I’ve had this game circled on my calendar for a while:
Northwestern versus Syracuse. The school I cover and the one I’ve adopted as my own versus the school that actually is my own.
And I’ll be there in person, broadcasting for my alma mater’s opposition. My worlds are colliding, Jerry.
Last season, when the Wildcats opened their season at the Carrier Dome, a place where I spent some of my most memorable nights at Syracuse University, I was distracted.
I performed my hosting duties from pregame through halftime from the studios of WGN Radio, but then shifted roles. The Cubs were playing at the same time, and I was assigned to host the postgame show.
I didn’t even know the final score of the football game until it came across the ticker on the television in another studio on the opposite end of the station.
It was probably better that way. I didn’t fully experience the uniqueness—or the oddity—that I’ll face this weekend while watching Northwestern host Syracuse in person.
Northwestern will always hold a special place in my heart. It was during the season opener of 2010 I had my first opportunity as a professional to broadcast on WGN Radio.
The night was September 4th, 2010. I remember it like it was yesterday. The Wildcats gutted out a 23-21 win on a Saturday evening at Vanderbilt. And when I walked out of the station that night, I felt overwhelmed, but proud.
It was the beginning of what I hoped would be the start of a long career as a Chicago sportscaster. Three short years later, I still look back on that night—what that first shot has helped me accomplished since then—and I can’t help but smile.
I have grown a lot as a sportscaster, and a lot of that growth has come from the scores and highlights I’ve provided during Northwestern games. But Syracuse is my own. In Syracuse, I grew from a boy to a man. In Syracuse, I found most of my lifelong friends. In Syracuse, I learned how to be a broadcaster.
That’s why the “prose bowl” means more to me than just the jokes exchanged between alums in the media from both NU and SU.
When I went to Syracuse, our football team was awful. I remember the first weekend of my freshman year, as we watched Purdue trounce our Orange 51-0 in West Lafayette. (As Ron Burgundy would say, “not a good start, but keep going.”)
After a 6-6 season, SU was steamrolled 51-14 in the Champs Sports Bowl by Georgia Tech, while AD Darryl Gross essentially admitted on the telecast that Paul Pasqualoni wouldn’t return as head football coach.
For the next three years, I begrudgingly watched and covered Greg Robinson’s first three seasons on the hill—which resulted in six combined wins. My sophomore year, we beat Buffalo (and only Buffalo) en route to a 1-10 season making fans long for the days of Donovan McNabb, or even just Troy Nunes (who is an absolute magician, by the way).
But I had great experiences calling games, and being part of the football broadcasts at WAER, the student radio station at which I worked all four years of my college career. (You’ve probably assumed as much but in case there was any doubt: yes, the basketball broadcasts were much more exciting.)
Five and a half years after signing off the air at WAER, I still communicate with many of my friends that worked with me at “the original home of the Orange." Many of them are my best friends in the broadcast business, and many of them are doing quite well.
When I see the WAER booth on the 9th floor of the Ryan Field press box, I plan to go over and meet the guys having the experiences I cherished so much in college. I plan to go see the voice of the Orange, Matt Park, who I learned so much from as a college broadcaster, when he taught the radio play-by-play class I took as a senior.
There will be so many people I’ll know at Ryan Field, connecting my past with my present.
I’ve been asked a lot this week who I’m rooting for, and who I’m picking to win. My answer? I’m rooting for an exciting game. I’m hoping to enjoy the experience of reliving college while also enjoying the beginning of what should be an exciting season in Evanston.
But I can guarantee you this—no matter what happens, it’ll be a trip down memory lane. And I know there will be a lot of quality people there to document those memories.