Celebrating the Previously

Mention "The Streak" to most older Northwestern alumni, and images of football futility from the 1970s and '80s will flash through their memories. The Streak was, to them, the galactically bad, NCAA record-setting football losing streak. That streak was put to bed, and finally buried for good with the football team's renaissance in the 1990s.

However, a more doleful, more epic streak has haunted Northwestern athletics: the men's basketball team's failure to make the NCAA tournament is a 78-year stretch of unhappy memories and unfulfilled dreams. The Great Basketball Streak began, of all places, in Evanston, in a gymnasium during its final year of service to NU. Old Patten Gym was the site of the very first NCAA Tournament Final Four on March 27, 1939. NU hosted, but did not play. Nor did it play in 1940, nor any year since.

The Great Streak ended today, March 12, 2017, of all places, in Evanston, in a gymnasium during its final year of service to NU. Old Welsh-Ryan Arena held the Wildcat faithful as they heard the words never before said: "Northwestern has been selected. . ." And pandemonium justifiably began.

The Wildcats will play Vanderbilt this Thursday in Salt Lake City, in the first round of the West Region. Northwestern is technically a #8 seed, but make no mistake: this is really the very first seed. This first seed will product fruit in Evanston for years and years to come.

To have seen a Wildcat basketball team this good, this successful, a Wildcat fan would have had to been around in 1931, when Northwestern secured a piece of the (pre-NCAA Tourney) national title. To my knowledge, there is no such surviving fan. This, for every living Wildcat fan, is new territory, and it's a great reason to celebrate the school, the program, the coaches, and the players. Northwestern basketball is finally in.

The team has come close before. A couple of decent teams in the 1960s and '70s, an NIT team in the early '80s, more NIT teams in the recent past, a handful of stars. Coach Carmody built a team that could compete, but never could achieve the level of tournament selection. In his fourth year, Coach Collins has constructed a program than did. Like Coach Barnett (who also completed his rebuilding of Northwestern football in his fourth season, with the Rose Bowl campaign), Collins has taken a program with a sorry tradition and has built a foundation for success.

Propelled by a program-record 23 victories, including wild wins over ranked teams and a Big Ten Tournament semifinals appearance, Northwestern has finally done it. And, just as names like Schnur, Autry, Fitzgerald, Rice, and Bates are permanent fixtures of NU lore, so too will be the names Law, Pardon, Hall, Brown, Ivanauskas, Lindsey, Malnati, Ash, Benson, McIntosh, Taphorn, Lumpkin, Falzon, and Skelly., until now, has spent 17 years focusing on NU football games and history, with occasional excursions into NU non-sports history. Until now, that coverage has been to the exclusion of other sports. We always said that if NU should make the tourney, we'd suspend the exclusionary nature of the site and join in the fun. Bandwagon, yes, but I suspect there's room. I have to think that there will be a lot of welcomes this week, a lot of homecomings, and a lot of long-awaited introductions.

The old gym rocked today, for one last time. The next time we see Northwestern play basketball in Evanston, it will be without its biggest and worst tradition, and with its new purpose, its new (and old) fans, and with a new and proud layer of heroes past and memories made.

For now, let's settle in and enjoy the fun.

Scenes from NU's Selection Party
[All images are Facebook screen captures except the
final image, which is a Chicago Tribune image]

Willie gets ready for the selection show.

The pep band strikes it up.

Dave Eanet, the Voice of the Wildcats, serving as emcee.

The players gather and wait.

Dr. Phillips addresses the large crowd gathered to celebrate with the 'Cats.

As Coach Collins addressed the fans, emotions and tears flowed.

The first second, of the first day, of the first year
of the new Northwestern Basketball era.