The Northwestern Wildcats are the athletic teams that represent Northwestern University, a founding member of the Big Ten Conference, and the only private university member. Northwestern has eight men's and eleven women's Division I sports teams. Before 1924, Northwestern teams were known as "The Purple" and unofficially as "The Fighting Methodists." The name Wildcats was bestowed upon the university in 1924 by a writer for the Chicago Tribune who published an article that described the football team as, "a wall of purple wildcats." The name was so popular that university board members made "Wildcats" the official nickname just months later. The mascot is Willie the Wildcat.
Northwestern's athletic history has been somewhat lamentable, though there have been signs of a turnaround in the last decade. The Northwestern Wildcats football team once had the longest losing streak in NCAA Division I-A history at 34 games. The men's basketball team has never made it to the NCAA tournament. Through even the roughest years, though, the school continued to field competitive teams in the so-called "non-revenue" sports, including tennis and swimming. Moreover, in the last decade, the school has begun to put many of its athletic woes behind it. Notable programs that are usually ranked in the Top 20 include men's swimming, and women's tennis, fencing and lacrosse. The football team has appeared in several bowl games since 1995, and the men's basketball team has made occasional appearances in the postseason, as well. The Northwestern women's lacrosse team has won three consecutive national championships (2005 ,2006 , and 2007). The Northwestern women's softball team finished 2nd nationally in 2006, after losing to Arizona in the title game series of the Women's College World Series.
During football games, students jingle their car keys before every kickoff and punt. This began as an arrogant taunt; Big Ten rivals often bested Northwestern at football, and the keys implied "while your school may win the football game, in a few years your school's graduates will be parking Northwestern graduates' cars." When Northwestern is on defense, students extend their arms, make a claw with their hands, and growl.
The Northwestern student section is led in their cheers by NUMB, the Northwestern University Marching Band. NUMB performs on the field and in the stands at all home games and follows the football team to one Big Ten away game per season.
For many years, students would throw marshmallows at the kick-off of football games. Northwestern archivist Patrick Quinn says that students were likely "trying to get them into the tubas, and then started throwing them at each other," leading to the tradition of throwing marshmallows at the field. While Gary Barnett was football coach, he banned marshmallows because they supposedly detracted from the serious level of football that he wanted for the school.
The "official" cheer at Northwestern sporting events is the chant "Go U! NU!" Students also commonly taunt opposing sports teams with "State-school, state-school," referencing that all institutions of the Big Ten conference, except for Northwestern, are public universities.
Northwestern's fight song is "Go U Northwestern" A secondary fight song is "Rise Northwestern (Push On Song)," the final 4-measure tag (ending with a shouted "Go, 'Cats!") of which is often played after first downs.
The Northwestern University football team has evidence of organization in 1876. Northwestern achieved an all-time high rank of #1 during the 1936 and 1962 seasons, which has thus far not been duplicated. Northwestern has won one bowl game, the Rose Bowl, in 1949. After that, the team has languished in decades of mediocrity. The team achieved notoriety with a 34-game losing streak from 1979-1982, the longest in Division I-A college football. Upon setting the new record in 1981 (thanks to a 61-14 home loss to Michigan State), students rushed the field to "celebrate" and chanted "We're the worst!", ending the festivities by tearing down the goalposts and throwing them into Lake Michigan. A win over Northern Illinois finally broke the losing streak.
The football team's rankings of 21 by the AP Poll and 23 by the Coaches Poll in 2005 marked the team's first appearance in a national poll in 4 years. The Wildcats finished the year ranked 25 in the BCS rankings and lost against UCLA in the Sun Bowl.
Northwestern holds the all-time records for Division I-A losses, points allowed, and negative point differential (amount opponents have outscored them by). They are also on the losing end of the greatest comeback in Division I-A history, blowing a 38-3 lead in the third quarter of a 41-38 loss to Michigan State on October 21, 2006.
The men's basketball team has never earned a bid to the NCAA tournament, and its last conference championship came in 1933, when it tied with Ohio State. The last time the team made the NIT was 1999. The team plays its home games in Welsh-Ryan Arena, where it is cheered on by the Wildside student section. Bill Carmody is the current coach of the Wildcats. Under Carmody, a former head coach at Princeton, the team runs the Princeton offense.
In 2007 Northwestern won the national championship in women's lacrosse for the third year in a row, joining Maryland as the only other school to three-peat. The run started in 2005, when the team enjoyed a perfect season and defeated many long-established east-coast schools after only 5 years as a varsity sport to capture the school's first national championship since 1941. In doing so, it became the westernmost institution to ever win the title. Soon after, the team made national news when members appeared in a White House photo with President Bush wearing thong sandals, or flip-flops. In their three championship seasons, the Wildcats have a 62-2 record.
The Wildcats' best player over the past two years has been Kristen Kjellman, who led the team in goals both championship years. In 2006 and 2007 she received the Tewaaraton Trophy honoring the best collegiate lacrosse player in the country. She is the first player from a non-East coast school to win the distinction, and the first player to be a two-time winner.
The Northwestern softball program began in 1976 and has amassed 5 Big Ten championships, 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, and 5 appearances in the Women's college World series- including 2007 and their national runner-up performance 2006.
Yearly, Northwestern and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign compete in football for the rights to the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy. Northwestern fans have cultivated strong rivalries with many Big Ten Conference foes, including Iowa and, particularly, Wisconsin. The rivalry with Wisconsin, the Big Ten conference school geographically closest to the Evanston campus, has grown stronger in recent years, though there is currently no official trophy for the football game.
The 2005-2006 academic year was one of the best athletic seasons in Northwestern University's history. The football team capped a 7-5 season and third place finish in the Big Ten with a bid to the Sun Bowl. Following the women's lacrosse team's second National Championship, the Women's doubles tennis team of Christelle Grier and Alexis Prousis won the National Championship as well. The Women's Softball team made an incredible run to the finals of the Women's College World Series, finishing in second place.
In May 2006 the website BadJocks.com republished photos a reader had found on Webshots of the women's soccer team hazing its freshmen. The whole team was suspended for a time as a result and in the wake of the incident Head Coach Jenny Haigh resigned. Since, Athletic Director Mark Murphy named Stephanie Erickson, the school's all-time leader in goals and points, as Haigh's replacement.