In this week’s edition of Joe’s Corner, WNUR Sports co-Director Joe Misulonas (@jmisulonas) takes a look back at the state of Northwestern sports ten years ago in honor of Kanye West’s debut album.
This week marked the tenth anniversary of Kanye West’s debut album, “The College Dropout.” The album immediately made an impression with it’s blend of soul, old school R&B, and modern hip hop. “College Dropout” sounded like no other rap album made before it. Ten years later, many include it on lists of the best debut albums of all-time. My personal top ten: “Dropout,” “Bleach” by Nirvana, “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” by the Sex Pistols, “Licensed to Ill” by the Beastie Boys, “Led Zeppelin” by Led Zeppelin, “Are You Experienced” by Jimi Hendrix, “Reasonable Doubt” by Jay-Z, “Ten” by Pearl Jam, “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A., and “Fame” by Lady Gaga. (Yes, Lady Gaga. There have been better debut albums, but none propelled the artist from nobody to the biggest star in the world like “Fame” did. Sue me.)
When “Dropout” came out, people knew Kanye would be a major player in rap. And he didn’t disappoint. “Late Registration,” “Graduation,” “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” and “Yeezus” are some of the best rap albums made in the 21st century. And it all started with “Jesus Walks,” “Slow Jamz,” and “Through the Wire.”
In honor of “College Dropout”‘s tenth anniversary, I decided to spend my column this week taking a look at Northwestern’s athletic programs one decade ago.
In 2004, the Wildcats football team was coached by Randy Walker in his second to last season before passing away in 2006 of a heart attack. The team finished 6-6 that season, going 5-3 in conference. That’s right! Northwestern went 1-3 in non-conference play and still finished at .500. Contrast that with this season where Northwestern went 4-0 and finished 5-7. Granted, their four opponents were TCU, Arizona State, Kansas, and Hawaii. Pretty formidable non-conference.
On October 2nd, the Wildcats upset a then no. 7 Ohio State Buckeye team in the the team’s Big Ten home opener. The team would not appear in a bowl game at the end of the season, because this was before every team that finished .500 was guaranteed a spot in the Carmex Lip Balm Bowl.
Pat Fitzgerald was a presence on the sideline, in the smaller role of linebacker coach. But he must’ve been doing something right, considering the 2004 team featured current NFL linebacker Nick Roach, who finished third on the team in tackles behind Tim McGarigle and Dominique Price. On the offensive side of the ball, Noah Herron led the Cats with nearly 1400 rushing yards and 14 TDs, earning himself a second team All-Big Ten spot. Brett Basanez started all 12 games at QB, throwing for nearly 3000 yards with 12 TDs and 9 INTs.
Fitzgerald deserves a lot of credit for bringing the Northwestern football program to an era of consistency. Unlike the past, Northwestern’s bowl eligibility is rarely in doubt, except for a heart-breaking year like this year. But let’s not forget that this program enjoyed plenty of success under Randy Walker, who laid the foundation for the success the program has enjoyed the past decade.
Another different face coaching the 2004 Northwestern men’s basketball team, but not an unfamiliar face for any non-freshmen. Bill Carmody led the 2003-04 squad to a 14-15 record, finish 8-8 in conference play. Northwestern’s flirting with a similar season this year under new head coach Chris Collins. Want another similarity? The Wildcats were led by senior guard Jitim Young, who averaged 17.9 ppg and 6.0 reb, earning himself All-Big Ten first team honors. Where was Young from? CHICAGO! What? I thought the major advantage to hiring Collins was his ability to recruit the Windy City! Carmody knew how to do it 10 years ago! How the years have changed.
The 2003-04 season was highlighted by some bad losses (they lost to UIC, like last year’s team. Was Carmody afraid of the Pavilion?) but also some impressive wins. They beat Wisconsin, who went on to win the Big Ten Tournament, in Welsh-Ryan and contributed to keeping Indiana out of their first NCAA tournament since 1985 by beating the Mike Davis-led Hoosiers in Evanston two weeks after “The College Dropout” came out. Coincidence? I think not. They also beat a Illinois that both won the Big Ten regular season title and the very next year would appear in the NCAA Championship game with Deron Williams, Dee Brown, and company. Not a bad season. Not great. But nothing to shake your head at either.
Strange Kanye West related trivia: Also making the All-Big Ten first team that season was Minnesota freshman Kris Humphries! Let’s hope the Kardashian curse doesn’t rub off of Yeezus.
The final team I’ll look at is the Northwestern women’s lacrosse team. 2004 is a notable season for them because it was the year before they went on a five-year National Title streak. Freshman Kristen Kjellman led the team with 70 points in 2004 (25 more than the second player on the team). Kjellman would go on to win three straight National Championships with coach Kelly Amonte Hiller (who is obviously still winning here ten years later).
The 2004 Northwestern women’s lacrosse season is basically the 1989-1990 Chicago Bulls season. Very successful, a transcendent star, team has the talent and ability to win championships, but they just couldn’t get over the hump. They lost in the quarterfinals to Virginia, who would go on to win the National Championship, just like the Bulls lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the eventual champs, the Detroit Pistons. The difference is Michael Jordan needed to learn how to trust his teammates after the 1990 conference finals, while Kjellman led the Wildcats in assists that year.
Interesting fact: Last year, Alyssa Leonard broke Kjellman’s record for most career draw controls for a Northwestern Wildcat, and Leonard has all of this season to extend her record.
Ten years ago, I bet it would’ve been pretty hard to imagine where Northwestern sports would be today. Would any of those 2004 fans think Northwestern would enter the 2013 season as a dark horse candidate to win the Big Ten title (emphasis on dark horse)? What about Northwestern basketball? After producing a Big Ten first team player, would any of them have expected Northwestern to still have 0 NCAA Tournament appearances heading into this year? And probably nobody could’ve imagined the seven national championships in eight years for women’s lacrosse.
In closing, I think Northwestern sports and Kanye West are somehow existentially linked, and it is the duty of every Northwestern sports fan to not only buy and listen to his music, but devote themselves to the Cult of Yeezus as they have the Cardiac Cats.