By Paul Banks
Northwestern interim head football coach David Braun grew up in Waukesha County, Wis., in the town of Wales. While he hails from within the heart of Milwaukee Brewers country, he is a Chicago Cubs fan through and through. Braun led his Northwestern Wildcats into Wrigley Field last weekend, where they narrowly lost to the Iowa Hawkeyes 10-7.
After the game, Braun got emotional when responding to a question about how much the Wrigley experience meant to him and his father, who overcame undisclosed and unspecified health issues to be at the Friendly Confines.
"To be honest, there's a lot of emotions pumping through me right now," Braun said with tears streaming down his eyes.
"My dad was at the game today. There are a lot of guys in this team who grew up in the Chicagoland area and grew up as Cubs fans. Getting the chance to play here is an experience you can't take for granted. This is really special. This is college football at its finest."
This past Saturday, he led his Wildcats to a 24-10 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison, which is just under 60 miles away from his hometown. In the run-up to that game, Braun disclosed slightly more information about his Dad.
“Having my dad at the game this past Saturday was more a testament and a credit to him than anyone else," he added.
"Not to get into details, he was dealing with some things this past week with his health. Didn’t think he was gonna be able to attend the game. In a very patient and stubborn manner, (he) worked with his doctor to ensure he could get down to the game. That wasn’t an opportunity that I thought he was gonna be able to join our family down there. I was glad he was able to share in that."
Northwestern-Iowa turned out to be one of the lowest-scoring games of the year, just as everyone expected. It was certainly a baseball-style score, to say the least. In fact, more total runs were scored in six Cubs home games this past season than the 17 points combined from the Cats and Hawkeyes.
Unless you live your life by the motto of "Live. Laugh. Punt," this game was not an aesthetically pleasing one to see. But it was still Big Ten football in one of the world's most storied baseball stadiums, and that was simply awesome.
“I know I’ve had a lot of these moments in the last year, but it’s just another pinch-yourself moment," Braun said.
"The first professional baseball game I ever went to was with my dad at Wrigley Field. Drove down, grabbed a hot dog on the way. Mark Grace, Shawon Duston, Joe Girardi — all those guys are still playing — Ryne Sandberg. Remember walking up the stadium, parking in the back alley, all those things."
Braun mentioned a few members of the 1984 and 1989 NL East Championship Cubs teams there, but it was Northwestern alum Girardi who was his favorite Cub growing up.
"He was behind the plate when I was a kid, and he went on to be a really successful coach himself, and he was a guy I paid a lot of attention to," said Braun.
Braun isn't the only member of the Northwestern coaching staff who has strong connections to 1060 W. Addison and the Chicago Cubs.
Offensive line coach Kurt Anderson took his wife Jennifer to a Cubs game on their very first date, so this game was extra special on numerous levels.
"Every year we come back for our anniversary, if there's one that's near or on the date," he said to a small group of reporters, at a media opportunity previewing the field layout.
The 2016 season, when the team won the World Series, is, of course, his favorite memory as a Cubs fan.
"Waited my whole life for that, I was running in and out of game-planning, and stuff like that, to check out the TV in my office," Anderson added.
"Catching the end of the games, at night with my wife and kids, it was pretty special to see their excitement for our Cubbies to win it."
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Sports Bank. He’s also the author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” and “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”