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Sporting: I Miss Northwestern Football’s Losing Tradition

The soccer crew at my alma mater, Northwestern, is having a beautiful excellent season. As soon as, that may have extremely joyful me. Now, it simply makes me uneasy.

The primary sport I attended at N.U. was once a doozy: The Wildcats beat Northern Illinois on Sept. 25, 1982, to damage what stays the longest shedding streak (34 video games) in Department I-A historical past. My classmates streamed onto the sector at Dyche Stadium to dismantle the purpose posts in triumph and deposit them in Lake Michigan. The crew went directly to a shedding season, although: It were a very long time for the reason that days when the long run Notre Dame legend Ara Parseghian was once its slightly a hit trainer, or even longer since Northwestern had long gone to the Rose Bowl.

We’d had been thrilled if the crew had received extra video games (it didn’t have a successful season till 1995), however we consoled ourselves by means of taking a form of perverse satisfaction in our losses. Because the Wildcats had been being pounded by means of Giant Ten fighters — particularly our downstate rival, the College of Illinois — the N.U. scholars within the stands would chant, “That’s all proper, that’s O.Okay., you’re going to paintings for us someday!” Obnoxious and classist, sure, however fulfilling.

Once I labored for the sports activities segment of the campus newspaper, we’d dutifully write options concerning the hopes and goals of the soccer gamers in the beginning of the season. Then, because the season rolled on, we’d simply as dutifully file their losses subsequent to accounts of the exploits of the college’s actual megastar athletes: the sector hockey crew.

And that was once all proper, that was once O.Okay., as a result of no person went to Northwestern for its soccer prowess. I don’t recall ever assembly a fellow pupil who regretted taking a cross on Ohio State since the soccer there was once higher. If just a few of our gamers were given jobs within the N.F.L., that was once all proper and O.Okay., too.

So it’s been disconcerting lately to look Northwestern be aggressive within the Giant Ten and ceaselessly seem in bowl video games. At this time, as The Occasions noted with bemusement last week, it leads its division, with a 5-1 conference record.

The school has invested plenty in the team; a couple of months ago an indoor practice field on prime lakefront property opened, part of a $270 million complex that Northwestern hopes will lure recruits and render practices more efficient — and make the team more competitive in a conference that has a lucrative television deal. It’s a commonplace for non-athletes to complain about too many resources being devoted to athletics, but colleges should spend money on sports for a lively campus and to promote students’ health.

And there’s the problem: Football’s not healthy.

So it’s been much more than disconcerting that my alma mater’s success, and its big investment in the sport, comes as we are being reminded every day of the price football players pay in traumatic brain injury. The rash of chronic traumatic encephalopathy among N.F.L. players has gotten the most attention, but college players are hurt, too. Some colleges, like Dartmouth, are trying ways to reduce these injuries by eliminating tackling in practice and taking other measures, but they remain outliers.

News of Northwestern’s triumphs now just serves as a reminder that there are real young men behind those wins whose brains are being battered. I want the Wildcats to win less so they won’t play as much.

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