A lovable mascot: Willie the Wildcat
According to Northwestern's Office of Undergraduate Admission, before Willie, the Northwestern mascot was a live, caged bear cub by the name of Furpaw. This happened for only the 1923 season, because after a dismal 2-6 record, poor little Furpaw was "banished...from campus" after it was determined that he was "the harbinger of bad luck." The next year a Chicago Tribune reporter referred to the Northwestern football team as "wildcats" and the name was born. As for Willie, he started appearing in 1933 until students started dressing up as him in 1947. These days, Willie is just a cool feline in a purple jersey. Just don't look up photos of him from the '60s.
Another nickname: "Cardiac Cats"
I can't find a source for when this nickname actually started, but the first game listed in the 'Cardiac Cats' section on Wikipedia is Northwestern's fourth quarter comeback victory against the Michigan Wolverines in October of 1996, a game in which the Wildcats scored 17 points in the final frame to win 17-16. The Wikipedia article lists numerous games that Northwestern won in some late-game fashion, whether in the final seconds or overtime. Players seem to be getting sick of the nickname, which is understandable. When you play with fire, you're bound to get burned. That may have been the case last year during a rough season for the Wildcats, which included the most insane field goal of all time.
Still waiting for their Bo or Woody:
Even though the Northwestern football program has been around since the late 1800s, it's hard to find any period of prolonged success, especially by a single coach. The most successful span in program history is likely 1926-36, when the Wildcats won four Big Ten titles, half of their current total. However, three coaches accounted for those four championships: Glenn Thistlethwaite in '26, Dick Hanley in '30 and '31, and Pappy Waldorf in '36. Thirteen men have coached the Northwestern football for more than four seasons, and of them, only five have winning records. Of those five, only two have a win-loss difference in the double digits: Dick Hanley with a 36-26-4 record from 1927-34, and current head coach Pat Fitzgerald with a 55-46 record since '06. Assuming Fitzgerald sticks around a little while longer, there's a decent chance he becomes the best coach (he already has the most wins) in program history.
Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Land of Lincoln Trophy Game vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
I wrote about this last week, so I'm going to skip over the details and link you to it here. The Wildcats have won the last two meetings of the newly redesigned rivalry game but trail the overall series at 48-54-5.
Let's not go bowling: 2-9 record in the postseason
Given the lack of success in their past, it's no surprise that Northwestern doesn't fare well in their few postseason appearances. The two victories currently bookend the nine losses, with wins in the '49 Rose Bowl and '13 Gator Bowl.
Lake the Posts: "We're the worst! We're the worst!"
This is an awesome pastime, but it's too bad that 1) it will never happen again and 2) it mainly occurred during the doldrums of Northwestern football. The history of laking the posts begins on Nov. 7, 1981 in a game against the Michigan State Spartans. Northwestern carried a 28-game losing streak into the contest, tying them for the longest losing streak in Division I football history. The game was never close, and after the clock ran out, the scoreboard read 61-14 in favor of Sparty. A new record had been born. At this point, the Northwestern students basically decided, "Screw it. We suck. Let's celebrate." So they stormed the field and tore down the goalpost. Normal stuff after big victories, a little rarer after defeats, but nothing out of the ordinary yet. Then the students decide to march the posts about a mile to toss them into Lake Michigan. Following the loss, the Wildcats extended the losing streak to 34 before beating Northern Illinois in '82. The chants en route to Lake Michigan were a little more positive this time around: "One in a row! One in a row!" This tradition apparently continued into the early '90s, but with new reinforced posts at Ryan Field (and a continued track record for sporadic success for Northwestern football), we won't be seeing goal posts floating in Lake Michigan any time soon.
Well that about does it for the Northwestern Wildcats. Maybe finding a way to tear down those posts one more time might inspire some prolonged success?