The Wildside of Tradition


These dudes know the drill. Photo courtesy of

Extending homage to a college football team can be a full-time job for the real pigskin maniac. A proper fan does more than find a parking spot and applaud when the home team runs one in for six. Real football enthusiasts actively participate in the drama unfolding on the gridiron. They live their lives by a certain tradition. Being a super-fan is not a choice; it is a lifestyle.

Come football season, Northwestern Wildcat fans bloom all over campus like delicious pumpkins in an autumn garden. It is easy to recognize these students. Most of them wear Mardi Gras-purple shirts. On game day they walk to Ryan Field with painted faces. It is simple for a Northwestern student to pick up the traditions that are unique to Wildcats football, but out-of-towners may need assistance.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald believes that cheering traditions and fan participation are essential elements a respectable football club. As his speech demonstrates, Fitzgerald believes that excited fans, rooting from the bleachers, are a key component of a successful season.

Wildcat football tradition number one happens when all of the Northwestern fans Shake Their Car Keys and Shout immediately before kickoff. The result is a cacophony of chanting and jangling iron. This tradition kills two birds with just one stone. This deafening custom serves to inspire the Wildcats and intimidate the opposing team.

President Alex Wilcox (center) and a few of his Wildside compadres. Photo courtesy of Alex Wilcox.

Alex Wilcox is the president of an organization called the Northwestern Wildside – a group whose main purpose is the promotion of Northwestern athletics. Alex believes, much like Coach Fitzpatrick, that involved fans have the ability of making a team play better.

“In all sports, good fan support can boost the home team’s spirit and inspire them to play better,” said Alex. “But, in college football especially, fans can really rattle an opponent and make it impossible for them to communicate on the field. Try kicking a field goal when tens of thousands of fans are screaming for you to miss. It’s not easy”.

Screaming and key shaking during a kickoff really does set the tone for the rest of the game at Ryan Field.

The second Wildcat game day tradition is Singing the Northwestern Fight Song, “Go U Northwestern”. Music and college sporting events work

Pat Fitzgerald coaching the Northwestern Wildcats. Photo courtesy of ESPN Football Nation Blog.

together very well. The marching band plays. Popular songs are heard from the stadium’s stereo system. Singing the fight song is a good way to infuse the game with energy and allow the fans to participate.

A big third down play can be one of the most critical moments of a football game. It is make or break time. This is why Cheering on Third Down is Northwestern football tradition number three. At Ryan Field, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, a song by Metallica, begins to play every time a third down situation arises and the Wildcats are on the defensive side of the ball. During a speech he gave to Northwestern students, Coach Fitzgerald stressed the importance of rooting your heart out on third downs.

“…it gets to a down that we call third down on defense. That’s a really big down,” says Fitzgerald. “What we need you guys to do is to just go as crazy as you can. ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ – it’s kind of like a wake-up call for you guys to go absolutely berserk. “

The forth Northwestern Wildcat tradition is Putting your Hands Up in the Air.

Alex Wilcox spoke to me about the significance of this tradition.

“I’m not sure if it’s the most important tradition, but the one I like the most is ‘Put Your Hands Up in the Air’ before the fourth quarter of every game,” said Alex. “A video is played featuring a special guest of the game like Derrick Rose or Mike Greenberg encouraging fans to put their hands in the air and get pumped for the final 15 minutes. It’s a lot of fun and the students and players alike enjoy it.”

The great thing about college athletics is that it is steeped in tradition. Every aspect of collegiate football has an interesting historical tale behind it. Alex Wilcox believes that one of the best ways to enjoy a football game in Evanston is to sit back and enjoy the environment. Take in the good times that are all around you. Being an active fan is great, but being a passive receptacle to all of the sights and sounds of Ryan Field is also a good way to enjoy an autumn day.

“I would suggest for anyone attending a Northwestern game to just enjoy the college atmosphere and appreciate what college football is all about,” says Wilcox. “From the sound of the band on the field, to the smell of the tailgates in the parking lot, to the student-athletes on the field, Ryan field provides the perfect intimate atmosphere to enjoy a college football game.”

A college football game really is the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Cheering yourself horse for the home team is always good times. The players really do love it when the fans go nuts. An involved, enthusiastic crowd makes for a happy football team. Fans feed off the players energy every time they clap their hands or belt out a round of the beloved fight song. So, come this football season, when you attend a Northwestern game and cheer like a champ you get to take home a little piece of that Wildcat victory.

An empty Ryan Field: Even the guys setting up for graduation look bored.
Ryan Field on Game Day: Nice.

 Feature photo courtesy of flickr @tncountryfan

About: Mark Csernus

Mark Csernus has been a relentless fan of the written word since he penned his first action/adventure, pirate fable at age six. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree of English from Western Illinois University, where he wrote for Elements magazine and The Western Courier. Csernus currently resides in northern Illinois, continuing to nurture his passion for language and covering the Big Ten Conference with