I am a man of routine. Thus, like most others, I have a morning routine. For 353 days out of the year my morning routine culminates when I put on my watch. There are 12 days during the year when I do not put on my watch. Those 12 days are ‘Cats football gamedays.
My dad raised me on Northwestern football. I’ve been to damn near every meaningful game that this program has had in the past 20 years. I learned a long time ago from Pops that it was never a good idea to wear your watch on gameday. Through the years, my dad has broken close to a dozen watches on Saturdays. Sometime around the 2005 season, I think he finally wised up and stopped wearing his watch while watching the ‘Cats. It’s ironic though, because every time Pops broke a watch the ‘Cats seemed to win. They had a knack for winning close games. Almost every one of Pops’ broken watches was like a trophy for both the ‘Cats and for what he had endured.
In the Randy Walker era, the “Cardiac Cats” routinely lived up to their namesake. As frustrating as it was to see the ‘Cats struggle with damn near every opponent (no matter how good or how bad they were), somehow we almost always found a way to win close games. Personally, I think that was a testament to Coach Walker, his demeanor and the confidence he exuded.
Under Randy Walker, the ‘Cats had a habit of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. There was 2000 against Minnesota – The ‘Cats rallied from 21 down to beat the Gophers on a hail mary (Victory Right I). There was the next week in 2000 against Michigan – … every ‘Cats fan knows that story. There was 2001 against MSU – Victory Right II. There was 2005 against Iowa – 14 points in a minute and a half. I could go on and on, but you get the point.
Over the past 6 seasons, Northwestern has done a complete 180 and managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory time and time again. There was 2006 against MSU – the largest blown lead in NCAA history. There was 2009 against Syracuse – the Kafka interception. And then there was this season – 3 losses with double digit second half leads.
Something is going on and it’s not good.
Going into overtime at the Big House on Saturday, the television crew reminded us all that Northwestern was 7-0 all time in B1G overtime games. Unfortunately, we knew all too well not to fall for this false sense of optimism. We had no chance. We knew we had no chance. Most importantly, Fitz knew we had no chance.
The same coach that was responsible for those 7 overtime victories, Randy Walker (rest in peace), wasn’t there to calm the masses. Instead, we had a coach on the sidelines who just a half hour earlier was jumping up and down like a little girl on Christmas because Michigan had been called for a personal foul to help keep a ‘Cats drive alive. That may have been the most amateur thing ever done by Fitz as a head coach, but more importantly, it also showed a complete lack of composure under pressure. That action alone is a microcosm of why this team will continue to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. We simply don’t expect to win against the big boys.
Don’t get me wrong. This program is in far better shape now than it ever has been in the past. A lot of the credit has to go to Fitz for that. Perhaps that’s the most frustrating part. We’re so close, yet so far. We have so much more now, but we’re missing that one thing we had in the past.
In the meantime, I know one thing for certain: after this past Saturday’s game, I’ll continue to leave my watch on the nightstand during gameday. I think I may even stop wearing clothes on gameday. Hell, I may need a straitjacket moving forward.