Perhaps the most striking thing about Northwestern's sports situation today is that the school's show-biz successes, which once seemed to inspire the football team, now cast a long shadow over it. It is not enough that Northwestern sends more people to Hollywood than to the NFL; nor that the school is getting a new theater building while its sports facilities creak and groan; nor even that a group of Waa-Mu performers attracted turnouts of 300-plus at alumni gatherings on the West Coast last spring while Pont never drew more than 100. No, on top of all that, there was Old Grad Paul Lynde's visit to campus last fall as grand marshal of the homecoming parade. While in Evanston, the comedian stopped at a local Burger King, where he allegedly made racist remarks to a black professor, earning the formal condemnation of Northwestern's student governing body. There was also the awkward moment before the game against Ohio State when Lynde entered what he thought was the visitors' locker room, sauntered up to some players and said, "Lose!" It was the Northwestern locker room.
And Northwestern lost, 35-15.
On the other hand, Rick Venturi, the new football coach, is cut in the mold of Parseghian, and not just because he arrived during rough times. Venturi also brims with Parseghian-style enthusiasm. This was apparent as he conducted practice in the rain one afternoon at Dyche Stadium last spring, sloshing here and there, slapping backsides and yelling encouragement. It was clear, too, when he retreated to his office, a purple-painted lair with inspirational inscriptions ("I will persist until I succeed") posted on the walls.
"I like to relate to the winning teams in Northwestern history," Venturi said, "some of the teams under Parseghian and Agase, for example. They emphasized passing and a lot of movement, and I think that's still the Northwestern way. We attract a sound student here who can handle a complicated offense. Besides, this is a happening place. I also think football is not just a war. It's a spectacle, too."
It is a sign of acceptance of sorts that Northwestern's gung-ho coach was lampooned in last spring's Waa-Mu show. In the skit, a character identified as Venturi told a group of thumbsucking, Dr. Denton-wearing Northwestern football players the tale of a valiant Wildcat quarterback menaced by big bad defensive linemen and cruel linebackers. Making his way downfield, the hero kept suffering misadventures, but new holes always magically opened for him. Finally, his perseverance and essential Northwestern goodness were rewarded.
"And what should appear," the coach cried triumphantly, "but the goal line!"
Blankly, his listeners chorused, "The what?"
In view of Venturi's typically Northwestern start this season, one should be wary of overripe expectations. There are, frankly, only two reasons to hope that he will eventually succeed. One is the Parseghian precedent, which shows that it can, indeed, be done. The other is that even Waa-Mu's admittedly homogenized brand of satire can sometimes get results. Consider what a thirsty Tony Roberts accomplished when he ran into the lobby for that drink of water nearly two decades ago. Workmen were called in soon afterward, and there have been four stinking drinking fountains in Cahn Auditorium ever since.