Wildcats from all corners of the world converged on Dublin, Ireland, this week for Northwestern's season-opening football game against Nebraska. A sea of purple filled downtown streets, as waves of Northwestern fans packed pubs, restaurants, coffeehouses and shops.
The game — the first of the 2022 college football season — has provided a dream trip for fans from the Chicago area, and a reason to reunite for Wildcats who now live abroad.
Hundreds of NU fans packed Merrion Square Park outside the city center Friday for a pep rally with President Morton Schapiro, Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation Derrick Gragg, Northwestern Alumni President Larry Irving, football coach Pat Fitzgerald, alumnus Michael Wilbon of ESPN, the Northwestern University Marching Band and the Cheer Squad.
‘It’s exceeded my expectations’
The Navarro family (pictured above) flew in from Naperville to cheer on their son, senior wide receiver Donny Navarro, III.
“We’ve traveled all over the Big Ten but this is very unique,” said Don Navarro. “We’ve been enjoying the culture. Just seeing the sheer amount of support. It’s exceeded my expectations.”
‘It’s fun to see the splashes of purple’
Linh Preston grew up in Lindenhurst, Ill., rooting for Northwestern. Linh and her husband, Jason Preston, now live in Indianapolis, but there was never any question where they would be on Saturday.
“I was a cherub in high school,” Linh Preston said. I grew up a Northwestern fan.”
And although she didn’t attend Northwestern for college, they remain her favorite team.
“I’ve been a fan since before the Cinderella years of the ’90s,” she said.
Jason said he grew up near Champaign rooting for another Illinois team, but he was happy to be in Dublin cheering for the ‘Cats.
“It’s fun to see the splashes of purple everywhere,” he said.
‘I’m here just sending pictures to all my friends’
For the Spoerri family, Northwestern is a family affair.
Vivienne Cleary Spoerri graduated Northwestern in 1993; her son, Peter Spoerri, is a senior.
The family moved to London 24 years ago, but the purple runs deep.
“I’m here just sending pictures to all my friends from Northwestern,” Vivienne said. “I’m just mad that I didn’t make everyone come.”
Vivienne, a teacher, said she didn’t force Peter to apply to NU – he came to that decision on his own after a visit. Her younger son, Stephen, attended a summer camp in Evanston last year, but hasn’t decided where he wants to go.
Taking in the crowd Friday, the family was all smiles.
“It’s great,” Vivienne said. “I can’t believe it. What’s Northwestern doing here? It’s fantastic.”
‘Never had a doubt’
Standing near the front of the crowd near the stage at Friday’s pep rally near downtown Dublin Friday, Rena Brooks was all smiles.
The 1953 NU grad “never had a doubt” she would attend Saturday’s game against Nebraska.
“I was just telling a cheerleader that I was on the rally committee when I was at Northwestern,” she said. “That doesn’t exist anymore.”
But her passion for Northwestern remains strong.
The Kalamazoo, Mich., resident tries to make as many games as she can, but the Dublin game was special. She brought her grandson, Max Brooks, who graduated Northwestern this year.
‘We’re here to celebrate Northwestern’
Before Friday, the Santas and the Moores had never met.
But riding a wave of purple pride and excitement, they were inseparable at Friday’s pep rally.
“We’re new best friends,” said Steve Santa. “We’re here to celebrate Northwestern and the team.”
Steve Santa and his wife, Steph Santa, live in Lake Villa. Draped in Wildcats purple and Irish green, white and red, the Santas hammed it up for cameras as they embraced the Moores, from Dayton, Ohio. Monet Moore’s son, Jaiden Cameron, is a junior defensive lineman on the team. She and her mother, Delpha Moore, were brimming with pride as they embraced the Santas and Angela Johnson from Mobile, Ala., whose son, Ryan Johnson, is a graduate student and defensive lineman.
“We just met and we’re like family now,” Monet Moore said.
They were hoping for a family victory on Saturday.