NU Traditions


The 50 Greatest

Northwestern Football Traditions

When 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, 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.

By the 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 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 the uniform.
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 victors over 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 a win.

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, but 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 landmark, but it was among the earliest, and many colleges and high schools have since adopted the paint-your-landmark tradition.
9. Homecoming [ ♫ ] (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 only on 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.  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.
16. Mayfest [ • ] (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 centerpieces.
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 in the 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.
23. Tailgates [   ] (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 alongside such 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!!!
25. Marshmallows [ ◊ 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 almost required.
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 endings.
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 longer.
31. The Running of the Freshmen [   ] (2010-present) Technically called the "Freshman Wildside 100," this is a tradition inspired by Vanderbilt's practice. Before the first home game played after the return of the students to campus, every single new student has the opportunity to run onto the field.
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. “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."
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 giveaways.
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 briefly revived.
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 philanthropies.
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 [ x  ] (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 "Mike 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:

Air Willie[ 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 at 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.
The Shillelagh [ ◊ 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 downgraded.
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 shot.
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 keeper.

Here are some highlights of personal traditions that readers e-mailed, in response to the poll:

"I 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.)"
A tradition shared by many readers: "Putting up NU banners..." ("in our family room." "outside." "in my office." "on the front of the house.")
"A 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 . . . ."
"Driving 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.
"Keeping 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."
"Always 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, 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."