I have more respect and admiration for Northwestern football right now than I have previously had at any point in my life. I think even higher of the NU football program, as they finish the season 5-7, as I did when they were 4-0 and ranked #16 in the nation.
Now, I’ve been very critical of NU this season. I’ve been extremely harsh on this team. Maybe I’ve been too critical, or undeservedly critical of Pat Fitzgerald and his Northwestern football program at times, but it’s only because I believe they’re a very solid program that should be treated with the exact same scrutiny as the Ohio States and Michigans of the world. And that 7 game losing streak was….to quote George Michael in “Careless Whisper,” “there’s no comfort in the truth, pain is all you’ll find.”
I feel NU should be held to very high standards. And I write this 1,000 word essay just moments after they defeated my beloved Alma Mater, in the Land of Lincoln trophy game, so you know this expression comes from the heart. And to be fair, as harshly critical as I’ve been of Northwestern football, I’ve been even harder on my Illini, Illinois football coach Tim Beckman, and especially harsh on Illini Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks.
And to show fairness and balance, I’ve also written a lot of fawning stuff about Northwestern football in 2013.
I’ve written pulchritudinous pieces that purple propagandists (should) passionately promote. And perhaps no media member beat the drum to bring ESPN College Gameday to Evanston as loud as I did. And I challenge you to find anyone who covered the Gameday at Northwestern University experience with as much effort and zeal as I did.
One topic I never addressed in 2013, positively or negatively, is the tremendous heart and resilient fight of this team. Now’s the time.
“These guys played their hearts out, all year long,” Fitzgerald said after his team won 37-34. They beat an Illini team at home that improved in 2013 from 2012.
I could not agree more. I could not agree more.
Now I’ve said that Northwestern football has choked a few games away.
I’ve said that they’ve lost in all the most excruciating and agonizing ways possible. I’ve said that they’ve also found ways to lose that you could never dream of in a million years. What other team in the nation has lost not one, but two games in which they held a lead as the regulation clock hit 00:00?
But they’ve kept fighting. They never quit. I may have criticized this team a lot, but never once did I accuse of them of giving up. And today Fitz did more than the proverbial “win the press conference.”
He owned the presser, because he kept the coachspeak to a minimum and shot from the hip instead. He told it like it was. Fitzgerald was open and honest.
“You’ve been on a roller coaster ride, haven’t you?” He asked the media at the beginning of the session.
“Like I told the team just now, no team in the country got socked in the gut more than these guys did. They got knocked down and they kept getting up,” he said.
Fitz is totally right. I have the utmost respect for Fitzgerald and his program.
I think the local and national media were overrating him quite a bit during the season, especially when Gameday was in town, but you can think someone is good/solid at what they do, and still think they’re overrated. I do and have always thought that he’s a good coach. I just don’t believe he’s the next Nick Saban like the media was saying he was. It’s not a critique of him or Northwestern football, it’s a critique of the media for being inaccurate and engaging in hyperbole.
Fitzgerald also came clean on the whole hockey style injury reports that drove me and every single other Northwestern football reporter crazy this season. There are many ties between the Chicago Blackhawks front office and the Northwestern football operations side, so it’s understandable why we heard “lower body injury” and “upper body injury” incessantly.
I can’t stand it, I’ve had some fun with it, but I get it.
NU says it for the reason you think they do, to prevent targeting. Just like in hockey; it’s done to prevent opponents from targeting injured body parts. So, it was wonderful to hear Fitzgerald admit that today. Now that the season is over.
“We have earned and deserved any and all criticism as a coaching staff and as a program that comes along with not being where we belong,” he said.
And this is why I gained even more respect for Fitzgerald and Northwestern football today. I have more respect for the Coach and his program than I’ve ever had. He owned up to the disappointments. He owned up to not reaching those sky high expectations that everyone had for Northwestern football.
He later added: “I’m the head coach, I’m well compensated, if I’m criticized, I earned it.”
But Pat Fitzgerald also gave the media room in Champaign a statement of hope for Northwestern football.
For 2014 and beyond.
“We will be back, I promise you that. We will be back.”
Again, this Northwestern football team played their hearts out in 2013. And today, their coach wore his heart out on his sleeve.
News and notes from the LOL Bowl:
-Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase leaves setting a major Illinois record
-Tim Beckman will likely stay in Champaign, so what coaching staff changes will take place?
-Five reasons Illinois will retain Tim Beckman
-Senior QB Kain Colter did not play in NU’s final game, but he will get another college football game: the Senior Bowl
-ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. project Colter at the next level
Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. He’s also an analyst for multiple news talk radio stations across the nation; with regular weekly segments on NBC and Fox Sports Radio. Follow him on Twitter (@paulmbanks) and RSS
Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.