Fitzgerald IS Northwestern football

CHICAGO -- It's Thursday morning, two days before either the biggest game in the post-1996 Rose Bowl history of Northwestern or the most overhyped one, and Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald can't stop doing media.

This is who he is. This is who he has to be.

So in a few minutes of free time as he prepares for Ohio State this Saturday, Fitzgerald gets on the phone for a last-minute interview request and starts off smooth, with a knowing anecdote about this reporter, fed to him by his sports information director, Paul Kennedy.

"Here's a cool little side story for you. The only two teams in the country that trained with the Navy Seals this year -- the Northwestern Wildcats and the Pittsburgh Pirates," he said to a Pirates fan of a columnist. "How about that?"

Always connecting, always selling.

It's days before the biggest game of his coaching career, or at least the most marketed one, but that doesn't mean Fitzgerald is some tight-puckered college football coach.

"I think having fun is the glue that keeps everything together," he said. "It's a little kid's game, and if you're not having fun playing this game, why are you playing at all? But it's also serious business. No question."

Fitzgerald is one part Harold Hill, selling Northwestern football to high school kids and Fortune 500 companies, and one part Ozzie Guillen, the strong, funny voice of an upstart, overlooked team.

He's also the hot coach, clean as a redshirt freshman's jersey, who, probably -- definitely most likely -- won't jump ship if USC or Texas comes calling.

But mostly, he's just Pat Fitzgerald, a local kid with a thick neck who played a little middle linebacker, the city's premier position, and now coaches his alma mater with a mix of intensity and a showman's sense of promotion.

He is Northwestern football.

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