A pregame gathering in a Chicago suburb is like a boisterous church social with beer and brats.
These people know how to have fun. That’s what I’m thinking as we make our way down tree-lined blocks toward Ryan Field, where the Northwestern Wildcats are hosting the Iowa Hawkeyes in a crucial Big Ten football matchup. (All Big Ten football matchups are crucial.) I’m in for the weekend from New York to visit my older brother, Rick, a University of Iowa alumnus who lives in nearby Naperville. We’re attending the game along with his sons, 21 and 19, both Hawkeyes themselves. It’s cloudy, much colder-feeling than the 40-ish temperatures because of the wind, and the forecast threatens rain.
I’m also struck by the school and alumni spirit and its harmonious, civilized character. Don’t get me wrong, people are drinking: The beer is flowing, and other spirits, too. But most people are cooking something, and there seems as much attention devoted to hot dogs, brats, and bacon and eggs—kickoff is at 11 a.m.—and to crowding people into group portraits for iPhone photos, as there is to chugging brew.
A group of black-and-yellow-clad guys, looking to be about the age of my brother and me—we’re in the 50s set—pose for a sprawling shot, and it’s clear from the way they’re slapping one another’s shoulders that this is a reunion. They yell, “Go Hawks!” and the photographer snaps, and then Rick and his sons yell it back, and the group, overjoyed, volley the call again. A few cars down, another guy, also about our age, sits at the wheel of his car, door open, his stereo blaring a martial tune, his fist pumping, like an untrained conductor.
Paul Beston is managing editor of City Journal.
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images