Northwestern defeated Pittsburgh, 31-24, in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. The Wildcats entered the game as 4.5-point underdogs so it was a slight upset. But, to hear them tell it, the victory was more than that. It was a giant “screw you” to ESPN’s stable of college football analysts.
The Wildcats drew inspiration from an ESPN bowl preview show during which analyst Jonathan Vilma put a “37” on Pitt in his confidence picks — meaning, he gave Northwestern the fourth-longest odds to win one of the 40 bowl games. ESPN’s Danny Kanell then “corrected” Vilma, putting “40” on Pitt.
One analyst commented that Northwestern should be happy just to be in a bowl game.
“I’d like to give an extra special shoutout to Danny Kanell and the ESPN crew,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “That’s the video I showed the guys when we got to New York.”
Said quarterback Clayton Thorson: “Danny Kanell had some interesting stuff to say. I love watching him on ESPN, but that got us riled up. Nothing against him; he made a pick. But we took that personally and we unleashed it today.”
Motivation is an odd thing. It can come from both obvious and unusual places. What motivates one player may not do anything for another. Fitzgerald’s method of using a pointless confidence pool likely completed hastily before broadcast to inspire worked, so I can’t argue with the results.
Still, it’s just such a bizarre thing to focus on. Then again, Northwestern is a very serious Big-J Journalism school so the opinions emanating from Bristol perhaps carry more weight in Evanston.
It’s worth considering if Kanell and Vilma should continue to pick games on air if the slightest team is going to continue to harness the disrespect and turn it into victory. Wielding such power comes with great responsibility.