Seattle Times executive editor David Boardman usually cheers for Washington, but Friday he'll be happily cheering for his Wildcats.
Friday night, as on other damp, dark evenings over the past few months, I’ll be in Edmundson Pavilion, wearing purple and rooting on my alma mater’s basketball team.
But this time, I won’t be bowing down to Washington. For the first time in 30 years of going to the Huskies’ home arena, many of those as a season-ticket holder, I won’t be digging the Dawgs. Instead, I’ll be rooting for the school where I got my first college degree, Northwestern.
Don’t taunt me yet, Dawg Pack. I’m a loyal Huskies fan. Earlier this season, my wife and I gave our airplane bulkhead seats to 7-footer Aziz N’Diaye and 6-9 Shawn Kemp Jr. so they’d have more legroom on a flight home from games in Arizona.
Most Read Local Stories
- Seattle-area residents should prepare for wild weather ahead, forecasters say
- King County customers of restaurants, theaters, gyms must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test
- COVID-19 kills Moses Lake couple, orphans their 8-year-old after visit to the fair
- 15-year-old SeaTac girl charged with murder, hit-and-run in July death of Maple Valley runner
- Scientists spot rare, mysterious right whales in waters off Alaska
But the choice for Friday night was easy. For as much as I like Terrence, Darnell, Brendan and Lorenzo — especially ‘Zo — I’ve sweated every minute of my Wildcats’ season. You see, this was the year we were going to finally stop being the answer to this trivia question:
“What school hosted the very first Final Four in 1939, but to this day is the only major athletic conference school to never even participate in The Big Dance?”
In fact, every other school in the six major conferences has danced at least twice. Never Northwestern. We are the perennial wallflowers, the geeky, awkward kids lining the walls of the high-school gym at prom.
The excuses are myriad: Too-stringent admissions standards. A lousy arena. No tradition. To those, I answer my apologist fellow alums: Duke. Marquette. South Florida.
For years, though, we basked in our futility, much as fans of the Chicago Cubs — whose hallowed home is half an hour away from campus on the Red Line — bask in theirs.
It was a perverse badge of honor, behind which we could at least appear to not really care.
But this year was different. We had the leading scorer in the Big Ten, John Shurna, an awkward, geeky kid who probably was one of those standing along the gym wall in high school but whose awkward, geeky, push shot is lethal. Our coach, Bill Carmody, is a droll, Princeton-pedigreed fellow who evokes Larry David more than Larry Brown. Carmody had finally recruited some kids who could both ace the SAT and do a crossover.
We began the season 7-0, against some pretty fair nonconference competition. We won a few games in the Big Ten, considered the nation’s toughest league this year. After we upset No. 6 Michigan State, we allowed ourselves to dream.
At some point, I began to tell my 90-year-old father-in-law — who began at Northwestern the very year the school hosted (but did not play in) that first Final Four, and had suffered all seven decades of this dreadful drought — that we might actually see our team’s name pop up come Selection Sunday.
We finished the regular season 18-12, with a top-50 power rating and a top-10 strength of schedule ranking. As the Big Ten tournament began, most bracketologists had us inside the bubble. I was checking airfares to Dayton, where I figured we’d be playing in the “First Four” opening round of the NCAA tournament. All we needed to get there was a win against a mediocre Minnesota team we had whipped three weeks earlier.
But, of course, we lost. And, of course, we lost in overtime. On Selection Sunday, as one cool-kid school after another was invited to dance, we were again left standing along the wall, for the 74th season in a row.
An hour later, we got invited to another postseason tournament, something called the NIT. So did the Huskies. Both teams won their opening-round games and face each other in Round 2.
Now for most of my fellow Husky fans, this is nothing special. In fact, it’s a little embarrassing, like being seen hanging out with nerds at Northgate.
But for Northwestern fans? We’re just glad to be included in anything.
Look up to the bleachers above the east basket Friday, and you’ll see us, a couple hundred strong. Like you, we’ll be wearing purple. But we’ll also look strangely self-satisfied, maybe even downright happy.
We’re claiming this thing as our own — the Never Invited Tournament. And I’ll be rooting harder than anyone. I’m a true Dawg. But Friday, my friends and fellow Huskies, I’m one cool Cat.