Here are all of the items I have destroyed during or just after watching Northwestern basketball games this year:
– 1 fork (bent then thrown)
– 1 “All We Do Is WIN” t-shirt (cut to strips
with scissors then discarded)
– 2 “Shurna / #24 = #1” glossy signs (ripped)
– 1 giant disembodied head sign thing
– 1 Chicago White Sox souvenir cup (tossed
out window, probably not destroyed)
– 1 NBN Magazine (stovetop)
– 1 of my 15 NU rally towels (ripped slightly
with hands then I used scissors again)
– 3 oranges (eaten)
It’s been a frustrating year, brought to an absolute low Sunday night as a halftime-straddling 26-0 streak for Illinois emptied the student sections and somehow gave me strep throat. Through my newly-sore throat, I continued to yell “Walk!” and celebrate the name of Illinois guard Mike LaTulip, but it was the grimmest night of basketball I’ve ever screamed through.
Northwestern-Illinois is a real deal rivalry, but our students are so far-flung that they don’t care. Rivalries are made when you have to grow up dealing with opposing fans, coming to school after a loss and having to take grief about it all day, learning to hate their school color, knowing what kind of person supports us and what kind of person supports them. None of us had that, so it was almost surprising hearing the incredible atmosphere in Welsh-Ryan Sunday night. The Illini student section all came in Northwestern shirts then took them off as the game started.
Both the orange and purple in the crowd were ten times as loud as normal, and the student sections–usually quiet when the Wildcats are on offense–had to chant constantly just to prove we weren’t really outnumbered. But still, without the threat of a year’s worth of grief, without ever having had to deal with Illinois fans in reality, there’s no good reason for the students to care. It was a blowout loss, but not much different from any other potential blowout.
And now there are only three home games left before I graduate. I’m about to be dragged kicking and screaming back into the world of regular sports, where suddenly I can’t tell everyone how I honestly feel about the state of Ohio. If a Kansas City Royal comes to bat with ridiculous new sideburns, I look like an asshole if I yell about them. In normal, non-college basketball life, I’ve offended people just by asking what time it is, so it’s such a tremendous relief to step into the student section and reach way back in your throat and yell “Start the tractors” (clap clap clapclapclap) in an arena full of annoying Iowans. Leave your sensitivity at the door and learn to hate the Midwest.
It’s a mob mentality in the student section, an irrational and sort of dangerous feeling, but satisfyingly human. Something about being indoors and the constant up-and-down of college basketball makes it the best fan experience there is, one half the student body here has never experienced it. They go to football games and put the paw up and yell but it’s like crayons vs. oil painting, casual kids’ stuff. Well-attended basketball games are intense and personal, with the clear sense that you are largely responsible for what’s happening, that your roaring caused their turnover, or your apathy let your team down. It’s a unique experience and I’m so going to miss it.
It’s like the end of the movie “Goodfellas.” After these three games there’s no more action. I have to live the rest of my sports-watching life as a schnook. I’m back to cheering for the home team and booing the visitors then keeping my mouth shut. It’ll never be the same as college basketball.