I mentioned on more than one occasion that this past weekend I headed out to Chicago for the first time in three years to catch Northwestern lay a big, fat second-half egg against Illinois at Wrigley Field. The fact that the Wildcats rallied from a rather surprising early 14-point deficit only to turn belly-up after the long break notwithstading, the whole experience was pretty tremendous and unique for a whole host of reasons. Also, the trip had some pretty amusing moments. As a result, I'm here to give you a way-too-long recap of the festivities from start to finish in that discursive way you've all come to expect from me.
Here. We. Go.
I had been looking forward to this trip for several reasons, most notably because I have an awfully large soft spot in my heart for the Windy City and it had been far too long since I had been there -- nearly since I graduated from Northwestern, in fact. To boot, I'd be seeing several good friends in a massive defacto reunion, and the chance to see my college football team play in one of the most legendary venues in American sports only added to the excitement.
The night before jumping my 9 a.m. flight to Chicago, however, I was stuck at work past 1 a.m., which meant I'd be getting very little sleep before booking it to the midwest. This was mitigated by the fact that part of my late stay at the office was the result of some very exciting and potentially life-altering career news. I found 18 hours later that a few of my friends wanted to congratulate me by bringing some balloons by the office, which they then realized would go for naught as I was in the Norris Student Center Bookstore in Evanston, IL at the time. Either way, it was clear by the time I arrived at Laguardia that I was going to be extremely tired and in need of a nap on the plane.
So it's just my luck that I was sitting in front of a loud five-year-old who had a delightful habit of kicking the back of my chair.
The woman next to me seemed far less amused by the absurdity of the situation, declaring to me that "children shouldn't be allowed on shuttles". But I think she was a bit hard-nosed about it. After landing I had a bounce in my step, and a bit of an extreme rush to make my noon o'clock lunch plans at the Giordano's at 135 E Lake Street with the excellent Vawn and Dov. And lucky me, after sitting down on the blue line to downtown I found that the excitable five-year-old and his grandmother were on my train, too, and that they plopped down next to me. For a while I handled the conversation with decent aplomb, talking about transformers and Spider-Man. I did get a bit of a scare when I realized this five-year-old boy was born in 2005, when I was halfway through college, but otherwise it all went amicably until this uncomfortable exchange.
"So what were you doing in New York?"
"I was visiting my mom. I live in Chicago with my dad, but they split up because they had a fight."
"Yeah, my dad pushed my mom into a refrigerator, but now they want to be friends again."
This was the moment when his grandmother pulled him over and the conversation ended.
Giordano's pizza, and I then dropped my things off at my friend Rachel's amazing apartment and headed up to Evanston for some extreme nostalgia. As I trekked around campus and took photos of my freshman year dorm, I headed to the student center to meet up with Lindsay Minnema and explore the almost entirely unchanged Daily Northwestern office. Touring campus is a bizarre experience if for no other reason than that you have no idea you ever left. There are minor changes, but for the most part everything feels the same and you start to wonder what time you have to be at your lecture tomorrow at Tech Auditorium.
After sufficiently snooping around town, I met up with Rachel and went with her to a shabbat dinner at a friend's house, which, I admit, was more religious than I expected, but I good time had by all. I enjoy the periodic resumptions of Jewish observance that I'm generally oblivious to. Also the food was tremendous. After this: the L back downtown, beers and TV, sleep and then waking early for the big event.
ESPN College Gameday would be in Evanston for a Northwestern game, the show finally decided to show up for the Wrigley affair, and students began to make their presence felt by leaving campus on buses at 4:30 a.m. I did not wake up that early, though I did arrive by 9:30, and it took not more than three minutes before I made the first of several awkward run-ins with NU '07ers I hadn't seen since college nor expected to. Some run-ins were actually quite nice because they were people I was friendly with and occasionally still talk to, but some came extremely out of left field -- literally, I suppose, since we were at a baseball stadium.
I scarfed down the two leftover slices of pizza I had brought with me for lunch not knowing no food would be allowed in the Gameday pit, and then made my way in to meet up with Alan, who had the unfortunate luck of living next to me during the 2004-05 academic year. Poor sap. After watching a series of ridiculous signs, singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame with Ernie Banks and watching Mike Ditka make guest celebrity picks, we met up with Nomaan, Sean and the rest of my cadre, which involved finally getting my hands on my totally awesome looking tickets, watching the players enter the stadium through the alumni tent, and then heading to the young alumni tailgate, which involved an impressive amount of alcohol.
painted purple for the occasion, we arrived at our totally awesome seats to find the rest of our crew had somehow beaten us there. No matter. We were sitting in the first row of the stadium's top section right behind the West end zone, which provided not only a phenomenal view of the skyline, but also proved amazing fortune considering safety concerns regarding the East end zone had prompted a rule change that all play would go from east to west.
Though I wasn't sober, I could surmise these things: the atmosphere was fucking awesome. The whole crowd, whether in Purple or orange, was absolutely electric. There is something about seeing a college football game in chilly weather that brings out excitement regardless of venue, but doing so in what was such a special and history building created an extra sense of novelty and grandeur not found at your typical Northwestern game. The stadium was fitted with all the trimmings, with Northwestern's usual field painted down, banners of Northwestern football greats hanging along the concourses, Big Ten scores on the famous Wrigley scoreboard, purple and white Northwestern flags dotting the top of the stadium and the foul poles and even some very clever billboards. Though I was somewhat dismayed that Northwestern chose to come out in alternate black jerseys after I had bought a brand new purple one for the occasion.
Eventually, I proved our worth as real sports fans to him, but the problem with convincing an old man that you know the sports of his time is that he proceeds to try to talk to you about them, and what it was like back in those days, for the rest of the game, which wasn't exactly what I was aiming for. Nomaan was less pleasant to him, but that related to an understandable and deeply-seated distaste for the arrogance of some Illini fans. As the game would wind down, the old man wished me the best and then confided that, "I actually wanted to go to Northwestern."
That's what college sports are all about.
Of course, following a disappointing defeat in which Illinois wracked up an absurd 500 yards on the ground alone, the details of the game itself are probably better left undiscussed, but the atmosphere of the game itself was amazing. Once it ended, however, I was quickly reminded of the worst part of games at Wrigley: the outlandish logjam at the Addison L stop. Sean and I decided to avoid this by heading off to Belmont instead, where we head downtown and I grabbed some dinner before heading out for a night of drinking with Rachel and my friend Amit, another Chicagoan I hadn't seen in years.
Some people just don't have a sense of humor. Either way, the flight took off and I was on my way home. I left with a few drawn conclusions. The Wrigley experiment was excellent, and should probably be a regular thing for the Cats. Few things are better than a long fall day comprised of friends, beer and college football. And finally, I need to come back to Chicago more often.
That last one is hard to argue.