Like any true child of the Chicagoland area, I spent countless hours riding around with my mom in the various cars she drove throughout my childhood listening to enough Oldies 104.3 to permanently etch more than a handful of songs into my brain. This has come in handy on multiple occasions as it allows late night study sessions on feline medicine to devolve into Chris Leon and I singing the best Drifter's song to the confusion of our Kansan classmates. And while it certainly helps me fill up intro paragraphs wonderfully, sometimes I have to get to the point.
I've been enjoying the hell out of Northwestern's 2013 football season. As Tom has brought up in articles and on the site's Twitter account, NW fans sure got puffed up awfully large back in September. And there really wasn't too much us Illini fans could say. I mean, other than the NCAA tournament line... or the attendance one... or the one about their program's esteemed history... or that their coach appears to constantly be pooping his pants despite having earned a quality Northwestern education and being a grown man. They were just coming off the third ten win season in school history and their second bowl win ever! And we were wallowing in the despair that was year one of the Tim Beckman regime. Everything appeared to be coming up Milhouse for our most hated rivals.
Because their fanbase is terrible at paying attention to some pretty important details. Like maybe don't get super excited about a 4-0 start that's best win is by 14 points against an FCS school that outgained you. Or letting a Syracuse squad that is likely staying home this winter score their third most points in a game against you. Or do anything less than utterly demolish powerhouses like California and Western Michigan, who have one fewer win between them than words in their team names.
It must have been thrilling to get to host Gameday on a Saturday that had only one other match-up of ranked teams. We missed our chance at hosting the show during our Rose Bowl season because of a loss at Iowa. C'est la vie. But then after two weeks of crowing and dreams of an early December trip to lovely Indianapolis, cracks started appearing. No one could pretend that Kain Colter and Venric Mark were as fragile as their names are ridiculous. And the losses poured in. Blowouts and nailbiters. Heartbreakers and upsets. Losses to conference favorites and teams in freefall and coaches about to lose their jobs. So many, many losses. So many in fact, that Northwestern now has the second longest conference game losing streak in the Big Ten.
And now we're here, in the final week of the season for both of our teams. Neither school is going bowling and both sit at 4-7, with wins mostly against terrible teams (except that bizarre and wonderful game against Cincinnati). The game will be sparsely attended, as per tradition. But not all 4-7 seasons are the same. Some 4-7 seasons are improvements on what came before them. Painful and ugly cinderblocks being laid down to build a solid foundation upon fallow and previously inhospitable ground. And then there are the 4-7 seasons full of shattered delusions that maybe, just maybe your school had finally made it. Finally reached that upper echelon for real this time and wouldn't come tumbling back down to earth, like so many Icaruses before them. Some 4-7 seasons simply expose the harsh truth that some magical seasons are just that. Pretty and ephemeral, but ultimately unsustainable and meaningless.
We know the feeling. We've been there.
Welcome home, Northwestern. Welcome home.