Purple Reign

NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern

In anticipation of this year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans, Rolling Stone put together a list of the Top Halftime shows from years gone by. The top show, at least in my opinion, was Prince’s turn at Super Bowl XLI in Miami. In case you’ve blocked it out over what happened to the Bears on that day, here’s a quick recap:

Fireworks and pyrotechnics; two fine-looking dancing women; jaw-dropping guitar work; a marching band; some shadowy images of Prince’s, should we say, unique guitar; and a hypnotic, show-stopping finale; all against the backdrop of a healthy rainstorm.

In short, Purple Rain was performed in the purple rain. How does it get better than that?

Since watching this performance again online, Purple Rain has been stuck inside my head for nearly a week. And it was against this mental soundtrack that Northwestern University and the Chicago Cubs announced a partnership that will significantly raise the profile of both parties in the years ahead. It certainly points toward some very good things in the near future..

Northwestern could never build a 75,000 seat football stadium on Chicago’s North Shore. The neighbors wouldn’t stand for it, and the Wildcats’ fan base, as supportive as it is, sometimes struggles to fill up the 50,000 seats of Ryan Field. But who needs to do that, now that the Cats have access to iconic Wrigley Field?

And don’t think that this recruiting tool is going to go unused, either. What high school prospect–when faced with making the biggest decision of his young life–won’t jump at the chance to step onto the field at Clark and Addison? And who among us wouldn’t do the same thing, if we had that chance?

This arrangement, along with with the new sports facility being planned along the lakefront on Northwestern’s campus, is a sure sign that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald isn’t going anywhere. That’s going to be another huge advantage Northwestern will have in recruiting during the years ahead.

When Notre Dame gets back to work next summer–seeking to quickly get to Manti Who?–they will be dogged by questions about Brian Kelly’s future. He’s already interviewed with an NFL team, after steadily rising through the coaching ranks in college. It’s naïve to think that he’ll be at Notre Dame long term. From watching how the annual Gary Barnett Soap Opera played out in the late 1990s, I can confidently say that one or two years of that will be more than enough for anyone in South Bend.

Bret Bielema, who seemed to be Wisconsin’s coach for the foreseeable future, has flown the coop in Madison for the greener pastures of the SEC. Urban Meyer, who will have National Championship pressures for however long he’ll be at Ohio State, is something of a coaching nomad, himself.

And then there’s Coach Fitz. You may recall how he first put Northwestern’s football program back on the map, as a player back in the 1990s. As an alumnus, and a tireless ambassador for the school and the program that he has built, he has the unwavering support of the University, the Athletic Department, and the student body. There’s no chance of him leaving anytime soon, and that stability means everything for teenagers who don’t want the rug pulled out from under them. That’s exactly what happens, whenever a head coach moves on to someplace else.

It’s taken several years, and many disappointments, but things are now falling into place very quickly for Northwestern football. With a bowl victory, a loaded team coming back in the Fall, a respected head coach, a new training facility on the drawing board, and an arrangement to play in Wrigley Field in the future, a golden age of Wildcat football seems to be just a few months away. It could even end up as a Purple reign.

Only want to to see you in the Purple Rain

Only want to see you in the Purple Rain, July 18

A couple of decades ago, when I was in high school, I had a job bagging groceries in a supermarket. One of the duties of this job was clearing the lot, which meant bringing in all of the shopping carts from out in the parking lot.

There was a certain trick to being able to line up 15-18 carts and successfully bring them into the store. I see little robotic carts that are now used at Target and places like that for the same purpose. But we had no such gadgetry available to us back then.  And it was also a nice break from asking people if they wanted their items in paper or plastic  bags.

On day, I’m guessing it was in 1985, the store manager told me to go and clear the lot. It was pouring rain at the time, and I didn’t have a poncho or a raincoat or anything to keep the water off of me. But you gotta do what you gotta do, even if it only paid something like $3.50 an hour back then. So out to the lot I went.

I recall getting through the experience by singing, in a rather loud and unabashed way, Prince’s song Purple Rain. What that afternoon lacked in purpleness, it more than made up for with rain. Lots and lots of rain.

This evening, as I watched the rain coming down outside, and thought about a memory that I had long forgotten all about, I came to realize that music takes on a whole new meaning when it’s raining. Think of Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain.” What a glorious feeling, he sang (and danced), and the scene wouldn’t have been the same without the rain coming down. It was as if he didn’t mind the rain at all. In other words, Let it rain.

A few years ago, Prince played the halftime show at the Super Bowl. Of all the Super Bowls that have ever been played, this is the only one that’s been played in the rain. So what did Prince do, after playing the obligatory hits medley first? If you guessed that he turned the house lights purple and played that song for the thousands in the stadium, and the millions, like myself, watching on television,  you would be absolutely correct. It was almost as if someone had ordered up the rain for Prince on that day.

The rain has now stopped, and tomorrow will probably be another miserably hot and humid day. But the flowers and the grass and the crops all needed the rain, and they must have also felt a bit like Gene Kelly tonight. Or those fans at halftime of the Super Bowl in Miami. Or even me, in that supermarket parking lot all those many years ago. Come on with the rain, indeed.