The ‘Cats were back at practice on Tuesday preparing for Mississippi State. Based on reports from both WildcatReport.com and PurpleWildcats.com it was relatively uneventful. Until the end. The ‘Cats staged their now annual 7-on-7 coaches vs coaches practice where guys ranging from DB coach Jerry Brown to WR coach Dennis Springer “suit up” and battle the players they coach every other day. Fitz told reporters he is “smarter than he looks” when asked why he didn’t participate. Obviously, the mood was light and thankfully no one was injured.
As we get within striking distance of bowl week, I was happy to see the coverage Teddy Greenstein reported on Monday. After five years, Fitz has really figured out a rhythm to preparing for bowl games and has turned this week in to a Chicago version of the bowl experience. With the semester complete, the players are living in a ghost town of a campus environment, so Fitz uses the practice-by-day, organized play by night strategy. Last night the team went to the Bulls-Celtics game (where one of you reported they were called out on the Jumbotron to barely any recognition by the NBA audience marking just another footnote that we’ve got a long way to go to truly become Chicago’s Big Ten Team) at the United Center. Another night they had on the town bowling. They’ll mix in community service with some blow-off-steam events. When you consider how hard these guys bust their butts every day year-round, you’ve got to believe this time of year the “rewards” go a long way.
If you’ve ever heard Fitz in person talk about the bowl experience you’d think he’s on the payroll of the less important bowl committee. He talks about the off-the-field experiences, bonding and friendships that are deepened each bowl week when the above type events take place in what is now a different city per year. Last year, at the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, he listed a half a dozen events ranging from great steak dinners to a rodeo that he believes will be as memorable as any game the ‘Cats play.
You can just see how he’s got this recruiting thing down and why the players love him. Teddy’s article (I’d link to it, but I can’t as it is now a paywall since I’ve exhausted my five freebies this month) was great in terms of the perspective it provided. Fitz remembered his bowl prep days as being a grinder, especially for underclassmen. Barnett provided insights on how he had to pull from other Big Ten coaches to get advice on just how to prep for bowls. Now, on his fifth rodeo as a bowl game coach, Fitz readily admits he looks back and wonders what he was thinking as he strongly believes he wore out his players during December. Now, speaking like a cross-country coach, he’s concentrating on peaking at just the right time – January 1 at 12pm et.
Fitz also spoke to ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg earlier this week and I was excited to hear just how healthy we are – the healthiest we’ve been all year according to our coach. It’s definitely worth a view as perhaps his comfort factor with AR in a 1-on-1 setting lent to a more candid Coach Fitz. He was quick to point to the media as overblowing the impact of a bowl game – win or lose. Fitz also continues to seem more relaxed and less defensive with the media, something you’d expect from the second longest tenured coach in the B1G.
In the next two days, we’ll be talking directly to Adam Rittenberg and Teddy Greenstein directly about Fitz, the program and their take on the state of the ‘Cats and some big picture perspective on Fitz and this team.
OK, so I’ve got my two game tickets, my travel plans are locked and I’m ready to roll. I’m actually taking a 2-day side trip with my wife to enjoy Savannah before rolling in to J-ville on New Year’s Eve afternoon. Between friends and readers many have wanted to try and connect in person and I’m going to work on a location and time to make that happen.
Meanwhile, a team of various age NU alums from the Jacksonville area have graciously raised their hands to help out with your trip to Jacksonville. We actually connected with Matt Herek, the Northwestern executive who is in charge of the ‘Cats bowl game experience for alums. A New Year’s Eve party is setup for ‘Cats fans of all ages, and we’ll go in to detail on that in the coming days. If you’ve got questions, ask away! As you know by now, Jacksonville is widespread and fans are staying all over the place. We put a poll up to try and get a sense where pockets of folks will be staying, so we can offer up some unofficial gathering spots depending upon how far away you are.
Gator Bowl Watch Party Central
The folks who aren’t able to make it to Jacksonville are forming watch parties, which we will update on the LTP Bar Network. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any specific updates or changes for the Gator Bowl watch parties. Here is the first of many updates:
Mikey’s Sports Bar at 3180 Chestnut Street is the spot for Philly area Wildcat fans to convene on New Year’s Day. The NU Alumni Club of Philly is hosting and FREE food and drinks for alumni club members. Well drinks are $4, wine is $4 and they’ve got beer specials – $1 off per beer – all set up for you. If you’re not a member, you can sign up either here or in person on gameday.
Facebook sign-up here – https://www.facebook.com/
Tasker Taking Return Game To Task
NFL analyst Steve Tasker made a living and a legend as arguably the best special teams player of our generation. The Wildcat alum was a one man wrecking ball on kick coverage and his name has become synonymous with NFL special teams. That setup serves to underscore the strength of this New York Times article featuring Tasker and his desire to see the game remove kickoffs and punts entirely, in an effort to minimize injuries. It’s a bold statement and worth a read as the context of conversations on concussions and the true dangers of the game aren’t going away anytime soon.
The Cowbell Comeback
Last week we put a call to arms to create a fan comeback for Mississippi State’s ability to bring their sacred cowbells to the Gator Bowl. I’ve read that the Bulldogs are getting close to selling out their allotment and have about 10,000 tickets sold to date. Northwestern doesn’t release their numbers, yet claims a 47% increase over last year’s ticket sales. As I said last week, I’m willing to be the mouthpiece for this surefire PR hit, but someone needs to step up and underwrite an idea. Here are some that you submitted, along with my idea.
The Bellcow – In the fight fire with fire category, why not bring our own cowbells and simply brand them different. The bells would of course be purple and sport a #5 in homage to our bellcow RB, Venric Mark.
The NUZoo – Andrew R. submitted his idea for the purple Wildcat kazoo. Andrew has a vision that ‘Cats fans would get plenty of TV time for the unique visual and that with a hefty showing, it could be brought back to Evanston. He’s even willing to underwrite the first 400 or so. You can get them with sponsor logo for about .$50 per unit and you can take a look here.
The Purple Vuvuzela – If we really want to create some noise, both in stadium and in social media, we can carry the torch of annoying folks with the Wildcat vuvuzela, made infamous by the most recent World Cup. This one is a tad more of a PR risk, but for certain will get a ton of coverage if we actually bring the 12,000 we are supposed to bring. Nathan Ritter submitted this shot to me via Twitter.