’s impossible they didn’t notice. They’ll never admit it impacted them, but how defeating. There were dozens of you who sold your parking passes to random Nebraska fans. Shame on you. I went around and asked our neighbors how they got the parking passes which take thousands in donations or two decades of season ticket holding to seucre – “it was easy, there were a ton of them on Craig’s List!”. So, there I was with my weekly NU newcomers club pitch and we were surrounded by inflatable Herbie the Huskers.
The most frustrating part of all of this is that we’ve been there. In 1996 and 1997 we sold out regularly with nearly all purple. You don’t believe me? Think back to the ’95 Penn State game or the’96 Michigan game, or even better litmus tests, games against Minnesota and Purdue. It got loud. Not Nebraska loud, but home field advantage loud. The ’96 Michigan game was insanity in the 4th quarter. Our then marketing team screwed up bigtime by not capitalizing on it. We’re paying for it nearly 20 years later.
Right now, we get 30,000 NU fans per game, using finger in the air math based on the Vandy and BC crowds. This is why the Nebraska game hurt so much. This game caught the non-NU media attention. David Haugh dipped his pen in the NU football near magic for a minute and now he is gone. Crain’s Chicago echoed this sentiment by highlighting the media attention – the game peaked a at a downright ridiculous (in a great way )8 rating in Chicago – and then ripping NU for “fumbling” yet another opportunity to convert the casual fan:
Saturday’s game showcased exactly what makes it difficult for pro-team-first Chicago sports fans to jump on the Wildcat bandwagon: losing big games (especially when people are watching).
Despite the strong branding that has infiltrated Chicago billboards, radio stations and television sets, Northwestern’s football and basketball programs continue to come up short of what’s needed to capture a broader fan base.
The athletic department at NU has made tremendous progress in promoting purple fever as never before, but fumbling away national spotlight opportunities the way the Cats did Saturday is slowly becoming the Achilles’ heel for Athletic Director Jim Phillips’ grand plan. – Danny Ecker, Crain’s Chicago, October 22, 2012
I’ll say it again. The lack of fan support does not excuse the ‘Cats from late game collapses. They’re not mutually exclusive. However, when I receive emails from family members of current starters begging for help on fan support it is time to sound the alarm. It would be naive to chalk this up to painting Nebraska as an exception. All the billboards, media relations and digital marketing in the world will pale in comparison to relationship marketing and that is where you come in to play.
I get it. You’re already doing it. Well, until I can grow the readership to include every single season ticket holder (which is a long way to go), I’m counting on you to bring people in to the fold. The old Chinese math of “if every reader just brought 2 purple clad fans and we’d have a sellout every week” was that easy, it’d be done. However, you do make a difference – and I suspect can do just a little bit more. Let’s use the Nebraska embarassment as a “never again” mantra. Saturday is STILL not a sellout despite the fact you know Iowa will bring some 15,000+ fans. Please, no excuses about student size or alumni base, this is up to you and me. As you’ve heard “single game tickets are still available” which means it is not sold out. The Illini game is FAR from soldout since Illini fans have jumped ship since the 1990s. Let’s use these final two home games as a grassroots movement to galvanize fan support for our team this year, and what could shape up to be a magical 2013 season with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State (along with Minnesota, Syracuse, Western Michigan (Vandy sucks) and Maine) on the home slate. Call 1-888-Go-Purple and ask for Tony Devito, the LTP ticket manager and tell him you’re here to help.
You can feel free to vent and criticize all you want, but we as fans have to start taking responsibility too. Let’s learn from Nebraska, get your neighbors up off their duffs and lo and behold start banging the bleachers and make some noise. Go ‘Cats.
Best Analysis Yet
Kudos to former ‘Cats QB CJ Bacher for his brilliant breakdown of the ‘Cats-Nebraska game. If you don’t get WildcatReport.com, his Monday Morning QB is worth the subscription alone. He broke down Nebraska’s Cover 2-man and meticulously broke down how the Huskers brought a safety in to the box, forcing NU to test the corners in a classic “our best athletes vs your best athletes” duel, which they clearly won. For anyone criticizing the downfield bombs we repeatedly threw and your want to open up the short passing game, this explains exactly why we did what we did and why Nebraska did what they did. Great job CJ.
Project Pass The Hat
We’re in this together. There are only four more days of the LTP pledge drive and we need your help to get to our goal. We’re 80% there. We’ve got a ton of content to help us turn the corner so think of it as a voluntary membership and know that the money is going to go to pay website design and programming, and a slew of related costs that have added up to make this something that we’ll need your help to keep growing. We’re extremely appreciative of ANY amount you’d be so kind to consider to give. We will be giving a portion of the money – in the name of the LTP community – to Northwestern, for a cause that we will collectively decide upon together. You can either go to the “Click Here to Donate” icon on the upper right of this site, of simply CLICK HERE and it will take you to the donation page. Don’t be fooled by the PayPal logo, it accepts nearly every credit card and you don’t need a PayPal account to donate! Thanks again for your continued support!
PRR Gets on ESPN Gameday
Kudos to PRR for getting some NU love on the set of ESPN Gameday this past weekend at the Swamp. PRR is in grad school at Florida so he’s always on spreading the purple cheer in the Sunshine State. Check out the screen grab here:
LTP N Flag Project
Last week we had Zack Oliver’s home make the LTP N Flag Project. This week, we’ve got another stadium on the map. Thanks to George “Great” Scott, we’ve got Virginia’s Scott Stadium on the map. Check out this cool pic:
We also have Bali, Indonesia on the map thanks to ’03 grad Mike and his now bride, Kristen. Man, when you can get a rice paddy shot it just reinforces how much I love this project. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your photo and we’ll be happy to add it to the ever-bulging LTP N Flag Map!