Northwestern Wildcats Make Gutsy Move with Wrigley Field Game

Aaron MorseCorrespondent IApril 23, 2010

CHICAGO - APRIL 12: A fan dressed as the outfield ivy wall walks in front of Wrigley Field before the Opening Day game between the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers on April 12, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Who knew Jim Phillips wasn't just NU's athletic director? He also apparently is a riverboat gambler.

He'd double down on a 13, he'd hit on 16, and he'd split Kings.

Now he's "all-in" in an attempt to get Chicago professional sports fans to see the light, and start attending NU football games.

For one day, November 20, 2010 to be exact, the eyes of the Chicago sports world will be on the Northwestern Wildcats. Chicago is a great professional sports town, but is a terrible collegiate sports town. Northwestern struggles mightily to draw fans to their often highly entertaining football games. The talk shows discuss the Bears 24/7 even when they suck, but mostly ignores Northwestern.

But Chicagoans, save White Sox fans (and based on the attendance at "The Cell," there aren't very many of those), love Wrigley Field. They'd watch anything there. If you staged a game of chess on the pitcher's mound, you'd probably get 20,000 people to show up. Heck, before football had become America's most popular sport and before Wrigley Field was WRIGLEY FIELD, 32,000 people showed up to watch NU play Illinois there in 1923.

But no football game has been played in the so-called "Friendly Confines" since the Nixon administration.

That's about to change, and the ballsiest, most gutty part of the whole thing is the ticket distribution system Phillips and the Cubs agreed upon. 

As has been widely reported, 30,000 tickets will be sold through NU. Illinois only gets 3,000 (suck it Illini!), and the Cubs get 5,000 to sell.

So the vast majority of the tickets will be sold through NU.

Now here's the catch: You can't just go to NU and buy tickets. If you want to be eligible to purchase one, you have to be a season-ticket holder.

Oh my. This is the biggest gamble since the "Heater" play in the Outback Bowl.

Northwestern is counting on (a) people actually being willing to purchase season tickets for this rare chance to see a football game at Wrigley, and (b), that said people will be so enthralled with NU football, they'll renew their plan after the season is over.

No pressure on you Dan Persa.

The opponent is perfect for this type of gamble. Illinois, for some reason, is generally considered more of a "Chicago" football team than NU, even though they're actually located hours away from Chicago (or anything else worth seeing for that matter, but I digress).

There was some speculation that Iowa would be the opponent, but it was finally determined their fans would stink up the joint too much.

In all seriousness, this is a huge stage for NU football to attempt to win over the hearts and minds of Chicagoans. The game is being televised on ESPN or ESPN 2, so a national audience will be watching as well, but that's not the point.

The point has been made clear: this is a direct assault on Northwestern's chronic attendance problem. You want to watch this special event? Fine, you will purchase a NU season ticket, and you will like doing it!

Jim Phillips is gambling that NU will play an epic, double-overtime thriller that ends with Dan Persa doing a backflip over two Illini defenders into the end-zone.

The game has to be memorable, and it has to be a NU victory.

Oh, and the teams both have to have good records entering the game.

The talk shows will be buzzing about this for weeks beforehand, season tickets may or may not be sold in droves, and keeping those fans around who DO buy season that's the gamble.

At worst this will be seen as a gimmick and will reinforce negative stereotypes about NU.

At best this will begin a new era in how Chicagoans view Northwestern.

Now pardon me as I head to the Horseshoe Casino...I'm sure I'll see Dr. Phillips at the Craps table.