|This article needs additional citations for verification. (October 2008)|
|Athletic director||James J. Phillips|
|Football stadium||Ryan Field|
|Basketball arena||Welsh-Ryan Arena|
|Baseball stadium||Rocky Miller Park|
|Mascot||Willie the Wildcat|
|Fight song||Go U Northwestern|
|Colors||Purple and White
The Northwestern Wildcats are the athletic teams that represent Northwestern University, a founding member of the Big Ten Conference and the only private university in the conference. Northwestern has eight men's and eleven women's Division I sports teams. The mascot is Willie the Wildcat. The athletic director is former Northern Illinois University Athletic Director Jim Phillips, who took office in April 2008.
Origin of the name
Northwestern's athletic teams are nicknamed the Wildcats. Before 1924, they were known as "The Purple" and unofficially as "The Fighting Methodists." The name Wildcats was bestowed upon the university in 1924 by Wallace Abbey, a writer for the Chicago Daily Tribune who wrote that even in a loss to the University of Chicago, "Football players had not come down from Evanston; wildcats would be a name better suited to Coach Glenn Thistletwaite's boys." The team was also referred to in the article as "a Purple wall of wildcats."  The name was so popular that university board members made "Wildcats" the official nickname just months later. In 1972, the student body voted to change the official nickname from "Wildcats" to "Purple Haze" but the new name never stuck.
Northwestern is a charter member of the Big Ten Conference. It is the only private institution in the conference, and at only 8,200 undergraduates, it is by far the smallest. The second-smallest school, Iowa, is almost three times as large as Northwestern, at 21,000 undergraduates.
Currently, Northwestern fields 19 intercollegiate athletic teams (8 men's and 11 women's) in addition to numerous club sports. Current successful athletic programs include football, men's soccer, wrestling, men's swimming, men's golf, women's tennis, softball, fencing and women's lacrosse. The women's lacrosse team is the six-time NCAA national champion, and went undefeated in 2005. The men's basketball team is recognized by the Helms Athletic Foundation as the 1931 National Champion.
The Northwestern Athletics' mascot is Willie the Wildcat. However, the team's first mascot was not Willie, but a live, caged bear cub from the Lincoln Park Zoo named Furpaw. In fall 1923, Furpaw was driven to the playing field to greet the fans before each game. After a losing season, the team decided that Furpaw was the harbinger of bad luck and banished him from campus. Willie made his debut ten years later in 1933 as a logo, but did not actually come to life until 1947, when members of the Alpha Delta fraternity dressed up as him during the Homecoming parade. The Northwestern University Marching Band (NUMB) performs at all home football and lead cheers in the student section and the alma mater at the end of the game.
In 1998, two former Northwestern basketball players were charged and convicted for sports bribery as a result of being paid to shave points in games against three other Big Ten schools during the 1995 season. The football team became embroiled in a different betting scandal later that year when federal prosecutors indicted four former players for perjury related to betting on their own games. In August 2001, Rashidi Wheeler, a senior safety, collapsed and died during practice from an asthma attack. An autopsy revealed that he had ephedrine, a stimulant banned by the NCAA, in his system which prompted Northwestern to investigate the prevalence of stimulants and other banned substances across all of its athletic programs. In 2006, the Northwestern women's soccer team was suspended and coach Jenny Haigh resigned following the release of images of alleged hazing.
During football games, students jingle their car keys before every kickoff and punt. When Northwestern is on defense, students extend their arms, make a claw with their hands, and growl. The "official" cheer at Northwestern sporting events is the chant "Go U! NU!" Students also commonly taunt opposing sports teams with "State-school, state-school," referencing that all institutions of the Big Ten conference, except for Northwestern, are public universities.
The Northwestern student section is led in their cheers by the Northwestern University WildPride Spirit Squad, who performs on the sidelines during all home games and accompanies the football team to all away games. The NUMB performs on the field and in the stands at all home games and follows the football team to one Big Ten away game per season.
For many years, students would throw marshmallows at the kick-off of football games. Northwestern archivist Patrick Quinn says that students were likely "trying to get them into the tubas, and then started throwing them at each other," leading to the tradition of throwing marshmallows at the field. While Gary Barnett was football coach, he banned marshmallows because they supposedly detracted from the serious level of football that he wanted for the school.
Northwestern's fight song is "Go U Northwestern" A secondary fight song is "Rise Northwestern (Push On Song)," the final 4-measure tag (ending with a shouted "Go, 'Cats!") of which is often played after first downs.
The Northwestern University football team has evidence of organization in 1876. Northwestern achieved an all-time high rank of #1 during the 1936 and 1962 seasons, which has thus far not been duplicated. The football team plays at Ryan Field (formerly known as Dyche Stadium). The football team has a history of mediocrity: Its all-time record is 468-614-44 (0.435) and until July 2012, the program held the official record for Division I-A losses. Other dubious distinctions include being on the losing end of the greatest comeback in Division I-A history and holding the record for the longest losing streak in Division I-A -- 34 consecutive games between 1979 and 1982.
Until 2013, the Wildcats had been to nine bowl games since 1995 -- 1996 Rose Bowl, 1997 Citrus Bowl, 2000 Alamo Bowl, 2003 Motor City Bowl, 2005 Sun Bowl, 2008 Alamo Bowl, the 2010 Outback Bowl, the 2011 TicketCity Bowl and 2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas—but had not won a postseason contest since the 1949 Rose Bowl until the 2013 Gator Bowl. 
Following the sudden death of football coach Randy Walker in 2006, 31-year old and former All-American Northwestern linebacker Pat Fitzgerald assumed the position becoming the youngest Division I FBS coach at the time.
The men's basketball team has never earned a bid to the NCAA tournament, and its last conference championship came in 1933, when it tied with Ohio State. However, it is recognized as the 1931 National Champions by the Helms Athletic Foundation. The Wildcats have played in the National Invitation Tournament seven times, most recently in 2012. The team plays its home games in Welsh-Ryan Arena, where it is cheered on by the Wildside student section. The head coach is former Duke Associate Head Coach Chris Collins; he succeeds Bill Carmody. Under Carmody, a former head coach at Princeton, the team ran the Princeton offense. Northwestern is the only school from a BCS conference to have never played in the NCAA Tournament.
Northwestern has won the national championship in women's lacrosse five straight times, from 2005 to 2009, and then again in 2011 and 2012, giving them 7 championships in 8 years. In 2007, the team joined Maryland as the only other school to three-peat. The run started in 2005, when the team enjoyed a perfect season and defeated many long-established east-coast schools after only five years as a varsity sport to capture the school's first national championship since 1941. In doing so, it became the westernmost institution to ever win the title. Soon after, the team made national news when members appeared in a White House photo with President Bush wearing thong sandals, or flip-flops, dubbed as the "White House flip-flop flap." The 2009 season also was an undefeated run. In their five championship seasons, the Wildcats have a 106-3 record.
In 2006 and 2007, Kristen Kjellman received the Tewaaraton Trophy, which honors the best collegiate lacrosse player in the country. She was the first player from a non-East coast school to win the distinction, and the first player to be a two-time winner. Midfielder Hannah Nielsen received the award in 2008 and 2009, the second player to be a two-time winner. Northwestern's Shannon Smith won the award in 2011. 
The Northwestern University Wildcats men's wrestling team competes in the NCAA Division I Championships in the Welsh-Ryan Arena. The wrestling facilities are named in honor of Ken Kraft, for his 48 years of involvement with the Northwestern wrestling program. Kraft was a four-year member of the Wildcat wrestling squad and NU's head coach for 22 years. In 2004, Kraft retired after spending 51 years at NU as an athlete, coach and administrator. Drew Pariano is the current head coach for the Wildcats succeeding his college coach, Tim Cysewski when he graduated from the University in 2010. Pariano has coached 9 NCAA All-Americans while at Northwestern and 2 NCAA Champions: Dustin Fox at Heavyweight in 2008, and Jake Herbert at 184 lbs. in 2007 & 2009. Jake Herbert was also a three-time Big Ten Conference champion, and four-time NCAA All-American. He went 149-4 while at Northwestern University and won both the 2009 Dan Hodge Trophy, awarded to the best college wrestler in the nation, and the 2009 Big Ten Athlete of the Year award.
The men's golf team has won eight Big Ten Conference championships: 1925, 1937, 1939, 1948, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2006. They have twice placed second in the NCAA Championships: 1939, 1945. Luke Donald won the NCAA Individual Championship in 1999. He was ranked number 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for 56 weeks in 2011 and 2012.
The Northwestern softball program began in 1976 and has amassed 5 Big Ten championships, 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, and 5 appearances in the Women's college World series- including 2007 and their national runner-up performance 2006.
In the NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships held from 1924 through 1936, no team points were officially awarded. Northwestern won four unofficial national team championships during these years, which were proclaimed in the newspapers of the time, second only to Michigan's seven.
Matt Grevers, a Northwestern alum, won two gold medals (100 meter backstroke, 400 meter medley relay) and a silver medal (400 meter freestyle relay) at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Their chief Big Ten rival is the Illinois Fighting Illini. In football, the teams annually compete for the Land of Lincoln Trophy. This trophy replaced the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy in 2009 after the Tomahawk was deemed to be an offensive Native American symbol by the NCAA.
Northwestern fans have also cultivated strong rivalries with many Big Ten Conference foes, including Iowa and, particularly, Wisconsin. The rivalry with Wisconsin, the Big Ten conference school geographically closest to the Evanston campus, has grown stronger in recent years, though there is currently no official trophy for the football game.
Although the schools rarely play each other, there has been discussion of starting a rivalry game with Northern Illinois University to help boost attendance and interest during the non-conference schedule.
The 2005–2006 academic year was one of the best athletic seasons in Northwestern University's history. The football team capped a 7–5 season and third place finish in the Big Ten with a bid to the Sun Bowl. Following the women's lacrosse team's second National Championship, the Women's doubles tennis team of Christelle Grier and Alexis Prousis won the National Championship as well. In addition, Men's tennis player Peter Rispoli captured the Flight B Singles Championship. The Women's Softball team made an incredible run to the finals of the Women's College World Series, finishing in second place.
In May 2006 the website BadJocks.com republished photos a reader had found on Webshots of the women's soccer team hazing its freshmen. The whole team was suspended for a time as a result and in the wake of the incident Head Coach Jenny Haigh resigned. Since, Athletic Director Mark Murphy named Stephanie Erickson, the school's all-time leader in goals and points, as Haigh's replacement.
- Mike Adamle, American football player and sportscaster
- Damien Anderson, American football player (St. Louis Rams)
- Darnell Autry, American football player and actor (Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles)
- Louis Ayeni, American football player (Indianapolis Colts)
- Brett Basanez, American football player (Chicago Bears)
- D'Wayne Bates, American football player (Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings)
- Sybil Bauer, swimmer, gold medalist at the 1924 Summer Olympics in the 100 m backstroke
- Kevin Bentley, American football player (Cleveland Browns and Seattle Seahawks)
- Scott Brownley, former American football player, now stand up comedian
- Luis Castillo, American football player (San Diego Chargers)
- Barry Cofield, American football player (Washington Redskins)
- Bill DeCorrevont, American football player(Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Chicago Cardinals, Chicago Bears)
- Luke Donald, golfer
- John L. "Paddy" Driscoll, American football player
- Evan Eschmeyer, former basketball player (New Jersey Nets)
- Trai Essex, American football player (Pittsburgh Steelers)
- Pat Fitzgerald, former two-time All-American football player, current Northwestern head football coach
- Barry Gardner, American football player (Philadelphia Eagles)
- Joe Girardi, former baseball player, former manager of the Florida Marlins and current manager of the New York Yankees
- Jim Golliday, track
- Brian Gowens, American football player (Chicago Bears)
- Otto Graham, American football and basketball player (Cleveland Browns and Rochester Royals)
- Matt Grevers, American swimmer, gold medalist at the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2012 Summer Olympics
- J. A. Happ, pitcher, Houston Astros
- Napoleon Harris, American football player (Oakland Raiders) and (Minnesota Vikings)
- Noah Herron, American football player (Green Bay Packers)
- Chris Hinton, American football player (Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons)
- Mike Kafka, American football player (Philadelphia Eagles)
- John Kidd, American football player (Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions and New York Jets)
- George Kontos, baseball player (San Francisco Giants)
- Mark Loretta, baseball player (Milwaukee Brewers, Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers)
- Todd Martin, tennis player
- Sherrick McManis, American football player (Chicago Bears)
- Brad North, soccer player (DC United)
- Matt O'Dwyer, American football player (New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals)
- Gene Oliver, Baseball player
- Marty Riessen, Tennis player
- Nick Roach, American football player (Chicago Bears)
- Betty Robinson, Track and Field, gold medalist in the 1928 Summer Olympics and the 1936 Summer Olympics
- Jeff Roehl, American football player
- Tyrell Sutton, American football player (Carolina Panthers)
- Steve Tasker, American football player (Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills)
- Rick Telander, sportswriter, author of "Heaven is a Playground"
- Corey Wootton, American football player (Chicago Bears)
- Jason Wright, American football player (Cleveland Browns)
- John Shurna, Basketball player, all-time scoring leader of the Wildcats.
- Jake Herbert, USA amateur wrestler, 2012 US Olympian for freestyle wrestling
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