Northwestern’s home football season has ended, and seven games have come and gone at Ryan Field on Central Street without any major issues.
Despite challenges, such as a 3:30 p.m. start on Halloween that promised to put exiting fans right into the middle of trick-or-treating kids at sundown, neighbors, the City and Northwestern all view the season as an unqualified success. It did not come by accident.
The Tuesday before each home game, Scott Arey, assistant athletic director in charge of facilities, leads an operational meeting to discuss any issues that arose at the previous home game and issues expected to arise during the coming weekend.
Members of Northwestern’s athletic, facilities, marketing, sports medicine, catering, risk management, community relations, and police departments join with members of the City’s police, fire, and traffic engineering departments to discuss plans and challenges.
Recently, Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover has been invited to attend and to present any issues raised by her constituents. The City of Wilmette has been invited as well.
The Halloween game against Penn State attracted one of the largest crowds of the year at slightly more than 30,000 fans.
At the Nov. 15 meeting held to discuss the upcoming Wisconsin game, Mr. Arey noted only two complaints from the community: One driver complained about traffic on Central after the game, and one resident complained about “ambient lighting” that the resident felt was inappropriate. Northwestern had turned stadium lights on around Central Street on Oct. 31 in an effort to aid the public safety of trick-or-treaters walking in the midst of motorists exiting the football stadium parking lot.
Also at that meeting, Ald. Grover thanked Mr. Arey and the Northwestern staff for their efforts on Halloween, especially given the holiday and the game time. She said she agreed that public safety trumped ambient lighting concerns and said that she had very few comments from constituents about the lighting or any other issues.
Patrick Hughes, who says he is the “nearest neighbor to the east” of the stadium, said about the game, “It was excellent… The fireworks were a nice touch; it felt very generous of Northwestern to do that.” He felt that the game traffic “did not have much of an impact,” adding that he did not see, hear about or feel anything out of the ordinary.
“I love football here in Evanston,” he said, adding that the fireworks made him feel like Northwestern is “doing more to try to connect with Evanston, and I feel like we can do more to try and connect with them.”
At the Nov. 15 meeting, Ald. Grover asked, “What’s your best guess for the size of the crowd on Saturday?” Northwestern staff estimated anther crowd in the 30,000 range, citing the number of Wisconsin alums in the area, senior day, the final game of the season. Northwestern’ bowl game hopes were not discussed.
Actual attendance topped the estimate as 32,150 fans descended upon Ryan Field to witness a thrilling 33-31 Northwestern victory over the favored, and 16th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.
It was Northwestern’s eighth win of the year, setting the Wildcats up for a prestigious bowl game, probably on New Year’s Day. (Bowl game invitations become official on or about Dec. 5.) Because the game went down to the final minute, fans lingered in the stadium until the game concluded rather than leaving in staggered waves as tends to happen in more lopsided games.
Nevertheless, logistically the community’s planning appeared to work. Despite the fact that the 32,150 fans were released onto Central Street all at once, no major issues were reported.
The pre-game meeting had set the schedule of events to the minute. Here is a sampling from the Saturday schedule:
“… 12:01 p.m., ticket office opens;
12:01 p.m., athletic and president reception;
12:20 p.m., Northwestern football team arrival;
12:20 p.m., Wisconsin football team arrival;
12:31 p.m., shuttle buses arrive;
12:31 p.m., referee’s meeting;
12:31 p.m., press box opens;
12:31 p.m., Wildcat Alley opens;
12:48 p.m., game clock set 99:00…”
The schedule that begins at 12 a.m. ends at kickoff, 2:31 p.m. Postgame plans, even though the actual time cannot be known because the end of the game is uncertain, are just as precise.
Now that the football season has ended, 30,000 person crowds have ended as well. Until September, that is, when the season begins anew.