The 50 Greatest
Northwestern Football Traditions
football fans talk about what sets certain college programs apart from
others, they typically mention the "traditions" a school's
program has. Many fans, including
Northwestern supporters, often decry NU's lack of tradition. This
is surprising, because NU Football has a rich set of traditions.
What some fans mean by "a lack of tradition" is really "a lack of a
tradition of winning," and they are referring not to NU's entire football history, but to the lean period of the 1970s and '80s.
To demonstrate just how rich Northwestern's set of traditions truly is, HailToPurple.com has compiled a list of the fifty greatest traditions of Northwestern and NU football.
Readers were asked to submit lists of their favorite NU football
traditions (or NU traditions in general), as well as personal traditions that they have which concern
NU football. I've compiled the lists and based the ranking below
on the responses.
way: on the list you will see brackets after each tradition with
several symbols inside, describing the tradition. Here is the key
to the symbols used:
| ◊ = NU was either the first school to have this tradition, or tradition is unique to NU
♦ = “Spread far the fame”: a tradition for which NU is nationally famous
• = An NU tradition, but not directly related to football
♫ = A NUMB tradition, related to football pageantry
x = Defunct. NU no longer enjoys this tradition.
|1. The Color Purple
[ ♦ ] (1879-present) Purple has been associated with NU ever since
1879, when purple and gold replaced black and gold as the school
colors. In 1892, Royal Purple was made not only the official
school color, but the official symbol of the University. The
school’s athletic teams were unofficially called “The Purple” from the
mid 1890s through the 1920s. It can be argued that no other
school in the nation with purple as its team color is as associated
with that color, in the national consciousness, as is NU.
When NU took the field in its 2013 Wounded Warrior uniforms, it marked
the first game since 1876 that the team sported no purple whatsoever in
|2. Northwestern Striping
[ ◊ ♦ ] (1928-1956; returned 1976-1977; 1982-1989; 1992-1996; 2010-present)
Probably the most influential, far-reaching tradition in NU football
history. Dick Hanley's
1928 team sported a
peculiar purple set of stripes
on each sleeve: a narrow stripe, over a
wide stripe, over a narrow stripe. While NU wasn't the first
athletic team to wear the pattern (some basketball teams had worn it),
the 'Cats were possibly the first football team to use it. The
look was the first
"modern" uniform in football history.
To this day the pattern is known as "northwestern
stripes" (as referenced by NCAA officials, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the
New York Giants, and many other groups as part of their
uniforms). Imagining the Wildcat greats of the 1930s and '40s--
Russell, Rentner, Voigts, Jefferson, Graham, Sarkisian, Aschenbrenner,
Tunnicliff-- without the striping is impossible.
In 2010, the northwestern striping returned to its home on Central
Street, for the first time since NU left the Dyche Stadium AstroTurf as
Purdue in 1996.
The 2012 'Cats "reclaimed the stripe" by adding the Northwestern stripe
across the chest of the jersey, similar to the chest stripe first used
by the 1909 NU team. The chest stripe is a Northwestern first,
and it is uniquely NU.
|3. The Wildcat Nickname
[ ♦ ] (1924-present) Sure, other schools had this nickname before NU,
and "Wildcats" is one of the six most common sports nicknames.
But how many other Wildcats have a nickname draped with such tradition
and drama as NU? It began with a now-legendary column by Chicago
Tribune reporter Wallace Abbey, describing the players in the NU vs.
Chicago game in 1924. NU had been in a slump for five seasons:
little was expected of them. Then Moon Baker and company
unleashed fury toward Chicago in a close loss. "Football players
had not come down from Evanston: wildcats would be a name better suited
to Thistlethwaite's boys. Baker was there, and he was the chief
wildcat giving his supreme effort." The tide had turned, and NU
would rise to dominate for most of the next two decades.
|4. NU’s Two Great Fight Songs
[ ♦ ♫ ] (1912-present) Few schools have even one fight song as loved
and critically acclaimed as the two that NU has enjoyed for nearly a
century. NU had school songs before "Go U Northwestern," but
Theodore Van Etten's tune became a classic. Inspired while
watching the 1912 NU-Indiana game, Van Etten wrote the song on the way
home. "Go U" premiered during the Nov. 23, 1912 game with
Illinois. The band played it twice in a row due to the wild crowd
reaction. It has become the basis for many other college and high
school fight songs. One of the most popular renewed traditions is the
players rushing to the student section to join in singing "Go U" after
In 1913 Donald Robinson wrote "The Northwestern Push On Song."
Because of the popularity of "Go U Northwestern," Robinson's song
wasn't performed until 1915, but became a huge hit then. Now
known as "Rise Northwestern," most fans only know and sing the
chorus. Though not really part of the song, by the 1980s fans
began shouting "Go 'Cats!" at the end.
|5. The Purple Clock
[ ] (1995-present) As the 1995 Wildcats continued to tear
through the Big Ten and shock the football world, the hoopla built,
and NU decided to have a little fun by lighting the (normally white)
clock face of the Rebecca Crown Clock Tower a brilliant purple.
The university decided to keep the clock face purple until the team
lost a game, and a tradition was born. If the clock face is white
and the team wins, the purple returns. One part of the tradition
came to an end in 2006: when the team won the
last game of the season, the clock stayed purple during the entire
off-season. This happened two times from 1995 through 2006: after
the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Now during the football off-season the
university uses the purple clock face to denote wins in other NU sports.
|6. Graduating Players
[ ♦ ] (always) A genuine NU football tradition, and many
readers mentioned it in the poll. When over 90% of NU's players
graduate, and do so regularly, it is probably the tradition that stirs
the most pride among alumni. Academic excellence and integrity
are as much a part of the NU football experience as anything else.
|7. The Alma Mater
[ ♫ ] (1907-present) It may not have been #1 on everyone's list,
more readers mentioned the Alma Mater than any other tradition!
Peter Lutkin arranged Brahams' "Variations on the St. Anthony Chorale
by Haydn" and re-christened it "Quæcumque Sunt Vera." J.
Scott Clark wrote the original latin lyrics. John Paynter
revamped the tune and Thomas Tyra wrote brand new English lyrics (which
include, of course, the phrase from which this Website takes its
name). The song became known as "University Hymn," or simply the
Alma Mater. It is a unique moment when NUMB performs the piece
and begins singing the a capella portion. Alumni traditionally
remove their hats and sway arm-in-arm to the beloved hymn.
|8. Painting the Rock
[ ◊ • ] (1957-present) In the readers' poll this was, by
far, the most mentioned non-football NU tradition. It is,
however, debatable whether the Rock is as famous outside the NU
community as it is revered within the community. The Rock itself,
a purple and white chunk of quartzite, was installed by the class of
1902 and briefly served as a water fountain (until the pipes froze and
burst). By 1957 students had started slapping coats of paint onto
the boulder. The Rock was initially installed a few feet north of
Harris Hall. NU moved it to its present location (about 20 yards
east) in 1989. The Rock might not be the very first such
but it was among the earliest, and many colleges and high schools have
since adopted the paint-your-landmark tradition.
[ ♫ ] (1911-present) NU was among the very earliest schools to
celebrate Homecoming. Illinois held the first Homecoming in 1910,
and NU's first came just one year later. Homecoming itself
harbors numerous traditions. Huge bonfires used to be a feature
of late night pep rallies, and the parade has always been a fixture
(bonus points if the parade Grand Marshal stirs controversy during
Homecoming-- Paul Lynde, for example...). A more recent
tradition, dating from the 1970s, is the inclusion of the NUMBAlums on
the field during halftime. Still more recent is the NUMB serenade
throughout campus each
night of homecoming week, picking up students along the way.
|10. March of the Steelmen / The Old Plus-Four
[ ◊ ♫ ] (1928-present) Another NUMB tradition mentioned by a
surprisingly high number of readers. Unique since it is played
Senior Day (itself a tradition, and one that Coach Walker bolstered by
making sure every senior played in the Senior Day game). The tune
is by Charles Belsterling, who was VP of U.S. Steel. He
originally called the piece "The Ambassador" and intended it as a
political marching song, but in 1937 gave the music to Joliet Township
H.S. (who had taken the nickname The Steelmen). NU Director of
Bands Glenn Bainum, who knew the composer, quickly adapted the song to
accompany the Wildcat drill called the Old Plus-Four (which NUMB had
performed since 1928). A grand, ancient tradition, and one that
is steeped in mystery and pomp.
|11. The Sweet Sioux / Land of Lincoln Trophies
[ ♦ ] (1945-present) You can find the full history of NU's trophy games with Illinois on this page.
The Sweet Sioux was originally a large wooden statue of an Indian,
similar to old cigar store statues. The statue was replaced in
1947 with a more mobile tomahawk, the final version of which was housed
inside a frame. Due to political correctness, Illinois was forced
by the NCAA in 2008 to terminate the tradition. The tomahawk
rests forever at NU. In 2009 the two schools initiated the Land
of Lincoln Trophy, a bronze replica of Lincoln's stovepipe hat.
|12. Willie the Wildcat
[ ] (1933-present) For the first decade that NU was called the
Wildcats, the nickname was enough. Then in 1933 an ad firm was
hired to create a wildcat character that became known as
"Willie." The Willie graphic was unveiled in 1937. In
1947 four members of the Alpha Delta fraternity dressed up as Willie
for their Homecoming float. The following year the mascot began
making regular appearances at games. Initially the costume took
two people to operate, but was soon scaled down to a single-person
job. Willie has further evolved, from an all-purple wildcat (in
the 1950s) to a mascot with a huge 'Cat head wearing a football uniform
(in the '70s), to a genteel 'Cat wearing a necktie ('80s), to his
current jersey-wearing "Wilie Coyote" version.
|13. Camp Kenosha
] (1992-present) One of the first changes Barnett made when he
took control of the program was to move the preseason practices off
campus. The session, located at the University of Wisconsin -
Parkside in Kenosha, is a trial by fire for the team, and has its own
set of traditions, including
the watermelon eating contest and the final scrimmage.
|14. “Trust Yourself”
[ ] ( 1999-present) Coach Walker actually created this tradition
at Miami in the mid-1990s, and it migrated with Walker to NU in 1999. It was featured in newspaper stories after NU's huge
win over OSU in 2004. Walker had a 2x4 board painted with the
phrase "trust yourself." "It's easy to walk across the board when
it's lying on the ground, but if you suspend it 200 feet in the air, it
becomes more difficult because of your fear of what will happen if you
make a misstep. But it's the same thing lying on the ground as it
is suspended in the air. You have to trust yourself."
Players leaving and entering the locker room touch the board and
remind themselves of that trust. The trust yourself board usually rests on an N-shaped shrine in the locker room.
In 2008 Coach Fitzgerald had the board redesigned to make it
sturdier. He also instituted a new tradition: placing the helmet
sticker of the opposing team on the top of the board after a win.
|15. Spirit Team [
◊ ♫ ] (1960s-present) Many teams
have cheerleaders and band leaders similar to the Spirit Team, but none match them, or their unique hats (originally made from
hemp). The Spirit Leader is elected, while the "Grynder" position
is passed down. The Grynder's hat is not replaced until the team
goes to the Rose Bowl.
[ • ] (1890s-present ) One of the oldest surviving NU traditions.
The initial Mayfests included old-style Maypole dances and celebrated
NU's women (which, in itself, was an NU tradition-- witness the lyric
in the 1920s tune, "Sing a Song of College Days": "Northwestern, for
her pretty girls."). Of course, now the most famous part of
Mayfest is 'Dillo Day, which began in 1972. By the 1980s the
day-long party had become a complete free-for-all. Though a bit
toned-down recently, 'Dillo Day is still one of the most famous campus
parties in the Midwest.
|17. America the Beautiful
[ ♫ x ] (unknown-2001) NUMB's arrangement of this song was also
beautiful, and, according to readers, it is among the most-missed
former traditions. Fans looked forward to it because they got to
shout "Purple!" during the "purple mountains' majesty" line. NUMB
replaced the song with “God Bless
America” after 9/11.
|18. “Laking” The Goal Posts
[ ◊ ♦ x ] (1981-1991) Many fans mentioned the traditions of storming
the field after a big win, or climbing the posts, or tearing them
down. NU’s fans had torn
down the goal posts several times in the 1950s and ‘60s and would
continue to until Barnett came in December 1991. However, the
curious and unique tradition of actually throwing the posts in Lake
Michigan began with the infamous MSU game in 1981, when NU broke the
NCAA losing streak record. Further parades to the lake happened
with several big wins. Most of the goal post pieces, after a nice
soaking, eventually made their way into fraternity houses as barroom
|19. Walk With Us [ ◊
] (2006-present) Initiated
by Coach Fitzgerald just before his first home game as head coach, the
walk takes place two and a half hours before kickoff at home games,and
fans are encouraged to line the area now known as Walker Way and cheer
on the 'Cats.
|20. The N Helmet [
♦ ] (1981-present) The most
recognized symbol of NU football. The current helmet debuted in
1981, and is now a classic. The design is clean, simple, modern,
and yet harkens to NU's oldest athletic symbols (a white capital N on a
field of royal purple). Only five current Big Ten helmet designs (including Nebraska)
have a longer history. When Wheaties paid tribute to NU's 1995
title year, they used the helmet for their box. Barnett added to
the tradition by using 'Cat head helmet stickers to honor players for
good performance in a given game. Walker added an array of
stickers to the ritual, including stars (for outstanding plays) and cat
paws (special teams). Fitzgerald also changed the
sticker tradition, using only the 'Cat head, and using it for a team
win, with everyone who played in the win getting a sticker.
|21. Band Day
[ ◊ ♫ ] (1956-present) Of all the specially-named NU game days (eg,
Take a Kid to the Game Day, Evanston Day, Heroes' Day, Nextel Day,
LaSalle Day, etc.), none is as cool as the spectacle of Band Day.
John Paynter began this feature in 1956, inviting high school bands
from around the area to participate on the field with NUMB during
halftime at one game per year. At its peak, Band Day featured up
to 10,000 high school musicians from nearly 100 local schools,
performing at the same time. The tradition went dormant for a few
years in the 1990s, but was recently revived. Several colleges,
including NIU, later started similar traditions.
|22. Block N [
x ] (c. 1910s-1958) The grandest fan-interactive tradition,
Block N involved over 1,000 students (competition to get into the Block
N group was fierce). The group predated Ohio State's more famous
Block O by over 20 years. The students sat in a special section
west stands and conducted practiced routines during games,
flipping over colored cardboard panels to spell out messages to the
east stands. It's not clear when Block N began, but it certainly
was around at old Northwestern Field, since there are photos of the
group in the old wooden west stands. Block N
was disbanded in 1958.
] (1940s-present) Another fan-favorite tradition, and one that
NU excelled at for decades. The “golden age” of Northwestern
tailgates really began at the time NU's football fortunes began to lag:
by the 1970s tailgates at Dyche Stadium had become raucous parties and
elaborate affairs. By the 1980s many students decided to forego
the games and stay at the parking lot parties. Fraternities,
flying flags and sporting tremendous grills, couches, stereos, and
multiple kegs of free beer, fueled a super party that cruised along
heedless of the team's success. Things came to a head during the
1995 season, when NU's wild tailgates ran headlong into the team's
newfound success and popularity. Shockingly, Wildcat tailgates
actually made national "tailgating top ten" lists, taking a place
legendary tailgate schools as Ohio State and LSU. However, the
university cracked down on student tailgating soon afterwards, and
current tailgates are but a shell of glories past. Even so,
current elite groups such as NUTS (Northwestern University Tailgating
Society) keep the grills lit.
|24. Drum Major Yoga And Other NUMB Rituals
[ ♫ ] (introduced in stages) Of course, this is a list of football
traditions, but many NU Marching Band and song traditions are closely
linked to the team. As for NUMB itself, it has more tradition and
rituals than British royalty and the Catholic Church combined.
Among the best not covered elsewhere on the list: band announcer Pete
Friedmann, the growl ("AAAHHH"), the band's chair step marching
technique, the display (since 1948) of the flags of the Big Ten during
"Fanfare," playing the opposing team's fight song, the "Sculpted N"
march during "Go U Northwestern," and the glide step during
halftime. All this from a band whose members (unlike most other
college bands) receive no payment or scholarships. AAAAHHH!!!
[ ◊ x ] (c. 1970s-1992) Students flinging marshmallows during the game
was another tradition to bite the dust
(along with laking the goal posts and booze-filled tailgates) under
Barnett's re-imaging of NU football. The final marshmallow was
hurtled in mid-nineties: by 1994 NU had stepped up security to make
sure that the ban was enforced.
The goal, of course, was to
get a marshmallow into one of the band's tubas. Experts could
make a particularly sticky marshmallow stick to an opposing
cheerleader's flag. Many other schools (Michigan???) took up this
silly practice as well. It was fun at the time, but it's a tradition best left in the past.
|26. (All) Purple Uniforms
[ ◊ x ] (1898-1899; 1909-1927; 1937; 1978; 1991; 2003-2006; 2011)
NU took its nickname "the Purple" to heart in 1898 by
wearing all purple, and has done so sporadically ever since.
|27. Jerseys: Black and White
[ x ] (White jerseys only: 1940-1943; 1946-1947. Black jerseys: 1992-2002; 2010-2013) Throughout the 1930s NU usually wore
white jerseys at home and a combination of white and purple jerseys on
the road. By 1940 the team wore only white jerseys at home and on the road, a style and
tradition that the team would use until the 1948 Rose Bowl
season. This is a tradition now more associated with a handful of other
schools, including Georgia Tech.
Barnett would of course change the team's home jersey to black in
1992. The black uniform debuted at Soldier Field vs. Notre
Dame. Notable because of the 1995, 1996 and 2000 title teams.
|28. The Trip to Mustard's
[ ] (c. 1970s - present) Many readers included walking to
Mustard's before a game on their list of personal traditions.
There are a lot of other Evanston restaurants and bars that could make
their way onto a list of NU traditions (Hackney's, The Huddle,
Yesterday's, Jim's Char-Broil,
J.K. Sweets, and others come to mind), but none is as linked with the
stadium and game day as Mustard's Last Stand. A trip down Central
Street to the little hot dog stand, and then on to Let's Tailgate, is
|29. Wild(cat) Finishes [ ♦
] (1996-present) From the antics of the 1996 "Cardiac 'Cats," to the
drama of "Victory Right" in 2000, to Michigan State and "Victory Right
II" in 2001, to the edge of your seat finishes that peppered 2003
through 2005, NU football has become known for bizarre comebacks,
never-say-die attempts to pull a game out of the fire and thrilling
|30. Keys at Kickoff
[ ] (late 1970s-present) Certainly not a unique tradition, but
it is one of the "key" fan-interactive traditions left during the
game. The students have their cat claw and growl, but everyone--
current students, alumni, and fans in general-- can make sure that the
officials are aware that the ball is about to be kicked off, by gently
jangling their keys. Fans either love or hate this
tradition. Many students and fans now incorrectly believe this to
be an insulting gesture aimed at the opposing fans. However, the
origin of the key shake is innocent, and it did not originate with NU--
other colleges and even high schools have been doing this for far
|31. “Mars” on Defense
[ ◊ ♫ x ] (early 1990s-early ‘00s) NUMB was either first, or very close
to first, to perform Holst’s Mars as the theme for the defense.
Many schools followed suit. Superior to other schools’ Empire
Strikes Back theme, or piped-in snippets of “Hell’s Bells."
|32. Night Home Games
[ ] (1997-present) Before 1997 Dyche Stadium had hosted only five
night games in its history. Since '97 Ryan Field has had a night game
nearly once per year. Typically scheduled for a big game-- think Ohio
State in 2004 and 2013-- and more often than not they're sold out. Is there a stadium or
field in the nation that looks better than Ryan Field under the lights
with a capacity crowd? Pure made-for-TV magic.
|33. The Great 1995 Preseason Rituals
[ ◊ ] (1995; sporadically since) The stuff of
folklore as much as tradition. Some remain traditions with the
team, others not so much. Include the scaling of Mount Trashmore,
singing "High Hopes," and Barnett's catch phrase, "Expect Victory," which he coined three years earlier.
|34. Cheerleading Yells
[ x ] (1880s-late 1960s) Of course, the NU Cheerleaders still cheer,
and fans still yell, but "Go U!! ...NU!!" does not an organized fan cheer
make. Once upon a time, NU (and many other teams) had an
impressive set of organized fan cheers and published some in each football program.
|35. Great Lakes Preseason Scrimmage
] (2010-present) A new and unique tradition. Northwestern sought
and received special permission from the NCAA to hold its preseason
practices at two off-campus locations: Kenosha and one practice at the
Great Lakes facility near Glenview, IL. NU's ties with Great
Lakes go back to 1918, and the school is trying to establish the
Wildcats as the adopted college team for the nearby servicemen.
|36. The Spring Game
[ ] (1923-present) The Purple - White Spring Games, Scrimmages, Exhibitions are always a good time for
NU football diehards to get a fix during the offseason. The
"golden age" of Spring Games was undoubtedly under Coach Barnett:
Barnett instituted a really fun Alumni Game in 1992 that lasted several
years, and his Purple-White 1996 game (in which he did not coach, but
did color commentary from the media booth) was carried live on cable
TV. One terrific tradition which remains part of the Spring Game
program is the "Stretch With the 'Cats," during which children can take
the field and stretch with their favorite players during the warmup.
|37. Wildcat Alley
[ ♫ ] (2001-present) A kind of mini-circus held before each home
game, Wildcat Alley has evolved into a nice pre-game tradition.
Performances by NUMB, carnival-style attractions for children, food
vendors, and-- yes-- free Goose Island beer!
|38. Defending Hannibal
[ ◊ ] (1998-present) NU installed the large bronze wildcat statue
near the south endzone of Ryan Field just before the 1998 season.
Nicknamed "Hannibal" by the team, the statue was the site of an
unspeakable insult at the end of the '98 Illinois game, when the
Illini-- victors in a close and sloppy game-- planted one of their
pumpkin helmets on the wildcat in triumph. Vowing revenge, NU
waited until Illinois' return in 2000 and destroyed the Illini 61-23
(securing the Big Ten title). As the clock struck zero, Wildcat
players raced to the statue to fit it with an NU helmet. Hannibal
must be protected from anything orange at all costs.
|39. Dyche Stadium
[ ] (1926-1996; as Ryan Field: 1997-present) The little
stadium by the lake simply oozes history and tradition. "The
Wrigley Field of College Football" has played host to some of the
greatest players and games in the history of the sport, as well as
professional games, concerts, and-- in the 1940s and '50s-- fourth of
July fireworks. Recent touches have added to the pomp and
pageantry: the Randy Walker Terrace, the team racing to the field from
under the awning and inflatable 'Cat head, and the "Wildcats" mums in front of the locker room.
|40. "Put Your Hands Up in the Air!"
[ ] (2010-present) Another
recent tradition, and one that is similar to the Cubs' seventh inning
stretch. The above-named song bellows across the stadium at the
beginning of the fourth quarter, introduced by a famous alumnus or a
local celebrity (the first to take part was "Da Coach," Mike
Ditka). The crowd reaction, as prompted by the introduction, is
as you would expect.
|41. Primal Scream
[ • ] (unknown-present) It's Sunday. 9:00 pm. Finals
Week. Do you know where your sanity is? If you've been on
campus during the Primal Scream, you'll never forget it-- there's no
sound like it anywhere, thank God.
|42. “Purple Haze”
[ ♫ x ] (1972-mid 1970s) In 1972 the student body voted to
change NU's nickname from "Wildcats" to "Purple Haze." According
to some alumni, NUMB
followed suit for a little while by playing the Hendrix tune
(the University administration quietly swept the nickname vote under
the rug). While it's unclear if NUMB actually played Purple Haze
at games in the '70s, it certainly did in 2008, when the practice was
|43. Dad’s Day
[ x ] (1923- c. 1990s) The first Dad's Day was organized before NU played Lake Forest College in 1923. One of the
longest-running annual named days, Dad's Day was eventually phased out
to make way for the more politically correct "Family Weekend."
|44. The N Club [
] (1914-present) There are several alumni, fan and booster clubs
that could make the traditions list, including the Benchwarmers and the
Northwestern Gridiron Network. However, the N Club is the most
venerable of the lot, and is made up entirely of former athletes.
Letterwinners were first recognized with the university "N" in
1894. Attempts to form an N Club began in 1913 and culminated in a luncheon in June 1914.
|45. Dance Marathon
[ • ] (1975-present) Taking in over a half million dollars per year,
Dance Marathon has become one of the country's biggest college
|46. Cheerleaders and the Ladycats Dance Team [ ](unknown-present)
An addition to Tradition #34 (cheerleading yells). The
Cheerleaders are themselves members of a varsity team at NU, as is the
Ladycats Dance Team, which competes in the summer.
|47. Camping out for Waa-Mu Tix
[ • ] (unknown-present) The Waa-Mu Show is itself a major NU tradition,
but the tradition of pitching tents and camping out for tickets is
simply a part of modern student life at Northwestern.
|48. The Heckey's Trivia Quiz [
] (c. early 1990s-present) Did I mention Heckey's ribs in
#28? Well, I should have... The Heckey's Trivia Quiz is the best
known feature of NU's in-stadium video screen. One reader's
personal tradition is that the answer to every trivia question must be
Adamle", even when it isn't an option. And, yes, it's the sauce!!
|49. The Fighting Methodists [ ◊ x
] (1880s-1890s) Sure, this was never officially the football
team's nickname, but who cares? It's a great piece of
teamlore. And it's certainly unique to NU.
|50. Postseason Team Awards [ ]
(1924-present) After each season the team presents the following awards
to deserving players: the team MVP (the oldest existing award, since
1924), Spirit Award (1962), Citizenship Award (1975), Leadership Award
(1987), Marcel Price Award (1995), Wildcat Warrior (1999), and Rashidi
Wheeler Award (2001).
NU players take part in the very first "Walk with Us" event, before the 2006 New Hampshire game.
(#19 on the list)
Some more NU traditions that missed the cut for the top 50:
x ] (2001-2006) During the 2000 Alamo Bowl, Wildcat fans
were treated to the strange antics of Nebraska's inflatable mascot, and
before that Purdue had introduced "Rowdy Pete," the balloon version of
their Boilermaker. Fans at Ryan Field watched in baffled and
horrified amusement during midseason 2001 as NU joined the inflatable
mascot crowd with Air Willie. His Airness usually appeared only
home games, and only briefly during the third quarter. Children
in the crowd absolutely loved his surreal acrobatics. Air Willie
was last seen at Ryan Field in 2006. The Light One now spends his
retirement entertaining fans at fan bars in Chicago on game days.
[ ◊ x ] (1930-early 1970s) Before Notre Dame had its Shillelagh Trophy
game with Purdue or USC, the Irish had a Shillelagh with NU. In
1930 the president of Ireland presented a shillelagh to Knute
Rockne. Rockne proposed that it become a trophy between Notre
Dame and NU. The teams first battled for in in 1930. The
Irish won the game, which decided the national championship. Both
teams came to the game undefeated. Unfortunately by the 1970s the
trophy slid into obscurity, and by the time NU renewed its series with
the Irish (1992-'95), the Shillelagh had been forgotten.
|Movie Stars [ ]
(1920s - present) From singing cowboy Tex Ritter to Charlton
Heston, few schools claim as many actors as NU. Directly relates
to NU football, since several Wildcat football players have also gone
on to big screen roles, including 1940s western star Reb Russell and
1970s action star Fred "The Hammer" Williamson.
|“The College Football Subway Series”
[ x ] (1892-1926) NU's rivalry with Chicago had the makings
of a fantastic tradition but never met its potential. Rarely were
both teams at the same level of talent: Chicago dominated when NU was
faltering, and NU rose to power just as athletics at Chicago were being
|Home Games at Soldier Field
[ x ] (1924-1933; 1992-1997) NU hosted Notre Dame in the very
first football game played at Soldier Field, and NU would occasionally
stage games there for the next decade. After a nearly 60 year
absence, the 'Cats returned to Soldier field to host Notre Dame.
NU also used the stadium to host the Pigskin Classic in 1997 (a game
which NU officially counts in its record home winning streak that
stretched from 1995 to '97). However, NU's home away from home
hasn't been used by the 'Cats since.
|NU's Unique Greek Traditions
[ • ] (in stages, beginning in the 1930s - present) Includes pledge yell-ins and sorority serenades. After rush,
fraternities serenade the sororities, singing specific sets of
songs, and giving flowers.
|"First down... GOAL TO GO!!"
[ x ] (c. early 1990s-2009) Some
readers voted for the canned wildcat
"growl" that the P.A. airs after a big NU play. The P.A. growl
may be a tradition, but it just isn't a very good one. Much
better is the over-the-top first down call by P.A. announcer Pat
Walsh. He was
the ultimate "homer" announcer. Perhaps even better than his
histrionic Wildcat first down calls were his updates of scores from
other games. Whenever Notre Dame, Iowa, or Illinois trail, he typically gave the other
team's score first, then paused dramatically before delivering the kill
|Furpaw and the NU Bears
[ x ] (1923) A tradition which never took off. NU, searching for
a nickname other than The Purple, found inspiration in the Chicago
Bears, who had recently moved to the city. NU even had a live
mascot, "Furpaw," who was brought in a cage to the games at
Northwestern Field. NU had a losing season in '23, and the Bears
moniker was dropped. A year later, NU would find a nickname that was a
Here are some highlights of personal traditions that readers e-mailed, in response to the poll:
have attended every Northwestern football home game since entering as a
freshman in 2000 (first home game: October 7, 2000 - NU 52 vs Indiana
33) - so far 33 consecutive games. (I'm sure some of the more
senior Wildcat fans have a more impressive streak, but maybe someday I can catch up.)"
tradition shared by many readers: "Putting up NU banners..." ("in our
family room." "outside." "in my office." "on the front of the house.")
new family tradition to begin this fall: Now that I have just obtained
an authentic NU helmet, I've told my wife that it's going to be in bed
with us on the night before games. I even told my wife that this
matter is nonnegotiable. So far, however, my wife has balked at
this suggestion, claiming that it's either the helmet or her. We'll see . . . ."
to Evanston on my birthday in August to purchase a media guide, and a
walk around the stadium on the evening prior to a game."
|"Watching disappointed visiting fans sulking as they leave."
|"The pregame stroll from campus (where I park) to the stadium, complete with beautiful fall foliage." Several
readers offered this same personal tradition, which I share. I've
never parked at the stadium, preferring always to walk to the stadium
from South Campus.
our parking pass year round in the car, personalizing and cheering for
players by their first name (Sam Simmons was Sam-I-am, my husband made
up a little tune for Kunle Patrick - I love New York in June, how
about NU? and a little math equation from two years ago for Ashton
Aikens (A squared) and Brett Basanez (B squared) touchdown hookups and Pythagorean theorem."
wear one of my purple ties on Fridays before games; if they win the
same tie gets worn again until they lose. The one worn for most
of 1995 gets saved for big games."
|"Stops at Let's Tailgate and The Locker Room to get some more gear."
Always, Always wear purple. Its not good enough to wear a
sweatshirt with “Northwestern” on it. The torso needs to be clad
in a significant proportion of purple."