Just two years before its 100th birthday, Northwestern’s Ryan Field will be demolished. To the chagrin of college football traditionalists, most alumni, and neighboring families, the university of set to build a new Ryan Field on the same plot of land as the existing venue. It only felt right to experience a Northwestern football game day one last time before one of the 25 oldest existing stadiums in the country falls to the ground. Luckily, I had Andrew Bauhs to act as my College Football Tour guide for the day.
I did visit Northwestern back in 2017 when my Bowling Green Falcons visited Evanston. Here’s the writeup for that, which looks a bit different than today’s.
Chicago’s Big Ten Team
Farewell, Ryan Field
Even when the new structure stands, you’ll want to get to Northwestern University early. Campus is an artistic marvel nestled right on the blue shores of Lake Michigan. There’s at least a dozen points of interest, highlighted by the nation’s best practice facility. Unfortunately, a hazing scandal that sacked head coach Pat Fitzgerald drew the ire of many alumni and fans, slashing the tailgating scene to a fraction of its former self. The stands were far emptier than years past, too.
Compared to other Big Ten schools – especially this game’s opponent, Penn State – the tailgating scene is quaint to begin with. But in the grand scheme of the FBS, it does sprawl quite a bit through the surrounding neighborhood. Ryan Field is situated in the middle of a beautiful and (usually) quiet neighborhood, save for game day. Come in from the west, and you won’t know you’re there until you’re darn near standing at the gate.
Sadly, for the next handful of years, this ornate neighborhood will be a constant construction zone until the new facility stands.
Even after that, the issue of crowding exists. The new stadium will be smaller in capacity, but the hopes are to host concerts for worldwide tours like Taylor Swift and Morgan Wallen. That brings the problem of congestion and unwanted noise, so much so that nearly every lawn within a mile radius of the stadium has signs protesting the new build. Unfortunately for them, the project is set to begin.
Disrepair And Neglect
The bones of Ryan Field are strong. The grandstands have a unique curve to them, a shape shared by few other college football stadiums. The old towers stand strong and iconic and the gothic architecture ties the historic field in with the rest of campus. Though the concourses are difficult to navigate and haphazardly covered up by construction fencing, the foundation of the venue is gorgeous. It’s a damn shame that it will be demolished rather than renovated.
However, years of neglecting real renovations left the university with little other choice. A renovation project at this point could be even more costly than the $800M project planned. Rust stains the concrete stands, both home and away. The towers, which contain spiraling ramps to the upper deck, crumble around fans. Even the press box is far outdated compared to Northwestern’s Big Ten contemporaries.
Ryan Field was expanded in 1949 and again in 1952. But the lone attributed renovation occurred in 1996 and not since then. Unfortunately, the university allowed the stadium to get to this point and a new build really stands to be their only option.
Penn State 41, Northwestern 13
Penn State rolled into this game as a steep favorite. Still young in the year, it was expected that Northwestern would be a one- or two-win team with new defensive coordinator David Braun unexpectedly thrust into the head coaching role. His previous stop was DC for FCS North Dakota State, a real step up in class. However, the Wildcats fought a good fight in the first half, knotting the game at 10 apiece. Five-star QB Drew Allar and the Nittany Lions looked stumped.
We popped out to the beer garden (which stops selling alcohol at halftime!) and by the time we worked our way back into the stadium, Penn State had taken a commanding lead of the game. Already up 34-13, head coach James Franklin – acutely aware of point spreads against lesser opponents – dialed up a fake kneel down and threw a touchdown pass. The decision didn’t sit well with fans nor myself.
Northwestern Football Game Day Grades
Stadium: A grade doesn’t do much good at this point. The existing structure is beautiful, if only it were upkept.
Tradition: C. The tradition around the university is as strong as any. Recent success around the football program has seemingly almost been totally forgotten due to the even more recent hazing allegations.
Atmosphere: C-. This one’s tough to grade. It was a beautiful day in the Chicagoland area, but the game kicked off at 11:00 a.m. local time. There was barely time to get to campus and have one beer and many fans opted to keep the party in the parking lots.
Tailgating: D. In previous years, I know for a fact that the scene would be far stronger. But in its current state, there’s not much tailgating to speak of, especially for a Big Ten school.
Fans: B+. Even if they didn’t show to the game, Northwestern fans are true to their core values. They chose to boycott the program this year and that boycott was very evident.
Extracurriculars: A+. It’s Chicago, come on.