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Senior day at Dyke Stadium pitted the Northwestern Wildcats against powerful Michigan State and resulted in the Cats 6th loss of the season 31-17. The loss drops the Wildcats to 6-6 on the season, 3-5 in the Big Ten Conference. Despite the 6 losses, the team received an invitation to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston. The Cats will face the 6-6 Texas A&M Aggies Reliant Stadium on New Year’s Eve and try to win a post-season bowl game for the first time since 1949.

The Northwestern football team concluded an uneven regular season that featured a five-game losing streak mid-year, including heartbreaking losses to Army and Illinois. An impressive win against Big Ten newcomers Nebraska, in Lincoln, salvaged a bowl appearance. Had the ‘Cats dropped that game they would have been ineligible for postseason play.

Overall, the season continued a recent trend of rising interest in the program since Coach Pat Fitgerald took over head coaching duties in 2006. Northwestern obviously thinks and hope the trend will continue – this spring they recently signed Coach Fitzgerald to a ten year contract extension.

Improving attendance is good for the City of Evanston as well. Attendance increased from about 177,000 fans last year to over 200,000 this year, though the average game attendance was down slightly from about 35,000 to over 33,000. This year’s total attendance was higher because last year one of the Cats’ “home” games took place at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Before the season kicked off, director of external affairs Mike Polisky said that season ticket sales enjoyed a “double digit” percentage increase. Northwestern does not make public official numbers.

Ticket sales represent both a direct and indirect benefit for Evanston. Directly, athletic ticket sales are subject to a 3% attendance tax and an 8% ticket tax. Indirectly, bringing 200,000 fans out on Saturday afternoons or evenings is good for the local economy. Two night games probably added to the impact as fans filed out into town during prime dining hours twice this year.

There is every reason to believe the trend will continue next year. Northwestern’s seniors will not be on the field to be part of it, however. That goes for not only the football team, but also the marching band known as “NUMB.”

At halftime of the Michigan State game, in keeping with tradition, the NUMB seniors laid there instruments at midfield and gathered to sway and sing the NU song. Five tubas were among the collected instruments. They will be hard to replace.