When Northwestern lost to Michigan on Saturday, the team's record dropped to 2-3, putting Northwestern below .500. After several years of hot starts against bad teams and general above-average football play, NU is back where it historically belongs. However, that hasn't rung true: NU is below .500 for the first time since October 5, 2007, a streak of 1464 days, or, for the less numerically inclined, four years and three days.
NU's time at or above .500 is not unprecedented. Yes, I went into the archives and looked it up: NU's streak above .500 is tied - yes, tied - for the longest in program history. Two of these took place before college football made sense. Here they are.November 11, 1899-November 6, 1909, 3648 days: This should probably be thrown out, because two of these years NU didn't have a football team and a third saw NU go 2-2 with wins in their first two games. The streak started in 1899. Things turned around late in the 1899 season with wins over teams that are now currently in the Big Ten, but the season ended with a 76-0 shutout at the hands of the mighty University of Chicago Maroons to dip NU back to 6-6. The streak starts with a 29-0 shutout of Purdue - some things change, some things stay the same (side note: an alarming amount of early college football games appear to have been shutouts: in 1902, the Cats went 6-6, shutting out five opponents and being shut out in all six losses.) NU had a string of 6-plus win seasons including a Big Ten championship in 1903, when they went 10-1-3, beating two high schools, a fort, their alumni, a dental school, Wash U. and U. Chicago, and of course, competing in two 0-0 ties, but falling in the season finale, losing 28-0 to Carlisle. They went 1-0-2 in Big Ten play. Then in 1906, varsity football disappears for two years. 1909 got off to a predictable start with a 0-0 tie against Illinois Wesleyan, then a win over Purdue - some things change, some things stay the same - but back to back losses to Wisconsin and THE DAMN MAROONS put the Cats at 1-2-1.
November 19, 1927-November 5, 1932, 1813 days: Modern times, basically. Four straight losses in 1927 saw NU blow a good start that included a fascinating 47-2 victory over South Dakota. NU dabbled with .500 in '28 and '29, but then scattered two losses over two Big Ten Championship seasons in 1930 and 1931 under Dick Hanley. But 1932 didn't go so well, and a 20-6 loss to Ohio State saw Northwestern fall to 2-3-1.
October 5, 1895-October 14, 1899, 1470 days: 100 years before Pat Fitzgerald's season of fame, NU went on a six-game win streak to rebound from an 0-2 start in '95. The streak ends in the aforementioned 1899 season: after getting off to a strong 2-0 start with wins over Northwestern Dental and Englewood High School, Northwestern suffered four straight shutouts to their alumni, Rush Medical, Wisconsin, and Beloit to go below .500 - they'd get it back later in the season to start the longer streak.
10/5/2007-10/8/2011, 1464 days: Us.
This is as much of a statement about NU's program about the improvement of the program as it is a sign of how disappointing this season and everything about it is. NU should not be below .500. A loss to a pitiful Army team - it's not 1932 - a choke job against Illinois, and a blown lead against Michigan are the reason we're here. With NU's easy opening schedule, this should not happen.
So I wanted to take a look back to October 5, 2007. A week before, Northwestern had played Michigan - some things change, some things stay the same - giving away a 17-6 lead holy crap what's wrong with this goddam program holy crap crap crap crap crap crap but giving away 21 unanswered second half points HOLY CRAP WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH US JESUS I CAN'T EVEN FINISH typing THIS. Chad Henne fought off pressure from upstart Ryan Mallett and threw three touchdowns while Mike Hart added 100 on the ground, squandering by far the best game of Omar Conteh's career against meaningful competition, a 115-yard day. The next week, C.J. Bacher would throw a then-school record 520 yards and five touchdowns - no picks though, suck it Kafka - to beat Michigan State 48-41 in overtime, with NU winning on a pass to Conteh.
But let's think about October 5, 2007. And all this stuff was true:
The No. 1 song was "Crank That (Soulja Boy)", Soulja Boy. Soulja Boy's time as a famous person is one of the things that makes me hate the world. Gas and stuff cost less, probably. Barack Obama was not president.
Oddly enough, I remember exactly where I was October 5, 2007. My parents and I went to a Mexican restaurant near my house and I craned my neck in order to watch this game. It looked like it was snowing. Why is it snowing in October in Cleveland?
Over the course of the next few minutes, it became apparent that it wasn't snow, it was a freak outpour of gnats, and they were landing all over Joba Chamberlain's face. Joba was a rookie, and had a .38 ERA during the season, but something about being covered in gnats got to him and he gave up a run, allowing the Indians to tie the game. We had to leave the Mexican restaurant. I had to go to sleep, because I had to take the SAT's the next day. I could not, because the game went into the 11th inning. The Yankees lost. I was miserable. (This was a point in time where the Yankees could make me feel miserable. We lost in the playoffs last week, and I just shook it off.) I took the SAT's on not enough sleep. Luckily, the people at Northwestern's admissions office disagreed with my high school college counselor and decided to take me.
I have a point to all this. It's been a little bit over four years since that night, and I'm completely confident that I've changed more than the Northwestern Wildcats have.
There's the little things, like the fact that the next day, Northwestern played a football game and I literally didn't take note of it. But as a senior in college, I can promise you, I'm a remarkably different person than the one who was chilling in a restaurant with his parents on a Friday night four years ago. If that kid had a blog, you wouldn't read it. He wore polos and khakis a lot.
Meanwhile, Northwestern is pretty much in the same boat we were in 2007. Northwestern's three-year run of consistently above average play - nine wins, eight wins, seven wins - was almost unprecedented in school history. I'm not saying those were random occurences, unwarranted blips on the radar. I'd say those were some of the better teams in our school's history, and they happened to have extremely easy schedules. But we talk about Northwestern trending upwards as a program, and considering 2007 NU and 2011 NU, less has happened than we might have hoped.
We have the same coach. We've won the same amount of bowl games. We're still probably the eighth or ninth best team in the Big Ten. We still scrounge for an occasional four-star recruit and hope that our coaching staff can somehow plan around the fact that the other team has about eight. We have different uniforms, and are much more wholly dependent on the play of one man to get Northwestern victories. NU has had historic success, for us, over the last few years, and we're still in a position to do that. I'm not saying 2011 NU is like NU of any point before 2007, where things just generally kinda sucked. I mean, I almost graduated without NU ever being below .500, for chrissake. But we've been wading waist-deep in the banks of mediocrity for a while now.
To buy into a meme, we are just Northwestern. I guess it's a good thing this is the one week where that doesn't matter.
Here's to NU winning tomorrow and nobody ever having to write this post again.