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Monday Potluck: How long can Northwestern skate by on “pretty good”?

A Look at Northwestern’s Tradition of Goodenoughness, and Hot Dogs

Stand up paddle surfing festival in St Petersburg
After an emotionally difficult weekend, I’m glad I could bring you this photograph for your Monday.
Photo by Peter Kovalev\TASS via Getty Images

Greetings all! It’s Northwestern Week, where we spend a scintillating week talking up the conference’s premier academic institution (sorry Rutgers) and the Big Ten West Champs of 2018.

In honor of the conference’s biggest nerds, we’re going to start the week with a bonafide philosophical question of deep import:

Is a hot dog a sandwich?

It may not be “What is the meaning of life?” but who can say that the stakes involved in this query aren’t ultimately just as big as the ones in that more famous conundrum? Maybe the meaning of life is discovering whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich.

If you’re confused by this question, you’re probably not alone. But it is a debate that crops up from time to time--after all, a hot dog is essentially a piece of meat(ish) in between bread, just like a ham sandwich. So, you know… is it a sandwich, and if it’s not, why not?

Associated questions: Would a Northwestern student eat a hot dog? What do you like on your hot dog?

Boilerman: It is what it is. I honestly don’t have an opinion one way or another.

Now, that said, growing up, my grandma would slice a hot dog long ways and cut it in half. She’d then stack the two sections on top of another and put it between two slices of bread. So, Boom. Hot Dog Sandwich.

As far as what I like on my hot dogs, it’s either ketchup (get over yourselves, Chicago) and mustard or Coney sauce and some onion.

LPW: Nope, a hot dog is not a sandwich. Northwestern students would eat hot dogs, and personally, I like a Chicago-style hotdog.

Stew: No. A hotdog is a hotdog, and not a sandwich. The bun is the key here. It’s a bun to serve one purpose, for hotdogs. A hotdog an asymptote to a sandwich. It can come closer and closer to a sandwich, but it will never reach it.

BrianB2: Sure? No? I don’t care. I imagine most Northwestern students are too good for such a blue collar meal. Northwestern students only eat caviar out of golden chalices, right? I am a simple man when it comes to my hot-dogging, give me a chili-cheese dog, or just simply ketchup and mustard.

Creighton: Yes of course it is, and Northwestern students love to have an annual hot dog at a ball game for the thrill of living like a commoner.

MNW: Chili cheese, for sure. Mask the fact that you’re eating horse. Hot dogs are pretty good that way.

MC ClapYoHandz: First of all, unless it’s all-beef you’re not even eating food, and I’m not trying to start a diet of pigeons and boots. And no it’s not a sandwich. My least favorite thing about that debate is trying to standardize the formula of what a sandwich is to make a hot dog’s parallels to sandwiches seem strong. We all know what a sandwich looks like, and that ain’t it. I don’t think we lose any integrity by ignoring the argument from there, it’s fine to move the goalposts because the other teams in the division were on probation so you got to win. Wait what are we talking about?

As for what to put on a hot dog, there are four routes I run. Chili cheese works great if you’re near a bathroom, just ketchup is fine, Chicago dogs are hearty, and I could also just go with some sauteed onions and call it a day. Most often I choose none of the above. Hashtag bratwurst.

GF3: I prefer ketchup and mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is exceptional on a hot dog. Fact. Sandwich or no, add some mayo.

WSR: No, it’s not a sandwich. A hot dog is a hot dog, and a bun is just part of the transaction. All you need on said hot dog and bun is some spicy brown mustard and you’re all set.

Townie: Meat between bread = sandwich. I suspect the whole “is a hot dog a sandwich” occurred because two Northwestern nerds argued over that very point. When I’m grilling dogs, I like them with brown mustard, sweet relish, and ketchup. That’s it.


Northwestern football under Pat Fitzgerald has made a name, if not a rabid following, for itself through an unconventional method: being consistently, unspectacularly, just north of mediocre. It works, in part, because in living memory, Northwestern football has been positively putrescent, possessing the type of history that makes fans extremely tolerant of anything above “rotting carcass” level. Fitzgerald, to his credit, has excelled at maintaining just the right level of play, keeping Northwestern in bowl games and occasionally springing a big win on on unsuspecting foes. Last year’s division win upped the ante a bit, but doesn’t substantially change expectations for the program--they’ll probably be between 6 wins and 10 wins, like usual, and no one will raise much of a fuss either way.

But it does make us wonder: how long can being just “good” at everything be successful? Bonus: What’s something in your life that you’re good at? Not great, not terrible, just solidly decent?

Boilerman: Joe Tiller used to have a line about managing expectations after winning the B1G in 2000. That was fine until 2003 rolled around and the Boilers went 9-4. After that season, people grew their expectations and trouble followed (It also led to exposing just how cheap Purdue was being with assistant coaches). Being “good” is great until your fanbase starts getting expectations, I’ll say 6-8 years unless you’re Iowa.

LPW: Expectations in Evanston are indeed different: we want the players to do well in the classroom and graduate, and win more football games than we lose, with a bowl appearance periodically. In that order. I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where a head coach will get fired for not winning the B1G championship game. Fitz will win one eventually.

BrianB2: I think Northwestern should be thankful for what they have. Northwestern is a program that has had more winless seasons (six), than they have had 10-win seasons (five), so just enjoy the ride, this is probably the peak. Northwestern is much more likely to regress in future years than they are to reach some sort of Buckeye levels of success.

Creighton: My hot take is that Fitz could go 6-6 for the next ten years and never once sniff a hot seat. What’s the worst that could happen? They’ll continue not selling out their tiny stadium unless the away team brings all the fans? At least they aren’t losing 34 games in a row anymore. The fans don’t give enough of a shit to revolt, and Fitz brought them their first bowl win in 64 years so even if they did he’s still the best they’ve ever had.

Anyway, I’m just barely good enough at writing that MNW hasn’t fired me for insubordination yet. I’m the Pat Fitzgerald of OTE “writers”.

MNW: “I’ll say 6-8 years unless you’re Iowa.” Given that Northwestern is in the process of auditioning to be Purple Iowa, I’d say that’s a pretty good sign for the ‘Cats.

Anywho, LPW has already noted the general expectations of Northwestern fans. There’s usually some discontent simmering about Fitzgerald’s inability to win a Big Ten Championship, but that’s been pretty nicely subdued for now. What’s more, I think that until Northwestern is less disadvantaged in the grand scheme of college football--and that’s not to say they’re a victim, just that it’s the reality in which they’ve chosen to play--the general 5-7 to 10-2 panoply will work just fine for a program that embraces, in a roundabout way, how football did not exist before 1995.

In all things except my marriage, I consider myself solidly mediocre. Perhaps that’s why I embrace it. God bless Mrs. MNW.

And yes, Creighton, but I think you’ll win a B1G West of “writing” this year. Do with that what you will.

Stew: Since Fitz is also a player legend that helped invent football in Evanston, he could probably coach for as long as he wanted going between 4-8 and 10-2, making a bowl every other year.

Townie: Northwestern has the same kind of problem that Vanderbilt does in the SEC...namely that the kids go there for education, not sports and parties. So, that keeps expectations relatively tame. The school won’t ever become a sports juggernaut unless it wants to swell its ranks with the unwashed, mediocre students that fill out the Michigan schools.

MC: Fitz has been kind of a rich man’s Ferentz to me in that he’s got it made in Evanston but is probably a better coach. I dare Northwestern to find someone that would both take that job and do it better. To me their ceiling is a little lower if for nothing more than their excellent academic standards and the inability of a notable portion of elite recruits to meet them in any given year. But they always maximize what they can do to hurt you with what they have and I don’t know what else you can ask for from a coach/program. Status quo for them is already acceptable because they’ve been performing well.

My good-not-great features include throwing stuff into waste bins, selecting the correct amount of time to reheat something in the microwave, field goals, conversations, typing speed, Borat voice, and Wheel of Fortune. Check that, I’m actually great at Wheel of Fortune. Ladies.

WSR: Fitzgerald can probably keep this up forever. There aren’t any expectations, there aren’t any boosters that anyone cares about, and there isn’t really anything special he’s doing. Just keep chugging along until you’ve decided you’ve done enough and move on to whatever it is that you do for fun. Maybe take up a second career travelling the country and protecting scabs who cross picket lines, or cracking skulls of people who dare to band together to request fair compensation for their work. I’m sure that Fitzy will find something that he loves.

And as for my decent skill, I’m not really sure. Maybe laundry? I’m pretty good at making sure that everyone has the clothes they need before they run out of them. It’s got to be between that and running, which just mile after mile after mile at between 9 minutes and 9:15. Boring as hell, not very good, but it gets the job done.

Brian: Putrescent? Really? I think Northwestern football is in a pretty good place. I’d say Pat Fitzgerald has built a program that is well above “just north of mediocre”. Defending west champs, averaging nine wins over the past four seasons. Three straight bowl wins, 4-1 record in its last five bowl games. Brand new, $260M lakeside practice facility.

I’m pretty bullish on Fitzgerald, and think he’s in the perfect place. And I think the Wildcats are in pretty good place, too. It’s no picnic living with the kind of expectations they have in Columbus, Ann Arbor or Happy Valley. It sets up for a lot of disappointment. Northwestern has a pretty good things going, particularly when considering how things were before Gary Barnett came to town.

Life isn’t going to get any easier: Wisconsin is sure to bounce back and Nebraska and Minnesota are coming. Should they get used to playing in the conference title game year in and year out? Probably not. But it’s still a good time to be purple.


What is the best description for Northwestern football under Pat Fitzgerald?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    (124 votes)
  • 19%
    (48 votes)
  • 11%
    (29 votes)
  • 7%
    Basically competent
    (19 votes)
  • 10%
    Still looking at the dog dressed like a hot dog in the first pic
    (25 votes)
245 votes total Vote Now