Commentary: Purple Haze on October 11
by Jonathan Hodges

This coming Saturday marks one of the biggest games in recent history for Northwestern as the 'Cats carry their 5-0 record (1-0 Big Ten) and #22 (Coaches' Poll)/ #23 (Harris Poll) ranking into a big matchup against Michigan State (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) who are ranked #23 (AP)/ #19 (Coaches')/ #21 (Harris) in Evanston.  The game time has been set for 2:30 PM ET and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.  But another development for the game is the "Purple Haze" grassroots movement by NU students to get as many people to the game as possible and for everyone to wear as much purple as possible to support the Wildcats.  All of this combined will yield probably one of the best game atmospheres at Ryan Field since NU's 2005 matchup against Michigan (which was also the last time NU was ranked and played another ranked opponent).  (And as mentioned in HTP's commentary, look forward to a performance of "Purple Haze" from NUMB in the stands.)

The matchup also has large Big Ten title implications as the winner of the game has a legitimate shot at contending for the title along with the current frontrunners of Ohio State and Penn State; in fact, MSU's next game is against Ohio State.  Although we have just scratched the surface of Big Ten conference play so far, both NU and MSU will also be jockeying for bowl position - and with NU well aware that one must win games to put itself into a bowl (after being left out despite a bowl-eligible 6-6 record last year), this game carries a lot of significance.  Undoubtedly, bowl representatives will be in attendance to observe the game atmosphere at Northwestern - a good showing would definitely give NU a boost come bowl selection time.

This makes attendance a huge priority for this game - after underwhelming results so far this year (although slightly improved over last year's anemic numbers), NU could definitely use a good showing on Saturday.  The students seem fired up and should pack the place, especially given the later starting time.  But the question is if the local "casual" fan base will come out for the game.  One couldn't ask for a better setup going into the game, and Northwestern is beginning to garner some national attention.  Now the question is if the 'Cats' success thus far has garnered enough attention from local fans to get them to the game.

Fortunately, from the attention standpoint alone, the Cubs made a quick exit from the baseball playoffs and the White Sox seem poised to do the same - leaving a lot of room on the nightly sports report and in the attention span of Chicago sports fans for NU.  With the Blackhawks and Bulls still in preseason (and the playoffs half a year away), only the Bears will provide another sports headline-producer in Chicago.  So, this sets up another great scenario for NU to "take over the town" as they did during the 95-96 heyday.

But, as any NU fan knows, wins and getting fans in the seats is not an "automatic" as the 'Cats have had recent success yet failed to fill Ryan Field.  So, I implore anyone reading this to bring as many Northwestern/Big Ten/college football fans to the stadium on Saturday as possible AND to give them something purple to wear.  This is the first chance for NU to make a real statement on a national scale - not just that the 2008 Wildcat team is good, but also that there is good fan support behind them.

Yes, the team should be approaching this game as they do any other - prepare, practice, and execute.  But, as fans, we should step things up to the next level to show our support for the 'Cats and to show viewers across the nation that this team is "for real" and has a large purple contingent behind it.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.