The Northern Almanac Ep. 10 - 'Cardinal and Black'

Apr 8, 2020

Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary. 

Northern’s official school colors did not begin as cardinal and black. In 1899, a committee first chose yellow and white, and all of the earliest pennants and banners reflect that choice, as did the first school song, “The Yellow and White.” But by 1906, Northern desired brighter hues, something that would stand out on a football uniform, even when it was dirty. "The school colors are very pretty to decorate with,” the then-monthly Northern Illinois wrote. “But they did not show up very well at games.” 


NIU's signature Cardinal and Black colors

The Northern Athletic Association settled on its signature red, known as cardinal, to monogram the letters N.I. on a black diamond. It was for team members only. “The red and black are very showy,” wrote the Northern Illinois. “And much more suitable for athletic colors than yellow and white." Over time, Athletics’ cardinal and black became accepted as the university’s official colors. 


NIU’s homecoming dates back to 1903, when it held the first of a series of annual football games pitting students versus alumni. In 1906, the student newspaper referred to the annual game weekend as "Home Coming." A year later, the alumni organization’s constitution stated: "there shall be a social meeting of alumni and guests following the annual football game on the evening of the second Saturday in October." The student versus alumni tradition continued until 1914, when Northern began playing other schools for its homecoming celebration.


Northern's homecoming tradition is the oldest in the state, and one of the oldest in the country. In 2019, NIU hosted its 113th homecoming.