The Paint Evanston Day Purple campaign, which began several weeks ago at a media event, moved on to purple fire hydrants, banners and fountains, shut down part of downtown for an old-fashioned pep rally, finally culminated in a football game at Ryan Field on Sept. 25. Throughout the extended event, the improved relations between City and University shown brightly and, at times, hyperbolically.
The pre-game pep rally, on Sept. 23, took over Sherman Avenue between the Rotary building and Pete Miller’s. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz called the rally a “first in the City.” Emceed by former Northwestern and NFL player Mike Adamle, the rally, in grant pep rally tradition, was full of over-the-top praise. Unlike other pep rallies, though, the praise was not focused on the football team alone.
“Liz? Love ya. You’re the best mayor in the world. The greatest mayor not just on the northshore, but in Illinois,” said Northwestern president Morton Schapiro about Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. Northwestern Athletic Director Jim Phillips called Mayor Tisdahl “the greatest mayor in all the land.”
Pres. Schapiro was said to be the “best president in the United States, and it’s not Barack Obama,” by Mr. Adamle. Coach Pat Fitzgerald was called the “greatest college football coach in America.” The Northwestern band, best college band in the land, and the ETHS band, the best high school band in the land. Fittingly, it was a hot, windy late September day as the temperature pushed 90 degrees and thunderstorms were rolling in.
Pre-game festivities included an appearance by the hallowed Stanley Cup, rolled out on to the field. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, later proudly displayed a photo of herself with an arm around the Cup.
Other than an introduction of six aldermen and the mayor between the first and second quarters, however, there was little evidence of “Evanston Day” after kickoff. It was also “American Airlines” day at Ryan Field. At halftime, the Central Michigan band provided a medley of Styx classics. Not to be outdone, the Northwestern band responded with their interpretation of selections from the Journey catalogue of hits. There was no further mention of Evanston day.
The result, though, was positive for both the City and Northwestern. Mike Wolf, Northwestern’s Assistant Athletic Director, when asked how many half-priced Evanston Day tickets had been sold, said in an e-mail, “We don’t have an exact number, but we do know that the Evanston Day promotion played a key role in attracting over 30,000 people to Ryan Field, a 56 percent increase in attendance when compared to last year’s second home game.”
Mayor Tisdahl, speaking at Monday’s City Council meeting, said that Northwestern sold “10,000 more tickets than anticipated,” “ran out of hot chocolate,” and added that the City collects an “11 percent tax on tickets sold.” The event, she said, emerged out of a concern over the loss of a game in Evanston because of the decision to move the game between Northwestern and Illinois to Wrigley Field. Local businesses and restaurants lose significant business because there will be only five games in Evanston this year, while there were seven games last year.
But attendance for those five games should far exceed the average attendance last year. “Season ticket sales are up over 40 percent from a year ago,” wrote A.D. Wolf. While the first two home games last year, against similar non-conference opponents, drew about 37,000 fans, the first two games this year have brought in more than 55,000 fans.
As for the game itself, Northwestern won 30-25. They were never able to put away the talented Chippewas of Central Michigan, and a late Wildcat fumble kept the outcome in doubt until the final whistle. Nevertheless, Northwestern is now 4-0 heading into Big Ten play, looking to extend last season’s success.