Wherever the Northwestern Wildcats have ventured to in Houston, they are led by an old nemesis. It is a small, furry, stuffed animal monkey, given by head coach Pat Fitzgerald to his players, which symbolizes the program’s bowl drought.
“It’s pretty old, it’s like 63 years old, or something like that,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s kind of embarrassing, of be honest with you.”
The monkey is signifies the monkey on the Northwestern football program’s back—a 63-year bowl drought and eight consecutive bowl game losses.
Rather than dwelling on the negative losing streak, Fitzgerald is using it as motivation as the Wildcats have prepared for the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.
“We’re embracing it, unlike that team on the north side of Chicago,” said Fitzgerald, poking fun at the Cubs’ 103-year World Series drought. “We embrace our monkey and we’re about ready to get a great opportunity and a great challenge tomorrow.”
This monkey, however, is not the first to accompany a Northwestern football team.
While Fitzgerald was a Northwestern player, the Wildcats were in the midst of a 21-game losing streak to Big Ten foe Iowa. When Northwestern snapped that skid, with a 31-20 win over the Hawkeyes, the parents of teammate Chris Hamdorf, an Iowa City native, bought each Wildcat a stuffed animal monkey with an Iowa bandana.
“It kind of symbolized getting that monkey off our back,” said Fitzgerald.
In Fitzgerald’s first season as head coach in 2006, the Wildcats were winless in Big Ten play, and looking to get that monkey off their back.
“I brought my buddy back out again, they monkey the Hamdorfs gave me,” Fitzgerald said. “We had it sitting down on our “Trust Yourself” board. After we won the game, in that beautiful pink locker room in Iowa City, they shredded the bejesus out of that monkey.”
The Wildcats now have another monkey they hope to finally rid. Each day in Houston, a Northwestern player has escorted the monkey around Houston, taking it to the rodeo, the team’s bowling outing, and even a comedy show.
With each fun-filled event the team has attended during the bowl week, Northwestern has carried its 63-year burden, which is in the form of a small, furry stuff animal.
“We just want to get rid of it,” said senior quarterback Dan Persa, who was injured during Northwestern’s bowl game last season. “We’re tired of it, it’s embarrassing that we haven’t won a bowl game in that long, and we want to get rid of it.”
The monkey has kept the Wildcats focused on the goal which they hope to accomplish—getting a win over Texas A&M, and ending the bowl losing streak.
“It does symbolize a lot for our team,” senior tackle Al Netter said. “Just being able to have a material object that you’re able to have every single day, it keeps it fresh in your memory that this is serious and you want to get this monkey off of our back.”
Northwestern is led by its senior class, which is the winningest group in the program’s history. The NU seniors have been a part of 36 wins, many of them being memorable triumphs. However, there remains one more hurdle. The Wildcats want to get the monkey off their back.
“These guys have earned it, they deserved to be here, but they also want to be the class that gets that monkey off our back,” said Fitzgerald. “It has been a goal of ours, we haven’t hid from it, and we’re not hiding from it now.”