The game that matters most

This post isn’t about baseball, but college football, instead (impressive depth I’m showing, isn’t it?) I wanted to get these thoughts out before the Northwestern-Illinois game coming up this Saturday, which will have offenses moving in both directions for the first time in an NU-Illini game since 2009. I’ll probably turn last year’s Wrigley Field game into a post at some point, but it won’t be before Saturday, at least.

I spent my first 3 and a half years of high school thinking that I would go to college at the U of I in Champaign-Urbana. I cheered for their sports teams, and didn’t have the money to go to a private school or another state’s university, and that was just fine with me. The Orange Crush, Chief Illiniwek, the orange and blue colors, all of it was just what I wanted. If tatoos were the thing for high school kids back then, I’d still have a blocky orange I on me somewhere.

But fate changes things. I wasn’t meant to go to school at the U of I, even though it seemed like the place for me. My acceptance letter got held up for a week or two, and in the meantime I had to think about other places to go to college. I had gathered a stack of college applications from Career Days at my school, but was daunted by the fact that they all required essays and an application fee.

I decided to focus on one school, to save myself the trouble of composing multiple essays (there were no computers to save things on in those days, or if there were, I didn’t have one available to me). I also thought that convincing my parents to spend the money for one application fee would be hard enough, and any more than that wouldn’t be worth wasting any breath over. It just wouldn’t happen.

One of the applications, to Northwestern University in Evanston, also had a letter that had come to my house. They must have received my home address from my high school, or possibly from the ACT people. Nope, there were no emails in those days, either. It was a primitive time back then. I read this two page letter, basically selling the school and saying something to the effect of “don’t let the sticker price scare you away.”

This was important for me to know, because the first time I became aware of Northwestern was through a little throwaway listing of the “most expensive colleges” that appeared in Parade Magazine one weekend. A place called “Northwestern” was at the bottom of the list, and I don’t remember what the other schools were, but I could probably guess them if I had to. But Northwestern’s yearly tuition back then was five digits, and to a kid who thought $50 was a lot of money, any five digits you could throw at me seemed like too much.

So I filled out the application, convinced my mom to write a check for the application fee, and applied for an early admission decision. It was sometime in December, so I figured this would get it over with sooner rather than later. And I needed a deadline to get just about anything done, then and now.

In a matter of days, the acceptance letter from U of I arrived, and I remember how relieved I felt. I frankly even forgot about the Northwestern application, and reverted to my senioritis-filled final days at the high school I was now officially killing time at.

At some point in the spring, perhaps in late January, a letter arrived at my house from Northwestern. By that time, a housing deposit check had been sent to Champaign-Urbana, which–as soon as money started changing hands–meant that I was an official member of the Illinois class of whatever it was (the year doesn’t really matter, does it?) I opened the letter, and remember an involuntary jump in the air when I read the word “Congratulations!” I truly wasn’t expecting it, and haven’t been that surprised by too many things since.

To make a long story short–if it’s not already too late for that–the decision to go to Northwestern meant that I had to completely and thoroughly repudiate the orange and blue. The Chief and I? Splitsville, baby. Otherwise, it would have been second guess city there in Champaign-Urbana. I would have changed the name to Champaign-Urbana-ShouldaGoneThereWhenIHadTheChance. But that’s no way to live, is it?

So the other schools in the Big Ten (and strangely enough, there are eleven of them now) are fine, but only one school gets my interest for football and basketball games. The NU football team was awful when I went to school there, winning just eight games in four years. But two of those games were against Illinois, and I could live with that.

The game coming up this week, which usually ended the regular season for both teams, will now be the start of Big Ten play instead. Illinois is unbeaten, ranked, and playing at home. And they won convincingly last year, too. Northwestern has lost a game, isn’t even in the “also receiving votes” category of the polls, and hasn’t played a down with Dan Persa at quarterback since last November. With all that said, it’s still the biggest game of the year, and I like our chances. I have no other choice. Go ‘Cats!

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