Attending the Northwestern-Miami (Ohio) game was a depressing experience, to say the least. The announced attendance was 23,085. But that's a lie. There's no way more than 20,000 people were at that game.
The players (especially on offense) appeared disinterested with the game, as were most of the fans in attendance. The result, a boring NU win, was inevitable, and those who stayed just sort of waited around for the game to finish, never really getting excited.
If there were any recruits at Ryan Field on Saturday, I can assure you they will be going elsewhere.
Unless, they experienced the Northwestern tailgating scene.
If there's one thing Northwestern does right, it's the fan experience before the game even starts.
Now, as a disclaimer, this is not the epic tailgating scene at Big Ten powerhouses like Penn State or even lesser schools like Indiana. The fact that it's not huge like other schools' tailgates is what makes it underrated. Most students' superficial impression of NU tailgating is that it's terrible.
But that's not true at all. Bigger is not always better.
Most of the tailgating takes place in the west parking lot, which is located off Central Street by the famous hot dog joint "Mustard's Last Stand."
Mustard's moves outdoors on game day as they serve freshly made food at an old fashioned hot dog stand.
Even for a horrible game like last Saturday's, the hardcore fans start their tailgating early in the morning as they get ready for the 11am kickoff. There's something special about being part of what's basically an exclusive club: those who are so passionate about NU football, they even tailgate before a game against freaking 0-5 (now 0-6) Miami team.
First of all, the conversation is better. When there are huge tailgates at other schools, a sizable amount of the students are there just to get drunk because it's "the thing to do." Well, at NU, it's not considered "the thing to do," so while people do drink, they also talk football. Most NU students are not informed about football, but those who tailgate are, and it's a pleasure to talk with them.
Two hours before game time, "Wildcat Alley," which is located on the football grass practice field, opens to the public. Wildcat Alley has a lot going for it, specifically free beer. It actually pulls off an almost impossible feat, combining a very family friendly environment with free booze.
For alumni with children, Wildcat Alley is the place to be because there are numerous fun carnival type games that will keep the kids entertained until game time.
For those who are 21 and older, there's the Goose Island Beer Tent. Goose Island beer, as you all probably know, is really, really good. For those of age, you get two free beers, and they're heavy beers, so you can enjoy them for quite a while as you talk NU football.
Also, WNUR Sports hosts their hour-long pre-game show live from Wildcat Alley, and the band arrives and entertains the crowd with NU's fight song among other tunes.
The small yet fun tailgating atmosphere, combined with all the activities at Wildcat Alley makes for a great pre-game experience for all ages.
Once the game starts against a terrible team like Miami...now that's another story.