HTP Turns Twenty

Looking at HailToPurple after twenty years

In the spring of 1997, as workers were digging out the field of what had been Dyche Stadium, I contemplated posting a website to document the stadium renovation and to offer a history of football on Central Street. However, I had just started a new job in Park Ridge and decided to put off adding a fan site to the still-young world wide web.

It took three years for me to dust off the idea, and in July 2000 I posted HailToPurple in its original form on AOL. The URL changed a year later, but the page stayed the same: old-school HTML, in a format popular during that initial dial-up era of the internet. And for twenty years the site has stayed up (more or less—there have been a few down weeks), featuring its retro tech and the goal of providing a view of NU football history.

HailToPurple’s heyday was the mid-2000s. This was before the era of blogs and before LakeThePosts created the ultimate NU fan site with professional muscle. This was a period of anarchic collaboration with Bob Cox, who owned Bob provided commentary, while I offered a history resource. It was a lot of fun, culminating in the Arcadia book about NU football history in 2005. However, by the late 2000s my day job squeezed out the available time for the online hobby, and a new family took priority. For a while, HailToPurple kept putting out great new content with Jonathan Hodges providing original commentary, but with Jonathan’s departure in 2012, the site became more of an archive than an active site. The one exception was the Waterboy’s stalwart commentary, which remains a goofy and insightful staple to this day.

The site got a new breath of activity a couple of years later when Bob had the idea of joining up again to produce our YouTube videos called “’Cat Nips.” The show, intentionally low-budget and lower-effort, was a blast to film and gave us a cathartic way to celebrate the ups and vent during the downs of several seasons of Wildcat football. With Bob’s passing just after the Ohio State game in Indianapolis, the video clips were retired. Since then, HailToPurple has gone back to being more of an archive site.

Things change. The college football world, even before the pandemic, faced enormous changes in the last two decades. Player safety rightly became a paramount issue, as did the concept of player compensation. NU was on the forefront of that latter issue, when its players debated joining a labor union and sparked a national debate on the subject. During these twenty years at NU, we’ve celebrated an unexpected Big Ten title that was powered by an ingenious offense, we’ve mourned Coach Randy Walker, and we’ve benefitted from the exemplary leadership of Jim Phillips and Pat Fitzgerald. Twenty years ago, there wasn’t a lot of online resources for NU football fans. Obviously, there are plenty of resources now, and plenty of commentary. HailToPurple no longer fills that need—well, it never really did fill that need, but it liked to pretend a lot.

People change. I have even less time now to manage the site, and for the last couple of years new content has been rare. I thought that the twentieth anniversary of HTP might be a good time to retire it, but I’ll keep the site up as a resource for folks who want to dig into uniform history details (there are literally tens of you out there) and want to see what a website was like when Bill Clinton was president.

The 2020 season

This coming season, HTP’s twenty-first, might happen. It might not. Either way, we’re in uncharted territory here, and I think that all football fans—NU and others—are sharing an experience that reminds us of the place of sports in modern American life and adds perspective. Sure, sports is part of the “bread and circus” structure of communal life, but let’s not take that point of view too cynically. The circus is an important component of society, and not just as a distraction or a way to channel id; it is a unifying experience; it gives bread a little more vibrancy. Whether football this fall is truncated, or postponed, or canceled outright, we will experience this tumult together. It is just a different kind of circus, albeit one with more stakes and not as much cheering. It still provides a common experience, one that strengthens our ties if we act wisely.

We’ll get through the 2020 season of our discontent. If we choose to, we’ll be stronger because of it. During this most unusual of periods, let’s practice kindness to each other. Let’s remember that others are going through unusual times as well, and we can never really know the strain that others are enduring. Let’s be smart, and safe, and compassionate. And let’s get ready, even if it seems a long time from now, to break right through that line.

Go ‘Cats,