Nothing pushes controversy aside, temporarily, at least, like a win.
Especially a blowout win.
The Northwestern University Wildcats scored 31 second-half points to crush the University of Texas at El Paso, 38-7, in the 2023 season opener at Ryan Field Saturday afternoon.
NU entered the game at 0-1, after last week’s road defeat at Rutgers.
The ‘Cats had previously lost their last 11 games in a row in 2022.
The ongoing hazing scandal, the firing of longtime coach Pat Fitzgerald, and the more than a dozen lawsuits filed by former players were acknowledged, but not dwelled upon, by many of those at Saturday’s victory.
Andrew Bechtold, an NU junior. told Evanston Now that “obviously there are undertones which can’t be escaped, but the people I know came here to root for our team.”
One of those people, fellow junior Noah Short, agreed, saying the troubles “are in the back of my mind, but I’m still a fan.”
One big problem facing Northwestern is that not very many other fans showed up, despite absolutely perfect weather.
The reported attendance of 14,851 was 10,000 less than last year’s first home game, and far below the 47,000-seat capacity of Ryan Field.
Classes have not started yet at NU, so there were fewer students than usual.
And the non-conference, non-BigTen opponent was not a big draw, and did not bring a lot of fans.
One of those UTEP fans, Andrew Meyer, San Diego, came all the way to see his son Jeff, the Miners’ starting center.
Most UTEP fans, Meyer joked, are a “small group of parents.”
NU parents and alumni tailgaters were on hand, enjoying their pregame cookouts.
Dan and Renee Clausner, and their friend Robert Fedinets, are all NU alums from the 1980s, and season ticket holders.
“We’re loyal fans,” said Dan.
“It will take some time,” he added, “to bring the football program back to both athletic and academic success”
Fedinets said sports hazing “happens everywhere. It’s not right, but it’s a fact.”
The hazing allegations cost legendary coach Pat Fitzgerald his job.
Fitzgerald has denied knowing of the hazing, and some Fitz supporters were making their feelings known, with shirts and banners.
Fitzgerald’s attorney has suggested that the former coach may sue the university for breach of contract.
Another off-the-field issue facing NU is what the field will be in the future.
The proposed rebuild of Ryan Field is currently working its way through city hall (City Council approval is needed), with some vocal neighborhood opposition as well as support.
Kevin and Kristin Smith, and their four-year-old daughter Claire live within walking distance of the stadium, and are season ticket holders.
Kevin said he’s for the rebuild, “as long as it’s done thoughtfully.”
And Kristin said she hopes Northwestern will be “considerate” about the timing of potential concerts, as well as traffic patterns and parking should the new stadium be built.
The ongoing debate, she added, “is how democracy should be.”