By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) If those teams from Pitt and Northwestern were to meet 10 times, the lesser Wildcats probably win once. The fact that it actually happened in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday only made it sweeter for Northwestern, capping off days of valuable advertising for their program with a 31-24 upset of the 23rd-ranked team in the country to finish with a winning record of 7-6.
It’s just a minor bowl, of course, an exhibition game tacked on at the end of a season marked by alternating achievements and disappointments. But it means more for a team that’s still competing on a different field due to higher academic standards for recruits and has to be opportunistic on every level.
Their marketers and PR crew worked all the angles in the run-up to the game, using the big stage of Yankee Stadium and the nation’s top media market to lever disproportionate local coverage, and it never hurts to have numerous well-placed alums covering sports for a living, particularly when the Bears are awful and not much else is going on.
The win lets them bank some good optics, too, as a smiling coach holding up any kind of trophy against the backdrop of New York City is a nice look, as is a wrecking-crew performance by their locally grown tailback. And coach Pat Fitzgerald was also smart enough to expertly troll a prominent national broadcaster who made a show of picking against them, buying more free attention. And remember that the Big Ten previously added Rutgers almost exclusively to gain access to the enormous New York/New Jersey television audience, so there’s branding value for the conference as well.
In the short and medium term, Northwestern athletics won in several ways — and not just against a Pitt team that beat both Clemson and Penn State this year.
The Wildcats teamed up to turn a nothing into a something by doing what they always do — making more with less.