Through Northwestern's Athletic Development Department, NUsports.com hosts many auctions over the course of the academic year, putting autographed gear, special memorabilia, fan experiences and many other one-of-a-kind items up for bid to all Wildcat fans to benefit the Wildcat Fund. Last year, Northwestern graduate Kent Markus bid on and won at "Northwestern Football Fan Experience," earning a VIP, behind-the-scenes day at Ryan Field while NU took on then-No. 13 Iowa. Markus wrote a recap of he and his son Robbie's experience, which we share below as a way of encouraging YOU to bid on NU's auction items when they become available this upcoming season!
woke up late on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 3. There was an email waiting
for me from my wife, who had gotten our son off to school before heading in to
work. Because of the election the day before, the work I loved as Ohio Governor
Ted Strickland's Chief Legal Counsel was going to end. Ted had tried valiantly
to fight the electoral tsunami and come up two points short of doing so.
I opened the email. "Buy this - you and Robbie will have fun. Love, Susan." I clicked on the link. There were about three hours left in an online auction at NUsports.com for the "Northwestern Football Experience." I placed my bid, won the auction and Susan sure was right, my son and I had the time of our lives!
Ten days later, my 13-year-old son, Robbie, and I got up at 5:30 a.m. and headed to the Columbus, Ohio, airport. We flew into O'Hare, and with some time to kill, decided to take the El all the way to Ryan Field. We passed Wrigley already decked out in purple for the game the following week. And as we got closer and closer to the Howard Street stop, we were surrounded by more and more NU (and Iowa!) fans. After changing trains at Howard, we found ourselves standing next to a man and his 13-year-old son who were decked out in Iowa gear. We were a little bit stunned to learn that they lived in the same Columbus suburb we do and had flown in for the game on the same flight we had. The boys were eighth graders at neighboring middle schools!
From the Central El stop, we walked over to Ryan Field to find our hostess for the day, Tammy Walker. I was a little surprised, as we entered the stadium with her, that everyone knew Tammy. This woman was seriously connected!
As the first part of our Football Experience, we were escorted to the sideline to watch the pregame warm-up by the team. We weren't there for two minutes before Stefan Demos walked over to say hi to Tammy and she introduced us to him. My son, a loyal 'Cats fan living in hardcore Buckeye country, was in heaven. A few minutes later, we were introduced to D'Wayne Bates, star receiver for the Northwestern 1995 Rose Bowl team, who went on to play pro ball and is now a high school teacher and coach. Another autograph on Robbie's NU baseball cap.
From the sidelines, Tammy escorted us to the press box, where we had front row reserved seats for the game. On the way there, when I inquired how it was that she knew so many people, she kindly explained that her late husband, Randy, had been the NU football coach. I couldn't believe I hadn't figured that one out! I have immense respect for what Randy Walker did with the Northwestern football program and was deeply appreciative of how graciously Tammy had handled my clumsy question.
And then there was the game. And it was some game. NU beat the Iowa Hawkeyes, ranked 13th in the country! We were fascinated by all that we saw in the press box, learning the different roles performed by those around us from ESPN, the Chicago Tribune and the Big Ten. With substantial self-restraint, we followed the press box rules and didn't cheer, scream or celebrate (well, a little) when Dan Persa threw the game-winning touchdown pass.
Former Big Ten Commissioner, Wayne Duke, and his wife were sitting to our right. They couldn't have been more friendly. Another autograph for Robbie, "From one Big Ten fan to another." And during the game, Tammy took us up to the WGN broadcast booth where we met Dave Eanet and Ted Albrecht -- and watched Eanet being honored at the stadium and on the scoreboard for his years of loyal 'Cats play-by-play work.
After the game, we were escorted to Coach Fitzgerald's post-game press conference. There was an audible gasp in the room when the Coach confirmed the worst for the assembled media -- Dan Persa had ruptured his Achilles' tendon and would be having surgery that evening.
As we were leaving the press conference, Coach Fitzgerald greeted Tammy, and, yes, it was another autograph for Robbie -- and a picture with the Coach!
We called for a cab as we headed out to Mustard's Last Stand to wait for our ride back to O'Hare. By 9:00 that evening, we were back at our own home in Ohio. Talk about a "Northwestern Football Experience"! Tammy Walker was phenomenal -- what an ambassador for the school. And Robbie? All he wants to know is if we'll be winning the auction again next year.
Kent Markus (B.S. '81)