LTP: Behind the Curtain

The clock is ticking to crank out so many posts between now and the final post on Wednesday, January 15. As the final days of LTP slip through the hour glass I’ve lined up a hypothetical national pub crawl like no other based on all of your generous offers to grab a drink and gather NU fans in various locales. New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Denver, Des Moines, Providence, Charlotte and several other geographic locales have been mentioned by you “the next time I am in the area”. Be careful what you wish for!

I’m in the process of a series of very short posts that fall under the “Best of…” category. Best of Purple Mafia Profiles. Best of LTP Flag Project shots. Best behind the scenes moments. Best game during LTP era. You get the idea. Many of you have inquired about advice on which sites to visit and how to fill the daily void.

I thought I’d start by answering the rhetorical question dozens of you have asked in emails that usually read, “I have no idea how you did this…” Let me try and explain. A typical post starts on the 6:06 Lake Bluff train to downtown Chicago. It is about an hour and ten minutes. Keep in mind every day I would be noodling on ideas and jotting down notes about future post ideas. I would do a whip-around that would include scanning WildcatReport.com and the message boards and see the comment threads. I’d track the Trib and Sun-Times. I’d dig deep in to ESPN.com’s Big Ten blog. I’d glance at NUSports.com. Depending upon the year, I’d look at Sippin’ on Purple or more recently InsideNU. But, before any of that, half a dozen of you would have already forwarded me links to NU-related news or ideas, questions and general idea starters.

This sounds intense, but like anything, when you do it every single day, you get pretty damn good at it. And quick at it. The above took 10-15 minutes.  I’d then just dig in and write on the intended topic of the day. Over the years I got pretty good at mapping out a calendar of “evergreen” content – stories that could run whenever, and more timely posts that reacted to news. As PRR joined the team and other contributing writers, we would work to space out stories and spread the wealth. The two major splits to the year were in-season and out of season. As you know, in football season, from August through December (most years) it was a two-to-three post per day operation. I’d use lunch breaks to check in and the train ride home to get a jump on other posts and respond to correspondence.

It’s insane to think that I never once faced a day when I was at a loss for what to write. Sure, I used some conventional tricks like upcoming season previews where I’d simply send an opposing team blog a list of 6-10 questions and they’d kill it with great insights and you and I would learn a lot. That would be 12 posts right there and much needed buffer time to help fill in evergreen content. The same went for Purple Mafia Profiles, which dropped off considerably. The most taxing ones were recorded phone interviews that then had to be transcribed, edited and culled down. Man, I hated those.

The connectivity that arose from Purple Mafia Profiles was my favorite part. It let me in to the inner circle of the media. I can’t tell you the amount of conversations I had with national and local media ranging from Teddy Greenstein and Adam Rittenberg to opposing team bloggers and national television media execs – all about NU. I would bounce critical analysis off of former players -both Fitz era and before – to make sure I wasn’t off my rocker in terms of my sentiments.

I’d always pause on the train as I wrote when I stopped at Central Street in Evanston. It was my serendipitous moment of the day when I’d usually be hacking away at the keyboard writing about NU envisioning far flung Wildcat fans missing Evanston and there it was. An every day occurrence for me. On some days you can see Ryan Field clear as day (winter mornings when it is light enough) and other days in the fall, the foliage acts as a wall teasing you with only a glimpse here or there.

Keep in mind this blog started before Jim Phillips arrived, before Morty Schapiro arrived and a host of new faces at Northwestern. As the readership grew, so did its influence, which I grossly underestimated for years.  The ah-ha moment for me was Sailgate, our floating tailgate party in 2010 at the Army game.  I’ll go more in to this in an upcoming post, but a simple idea of taking a boat up the Hudson with ‘Cats fans flexed the power of an engaged community when 700+ fans paid real money to an anonymous blog to meet at a to be determined place three months later run by a guy out of L.A. whom I had never met (Scott Sloane is still a semi-hero of mine).

I developed relationships with Northwestern brass, administrators and influencers. I found myself in a brainstorming meeting with a select group of high profile folks about Northwestern marketing and one super major player opened the meeting by saying, “Let’s start this off with what Lake the Posts thinks.” Gulp.

You’ll be happy to know NU listened as I conveyed your sentiments. In that meeting I said “do whatever you can to move games to late afternoon and night.”  Northwestern’s family-oriented crowds, in your opinion were a killer to get to because of life conflicts like soccer games and lacrosse games for the kids. Indiana had jumped 10K in attendance the previous year simply by moving as many games as possible to night games in accordance with BTN.  This is one of the many influences you the community had that you didn’t know about.

By the way, just passed Central Street. No view of Ryan Field at 6:30 pm on a January night.

The thing I most admire about NU – from Fitz to Jim Phillips to Morty Schapiro – not once did they ask me not to write something. Not once did they call and complain or ask me to write about something they would like to see.  The rest of the university would send me items all the time to promote, but not the key folks in NU Athletics. Guys like Mike Polisky and Paul Kennedy and his team were nothing but class every step of the way.

Morty Schapiro has been unbelievably generous to me and man, you talk about a university president who gets it. The guy signs his email “Professor and President” and is as student-first as they come. Morty was kind enough to invite my wife Tanya and me to a bowl preview party in Jacksonville, which I expected to be a huge gathering and it was simply a handful of couples. And 10 senior students. Student first. Class act. And a diehard fan.

There were all kind of “how did this happen?” moments along the way. A dinner with Michael Wilbon and J.A. Adande talking ‘Cats. Business meetings with folks I never would have gotten in to the room with if not for LTP. A day in the USTA president’s box at the US Open. A trip to a hoops game at Madison Square Garden on a private plane. There were some real neat perks along the way that just happened organically, all stemming from this feeling we all get by pulling up a seat at the LTP table and virtually talking as if we’re in person -either celebrating wins, lamenting a loss or fretting over what’s to come.

When you get to see a program up front and personal from the top level down to the bottom, that’s what gives me pride. NU Athletics is a pretty impressive operation. We can joke about the hot dogs running out at games and the P.A. system issues and we can even be critical of the coaching staff, but I walked away almost always with nothing but pride.

Talking to parents, current players and former players just always left me with the sense that “this place is different”.  Sure, it sucks when we lose. It hurts. I hate it. You hate it. The coaches hate it. And now you know why I was always so adamant about commenters speculating that Morty Schapiro or Jim Phillips or “the administration” didn’t care. That sentiment is preposterous when you’ve had the chance to see things close up like I have over the years. This theme came up time and again during the last two seasons and I will go down swinging on this topic to a vocal minority of folks who see it differently.

I don’t want this post to come across as name-dropping. But, I did want to go a little bit further in to detail about some of the comments that hurt me the most because they went at the administration about their level of caring. I’d bend over backwards to thwart it, but you also didn’t have context and I always felt odd about laying out things like the above as a way to defend NU.

You can rip me for my perspective, but hopefully you now have a little bit more perspective on some of the access I was afforded.  I’m fairly sure that I never held back on my perspective as a result of having positive relationships with several NU folks and I always wrote as if I was sitting across the table from the subject I was writing about.

Onward we go…get ready for some fun “Best of…” posts!

 

 

  • binky

    Great coverage of you insight. I really wish the former players from the dark ages to the present would chime in and state their feelings about the current status of NU football. I said it earlier today to PRR, that I’d love to hear from not the stars but the guys in the trenches. Hell the the practice team guys that to me really make what it is to be a team. Guys if you read this write in what you think NU football should be or about. LTP can you squeeze that topic in??

    • LTP

      My conversations with double digit former players could be summarized pretty simply – they’re as frustrated as the fans for many of the same reasons. The offensive play calling and ultra conservative approach and questionable use of personnel…talking to them is similar to folks who comment and critique in a civil way.

      • Bandcat

        Ran into this quote and it summarizes the way that I hope you will remember your site. “Success is when you look back at your life,and the memories make you smile”.Thanks again for taking the time out of your life to make a lot of us smile. Go Cats!

        • polymersci

          Great quote. Thanks for sharing.

      • binky

        Hope you never thought I didn’t respond in a civil way . I assumed you had a pulse on alumni football. Hell I said I’d trade the season for a win over Notre Dame. Got my wish and not sure I’d take it back. If I’ve been a bad guy call me out and I’ll apologize to what ever crowd. You especially.

  • Wildcat Fan

    How exciting and impressive! I appreciate your insider information all the more. Having heard Morty, Jim Phillips and Pat Fitzgerald speak at Alumni Admission Council leadership conferences over the years, I have always felt their passion too. You’re right, this is a special place. Thanks for sharing our feedback with them!

  • Purple Buffalo

    Man Im going to miss this.

  • Wildcat 08

    Love you LTP but it seems like you are looking to go out on a high note with all these hooked up people in the administration. Either that or you are just completely ignoring all the mishaps that’s leading a significant amount of people to decide not to renew season tickets and more generally lose interest in NU football. The shitty game day experience (not just the product on the field) is not a joke like you say it is here. I won’t rehash the laundry list as many people have already done, but let’s not make light of the situation, though I understand why you want to go out on a positive note. Actions speak louder than words, and the admin has not done much to prove to rank and file fans that they care about winning.

    • LTP

      That’s fair about making light of some gameday issues. I’m fairly certain those that aren’t renewing season tickets aren’t doing so because of the gameday issues and moreso because of the losses and on field performance. I’ve been more than vocal about my personal displeasure with the on field product but with four days to go, I’m trying to stay bigger picture.

      • Mark Heller

        You’re wrong. I won’t be renewing my tickets because of the stupid non-football stuff that goes on during the games (not halftime), that someone in the ticket office told me that buying tickets was no longer “enough” and therefore they needed $100 to renew my points, the interminable timeouts during the games for television, the fact that the ticket office had my tickets in adjoining rows because the “season ticket holders” next to me couldn’t give me one of their seats (which are always occupied by visiting fans from 2008 through 2014), and just the general lack of respect shown in all these ways to people who are paying $40 – $45 per game. A cable payment that gets one the Big Ten Network allows one to sit at home, have friends over, not sit in the heat, cold or rain during ANOTHER television timeout.

        I don’t think the overall slump in college football attendance is solely due to the poor treatment of the live, paying customers, but when you add it to stagnant wages, economic downturns, concussions, bad conduct by football players, although admittedly not NU players, etc., it can be the issue that pushes people – me – over the edge. I don’t pretend to know who should be the coaches, whether the Quarters coverage with the CBs well off the line of scrimmage is the correct defense, etc., but I can judge my experience as a live fan at the game.

        So I won’t be renewing my season tickets. These tickets will surely be bought by the ticket resellers for the visiting fans. Then the people at the ticket office can determine whether my spending thousands of dollars on their product was “enough.” Hate to be such a downer since it’s been a great run for me and I really enjoyed LTP. But if you think the non-field issues don’t affect decisions about spending thousands of dollars you’re just plain wrong.

      • cece

        thank you for your attempt to change things LTP, but I too think you are missing that off field matters actually matter. Mark Heller and Pittsburgh Wildcat have given long lists of things that must be changed in many posts in the past few months. One cannot count on the product on the field. off field matters–stadium conditions, parking, parking cost program and affect on long time ticket holders, ticket deliver, marketing, reception in stadium (if only for the students!) and more– can be controlled. While I agree that much of what we experience at Northwestern with athletics is very well done, many things are not well done. And the complaints are frequent and loud. The University has a world class marketing grad school (or two or three between Kellogg, Medill and the Communications School), a parking institute, and Irv Rein. changes should be easy with all that in house talent. with your many connections, and those in the Administration who clearly follow us on the blog, change must happen or more customers will leave. Too easy just to watch it on tv.

  • LTP, I don’t mean this as a criticism, but more of an honest question… since you have contributing writers, why not hand off the blog to them or “sell” it to somebody who could maintain the site?