Wildcats Overview

Fast facts

League: NCAA Football

Head Coach: David Braun

Team Mascot: Willie the Wildcat

Year Opened: 1926

Capacity: 47130

City / State: Evanston / Illinois

Rivalries & Top Games to Attend

Land of Lincoln Trophy

Rival Team: Illinois Fighting Illini

Northwestern and Illinois play each season for the Land of Lincoln Trophy and have been playing annually since 1927. The intrastate rivalry has blossomed due to the proximity of the two schools, which makes for a great game as many fans will travel to the opposing school for this match up.

Northwestern vs Wisconsin

Rival Team: Wisconsin Badgers

The Big Ten conference school that is geographically closest to Northwestern is Wisconsin which makes this game one of the most exciting of the season.

Wildcats Tailgate Guide


Northwestern is a very scenic campus in the fall, just minutes from Lake Michigan you feel the mellow breeze coming off the water that describes the atmosphere perfectly.  The fans are very laid back and come out to have fun and watch football; it’s as simple as that. You’ll find the student crowd playing some drinking games in the parking lot but outside of that, it’s not the craziest atmosphere in the conference.  Most of the fans come from the neighborhoods surrounding the field or from the city of Chicago.  There is a very local feel to the tailgates that makes it easy to bring the family.

If you feel like setting up your site, the best place to do so is off of Sheridan Road.  This is one of the many free spots to tailgate for fans before kickoff. It’s a fantastic place to set up your grills and throw on some Chicago-style hot dogs or look to see if anyone is serving up some Italian beef.  

The best time of year to go is either during the first weeks of the season when it is still warm, the lake breeze is very refreshing, and the Wildcats are playing Cupcake opponents. Or, if you’re able to get tickets, the last week of the season for the rivalry game vs. Illinois.

If you’re looking for a relaxing family friendly tailgate, then you’ll be right at home when tailgating before a Northwestern football game.


Wildcat Alley

Located on the football practice field Northeast of Ryan Stadium is Wildcat Alley, a family friendly tailgate that is open three hours before kickoff. Wildcat Alley offers a variety of activities such as an inflatable football toss, face painting, and the Cricket Wireless Stage which features interviews with NU coaches and prizes that can be won by fans.

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Purple Clock

Starting with the 1995 season, the clock face of the Rebecca Crown Tower on the NU campus will change from white to purple if the Wildcats earn the victory. Since 1997, if the Wildcats win the final game during their season, the clock will remain purple until the start of the next season.

Walk With Us

Before the game starts, join in on the Walk with Us. About two and a half hours before kickoff, the band, cheerleaders, Willie the Wildcat, and fans welcome the team to the stadium. The tradition is done to honor former Head Coach Rand Walker and takes place along Wildcat Way. You’ll love Walk with Us as it gives you a chance to get up close to Wildcats players and coaches.

Where to tailgate

Wildcats Stadium Guide

In Game

Although some Wildcat fans may disagree, the overall atmosphere at Ryan Field is a very friendly one. Fans will surely get loud on occasions, but most visiting fans will feel welcome when visiting Evanston. Most of the fans are from affluent areas near the stadium and aren’t the wildest crowd in the Big Ten.  This makes Northwestern a perfect place to go to network and bring the family as that is the popular thing to do. Just make sure to wear everything purple you have as most games turn into a purple out by the time all the fans have made their way in.

During kickoffs, Northwestern fans jingle their keys rather than cheer, and the cheerleaders will run the crowd through some very basic chants followed by a loud growl.  For example, when the Cats are trying to finish off a game and run out the clock the cheer squad will get the fans to yell CATS EAT CLOCK followed by the growl.  It is a pretty standard football atmosphere as most fans come out for a great day of football next to the scenic Lake Michigan.

Things to check out

Wildcat Dash

Before the kick-off of the Big Ten opener, Northwestern offers first-year students the chance to lead the team out onto the field as a class. This is a great tradition that every student should take a part in when they get their chance.

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Push Ups

Like a few other schools in college football, Willie the Wildcat and the cheerleaders will do push-ups to match the cumulative score of the game; the unique thing about NU games is that students will sometimes be lifted into the air to do the push-ups while counting out loud the score.

Wildcat Growl/Claw

Northwestern fans hold up their arm in a claw formation while creating as much noise as possible to distract the opponent. The growl is the loudest on the third down and a great tradition to take part in when attending a Northwestern football game.

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Hands in the Air

Before the fourth quarter, join the guest conductor as he/she encourages fans to put their hands up in the air. If nothing else, Northwestern fans will always listen to Mike Ditka telling fans to put their hands in the air!

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Fight Songs

  1. Northwestern Fight Song

    Go U Northwestern, Break right through that line,
    With our colors flying, we will cheer you all the time,
    U Rah, Rah,
    Go U Northwestern, fight for victory
    Spread far the fame of our fair name,
    Go Northwestern, win that game.
    Go Northwestern, go!
    Go Northwestern, go!
    Hit ’em hard!
    Hit ’em low!
    Go Northwestern, go!
    (Repeat first verse)

  2. Northwestern Alma Mater

    Hail to Alma Mater!
    We will sing thy praise forever;
    All thy sons and daughters
    Pledge thee victory and honor.
    Alma Mater, praise be thine, May thy name forever shine! Hail to Purple! Hail to White! Hail to thee, Northwestern

Wildcats Bars & Restaurants

  1. Ridgeville Tavern

    Fried Cheese Curds, Ridgeville Tavern Evanston

    Neighborhood bar with quality tavern fare, top-notch drinks and 20 beer taps featuring local brews.

    1520 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201, USA

    Bar website

    american - $$

  2. Union Squared

    Union Squared

    Union Squared Evanston features Detroit-style pan pizzas in this new, charming little Evanston hot spot. If you’re not familiar with Detroit-style pies you don’t know what you’ve been missing!

    1307 Chicago Ave, Evanston, IL 60201, USA

    Bar website

    pizza - $$

  3. Celtic Knot

    Celtic Knot bar

    Serves a solid selectio nof imported and domestic craft brews, a worldwide wine list, and some of the most savory pub bites.

    626 Church St, Evanston, IL 60201, USA


    Bar website

    european - $$

  4. Bat 17

    Bat seventeen

    Expansive sports bar offering sandwiches, booze, pool & more in a TV-adorned setting.

    1709 Benson Ave, Evanston, IL 60201, USA


    Bar website

    sportsbar - $$

  5. Dave’s New Kitchen

    Daves New Kitchen

    You will always feel like you're home when in Dave's New Kitchen!

    815 Noyes St, Evanston, IL 60201, USA


    Bar website

    italian - $$

  6. Hecky’s Barbecue

    Heckys Barbecue

    Evanston Barbecue at It's Best

    1902 Green Bay Rd, Evanston, IL 60201, USA


    Bar website

    bbq - $$

  7. Buffalo Joe’s

    Buffalo Joes

    Area chain outlet dishing Buffalo wings & cheeseburgers in a straightforward setting.

    812 Clark St, Evanston, IL 60201, USA


    Bar website

    american - $

  8. Union Pizzeria

    Union Pizzeria picture pizza

    Buzzy spot offering market-fresh small plates & wood-fired pizza served in an industrial-chic space.

    1245 Chicago Ave, Evanston, IL 60202, USA


    Bar website

    pizza - $$

  9. Bennison’s Bakery

    Bennisons Bakery

    Veteran bakery offering apfelstrudel, paczki & other European sweets, plus custom-decorated cakes.

    1000 Davis St, Evanston, IL 60201, USA


    Bar website

    american - $$

  10. Lou Malnati’s Pizza

    Lou Malnatis Pizza

    Family-owned local chain for Italian classics & Chicago-style, deep-dish pizzas with butter crusts.

    1850 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201, USA


    Bar website

    pizza - $$

  11. Smylie brothers brewery

    Smylie Brothers Brewery

    Brewery in a vast warehouse space offering beers, a central bar, pub-fare menus & outdoor seating.

    1615 Oak Ave, Evanston, IL 60201, USA


    Bar website

    american - $

  12. Edzo’s Burger

    Edzos Burger

    Bustling burger joint with creative topping combos, plus fries & shakes in simple surrounds.

    1571 Sherman Ave, Evanston, IL 60201, USA


    Bar website

    american - $

  13. Chicken Shack

    Chicken shack

    Bare-bones haunt offering Southern-style chicken, fish & rib dinners, mostly for takeout.

    1925 Ridge Ave, Evanston, IL 60201, USA


    Bar website

    american - $$

  14. Mustard’s last stand

    Mustards last stand

    No-frills, family-run fixture serving up Chicago-style dogs, burgers & sausage since 1969.

    1613 Central St, Evanston, IL 60201, USA


    Bar website

    american - $