Was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June
In a Kenworth pullin' logs
Cab-over Pete with a reefer on
And a Jimmy haulin' hogs
We was headin' for bear on I-one-oh
'Bout a mile outta Shaky Town
I says, "Pig Pen, this here's the Rubber Duck.
And I'm about to put the hammer down."
The raucous, interstate journey detailed in C.W. McCall’s chart-topping hit Convoy turned 42 this week. While at first blush that may seem an odd observation to open the annual hate piece for the one B1G school that would turn its mostly Anglo-Saxon noses up at the first chords of a great trucker ballad, bear with me.
Convoy is a fantastic poem of the ‘70s. Malaise...stagflation...the oil crisis...government overreach...11 long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse Microbus...it’s all in there. In the doldrums of 1975 C.W. McCall grasped his CB handset, keyed the mic, and ratchet-jawed his way into the hearts of millions with authentic trucker lingo and an honest, down-home twang. There’s just one problem: it’s all fake. Every last bit of it.
Not only was C.W. McCall not a trucker, he wasn’t even a real guy. The mind behind the magic was an advertising shill named Bill Fries, who created C.W. McCall as part of a Clio-winning spot for the Metz Baking Company. Fries wasn’t a long-haul trucker. Never had been. Worse yet, he was from Iowa, which means even the line about hating the smell of hogs was a lie.
If you’re wondering what that has to do with Northwestern, I’ll tell you. Northwestern is Convoy without the catchy tune or delightful nods to Volkswagen-based evangelism. Fake. Cardboard. A ruse dressed in a goofy costume selling something you didn’t want to begin with—a ruse that got so big it became a self-sustaining part of the cultural landscape with only an ounce of substance behind it.
Northwestern’s whole image is a trumped-up private school patina of false grandeur and manufactured elitism—a desperate attempt to get out of U. Chicago’s shadow and to finally be called the Harvard of the Midwest...or even the Harvard of Chicago (which, as we know, is Chicago). That purple-smeared envy is the foundational principle of turning Ivy League aspirants who didn’t make the cut into caricatures of trust fund babies (who they’ve only seen on TV, since Northwestern students never actually made it to the east coast).
Evanston is not the Harvard Yard of Chicago. If they’re lucky, Northwestern might best be called the Duke of Chicago...except that Duke has actually managed to be pretty damn good at a few sports while still distilling that effete Eau de Arrogance. Duke is the real deal, and Northwestern is the bargain knockoff. The cheap stuff.
They’re store-brand Duke.
To wit: a small sampling of the rich tapestry of tradition that makes Northwestern a ELITE university...
- The Medill School of Journalism, which gave us the national treasure we call Brent Musburger and allowed us all the chance to bask in the warm glow of televised lechery with a side dish of optimism at Joe Mixon’s ability to overcome the tragedy of beating the tar out of a woman.
- Ridiculous old gothic script that looks like somebody thought Bone Thugz-n-Harmony had really cracked the code on classy presentation with the album art for E. 1999 Eternal.
- “Wildcats”...a name given to them by a newspaper man after they traveled to play Chicago and—you guessed it—lost.
- The oft-repeated, never substantiated claim that “students take homework to football games.” Look, we all know Northwestern football makes Chaucer seem like a thrill-a-minute page-turner by comparison, but that whole idea is laughable.
- Tarps. Tarps. It cannot be said enough that Northwestern tarped their stands. The only only other place I’ve seen that happen was Ohio Stadium in 1997 for a Columbus crew game, and it was only one tarp...because apparently more people in Ohio in the 1990s cared about professional soccer than the sum total of current Northwestern fans. More elbow room for all that homework, I suppose.
- Last season, a man proposed to his girlfriend at halftime of a Northwestern game. The entire event was televised. While this has nothing to do with Northwestern’s sad attempts to be counted among the Harvards and Yales of the world, the completely tacky display of saccharine pandering makes for a great segue to remind you that Northwestern lost that game to Illinois State. Illinois State. I didn’t even know there was such a school.
- There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts in the NU student union. Nothing says “this ain’t Harvard” like peeling yourself off a frat house floor in your Wisconsin outlet mall sweats to get a Dunkaccino.
- Ryan Field...because the hell with Dyche Field...gotta name it after some random rich guy because that’s what the real elites do.
- Pat Fitzgerald. The one jock who was nice to the nerds because he needed help with geometry and now they just let him crash on the couch and make a mess for as long as he wants.
- Willie Wildcat. All those private school billions and your mascot looks like a fugitive from the Chuck E. Cheese band.
I could go on for days, but that kind of hate is reserved for the schools who manage to cobble together some semblance of substance behind their bravado—some shred of credibility beyond high tuition, gothic letters, and grass that mysteriously grows longer in Evanston than anywhere else in the Big Ten. Schools who not only cater to the greatest minds in America, but who also made the NCAA tourney prior to 2017.
Don’t worry sports fans, Northwestern is cementing their status as Store-brand Duke. I’ve got it on good authority that the silver spoon set is finally stooping to the level of the great unwashed and building an amazing new practice facility. Anything to keep pace with that other almost-Ivy in Piscataway...
Maybe next year they can carve some money out of their butler budget for flush toilets in Ryan Field. At this rate, they’ll move up to store-brand Vanderbilt status in no time.