This is my 21st fall covering football at the Daily Herald. Perhaps the scariest thing I’ve seen – other than some gruesome injuries – happened in Sept. 1996.
The year after Northwestern went to the Rose Bowl, I covered the nationally ranked Wildcats’ 1996 opener at Wake Forest. As I recall, Wake Forest’s stadium was being remodeled, so Northwestern had some makeshift tents in the middle of the parking lot that served as the locker room.
Long story short, I believe Desmond Clark (yes, the Bears tight end) caught a pair of late touchdowns and Wake Forest shocked the 13th-ranked Wildcats 28-27. After the game, we sports writers rushed out toward the makeshift tent to get the Cats’ reaction. When senior middle linebacker Pat Fitzgerald stalked out of the tent, the combination of the look in his eye, the lock in his jaw and the few days’ worth of stubble on his face was downright scary.
Fast-forwarding 13 years, Fitz no longer allows his facial hair to flow. He wears suits instead of sweatsuits to news conferences. And because he sets the attitude for the entire Northwestern program, he can’t walk around wearing that look that suggests he’d prefer to kill the next five people he sees.
These days Fitz channels his inner angst into smart-butt remarks, which he ladled out generously during today’s news conference that reviewed the Minnesota loss and looked ahead to Saturday’s trip to Purdue.
Here’s what I’m dubbing The Fitz Five for Monday.
(Keep in mind, Northwestern is dealing with its first two-game losing streak since Nov. 2007):
1. On whether the coaching staff works longer hours in a week after a loss than after a win:
“Well, the tape doesn’t lie. I was done watching our (Minnesota) game before I was done watching the Notre Dame-Purdue (night) game. I can come back and watch it again and then watch it again, but I’d rather take a ballpeen hammer to my temple, you know?”
2. On the atmosphere in Northwestern’s football office:
“Nobody’s very pleased around here. I’ve got secretaries yelling at me. It’s awesome. It’s tremendous. Couldn’t be in a better mood right now.
3. Why are secretaries yelling at him?
“Because I’m barking at ’em. It’s awesome. It’s a great place to be right now.”
4. On Northwestern’s struggling coverage teams that allowed 36.2 yards per kick return and 22 yards on the only punt return in the Minnesota game:
“We broke a single-game missed-tackle record on our kickoff team on Saturday. I don’t have a solution for that besides TACKLE THE GUY WITH THE BALL.”
5. After the Minnesota game, Fitz indicated starting RB Stephen Simmons, who has missed the last two games due to injury, looked good for the Purdue game. But on Monday, Fitz said Simmons is doubtful. When asked to clear up that discrepancy…
“I don’t know. I have no clue what I said. I wasn’t in a very good mood.”