Wow. That was a bit overwhelming. I’m never at a loss for the written word, but yesterday was one of those days. The LTP community outpouring of thanks and support triggered all kinds of emotions for me. Thank you to every one of you who commented on the blog about your support and thanks. Thank you to those who sent personal emails and to the many of you that called me as well. Wow. Wow. Wow.
I should clarify the single biggest question folks had. Yes, we will still be keeping the site up and “live” for archival purposes so you can access things like the LTP map and past stories. Also, Kevin Leonard, the man who is in charge of Northwestern University’s archives has archived the history of LTP, with my permission, for future Wildcat fans to enjoy. I’m working with Brian DeConninck, the website design and programming guru for LTP to help with some short term and long term solutions.
Many of the emails and calls confirmed what I had imagined existed out there. At the other end of every email or blog comment was a human being who had a story. A unique way in which LTP somehow resonated with you-whether it was a part of your daily routine – or perhaps as just an occasional browser during football season. In many ways it felt like attending your own funeral.
I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t impact me. It did. It felt very, very good to understand the depths of appreciation. One gentleman relayed, in great detail, how LTP had become a daily bond between he and his increasingly ill father. A current student told me that his daily high school fix of LTP shaped his decision to attend Northwestern. Several far flung (from Evanston) Wildcat alums talked about how LTP was their olive branch to remaining purple. The stories kept coming and I was mesmerized. It also contributed to one half of the mixed emotions of the day.
On one hand, I felt a giant weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I actually felt differently physically after the post. On the other hand, I felt I was letting a robust community of thousands and thousands of people down. Mixed emotions for certain. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Today, I wanted to address a post I’ve been longing to do for years. The subheader on today’s post should be “The hypocrisy of anonymity”. It’s rather obvious that I’ve intentionally withheld my name from this publication since day one back in June of 2007. As I mentioned yesterday, I run a company called TeamWorks Media in Chicago, a purpose-driven marketing company that helps organizations tell their story in ways to resonate with their target audiences. Our clients include both the Big Ten Conference and the Big Ten Network and through them, we work with all 14 Big Ten universities. I never wanted to jeopardize the very clients that help make our company successful and I felt by not having my name and face out there, it would prevent any awkwardness, at least publicly, for anyone at the Conference, the Network or any of the member schools.
The irony of this is that every single person I deal with at the B1G, BTN or Northwestern knows I am the man behind LTP. Considering 750 of you met me in person at Sailgate in 2010 and another several hundred met me at the 2013 QB Club Season Kickoff Party my anonymity is kind of a joke.
My name is Jay Sharman. I’m a 1995 Northwestern School of Speech graduate and I was a Radio/TV/Film major. I’m a Rhode Island (Smithfield, to be exact) native who grew up a diehard New England sports fan during the Larry Bird/Bill Buckner/Steve Grogan/Ray Borque era. I attended nearly every Providence College basketball game from 1978 through 1991 when I departed for Evanston. I’m one of those guys, who despite not knowing that NU was in the Big Ten in high school until I became interested in the school academically, attended NU, in part because of the Big Ten affiliation. I distinctly remember being at Dyche Stadium in 1990 on my college visit and saying “THE Michigan, plays here? THE Ohio State plays here against Northwestern?” It wasn’t a slight at the facilities. As a kid growing up in a college hoops area of the world I was overwhelmed that MY potential school had a 50,000-seat stadium (Dyche had a few thousand more seats than Ryan Field that put it at 49,000+). The fact that I could go to this school, join the campus radio station and broadcast games? Deal closer.
Like many of you I’m a bit of a nut when it comes to Northwestern Athletics. My first job out of college was co-producing the Gary Barnett Show (yes, in THE year of all years) and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I could never quite get my fix of Northwestern football from the mainstream media and always felt beyond jealous when going to say, East Lansing, and seeing the 10-page coverage of the opposing team. I was shocked at how many thousands of people out there were as nutty as me in their longing for more NU-ness. You know what I’m talking about. Huddling in the bathroom in a foreign country so as not to wake anyone so you can hit refresh on the score while racking up an obscene cell phone bill. For a game against Ohio University. Yes, that kind of a nut.
I can tell you that on the business side this has been one of those identity crisis scenarios that you can appreciate. The very first time I met Pat Ryan was during the final stages of Chicago’s bid for 2016 (which TeamWorks worked on) and there I was thinking I was a proud business owner about to meet one of the titans of entrepreneurship and I was introduced to him as the man behind Lake The Posts. He glowed with enthusiasm and well, you can imagine what my thought bubble was.
I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Jim Delany, BTN president Mark Silverman and of course Morty Schapiro and Jim Phillips. The purpose of these name drops isn’t to try and boost myself but rather lay out the case for why I remained “anonymous”. When I think about it, it was kind of silly, because t here were very few things I ever wrote that I didn’t believe I would ever say in person to the person I was being critical of.
Did these relationships impact my writing? Sure it did. Probably in a good way. There were things done along the way that I passionately disagreed with, but I was fortunate enough to have a direct one on one forum so why use an anonymous blog post? And, as I stated many times, when it comes to Northwestern Athletics, as hard as I took poor performances or even good ones that ended in a loss, my pain factor was actually less than guys like Jim Phillips.
From day one I tried to make one thing clear – this is not an objective blog. It is a community whose ring leader is over-the-top biased in favor of Northwestern. My average writing skills could be bolstered by unfiltered fan passion, or so I told myself. I have half dozen Medill alumni who act as free copy editors who never miss pointing out a typo, grammatical error or other mistake. To the relief of many, I’m not a Medill grad.
I will note the single best compliment I ever received for my football coverage was from one reader who commented after a basketball game that he wished I stuck with football since I didn’t know squat about hoops. It made my year. I played basketball my entire life and coached it for double-digit years. I know hoops inside and out. I never played football and have had to work really hard to learn the nuances and in-game intricacies to enable me to have the con
I believe that one of the things that resonated with so many of you is this passion piece. I hate losing. I hang on to wins way too long. That’s what fans do. If the team looks lethargic, I say it. No, rather, I say what I feel. As long as you’re not a jackass about it, it is hard for people to criticize you too much for being honest about your feelings. This is the part I’m going to miss. Writing was cathartic for me. The buzz that accompanies breaking down a football win or the peace of mind after venting after a loss are going to be tough to cope with in the coming years.
However, the past two years brought about a new wrinkle at LTP that I thought we as a community had overcome -the downside of anonymity. The LTP comments section had turned really ugly, particularly during this past football season. Managing the content on a daily basis is one thing. Monitoring comments from current and previous posts is almost impossible given my time limitations. Finding that fine line between an open forum for debate and blocking comments that became personal attacks was never something I had to deal with.
I have a code of conduct and a new comments section policy all set to go for this year, but that won’t be needed any more. I do believe this was one small contributing factor that tipped the scales of my daily blog posts from fun and exciting to more of an obligation. So many times I wanted to scream out “stop being anonymous if you’re going to throw stones”, yet there I was, the hypocrite who anonymously wrote the blog. Had I continued with the blog, I can tell you that the comments section would very much have evolved in to a real name or bust kind of scenario.
Many of you have reached out to me on this and expressed your concern and disappointment at this element of the blog. It is what I believed helped separate it from so many other blogs. I do believe it is also symptomatic of the increasing impatience of our society in a world driven by technology that has created a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude that has redefined “lately” as seconds or minutes. That’s a diatribe for another day.
As I mentioned yesterday, I knew eventually this day would come, but I always thought it involved dropping the mic and exiting stage left at a much higher apex in NU football history. This is obviously a huge year for the Wildcat football program. Back-to-back losing seasons off of that remarkable Gator Bowl run, a fan base that was crying for coaching changes and a conference that seemingly just endured an Extreme Home Coach Makeover with Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska, three brand heavyweights all making changes, while several others endured significant changes at the assistant level (headlined by Michigan State losing Narduzzi and Ohio State losing their OC).
I try not to look back because it will make you a bit crazy. Consider, the very same season I started the blog was Jim Harbaugh’s first at Stanford. After struggling for two seasons, he brought Stanford to 8 wins in year three and then 12 wins in his fourth year, blitzing past NU. He bolted for the pros, took the Niners to three straight NFC Conference Championships and is now back at Michigan, all in the window of LTP. That’s just kind of sick.
Ohio State’s surprising upset of Alabama and potential B1G brand-changing national championship this Monday night signify part of a potential seismic shift in college football. There is little doubt that Jim Harbaugh will be successful at Michigan. Wisconsin should just rotate coaches and have Barry coach the big games at this point (kidding, kind of). It’s been wholesale changes for every team except for Iowa and Northwestern during my LTP run. You get the strong sense that both of these programs will need to make significant changes to get to the next level. Unfortunately for us, that “next level” is now middle of the pack, where a few years ago it was the upper tier.
It would be silly for fans to expect there to be an absolute win/loss record in 2015 that triggers a rash of assistant coaching changes. There are such things as very bad 7-5 years (just usually not at Northwestern) and somewhat good years that are .500 based on things like an impossible schedule. It is fair to assume that a losing record for the third straight year is a no-brainer for significant change, but the bigger question is what comprises both the tangibles (won-loss record, how they perform against teams they should beat and teams they are underdogs against) and the intangibles moving forward? It should be fascinating to see how it all plays out.
My hope, and I know it is yours, is that NU football returns to a double digit win season and a major bowl. The beauty of college football is that every season is its own life. You bury one and you get a brand new one. After experiencing 1995 firsthand, I only know one thing – predicting seasons, good or bad – is almost impossible.
This upcoming football season in particular will be a unique one for some of us. It’s the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Rose Bowl team. That sentence alone conjures up all kinds of memories and emotions ranging from Darnell Autry runs to “how the hell has it been 20 years?!!!” As we entered 2015, I couldn’t help but think about the five year increments of success we’ve had. The 1995 season, the 2000 season, the 2005 season and until Dan Persa’s Achilles got wrecked, most of the 2010 season…and somehow that will magically translate in to a good 2015. That’s how nuts like us think.