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Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern Wildcats
University Northwestern University
Conference Big Ten
NCAA Division I / FBS
Athletic director James J. Phillips
Location Evanston, IL
Varsity teams 19
Football stadium Ryan Field
Basketball arena Welsh-Ryan Arena
Baseball stadium Rocky Miller Park
Mascot Willie the Wildcat
Nickname Wildcats
Fight song Go U Northwestern

The Northwestern Wildcats are the athletic teams that represent Northwestern University, a founding member of the Big Ten Conference and the only private university in the conference. Northwestern has eight men's and eleven women's Division I sports teams. The mascot is Willie the Wildcat. The athletic director is former Northern Illinois University Athletic Director Jim Phillips, who took office in April 2008.

Origin of the name

Northwestern's athletic teams are nicknamed the Wildcats. Before 1924, they were known as "The Purple" and unofficially as "The Fighting Methodists." The name Wildcats was bestowed upon the university in 1924 by Wallace Abbey, a writer for the Chicago Daily Tribune who wrote that even in a loss to the University of Chicago, "Football players had not come down from Evanston; wildcats would be a name better suited to Coach Glenn Thistletwaite's boys." The team was also referred to in the article as "a Purple wall of wildcats."[1] The name was so popular that university board members made "Wildcats" the official nickname just months later. In 1972, the student body voted to change the official nickname from "Wildcats" to "Purple Haze" but the new name never stuck.[2]


Northwestern is a charter member of the Big Ten Conference. It is the only remaining private institution in the conference, as the University of Chicago also belonged to the conference before dropping out in 1946. At only 8,200 undergraduates, it is by far the smallest. The second-smallest school, Iowa, is almost three times as large as Northwestern, at 21,000 undergraduates.

Currently, Northwestern fields 19 intercollegiate athletic teams (8 men's and 11 women's) in addition to numerous club sports.[3] Current successful athletic programs include football, men's soccer, wrestling, men's swimming, men's golf, women's tennis, softball, fencing and women's lacrosse. The women's lacrosse team is the six-time NCAA national champion, and went undefeated in 2005.[4][5] The 1930–31 Wildcats were retroactively named national champions by both the Helms Athletic Foundation (in 1942) and the Premo-Porretta Power Poll.[6][7]

The Northwestern Athletics' mascot is Willie the Wildcat. However, the team's first mascot was not Willie, but a live, caged bear cub from the Lincoln Park Zoo named Furpaw. In fall 1923, Furpaw was driven to the playing field to greet the fans before each game. After a losing season, the team decided that Furpaw was the harbinger of bad luck and banished him from campus. Willie made his debut ten years later in 1933 as a logo, but did not actually come to life until 1947, when members of the Alpha Delta fraternity dressed up as him during the Homecoming parade. The Northwestern University Marching Band (NUMB) performs at all home football and lead cheers in the student section and the alma mater at the end of the game.

File:Ryan Field.jpg
Ryan Field, Northwestern's 49,000 seat football stadium

In 1998, two former Northwestern basketball players were charged and convicted for sports bribery as a result of being paid to shave points in games against three other Big Ten schools during the 1995 season.[8][9][10] The football team became embroiled in a different betting scandal later that year when federal prosecutors indicted four former players for perjury related to betting on their own games.[11] In August 2001, Rashidi Wheeler, a senior safety, collapsed and died during practice from an asthma attack.[12][13] An autopsy revealed that he had ephedrine, a stimulant banned by the NCAA, in his system which prompted Northwestern to investigate the prevalence of stimulants and other banned substances across all of its athletic programs.[14][15] In 2006, the Northwestern women's soccer team was suspended and coach Jenny Haigh resigned following the release of images of alleged hazing.[16][17]


The Northwestern University "Wildcat" Marching Band forms the "Sculpted N" and performs "Go U Northwestern!" to close its pregame performance at the 2005 Sun Bowl under the direction of Daniel J. Farris.

During football games, students jingle their car keys before every kickoff and punt. When Northwestern is on defense, students extend their arms, make a claw with their hands, and growl. The "official" cheer at Northwestern sporting events is the chant "Go U! NU!" Students also commonly taunt opposing sports teams with "State-school, state-school," referencing that all institutions of the Big Ten conference, except for Northwestern, are public universities.

The Northwestern student section is led in their cheers by the Northwestern University WildPride Spirit Squad, who performs on the sidelines during all home games and accompanies the football team to all away games. The NUMB performs on the field and in the stands at all home games and follows the football team to one Big Ten away game per season.

For many years, students would throw marshmallows at the kick-off of football games. Northwestern archivist Patrick Quinn says that students were likely "trying to get them into the tubas, and then started throwing them at each other," leading to the tradition of throwing marshmallows at the field. While Gary Barnett was football coach, he banned marshmallows because they supposedly detracted from the serious level of football that he wanted for the school.

Northwestern's fight song is "Go U Northwestern" A secondary fight song is "Rise Northwestern (Push On Song)," the final 4-measure tag (ending with a shouted "Go, 'Cats!") of which is often played after first downs.

National team championships

As of July 2, 2014, Northwestern University has won 8 NCAA national championships:[18]

  • Men's (1)
    • Fencing (1): 1941 (1st NCAA fencing event; NYU won the 48th Intercollegiate Fencing Association title)
  • Women's (7)
    • Lacrosse (7): 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012

National team titles that were not bestowed by the NCAA (4 are unofficial NCAA championships):

See also:


The Northwestern University football team has evidence of organization in 1876. Northwestern achieved an all-time high rank of #1 during the 1936 and 1962 seasons, which has thus far not been duplicated. The football team plays at Ryan Field (formerly known as Dyche Stadium). The football team has a history of mediocrity: Its all-time record is 468–614–44 (.435) and until July 2012, the program held the official record for Division I-A losses.[24][25] Other dubious distinctions include being on the losing end of the greatest comeback in Division I-A history[26] and holding the record for the longest losing streak in Division I-A – 34 consecutive games between 1979 and 1982.[27][28]

Until 2013, the Wildcats had been to nine bowl games since 1995 – 1996 Rose Bowl, 1997 Citrus Bowl, 2000 Alamo Bowl, 2003 Motor City Bowl, 2005 Sun Bowl, 2008 Alamo Bowl, the 2010 Outback Bowl, the 2011 TicketCity Bowl and 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas—but had not won a postseason contest since the 1949 Rose Bowl until the 2013 Gator Bowl.[29]

Following the sudden death of football coach Randy Walker in 2006,[30] 31-year old and former All-American Northwestern linebacker Pat Fitzgerald assumed the position becoming the youngest Division I FBS coach at the time.[31][32]

Men's basketball

The men's basketball team has never earned a bid to the NCAA tournament, and its last conference championship came in 1933, when it tied with Ohio State. The 1931 team was recognized as National Champion in the Helms Athletic Foundation's 1942 selection of historical champions and, later, by the Premo-Porretta Power Poll.[33] The Wildcats have played in the National Invitation Tournament seven times, most recently in 2012. The team plays its home games in Welsh-Ryan Arena, where it is cheered on by the Wildside student section. The head coach is former Duke Associate Head Coach Chris Collins; he succeeds Bill Carmody. Under Carmody, a former head coach at Princeton, the team ran the Princeton offense. Northwestern is the only school from a BCS conference to have never played in the NCAA Tournament.

Women's lacrosse

Northwestern has won the national championship in women's lacrosse five straight times, from 2005 to 2009, and then again in 2011 and 2012, giving them 7 championships in 8 years. In 2007, the team joined Maryland as the only other school to three-peat. The run started in 2005, when the team enjoyed a perfect season and defeated many long-established east-coast schools after only five years as a varsity sport to capture the school's first national championship since 1941. In doing so, it became the westernmost institution to ever win the title. Soon after, the team made national news when members appeared in a White House photo with President Bush wearing thong sandals, or flip-flops, dubbed as the "White House flip-flop flap."[34] The 2009 season also was an undefeated run. In their five championship seasons, the Wildcats have a 106–3 record.[35]

In 2006 and 2007, Kristen Kjellman received the Tewaaraton Trophy, which honors the best collegiate lacrosse player in the country. She was the first player from a non-East coast school to win the distinction, and the first player to be a two-time winner.[36] Midfielder Hannah Nielsen received the award in 2008 and 2009, the second player to be a two-time winner.[37][38] Northwestern's Shannon Smith won the award in 2011.[39]


The Northwestern University Wildcats men's wrestling team competes in the NCAA Division I Championships in the Welsh-Ryan Arena. The wrestling facilities are named in honor of Ken Kraft, for his 48 years of involvement with the Northwestern wrestling program. Kraft was a four-year member of the Wildcat wrestling squad and NU's head coach for 22 years. In 2004, Kraft retired after spending 51 years at NU as an athlete, coach and administrator.[40] Drew Pariano is the current head coach for the Wildcats succeeding his college coach, Tim Cysewski, in 2010. Pariano has coached 11 NCAA All-Americans while at Northwestern and 3 NCAA Champions: Dustin Fox at Heavyweight in 2008, Jake Herbert at 184 lbs. in 2007 & 2009 and Jason Tsirtsis at 149 lbs. in 2014. Jake Herbert was also a three-time Big Ten Conference champion, and four-time NCAA All-American. He went 149–4 while at Northwestern University and won both the 2009 Dan Hodge Trophy, awarded to the best college wrestler in the nation, and the 2009 Big Ten Athlete of the Year award.[41]


The men's golf team has won eight Big Ten Conference championships: 1925, 1937, 1939, 1948, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2006. They have twice placed second in the NCAA Championships: 1939, 1945.

Luke Donald won the NCAA Individual Championship in 1999. He was ranked number 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for 56 weeks in 2011 and 2012. The four best career stroke averages in school history are held by Luke Donald, Tom Johnson, Jess Daley, and David Lipsky.[42]


The Northwestern softball program began in 1976 and has amassed 5 Big Ten championships, 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, and 5 appearances in the Women's college World series- including 2007 and their national runner-up performance 2006.


In the NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships held from 1924 through 1936, no team points were officially awarded.[43] Northwestern won four unofficial national team championships during these years, which were proclaimed in the newspapers of the time, second only to Michigan's seven.[44]

  • 1924 – Northwestern
  • 1929 – Northwestern[19]
  • 1930 – Northwestern[45][20]

Matt Grevers, a Northwestern alum, won two gold medals (100 meter backstroke, 400 meter medley relay) and a silver medal (400 meter freestyle relay) at the 2012 London Olympic Games.


Their chief Big Ten rival is the Illinois Fighting Illini. In football, the teams annually compete for the Land of Lincoln Trophy. This trophy replaced the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy in 2009 after the use of the Tomahawk was acknowledged as offensive to the culture of Native Americans.

Northwestern fans have also cultivated strong rivalries with many Big Ten Conference foes, including Iowa and, particularly, Wisconsin. The rivalry with Wisconsin, the Big Ten conference school geographically closest to the Evanston campus, has grown stronger in recent years, though there is currently no official trophy for the football game.

Although the schools rarely play each other, there has been discussion of starting a rivalry game with Northern Illinois University to help boost attendance and interest during the non-conference schedule.


The 2005–2006 academic year was one of the best athletic seasons in Northwestern University's history. The football team capped a 7–5 season and third place finish in the Big Ten with a bid to the Sun Bowl. Following the women's lacrosse team's second National Championship, the Women's doubles tennis team of Christelle Grier and Alexis Prousis won the National Championship as well. In addition, Men's tennis player Peter Rispoli captured the Flight B Singles Championship. The Women's Softball team made an incredible run to the finals of the Women's College World Series, finishing in second place.

In May 2006 the website republished photos a reader had found on Webshots of the women's soccer team hazing its freshmen. The whole team was suspended for a time as a result and in the wake of the incident Head Coach Jenny Haigh resigned. Since, Athletic Director Mark Murphy named Stephanie Erickson, the school's all-time leader in goals and points, as Haigh's replacement.

Notable alumni


  1. ^ Abbey, Wallace (November 16, 1924). "Maroons beat Purple by a Dropkick". Chicago Tribune. pp. A1. 
  2. ^ Damer, Roy (April 18, 1972). "Purple Haze Won't Go Away At N.U.". Chicago Tribune. 
  3. ^ "Northwestern University Facts". Northwestern University. Retrieved August 20, 2008. 
  4. ^ Lomonico, David (May 25, 2008). "Northwestern completes four-peat in women's lacrosse". ESPN. 
  5. ^ Timanus, Eddie (May 22, 2005). "Northwestern wins lacrosse title in program's fourth year". USA Today. 
  6. ^ ESPN, ed. (2009). ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Men's Game. New York, NY: ESPN Books. p. 541. ISBN 978-0-345-51392-2. 
  7. ^ "100 Great Moments in Big Ten Men's Basketball History". Big Ten Official Athletic Site. Retrieved May 15, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Sentences Issues in Gambling Case". The New York Times. November 25, 1998. Retrieved July 13, 2008. 
  9. ^ Belluck, Pam (March 27, 1998). "Ex-Northwestern Players Charged in Point-Shaving". The New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2008. 
  10. ^ Berkow, Ira (April 20, 1998). "Caught in Gambling's Grip; A Promising Career Unravels at Northwestern". The New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2008. 
  11. ^ Dedman, Bill (December 4, 1998). "4 Are Indicted in Northwestern Football Scandal". The New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2008. 
  12. ^ "College Player Dies at Practice". The New York Times. August 4, 2001. Retrieved July 13, 2008. 
  13. ^ Fountain, John (August 8, 2001). "Amid Questions, Northwestern Honors a 'Hero'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 13, 2008. 
  14. ^ "Banned Substance in Wheeler's System". The New York Times. August 21, 2001. Retrieved July 13, 2008. 
  15. ^ "University Examines Use of Supplements". The New York Times. August 13, 2001. Retrieved July 13, 2008. 
  16. ^ Sprow, Chris (May 16, 2006). "Northwestern Women's Soccer Team Suspended After Hazing". The New York Times. 
  17. ^ "Northwestern women's soccer coach resigns". ESPN. June 21, 2006. 
  18. ^ "Summary–(NCAA) All Divisions/Collegiate Total Championships" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-02-02. 
  19. ^ a b "United States Champions for the Year 1929". The Christian Science Monitor. Dec 31, 1929. p. 10. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  20. ^ a b "United States Champions for the Year 1930". The Christian Science Monitor. Dec 31, 1930. p. 8. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  21. ^ a b "United States Sporting Champions for 1933". The Christian Science Monitor. Dec 31, 1933. p. 4. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  22. ^ "NCAA Division I Men's Basketball – NCAA Division I Champions". Rauzulu's Street. 2004. Retrieved May 20, 2014. 
  23. ^ ESPN, ed. (2009). ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Men's Game. New York, NY: ESPN Books. p. 541. ISBN 978-0-345-51392-2. 
  24. ^ "Division I-A Losses 1869–2007". College Football Information. Retrieved January 6, 2009. 
  25. ^ "Northwestern Football History Database". Retrieved May 2, 2009. 
  26. ^ "Michigan State has biggest comeback in Division I-A history in defeat of Northwestern". USA Today. October 21, 2006. Retrieved January 6, 2009. 
  27. ^ Bumiller, Elisabeth (November 9, 1981). "The Streak! Northwestern Sets Football Record, 29 Demoralizing Losses in a Row; Northwestern's Streak". The Washington Post. p. D1. 
  28. ^ Pomerantz, Gary (September 25, 1982). "Northwestern: Paradise Found After 34 Lost Weekends". The Washington Post. p. F1. 
  29. ^ "Taking stock of the early results from football's bowl season". USA Today. January 5, 2009. Retrieved January 6, 2009. 
  30. ^ Sprow, Chris (July 1, 2006). "Randy Walker, Northwestern Head Football Coach, 52, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2009. 
  31. ^ Eligon, John (August 9, 2006). "Northwestern’s Fitzgerald a Comforting Figure for a Familiar Pain". The New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2009. 
  32. ^ "Fitzgerald becomes youngest coach in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.". ESPN. July 8, 2006. Retrieved January 6, 2009. 
  33. ^ ESPN, ed. (2009). ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Men's Game. New York, NY: ESPN Books. p. 541. ISBN 978-0-345-51392-2. 
  34. ^ "White House flip-flop flap". 
  35. ^ "THREE-PEAT! Northwestern Captures NCAA Title With 15-13 Win Over Virginia". 
  36. ^ "Kristen Kjellman Bio - NUSPORTS.COM - The Northwestern Official Athletic Site". 
  37. ^ " #1 in College Sports". 
  38. ^ "Nielsen Captures Tewaaraton Trophy For Second-Straight Year". 
  39. ^ "Shannon Smith Wins 2011 Tewaaraton Award as Nation's Top Performer". 
  40. ^ "Ken Kraft Wrestling Facility". Northwestern University. Retrieved 2014. 
  41. ^ "Drew Pariano Bio". Northwestern University. Retrieved 2014. 
  42. ^ "David Lipsky Bio". Nusports.Com. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 
  43. ^ "Division I Men's Swimming and Diving History". Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  44. ^ "College Swim Title Is Won by Michigan, Chicago Daily Tribune, Mar 29, 1931, p. A1". Chicago Daily Tribune. March 29, 1931. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  45. ^ "Northwestern Wins National Tank Laurels, Michigan Second—Kojac's Great Work Gives Rutgers Third Place, The Hartford Courant, Mar 30, 1930., p. C1". The Hartford Courant. March 30, 1930. Retrieved May 3, 2010. 
  46. ^ Daley, Arthur J. (March 27, 1933). "Western Swimmers and Wrestlers Dominated N.C.A.A. Title Meets; Captured All Eight Mat Crowns and Took Five of Nine Tank Championships – Wiget, Stanford, Only Double Winner in New Haven Pool – Thompson, Navy, Ended Brilliant Season, New York Times, March 27, 1933". The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2010. 
  47. ^ Sports Illustrated Profile

External links