At any point during Fall Quarter a quick Instagram search for “Northwestern” reveals how gorgeous our campus is in Autumn. But to me, Northwestern is its most beautiful on game day.
I’ve only had two Fall Quarters in Evanston during my time at Northwestern. My junior year I was studying abroad in Argentina and I’m currently spending my last Fall Quarter on Journalism Residency in Miami, Florida, writing for the sports desk at the Miami Herald. Thanks to a timely work trip to cover the Dolphins vs. Bears NFL matchup in Chicago, I was able to go to Homecoming this year and attend our football game as a fan in the student section. The Homecoming game was incredibly special. After being away for two seasons, I had forgotten how involved Evanston and NU get in football games.
On game day it looks like a cloud of purple and white has descended on Evanston. Storefronts are painted purple and white, everyone walking around is bundled in purple sweatshirts, gloves and hats, and off-campus is just a maze of tailgates that spill from one yard to the next. Tents dot the grassy areas closer to Ryan Field where NU families play cornhole and pass out chili and hot chocolate in the brisk air — it’s honestly the most wholesome scene I’ve witnessed as a college student. Going back for Homecoming, I was reminded why football games were so important to me as a freshman: You can’t help but feel like part of a community.
Inside the stadium, masses of fans dressed in purple blend in with Evanston’s sunsets for a gorgeous picture; the bleachers appear to be buzzing as students yell, find old friends in the stands and squeeze to make room in rows for more people. For me, Ryan Field feels comfortable, like I’m returning home, and when the stands are packed and flags are waiving and the band is playing, it never fails to remind me of the spectacle that football can be.
I found some of my best friends in the stands at football games, the ones who also wanted to stay until the end despite the fact that it was windy and cold (as a native East Coast-er, games felt like a Midwestern right of passage). I love the tradition; shouting the same cheers and participating in the same kickoff rituals year after year made me feel connected to my school, and even though I lived and died with the team, I was never more carefree than when I was in the stands at Ryan Field. During games I felt a strong sense of unity and pride, and it never stops being awesome to see people you think have no interest in sports completely decked out in purple and hoarse from screaming.
I know loving football games for the shared experience they bring is nothing revelatory. But as I reflect on my time as an undergrad and sloooowly prepare myself for graduation, I think I’ll always remember my favorite version of Northwestern as the one I saw from the stands.