Graham’s first game for the Northwestern Wildcats football team was on October 4, 1941, when he caught a Kansas State punt and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. He ran and passed for two more touchdowns in the 51–3 victory. After scoring another pair of touchdowns in a win against Wisconsin, Graham passed to his wide receivers for two touchdowns in a victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes, coached by Paul Brown, the Buckeyes’ only loss of the 1941 season. Northwestern ended the year with an 11th-place showing in the AP Poll of the best college teams in the country.
The following year Graham and some of his teammates enlisted in the military but continued to play for Northwestern. Enlistees from other schools also enrolled at Northwestern, where the U.S. Navy had a training station. The 1943 season was a strong one for Northwestern. The team beat Ohio State, the defending national champions, and a good military team at Great Lakes Naval Station. The Wildcats lost to Notre Dame and Michigan, however, and finished the season with an 8–2 record and a ninth-place ranking in the AP Poll. Graham set another Big Ten passing record, was named the conference’s Most Valuable Player, received All-American honors and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting. By the end of his college career, he held a Big Ten Conference record for passing yards with 2,132.
During football games, students jingle their car keys before every kickoff and punt. When Northwestern is on defense, students extend their arms, make a claw with their hands, and growl. The “official” cheer at Northwestern sporting events is the chant “Go U! NU!”
Northwestern Wildside is the official student section of Northwestern athletics. They are led in their gameday cheers by the Wildside leaders and Northwestern University cheerleaders, who perform on the sidelines during all home games and accompany the football team to all away games. The 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.
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.
College Sports Established
1973 – Present / NCAA Division 1
1921 – 1973 / University Division of the NCAA
1907 – 1921 / Athletic Association of the United States
1896 – Present / Big 10
Wildcats – Northwestern’s athletic teams are nicknamed the Wildcats. Before 1924, they were known as “The Purple” and unofficially as “The Fighting Methodists.” The name Wildcats was bestowed upon the university in 1924 by Wallace Abbey, a writer for the Chicago Daily Tribune who wrote that even in a loss to the University of Chicago, “Football players had not come down from Evanston; wildcats would be a name better suited to Coach Glenn Thistletwaite’s boys.” The team was also referred to in the article as “a Purple wall of wildcats.” The name was so popular that university board members made “Wildcats” the official nickname just months later. In 1972, the student body voted to change the official nickname from “Wildcats” to “Purple Haze” but the new name never stuck.
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