Gather round, kids and let me tell you the story of why I hate Northwestern so much. It all begins, some years ago when the Missus, The Quiet Man and I were stuck at one of those random tables you find at weddings. You know the ones: you're not family but you're not in the bridal party, so you sort of get categorized into the 'friends' category and then sit around and stare at each other until someone begins to make random, awkward conversation.
That's pretty much how it went at this wedding. We listened to them talk about how they had gone up to Door County and rented a cabin for the weekend. And how they played badminton on the beach with their friends, all of whom seemed to have obnoxious, upper class names like Mitchell (or Muffy). Eventually, the awkward small talk phase of the evening began with an inquiry on how we all knew the bride. The Quiet Man and I explained that we had gone to high school with her, which lead to the following exchange:
Mitchell (or Muffy): Oh, so you guys went to Iowa then?
Mitchel (or Muffy): Beaten you guys four out of the last five years in football! We put that in our family Christmas letter.
Instantly, kids, Northwestern went from the nerd school that I couldn't care less about to the one school I hated more than any in the conference. (Nebraska slots in just behind them solely for their moronic and ridiculous insistence on having a Black Friday game which inevitably throws a wrench into my Thanksgiving plans every other year.) Whenever we beat Northwestern, I always think of Mitchell (or Muffy) and how sad their Christmas letter is going to be this year. When we lose to Northwestern, my blood boils at the thought of Mitchell (or Muffy) gleeful crafting their Christmas letter on expensive boutique artisan paper and including the news that once more Northwestern has beaten Iowa and made us look like fools. (Mitchell (or Muffy), of course, write on their boutique artisan paper with a pen so expensive, it's rage inducing.)
Is all of this just a little petty? Well, yes. But it's Northwestern versus Iowa. The legend goes that back in the 80s, when Pat Fitzgerald was a player, one of Hayden Fry's teams evaporated Northwestern by a bunch of points. After the game, Fry said something to the effect of 'Hope we didn't hurt your boys too much.' That one, off-handed remark seemed to encode levels of petty, gleeful rage into Northwestern football that has only grown with the decades. They seem to revel in beating Iowa. They get amped up for it. Every year, they seem to come down to the metaphorical gun fight with big, scary looking guns and it's only about halfway through the second quarter that we seem to realize that we're holding a butter knife because we left our six shooter in the team bus.
All of which brings me back around to this: I hate losing to Northwestern.
I think the biggest challenge facing the Iowa football program is probably how to manage Kirk's eventual exit/retirement. I don't know if we'll ever get another Coach to stay here twenty years like he has- and increasingly, tenure such as his seems to be the exception and not the rule, but knowing when to say goodbye is probably the hardest part- especially if you're still relatively young and you still feel like you've got gas left in the tank.
Perfectly competent and average football is nothing to be sneezed at. Plenty of programs have fired Coaches and in retrospect probably regretted it. (See: Minnesota and Glen Mason, Tennessee and well, the last ten years or so.) I'd like to think my expectations are somewhat realistic compared to other folks in the fan base. I don't expect to make the playoff every year. I'm not asking to compete for the 'natty. I also remember when it was pretty cool just to make a bowl game.
But when you begin to see diminishing returns on your baseline for success, it's time to step back and ask if we should be better than this. Maybe this question is premature. Maybe they get monumentally pissed off and unleash three games worth of frustration on Illinois and Nebraska and we finish 8-4. Or maybe we continue to be maddeningly middling and we finish 6-6. But for so long, Iowa's brand of football has been sold to fans as a bowl of Grape Nuts. It's not particularly exciting. It doesn't necessarily look all that great. But if you eat it long enough, you'll see the health benefits. But the problem with eating Grape Nuts is that eventually you get sick of 'em- but they're also healthy enough for you that you can't really justify not eating them.
We lost to Northwestern. I hate losing to Northwestern. I'm not really sure I'm on the 'fire everybody' bandwagon just yet, but I know for damn sure I'm getting mighty sick of Grape Nuts.