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Sporting: I Miss Northwestern Football’s Losing Tradition

The soccer group at my alma mater, Northwestern, is having a sexy excellent season. As soon as, that might have delighted me. Now, it simply makes me uneasy.

The primary recreation I attended at N.U. used to be a doozy: The Wildcats beat Northern Illinois on Sept. 25, 1982, to wreck what stays the longest shedding streak (34 video games) in Department I-A historical past. My classmates streamed onto the sphere at Dyche Stadium to dismantle the objective posts in triumph and deposit them in Lake Michigan. The group went directly to a shedding season, even though: It have been a very long time because the days when the longer term Notre Dame legend Ara Parseghian used to be its somewhat a hit trainer, or even longer since Northwestern had long gone to the Rose Bowl.

We might had been thrilled if the group had gained extra video games (it didn’t have a successful season till 1995), however we consoled ourselves by means of taking a type of perverse pleasure in our losses. Because the Wildcats have been being pounded by means of Giant Ten combatants — 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 sooner or later!” Obnoxious and classist, sure, however pleasurable.

After I labored for the sports activities phase of the campus newspaper, we’d dutifully write options concerning the hopes and desires of the soccer avid gamers initially of the season. Then, because the season rolled on, we might simply as dutifully report their losses subsequent to accounts of the exploits of the college’s actual megastar athletes: the sphere hockey group.

And that used to be all proper, that used to be 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 used to be higher. If just a few of our avid gamers were given jobs within the N.F.L., that used to be all proper and O.Okay., too.

So it’s been disconcerting lately to peer Northwestern be aggressive within the Giant Ten and frequently 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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