Northwestern at Illinois – An Emerging Rivalry

As a few of you probably know, I’m currently in grad school, and, over the past few months, I’ve noticed an interesting trend among my peers (myself included) – the constant need to prove our worth and belonging. Every question posed by the professor becomes an opportunity to proclaim the greatness of our skills, intellect, and experiences. We feel threatened by each other, as if another’s success diminishes our value as human beings.

There’s something about going out of our way to declare our superiority that makes us look insecure of said superiority. Generally, I tend to tune people out when they start talking about how great they are. At best, they’re arrogant, and, at worst, they’re deceitful. Usually it’s somewhere in between.

All that to say, the Northwestern fans I interacted with last November at Wrigley – both outside the stadium during College GameDay and inside the stadium during the game – were really annoying. We recruit different kinds of players! We like to study! We’re smarter! We’re Chicago’s Big Ten team! Chill out, people.

To be fair, I wasn’t exactly proud to be an Illini fan in that crowd. “Go read a book!” one orange-and-blue-clad fan yelled, apparently considering the acquisition of knowledge to be a shameful endeavor. “Shouldn’t you be at the library!?!” another screamed. Wow, really?

Like I’ve said in pervious columns, my primary writing time takes place during my research methods class. That being the case, I would be remiss to declare a College GameDay crowd an accurate representative sample of those affiliated with Northwestern. Similarly, the Illini faithful who made the trip to the north side don’t represent the characteristics and opinions of the University of Illinois. Trust me, most of us are cool with books.

So let’s just get this out of the way: Illinois and Northwestern are both really good schools, and we sound stupid when we try to prove that we’re better than each other.

Honestly, I hadn’t even considered Northwestern one of our rivals until that game last November. After College GameDay concluded, my brother and I were killing time in Wrigleyville waiting for the gates to open. I couldn’t believe how much I wanted to crush Northwestern – the ‘we’re better than you’ rhetoric had clearly gotten to me, and I don’t underestimate the effect it had on the Illini players that week. Watching Mikel LeShoure run all over the Wildcats was incredibly satisfying. 330 yards! How is that even possible?

There’s been a lot of talk regarding whose football program has been better historically, and, to be honest, I don’t really care. Will Jason Ford’s ability to run on Saturday be affected by the legend of Red Grange? Does Donovonn Young’s chances of holding onto the football decrease because of Rashard Mendenhall’s odd political ideations? How about the effect Mike Kafka’s recent appearances with the Eagles will have on Dan Persa’s capacity to throw on the Illini secondary?

It’s all about the here a now, and, from where the Illini are sitting, 5-0 would be pretty sweet.

4 thoughts on “Northwestern at Illinois – An Emerging Rivalry

  • September 30, 2011 at 9:46 PM

    Wow, as a Texas fan, it’s amazing how apathetic you are as a college football fan. Of course it doesn’t ultimately mean anything to prove you’re better than the other, but it just makes the game more fun to engage in that kind of banter. Competition is for fun. So, while you’re telling them to chill out, really it’s you who needs to chill out for taking their rhetoric so seriously. They’re just trying to increase the intensity of the rivalry/game.

  • October 1, 2011 at 12:03 AM

    Completely disagree with you MS1. I’d much rather focus on how each team matches up with each other, not make empty verbal shots at each other. In my experience, the fans with limited knowledge about their team are the ones that make statements like “Go read a book!” Both Illinois and Northwestern are great schools and mediocre at football. Let’s let the rivalry play out tomorrow on the field, not with meaningless verbal shots in the parking lot.

  • October 1, 2011 at 1:35 AM

    I’m just saying it depends on what’s being said. “Go read a book” is obviously pathetic and anti-intellectual, but when it’s just harmless friendly banter I see no problem with it. Like, for instance, aggy calls us “t-sips”. It’s an old tradition from back in the day when UT students and alumni were seen — by the sheep-romancers on farms in College Station — as high class tea drinkers (sippers). It was/is a way they made/make fun of us. At least, in their minds they were making fun of us, but it really just made/makes them look like uncultured, backwater hicks. That’s the fun of it. We know they’re more culturally-sophisticated than mere chicken farmers. But it’s like a role-playing game and it makes the rivalry more fun.

    It sounds like you’re just either unused to having a rivalry or you don’t care to have one. To become one of the great college football rivalries, you have to kind of create an antagonistic relationship. But it should always be friendly and individuals need to constantly define the boundaries of acceptable behavior and rhetoric. But there’s nothing wrong with a little friendly smack talk to hype yourselves up for a game.

    It sounds like Northwestern fans are missing a retort.

  • October 1, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    Thanks for reading, MS1. I think you make a good point…rivalries are often fueled by an antagonistic relationship between teams, not simply by what happens on the field. Personally, though, I’m much more interested in what happens on the field, and it would be great if that fueled the rivalry. I’m probably in the minority on that, though.

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