Despite windy and rainy but warm conditions, Northwestern’s biggest crowd of the year, at 41,115, almost 9,000 more than the biggest crowd all of last year, attended the homecoming game against the Michigan State Spartans on Oct. 23. While the game may not have ended to the liking of Northwestern fans, there was plenty more to enjoy and celebrate.
As a result of the big crowd, despite having two fewer home games this year than last, there’s a good chance Northwestern’s total attendance at Ryan Field games will exceed that in 2009. With Iowa – a team that generally draws a huge crowd – coming in three weeks, it seems all but certain the team will draw the just over 38,000 fans needed to eclipse last year’s mark.
Northwestern’s homecoming king and queen were announced at the end of the first quarter. The president of the alumni association bestowed headwear on the winning couple, a purple crown on king A.J. Nelson and a sparkling tiara on queen Lakshmi Ramachandran. Disappointed semifinalists trudged off the rain slicked field to the Northwestern marching band’s rendition of the Bon Jovi “classic” “Living on a Prayer.”
The crowd wore mostly purple, though a loud and sizable cadre of green-clad faithful cheered on the Spartans. On the field, Northwestern leapt out to a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter, but the Spartan scored late in the half to cut the lead to 17-7. The touchdown allowed the Spartan mascot, muscle-bound and sporting his Marvin the Martian hat, to dance briefly in the end zone while cheerleaders circled him with green flags depicting Spartan heads. Sadly for Wildcat fans, it would not be the last such celebration.
Northwestern went to the locker room at halftime maintaining a ten point advantage.
Halftime festivities honored 87-years old former Northwestern coach and college football hall-of-famer Ara Parseghian, who retired from coaching after the 1974 season at 51. Mr. Parseghian coached the Wildcats from 1956 though 1963. About 50 players whom he coached took the field with him, which created a bit of a logjam when the Wildcat marching band tried to get to work. Northwestern athletics staff members were seen shooing the 50s-era football players, some in motorized wheelchairs, to make way for the NU band, and their versions of Journey and Queen hits. Several minutes in, dozens of NUMBALUMS, instruments in tow (and two alumni baton twirlers), joined the current lineup for two more Queen arrangements.
Northwestern started the second half with the ball, but could do nothing. They quickly punted, and 4 plays later it was 17-14. Northwestern then executed a time-consuming drive, methodically marching down the field to go back up by ten on quarterback Dan Persa’s third rushing touchdown of the day. The third quarter ended with a Northwestern enjoying the same 10 point advantage they had at half-time.
By the end of the third quarter, the rain had cleared but a strong, warm wind out of the south remained. Between quarters, Northwestern received its last good news of the day. Alumni reported raising over $29 million from the reunion classes, with the class of 1960 contributing $10.7 million on its own. The University, obviously, has avoided the budget problems plaguing the City.
For the second straight game, Northwestern seemed to fade away in the 4th quarter. A fake punt and a balloon pass led to a touchdown to bring MSU within three. Northwestern managed to get in field goal range to bump the lead back to 6, but then MSU took more that 7 minutes off the clock, ultimately scoring a go-ahead touchdown with just 2 minutes remaining.
Northwestern needed only a field goal to prevail, but a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the first play of their final drive put them in a hole from which they could not climb out. The steady, stiff wind caused two of quarterback Persa’s passes to sail well over their intended targets, and just like that the ‘Cats had turned the ball over on downs. Michigan State then scored another touchdown, with just over a minute left, and the game was decided.
Northwestern drops to 5-2 overall, but just 1-2 in the Big Ten. They will try to regroup next week against Indiana in Bloomington, then Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania the following week.