Thursday, April 3, 2014

So Your Football Team Can Theoretically Unionize

Northwestern football has been in the news lately, and it's not because of lofty expectations for next year or a dashing transfer, or a tragic Pat Fitzgerald fist pump injury, or because the football team is no longer training with Navy SEALs and instead is being chased around downtown Evanston by graduate assistants dressed like mummies.  Kain Colter has taken the case for the unionization of Northwestern football players to the National Labor Relations Board.  They have won the ruling.  Northwestern athletes may have fired a salvo into the NCAA's confusing "student-athlete" designation.

It is somewhat surreal seeing Kain Colter's face all over sports websites.  We knew Colter's versatility allowed him to play quarterback, wide receiver, running back, backup quarterback, long snapper, dropkick specialist, wedge-buster, graduate assistant, sports information director, and United States Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs during his illustrious football career.  Now, he has become the face of the national debate about big money college athletics.  Northwestern is currently at the epicenter of the college football universe.

What does this all mean?

Disclaimer: BYCTOM could not be more qualified to discuss this issue.  Its team of analysts and legal researchers are experts affiliated with the Hollywood Upstairs Institute of Internet Football Law, and all readers are encouraged to use the analysis contained herein to make internet arguments and crucial decisions about their families' financial future.

BYCTOM specializes in Internet Football Law, mustache injury, leech 
malpractice, bear-baiting law, treason against fictional nations, treason in
the name of fictional nations, railroad vengeance, and Canadian constitutional 
crises involving the Governor-General

WHAT IS AT THE HEART OF THE CASE

The case centers on the NCAA's designation of student-athletes.  The NCAA clings to the idea that football players are college students who study, hang out on the quad, and occasionally go out and get run over by 280 pound behemoths.  NCAA officials argue that athletes are rewarded with scholarships (becoming more valuable as the cost of tuition skyrockets) and other amenities.  It's as if you and me and some other fellows were walking around in our Northwestern varsity jackets and saw some other fellows wearing Illini orange and said perhaps we should participate in a sporting contest for the honor of the ol' alma mater, what say you chaps and then played a football match in a local field surrounded by tens of thousands of well-wishers and a staggering number of people on TV and were also screamed at by crew-cutted millionaires in khaki slacks.

With all of this money floating around, the NCAA has to keep its eyes open to attempts to stain the purity of the sport.  Therefore, the organization has a byzantine rulebook governing the relationship between athletes and potential corrupting influences such as coaches, boosters, and the roguish Duke of Brunswick-L√ľneburg.  This is particularly intricate during recruiting, when high school football stars are vulnerable to all kinds of creative inducement from outright bribery to patronage to the threat of having to sit into a room with Nick Saban for hours.  More recently, potential recruits can also be yelled at by assorted yahoos on social media who are incensed that they discarded their team's hat in an overly cavalier manner.  Recruiting is an absurd tug of war between NCAA attempts to regulate contact with recruits as programs and boosters find ways to circumvent and ignore these rules.  This is good news for those of us who are disappointed that the twenty-first century is devoid of the type of intrigue and betrayal you'd find in medieval betrothal politics, where a coach might try to cement his interest in a player by recruiting a less talented friend or hiring a high school coach or destabilizing the Principality of Grubenslagen and installing a puppet ruler who coincidentally looks exactly like the Prince.

You, happy Austria, recruit a fullback 

The Northwestern players argue that they are actually employees of the school as a crucial part of a multi-million dollar sporting enterprise that depends on them to run.  They claim that football demands hours of practice and preparation that have more in common with a full-time job than a part-time sport.  They want to be able to collectively bargain with the university.

NORTHWESTERN IS SORT OF A WEIRD FLASHPOINT FOR ALL OF THIS

In many ways, Northwestern is about as close as it gets to the NCAA's model for a college football program in a major conference.  Northwestern players are held to higher academic standards than most other FBS schools.  Nearly all of them graduate.  Scholarships are worth more because of Northwestern's soaring tuition rates. This is not a football factory, and for many years, it was unable to determine whether the Wildcats' football stadium was an elaborate art installation about futility led by unusually large performance artists.

Yet, the Northwestern unionization effort demonstrates that the pressures of football fall upon all players equally.  Northwestern emphasizes its academics and graduation rate as part of its overall football brand, as integral to the identity of Northwestern football as other aspects such as empty, tarp-riddled stands and dubious claims to loyalty of indifferent Chicagoland sports fans.  Colter, on the other hand, testified that he was discouraged from taking classes that conflicted with practices during the season and reinforced the tremendous time commitments demanded by football.  I can identify with those pressures as a college student since I also had hours away from my studies dedicated to day games at Wrigley Field, leading the virtual Chicago Bears to numerous Madden NFL championships, and watching reruns of the Highlander television show where the Highlander lived on a houseboat, wielded a katana, and Roger Daltrey had a mustache.

Television Highlander Adrian Paul contemplates past head 
choppings and head choppings to come

WHAT DOES THE RULING MEAN

The ruling means that the National Labor Relations Board agrees that scholarship football players (but not walk-ons) are university employees and can vote to join the College Athletes Players Association.  If formed, this union can collectively bargain with the university.  The players are not immediately seeking direct payment, but the creation of a trust fund for athletes, guaranteed medical care for current and former players, and more control over transfers to other schools.  The ruling currently applies only to private universities.

Northwestern is appealing the decision to the NLRB in Washington.  NCAA President Mark Emmert claims the case will ultimately end up in the Supreme Court.  Regardless of outcome, the ruling has greatly upset the NCAA apple cart and dealt another blow to the bizarre marriage of universities to billion-dollar sporting concerns.  It seems clear that, in the near future, the model of college athletics will have to adjust in order to compensate athletes in big revenue sports or change into something else altogether.

What type of action could players use as leverage?  Should the CAPA form, how far would they and their representatives push for compensation?  Could there be a strike?

A BRIEF SUMMARY OF "THE PICKET LINEMEN," A TERRIBLE HYPOTHETICAL COLLEGE FOOTBALL STRIKE MOVIE WRITTEN BY MARK EMMERT

In the year 2020, the United States Supreme Court has made it legal for college football teams to unionize.  Players demand payment in money, flashy cars, and gilded pantaloons while burning textbooks on their stadiums' 50 yard lines.  The American people are outraged, but helpless in the face of this reign of terror because of the government.

Lance Stryker, the President of College Football looks on with consternation.  He expects a delegation from the College Football Union to bring their list of extravagant demands.  Stryker's secretary tells them to have a seat, but they march past her and burst into Stryker's office.  The head of the union, Trench Bludgeoner, wears a fancy suit, carries a gold-tipped cane, and polishes a monocle that was surely and inappropriately given to him by a booster.  His right-hand man is a tough guy named Bill Flint played by Steven Seagal who waddles into the office and regards all parties menacingly.  Bludegeoner removes a list of College Football's concessions to the players that includes a reasonable stipend and a free education from a stainless steel briefcase and burns them on Stryker's desk.  The players' demands include payment in canvas sacks with dollar signs on them.  "I don't know if they even make these sacks," Stryker says.  "Then make them yourself," sneers Bludgeoner.  "We're on strike."  Bludgeoner leaves the office, flourishing his cape.

Flint leans into Stryker.  "Don't even try to break this strike," he says in a growling half-whisper.  "Or I'll break your organization, your fancy desk, and your bones."  Actually he has to write that last part down on a whiteboard because his whisper has gotten too quiet by the end of his threat, and while he's at it, he draws a quick caricature of his own scowling face to let Stryker know he means business.  On his way out, he headbutts two College Football officials in the lobby. 

The strike is disastrous.  Stadiums sit empty.  Mascots desperately prowl campuses, accosting unsuspecting students with antics.  A trombone plays, sadly.  Soon, stadiums become the sites of violence as fans demand football action.  In Wisconsin, a riot leaves thousands of bratwursts trampled.  Stryker remains resolute, but the government gets involved and forces College Football to pay the players.  Within a week, a fleet of trucks with billions of dollars in gold and canvas sacks stands at the ready to distribute.

But then Stryker realizes that Bludgeoner, Flint, and the union are not going to distribute the money to the players after all.  He enlists the Head of University Computers to dig into the records and enhance a lot of photos.  They discover that Trench Bludgeoner is not a college football player at all.  He's the head of The Organization, an international outfit responsible for 75% of the world's heinous crimes involving transporting counterfeit money hidden in illegal guns made out of narcotics on illegal whaling vessels.  This information is shown on a pie chart.  Also, Bludgeoner has secretly been behind every recruiting infraction for the past twenty years, someone that Stryker has known only from the monogrammed handkerchief he leaves at hat ceremonies as his calling card to let Stryker know that he has successfully corrupted a players' recruitment.  Stryker is infuriated and punches through a plate glass window while shouting in slow motion.  We see a montage of him putting on tactical suspenders, holstering a stapler, and swapping his reading glasses for bifocals.  This is one violation that can't be self-reported.

Stryker knows he is the only person who can stop Bludgeoner from stealing College Football's gold and using it to invest in an unprecedented criminal infrastructure.  He takes out the lead truck driver and leads the fleet into an abandoned factory.  But Flint is waiting for him, and attacks with dozens of slow-moving aikdo maneuvers.  Flint is about to strike the killing blow on a bloodied Stryker when Purdue Pete drives a train into his chest.  Bludgeoner escapes, but without the money.  College football resumes with a lucrative post-season tournament.  But after the credits roll, Stryker turns on the news to see that youth soccer players are attempting to organize in Peru.  He tightens his suspenders, grabs his briefcase, and looks directly into the camera with steely determination. 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR NORTHWESTERN FOOTBALL

The possibility of union action has left a rift between the university and the players.  Pat Fitzgerald testified on behalf of Northwestern. 
 

The hearings have been hell on Fitzgerald, who is forced to spend time in a 
buttoned-down hearing where fist pumps are discouraged, steering gestures 
questioned, and all manner of butt bumps banned

Meanwhile, spring football looms as players prepare for the upcoming season.  The 'Cats are already trying to rebound from a disastrous season where preseason hype for a possible LEGENDS DIVISION title fell apart in a series of unfathomable last-second defeats.  We have no way of knowing how the unionization battle will affect the Wildcats on the field,but it may somehow stand in the way of Northwestern winning a BCS championship.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hope is Snake Oil: The 2014 Chicago Cubs

Spring training is winding to a close.  The baseball season started last weekend as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks opened play to a crowd of dozens of puzzled Australians who were not told that baseball is about throwing things at people's heads and delivering Shakespearean vengeance soliloquies about swimming pools.  

But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What swims he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Gibson the King, McGwire and Mattingly,
Puig and Kershaw, Montero and Trammel-
Be in their flowing pools freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;

The rest of baseballdom continues in its lolling Spring Training doldrums as prospects in high digit uniforms anonymously plug away against pitchers that have not yet destroyed their arm ligaments.  This includes the 2014 Chicago Cubs, where anonymous players and futility will continue over the course of 162 meaningless games, most of them losses, by design.

The 2014 Cubs are a postapocalyptic shanty town of a baseball team.  There are few players that we can expect to see contribute to the Hypothetical Future Cubs that wins more than 80 games, and any that show any semblance of value will be shipped out and sold for scraps: younger players referred to as "lottery tickets" by baseball bloggers, players to be named later, and the fan favorite Cash Considerations.  Only Anthony Rizzo, Welington Castillo, and (for some reason) Starlin Castro will be on the oil tanker when the Cubs ditch the rest of the team and are pursued by the motorcycle-riding, mohawked chap enthusiasts that make up the rest of NL Central in this overwrought Mad Max: The Road Warrior analogy.


I'm one Road Warrior shy of having each dude be a representative of an NL Central opponent, but
we can all agree that the jovial fat guy with the jaunty cap is a murderous Bernie Brewer

The Cubs will continue to lose, and fans are all aware that this is part of the master plan devised by the Cubs Brains Trust.  We're all waiting for Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler to be ready for the majors, and, in the meantime, the Cubs are going to play terrible baseball to allow them to draft the next Kris Bryants and Albert Almoras.  Nothing the Cubs do this season matters.  Ownership has magnanimously deigned to increase ticket prices, which according to some estimates are the third highest in baseball.  And you can't even drown your sorrows in Old Style anymore, which will no longer be sold in the ballpark for absurd prices.  This makes no sense because paying north of seven dollars for an Old Style is the exact beer equivalent of paying actual American currency to watch whatever it is Starlin Castro does when he flails futilely at baseballs or throws them at cracker jack vendors he has temporarily confused with Anthony Rizzo because they are both wearing hats.

The Cubs are selling hope and that is all well and good.  Major League baseball rewards managers approaching their teams the way the Russian army approached the advancing forces of Napoleon.  Free agents are harder to come by, draft slot money is enforced draconically, and the lawless dollar showers in the international market have been limited to the benefit of parsimonious owners.  But it's a false hope.  There is no guarantee that Bryant, Almora, Soler, and Baez will anchor the Hypothetical Future Winning Cubs-- the analytics movement has been clamping down on nonsense hokum like curses and clutch hitting and "Mickey Mantle" (a fictional baseball player invented in 1987 by Billy Crystal and Bob Costas), but I have no doubt that we can count on Four Separate Misfortunes to prevent any of them from being useful players as the Cubs will remain mired in purgatory for the rest of our short, miserable lives.
 
Felix Pie found himself in the Wrigleyville Mystery Spot, also known as Baltimore

It is tough to root for the Cubs this season.  College sports, for all the hypocrisy, exploitation, money-grubbing, and general sanctimonious bullshit they nourish, at least do not have a framework that rewards losing.  At the depths of Northwestern's futility, when it seemed unlikely for them to win a Big Ten game unless they convinced a team to forfeit by constructing a counterfeit Dyche Stadium dozens of miles away surrounded by a Potemkin Evanston, at least they'd give it their all.  The Cubs are intentionally terrible, and their awfulness will likely not lead to a World Series.  Yet, me and thousands of other dupes will continue to watch because baseball is as good of a waste of time as mankind has invented, and the Cubs have really sharp uniforms.  Here are some reasons why we can manage to suck it up and deal with Cubs baseball this year:

-Someone named "Rick Renteria" has been named the new manager, and I'm sure he will do all sorts of exciting managery things like point to his left arm and scowl.  The one hit I got for a google search for "rick renteria ejected" leads to an mlb.com article about how he got tossed as Padres first base coach for "engaging in a discussion" with an umpire.  This is pretty uninspired, and I'd prefer that any manager is at the very least a 7-Piniella Scale lunatic who is willing to use his bulbous belly as an umpire-seeking missile (in case you were wondering, Dale Sveum was a 4-Piniella manager for having neck veins that flared up like a Jurassic Park Dilophosaurus.  Mike Quade's Piniella reading is unavailable-- umpires could not figure out how angry he was because he has no eyebrows).

-Carlos Villanueva is still on the team and last year he had a spectacular curl mustache.  Maybe this year, he'll grow some nineteenth century presidential muttonchops.

-Jeff Samardzija still looks like a musketeer, and will probably blame his poor outings on the machinations of Cardinal Richelieu.  My prediction is that the Cubs will trade him before the deadline and then he ends up pitching a crucial playoff game against the Hypothetical Future Cubs, only this time he has gotten a sensible haircut and shave just when it would have had finally made sense for him to be sporting Early Modern Vengeance Facial Hair specifically to confound me.  

-There are 162 games in a baseball season and regular players will earn north of 500 plate appearances.  At some point, it is probable that Starlin Castro will earn a walk or Darwin Barney will hit a baseball with his bat.  No guarantees, though, fans.

-Len Casper will attempt to pretend that a shitty Cubs player is turning things around, while in his heart, he knows the sample size is small, the statistic is misleading, and a Ricketts is holding a binder full of spreadsheets hostage at Cubs headquarters.

-Why the watch the goddamn Cubs any year?

-Fuck it dude, let's go bowling.  


 
Cubs fans, we're stuck rooting for this team until the Terror Squirrel takes us to hell

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Old Hat

Well, they got the hat.

Northwestern's football season was plagued by misfortune and we spent a horrifying winter without the relief of a soothing, crappy bowl game.  But (and you know this because it happened apparently several months ago), the Wildcats somehow managed to outfox Beck Man, our Great Nemesis and retain possession of the most dapper football-related trophy in all of nineteenth-century fashion.  Equally importantly, I am pretty sure I ended up on some sort of list after sending a barrage of demented hat-tweets directly to whoever runs Tim Beckman's twitter feed:











Though I received no official response to these sophisticated and elegant tweets to the Illini Athletic Department, I would like to think that Beckman spent the evening prank calling everyone in Illinois named George McLellan and then ordering an absurd amount of hats off an internet haberdashery to hoard in his home's hat annex.

Rumors swirled in the treacherous college football offseason that Beckman might get fired.  Instead, the Illini will bring him and his absurd anti-Northwestern crusade back for another year because, according to highly-placed Illini sources, "someone playing up a football rivalry with Northwestern is the only thing we could think of that is funnier than Ron Zook."  I have no idea what Beckman has planned for next year.  For a small fee, however, I am officially making myself available to the University of Illinois to be their first Butkus Chair, Department of Northwestern Antagonism.  Together, we will rent orange blimps to constantly hover over Evanston, dropping anti-Fitzgerald propaganda; we will deploy larger and more aggressive tarps at Memorial Stadium; we will petition to ban Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and The Color Purple from all University of Illinois-affiliated libraries; we will put up billboards that say "Illinois's Big Ten Team and In Case You Noticed, That Includes the Entire Chicagoland Metropolitan Area, Checkmate Motherfuckers."

Anti-Northwestern Propaganda Leaflet

Hat or no hat, Northwestern football is past a disappointing season, and fans can look towards next year.  Venric Mark will return, along with several key players on defense.  Kain Colter, however, will be moving on, but not before attempting to organize a union of football players.  Colter and his supporters argue that football players are employees that should be allowed to collectively bargain with universities and challenge restrictions on transfers and loss of scholarships due to injury.  The Northwestern administration argues that the players remain in the nebulous "student athlete" category who play in exchange for a free education unrelated to the millions generated by television deals, merchandise sales, and other piles of money generated by college athletics.  After months of sophisticated legal analysis, the only way to resolve this is a strike by the nation's football players forcing university administrators to don helmets instead of canceling thousands of lucrative home games.  College football analysts will hastily reorganize their preseason rankings based on whether you can run the wishbone effectively in full academic regalia, which dean gets to be quarterback, and which university has the meanest, most bone-crunching vice provost.

NORTHWESTERN BASKETBALL: EQUALLY BENIGHTED

What say you, Chris Collins?  Last year, Northwestern fired long-time basketball head coach Bill Carmody.  Carmody led the 'Cats to several NIT berths, but could never quite make it to the promised tournament.  I prefer to think that the methodical Princeton offense secretly irritated the brass, with high-ranking Northwestern administrators throwing things at their television every time they saw a backdoor layup developing or an opposing player working his way through the 1-3-1 zone to brutally dunk on a hapless defender.

Chris Collins was brought in to try to mold the Wildcats into a tournament team.  He brings youthful enthusiasm, a commitment to recruiting the Chicago area, and an association with the universally-loved Duke basketball program.

Chris Collins and Mike Krzyzewski are temporarily overwhelmed 
by visiting fans' awe and respect for Duke basketball, America's 
team

The transition to Chris Collins basketball has been bumpy.  The 'Cats are dead last in the Big Ten.  They will likely not play in a post-season tournament unless they somehow manage to win the Big Ten Tournament or every single other Big Ten team loses its eligibility because all of their players were replaced with doppelganger ringers that play professional basketball in the off-season in the secret European country that is ruled by Victor von Doom.

Despite these setbacks, there have been some positive things to take away from the season.  We got a full season of Drew Crawford, who was injured most of last year.  JerShon Cobb also returned to the team before succumbing to a broken foot.  There was a brief period of time when Northwestern turned into a defensive juggernaut and somehow beat Wisconsin at the Kohl Center for the first time and a fairly bad Indiana team on the road, and Big Ten teams occasionally had to cope with becoming Tre Demps victims.  Then they lost seven in a row, including one game where they scored 32 total points over 40 minutes of basketball.

Collins leads 'Cat Basketball into next season with some of his recruits joining the fold.  Big man Alex Olah showed some flashes this season, and Sanjay Lumpkin returns to play some defense and provide a really fun name to yell at people getting dunked upon.  No one expects Northwestern to crash the Dance any time soon, but that's part of being a Northwestern fan; anyone who is not prepared to die without seeing Northwestern lose the first match of an NCAA tournament, cheering the Cubs in the World Series, or proclaiming to a mortal enemy that you and me are not so different is setting him or herself up of a lifetime of cruel disappointments.

THE TOWN

The early Victorian scandalous press was a nest of innuendo, bawdy suggestion, extortion, and feuds.  In other words, it was the best possible use of presses ever devised by human beings.  Donald J. Gray's "Early Victorian Scandalous Journalism: Renton Nicholson's The Town (1837-1842)" is available in the Joanne Shattock and Michael Wolff-edited collection of scholarly articles The Victorian Press: Samplings and Soundings, and it's a pretty good way to spend a half-hour.  Gray's study of The Town, a relatively cheap periodical that traded on scandal and innuendo, offers a number of trenchant insights into the early Victorian press, the transmission of ideas about social class amongst its working and lower-middle class readers, and how Victorian scandal challenges and reinforces scholarly understanding of Victorian mores in the 1830s and 40s.  Instead, however, BYCTOM will pillage this wonderful article for bawdy anecdotes and strip them of context and analysis for cheap laughs because this is a dumb internet blog about a football team.

Gray discusses The Town, as well as other scandalous periodicals including The Age, John Bull, and The Satirist.  John Bull initially targeted Queen Caroline, an enemy of her estranged husband, George IV.  George, a bloated, pickled, raffish king was repeatedly thwarted by his father's recoveries from mental illness and stubborn refusal to die.  He hated Caroline and attempted to divorce her using legislation based on allegations of infidelity (though George himself had been secretly and illegally married to a Catholic woman, Maria Fitzherbert).  The bill did not pass and the marriage remained a fraught battlefield.  As Gray relates, John Bull fanned the flames of her alleged affair, describing her as "mixed up with a disgraceful and criminal affection for a menial servant."  After the Queen's death in 1821, John Bull transitioned into a milder, less scandal-driven publication to my personal dismay.

 
George IV had the unfortunate luck to live at the same time as British cartoonist 
George Cruikshank, who delighted in drawing the despised, spherical monarch. 
Here, Cruikshank demonstrates how George successfully fended off radical 
petitioners  by becoming more buttocks than man

The Age, The Satirist, and The Town were all reliable factories of spectacular Victorian vitriol.  The Age, for example, dismissed the renowned essayist William Hazlitt as "Bill Pimple," "an old weather-beaten, pimple-snouted,  gin-smelling man, like a Pimlico tailor, with ink-dyed hands, a corrugated forehead, and a spirituous nose."  Yet, this gossip was not only directed at literary lions or axe-grinding aristocrats. The columns were filled with gossip about less luminous figures.  Those who wished to avoid a public humiliation about unthinkable indiscretions such as young women asking a man to dance could scrub the record for a modest fee.  Gray describes this kind of blackmail as an important revenue stream for these publications.

Gray's article, however, focuses mainly on The Town and its founder, Renton Nicholson.  Nicholson, a self-styled baron (invariably the best kind of baron), was a colorful figure who gained fame in the 1840s for holding mock trials satirizing infamous divorce cases.  Warrick Wroth, the author of a 1907 book called Cremorne and the Later London Gardens, described Nicholson as "a man who knew a thing or two" who had acquired a "remarkable knowledge of the 'flash life' of London in all its grades."

 
"After a minor experience of gambling-houses and doubtful premises of various 
kinds, he became (in 1841) proprietor of the Garrick’s Head in Bow Street, and here, 
in a room holding about 300 people, and fitted up like a law-court, he presided—as 
Lord Chief Baron Nicholson—over the judge and jury trials that were so attractive to 
the Londoner of the forties and fifties.  The causes that came before this tribunal 
 were chiefly matrimonial—the crim. con. cases of the time—and were such that 
their obscenity and heartlessness (mitigated, it is true, by flashes of wit) often made 
the most hardened sinner shudder."  Quotation and illustration from Warrick Wroth,  
Cremorne and the Later London Gardens

The Town was a monument to the seedy underbelly of the Victorian press.  It allowed Nicholson to attack his enemies.  In the late 1830s, he feuded with Barnard Gregory, the editor of The Age, whom he described as "a common extortioner, gaming-house keeper, and brothel spongee."  It contained bawdiness.  As Gray relates, "Often the Town was simply coarse in its unrelenting play on words like 'work,' 'thing,' 'getting up the linen,' 'working under the butler,' and [Prince] Albert's German sausage again (and again)."  More importantly, the Town, which avoided the official stamp duties and sold for a fraction of the cost of its rival publications, served as an instruction manual for its working and lower-middle-class readers with raffish aspirations.  Gray describes Nicholson's Town as "something of an enormous guide through a loose and well-populated network of places to drink, eat, smoke, sing, gamble, flirt with pretty women, and meet women of the town..."

 Alas, this golden age of scandalous journalism eventually was ground under the heel of Victorian moralism.  By the 1850s, the Town and its ilk became unfashionable, with proprietors open to libel suits and obscenity laws.  This had to be greatly disappointing to right-thinking people who needed clumsy double-entendres, fist-shaking vitriol, insinuations of social gaffes that are baffling in the twenty-first century, and descriptions of badger-baiting accidents or pheasant hunting chicanery.  According to Gray, imitators did spring up with incredible names like Sam Sly-- or, The Town; Paul Pry; Fast Life; Cheap John; and Peeping Tom.  I'm not entirely sure that Fast Life, Cheap John, and Peeping Tom are not currently the names of a Morning Zoo radio crew on Z108.5 GUYS, AM I RIGHT? 

Perhaps, though, there is nothing more useful I can do than to leave you with the opening paragraph of Renton Nicholson's autobiography, which is how I should start all BYCTOM posts:
Exquisite reader, I have a right to believe you perfection.  Let me shake hands with you at starting, for we are bound to travel together in sunlight and in shade, in lively day and dismal night-time; through narrow, devious passages and the mansions of wealth; with Lazarus and with Dives; o'er flowery meads and banks of wild roses; through cities, towns, and hamlets, where humanity dwells 'mid innocence and corruption, where base metal contrasts with unalloyed gold.
SPRING FORWARD

Exquisite reader, I have the right to believe you have wasted time and are now considerably misinformed about scandalous publications and Northwestern men's revenue sports.  Let us make fist-claws with you starting, for we are bound to travel in sunlight and in shade, in lively wins and dismal losses, through Wildcat alleys and Welsh-Ryan arenas; with Fitzes and with Collinses; o'er Victory Rights and wild option pitches, through Pizza cities, pizza towns, and pizza hamlets, where humanity sits 'mid legends and leaders, where base helmets contrast with unalloyed hat.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Haturn Devouring His Hat

HAT-- Hat!

Hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat.  Hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat?  Hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat; hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat!  Hat-- hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat.

Hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat.  Hat hat hat hat hat.

Hat hat hat hat?

Hat.

Hat.
 
Hat hat hat

Hat hat hat hat hat.

THE LAND OF LINCOLN TROPHY

It is Hat Week.  Hide your valuables.  Send your loved ones away.

Northwestern's season has come down to this.  The Wildcats have not won a football game since September 21st.  They will not be bowling.  They have suffered a litany of football indignities too gruesome to describe on the way to a stunningly awful season.  There is no hope.  There is no redemption.  There is only Hat.

Last week, Michigan State did something only few other teams have been able to do on a miserable, cold, windy day in Evanston (and lest you think it was not windy, I defy you to rewatch the game and count how many seconds it would take ESPN's ace announcing crew to refrain from talking about the wind.  That's why Northwestern is Chicago's Big Ten team-- because the announcers will not stop talking about wind conditions).  They decisively beat the Wildcats without having to resort to some bizarre, last-minute, physics-defying, deity-intervening play.  The 'Cats moved the ball well on the Spartan defense in the first half, but the loss of Kain Colter to injury and some big offensive plays from Michigan State tipped the game in their favor, Northwestern lost, and now hat.

There is one indignity so wretched and one low that Northwestern has avoided so far: to lose The Hat to a woeful Illinois team coached by Beck Man.  And that reduced this season to a single game.

I don't care that the 'Cats are not going to Indianapolis, and I don't care that they're not ranked, and I don't care that they have lost every game in an increasingly horrifying fashion that has convinced me that we are living in Homeric times and Pat Fitzgerald has accidentally started a petty feud with a lesser ancient Greek demigod who has decided to punish his fist-pumping hubris with a series of outlandish defeats.  This season has been a waking nightmare, but these seasons happen and Northwestern will return to bowl contention.  But I care deeply about the Hat and all hat-related ideas, and I refuse to see the Land of Lincoln trophy spirited away by that purple-hating, no Northwestern sign-having, "that school up north" referring, visor-wearing, sub-Zookian geek show from Champaign-Urbana.

THE HATFIELDS AND THE NO HATFIELDS

General Beckman was confident coming off his first conference victory at West Lafeyette.  By the end, soldiers had written that he was at the end of his rope.  He had in the past been reprimanded for sideline interference and the unauthorized use of mouth tobacco, so it was no surprise that he had attacked a subordinate with a spittoon.  There's no evidence for this, but a rumor had started that said he had long, bleary-eyed late night conversations with a hat that he whittled.







Historians now believe Beckman's campaign was derailed by 
his unceasing obsession with hat-vengeance

Letter from the front of Tim Beckman's War on Northwestern

November 25

Dear Mother,

It is cold.  The lads were heartened by our victory in West Lafayette.  We were far from home and the enemy had a train and a drum.  Gen. Beck-Man had us return home and dig trenches around the hat.  We are tired, we are strained, we have a losing record.  One weary soldier has mentioned something about basketball season, and when Gen. Beck-Man heard about this, he said I'll show you a basketball and tried to dunk on an entrenched artillery piece.  He has reprimanded us ordering the officers to violently rip hats off of our heads.  They do this half-heartedly.  I long to come home, but I suppose we may not until Gen. Beck-Man finally gets his hat or is fired out of a cannon.

M.F.B.

Beckman's men were exhausted.  He had marched them day and night from Indiana, but refused to proceed in a Northern or Western direction because they didn't do that in his company.  He had an officer plot out a route that included an Atlantic crossing and the Cape of Good Hope.  Instead, the officers ceremonially renamed the directions "Chief" and "Dee Brown."  Their compasses were artfully redesigned (chuckles softly to no one).





November 29

Dear Mother,

We are under constant watch.  Some of us have begun to refer to Gen. Beck-Man as "Lord Stovepipe."  He has taken our razors and made us wear long beards to look "more civil warry."  Only one man has tried to desert, but he was found by J Leman and ceaselessly pelted with monocles.  We have been building a giant Pat Fitzgerald out of straw and our unit must attack it each day and take the hat from its head.  It is shoddily built, and has fallen on many good men.  We dare not question or protest.  We can only shout "Chicago's Big Ten Team," affix our bayonets, and hope that we avoid its flailing fists.

M.F.B.   

HAT, NOW

This is the last game of the season.  The Wildcats can salvage some hope against an equally downcast Illinois team or face a cold, hatless winter.  Let us endure one more game, let us rally for The Hat, let us flood Memorial Stadium with our Lincoln regalia, let us spend the rest of our lives taunting our Illini friends and loved ones by wearing nothing but stovepipes in their vicinity, let us hope we have Tim Beckman to kick around for as many seasons as it takes to drive him into hat-madness. 

Hat?

Hat.

Friday, November 22, 2013

You Maniacs



How is this possible?

Michigan players dashed into action.  They vaulted over benches and spun around sideline personnel.  The holder came sliding in like a Beastie Boy navigating a car hood in the Sabotage video.  And the kick went up with less than one second preventing a Northwestern Big Ten victory, the longest second that has occurred since human beings invented the idea of measuring time.

Fuck.

Northwestern has had bad seasons.  The entire Northwestern experience is wrapped in those bad experiences.  Even if you were not alive when the Wildcats lost 267 consecutive games by 800 points apiece, were (possibly apocryphally) defeated by Interstate 94, and began each game by hastily reviewing the rules of football that players had put off learning because of the accelerated pace of midterm exams due to the quarter system, the history of crappy Northwestern football is imbued into your brain as a Northwestern fan.  You may not have chanted "we are the worst" or participated in an aquatic grow-a-goalpost experiment, but your collective fan memory has.  Northwestern's historical crappiness is the foundation of the Northwestern football narrative.  The 'Cats were bad.  They were the worst.  Dennis Green.  Then they were surprisingly good and lost the Rose Bowl.  And now they are fine.

But there's a difference between the outright historical futility of Northwestern football and whatever the hell is going on.  You could secure a grant, hire a dozen football chaos theoreticians of both bearded and non-bearded variety, put them into a lab with a simulated Ryan Field and moveable Northwestern figurines, and a Pat Fitzgerald action figure with Kung-Fu Fist Pump Action, and 50,000 simulated Nebraska fans, and I'm not quite sure they could invent the ways that Northwestern has lost so far.
 
Northwestern might win by a field goal or a butterfly flaps its wings on Deering 
Meadow and, ah, the other team runs 45 consecutive laterals with no time
 remaining and are stopped on the one-yard line, but get the chance to sneak it in 
because the referees have discovered a loophole left over from the nineteenth 
century that penalizes Fitzgerald for not having a festive boater hat and insulting 
the game with his bare-headed impudence and then the game ends and Ryan Field 
spontaneously bursts into flames MUST GO FASTER

Northwestern came into this season with so much promise and hype.  Then, the season has been derailed by offensive woes and the disappearance of Venric Mark into the Springfield Mystery Spot.  There is no joy.  There is no hope.  Football is despair, misery, and, to be honest, kind of darkly funny at this point because it should not be possible to keep losing games like this unless they are making weekly appearances in inspirational sports movies as the opponents in the last game of the season.

POTENTIAL ANTI-NORTHWESTERN FOOTBALL CONSPIRACIES

Northwestern lost to Michigan in an absurdly heart-breaking manner on Saturday.  It is clear at this point that it is not just bad luck and poor late-game coaching and execution that is dooming the 'Cats.  Instead, it must be all part of some sort of nefarious anti-Northwestern plot concocted by dark forces beyond our comprehension.  A brief survey of potential plotters:


The Soviet Union
Northwestern deployed its America Uniforms in order to America its opponent last Saturday.  The mainstream media wants you to believe that the Soviet Union dissolved in late 1991.  But its clear that the Soviet government has remained operating in secret since then, plotting Soviet revenge and churning out Soviet documents in a shadowy reverse samizdat process.  It's also clear that the Northwestern uniforms from last week were a provocation that could no longer be ignored.  Let's be clear: for legal reasons, I am not alleging that the Michigan special teams unit is made up of Soviet sleeper agents who are identified by discreet Ivan Drago tattoos, that they met in secret before the game to sing the Soviet national anthem, and then they unfurled a giant poster of the guy who used to wrestle professionally in Soviet underpants.  I'm just asking questions.

The Bohemian Grove
Long thought by conspiracy theorists to be a gathering by various global elites for secret meetings to consolidate their power and perform bizarre rituals, the Bohemian Grove has recently been revealed to be site where global elites gather to destroy Northwestern football.  Insider sources tell BYCTOM that the Grove visitors enjoy acting out failed Northwestern offensive remade into light operettas, having hundreds of pizzas delivered to the Fitzgerald residence before big games, and somehow manipulate global economic systems and politics to a pinpoint degree to affect football recruiting, weather conditions, officiating, and the rules of football that will somehow end in a Northwestern loss because of a minor fluctuation in the stock price of a Swiss hedge fund.


 Former Head Basketball Coach Bill Carmody
Carmody attempted to take the 'Cats to the dance for more than a decade.  Earlier this year, he saw the football team's ignominious bowl record shattered in a glorious Gator Bowl victory.  A few months later, he was fired.  Shortly after, Carmody disappeared.  Some say he has moved on from Northwestern as a sought-after guru of the Princeton Offense.  Others say he has moved into the tunnel system underneath the university, wearing a mask for some reason, and is determined to never let the football team steal his glory again.  Carmody and his shadowy operatives drawn from the former Yugoslavia have furtively followed the football team, they've divulged the meaning of those weird offense signal signs to opposing defensive coordinators, greased Northwestern footballs, and replaced one of the referees for the Ohio State game with a man named "Milos Fourthdownavic."


Calves' Head Club
A secret society devoted to mocking the death of Charles I through various food items: a cod's head to symbolize the beheaded king, a pike representing tyranny, boars' heads because Charles preyed on his subjects, and calves' heads representing Charles and his supporters.  Maybe it's my twenty-first century manners poking through, but that dinner is really heavy on heads.  The Calves' Head Club was broken up by an angry mob in 1734.  Now, they meet to make fun of Northwestern's terrible season.  They eat tiny frankfurters cut into four by one inch pieces to commemorate the Ohio State game, a bowl of corn flakes to celebrate the hail mary by Ron Kellogg III, and then they rub themselves in pig entrails to represent the Michigan game. 


Tim Beck Man, Head Coach, University of Illinois Football
Sometimes, you make an elaborate cork board to trace the various ways that various shadowy organizations have it in for the Wildcats.  And sometimes you think about who benefits the most and all becomes clear.  Tim Beckman is sabotaging Northwestern football because he wants the Hat.  Last year, the 'Cats humiliated his Illini and left him miserable and hatless in the cold.  This year, he has pulled no punches.  I am confident that Beckman has assembled a coterie of the nation's most deranged Lincoln impersonators to help him pull a series of daring wrecking operations to destroy Northwestern's morale before the Hat Game by convincing them that the Hat should be closer to Springfield.  Beckman has stopped at nothing.  He has disguised himself as Northwestern equipment managers and long-snappers, infiltrated the Wildcat video room, and replaced Big Ten chain gangs with clean-shaven Lincoln impersonators whose lack of beard allows them to roam amongst us undetected.  Sure, this has not helped the Illini this season.  They are equally winless in the Big Ten and Beckman nearly attacked his own offensive coordinator last week.  But Tim Beckman doesn't think in terms of wins and losses or titles.  He thinks in terms of hats and no hats, he has no sense of right and wrong, and he is determined to win the hat at all costs.

MICHIGAN STATE IS THIS WEEKEND

The grim season marches on as Northwestern is forced by some arcane, awful rule to play another football game on Saturday.  Sure, it might be wearying to think of insane Rube Goldberg scenarios where Northwestern can let another one slip away.  Instead, though, this is a significant opportunity.  Michigan State are in the driver's seat of the LEGENDS Division, and no one on the planet think Northwestern can come out on top here.  But this is just the opportunity for an improbable and absurd win.  I fully expect Northwestern to hang in there all game and then, on the last possession, throw one victory right pass followed by 15 Reverse Victory Right backward passes and then weave their way to the endzone for America.

Keep the faith, 'Cats fans.  Sometimes you win games, sometimes you lose games, and sometimes you lose games despite the fact that it should be impossible to lose them because of things like the physical laws of the universe.  No matter what, the Wildcats continue to suit up and smash into other teams.  The odds are against Northwestern.  Clearly, unknown shadowy forces are against Northwestern.  The Michigan State Spartans are definitely against Northwestern.  As fans, though, we can do nothing less than support their effort, cheer on the seniors, and possibly die from emotional trauma.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Good Gravy



We should have seen this coming.  All of the preseason hype, all of the accolades, all the sweet dreams of the Kolter-Mark option (which sounds like an exotic financial implement that could short-circuit the United States economy), all of the rankings.  It has all come crashing down like a proverbial House of Cards, by which I mean Pat Fitzgerald is now inexplicably talking with an absurd southern accent and delivering fourth-wall breaking asides about Purdue to a camera that isn't there.
 
Kevin Spacey sounds so much like a Shelby Foote impersonator that I expect him 
to threaten to bring hellfire on someone's district then turn to the camera and 
start talking about Beauregard

Last week, Northwestern faced a Nebraska team without its wobbly slingshot passing all-everything QB Taylor Martinez and looked like they could finally pull off a Big Ten win.  Instead, with no time remaining, a ninth-string quarterback impossibly named "Ron Kellogg III" lofted a ball in the endzone at a Northwestern defender who improbably tipped into the waiting hands of a Nebraska receiver in a play known as Inconceivably Heartbreaking Defeat Right.  At least that is what I am told.  I did not see the play because I was busy gambling on jai alai, but at this point Northwestern football no longer has the ability to shock me.


Chi Chi Ariguzo's endzone collapse is a pretty decent summation of the season to date
 
Northwestern is 0-5 in the Big Ten and is desperately scrambling to make a bowl, any bowl.  The 'Cats will play anyone, any time in December.  They will play the fourth-place Sun Belt finisher in an abandoned tile warehouse?  They will play the remaining UFL all-stars in a rendering plant.  They will undergo some sort of Captain N process to play against the 1991 Los Angeles Raiders in a Tecmo Super Bowl.  They could really use a win.

THE VICTORS

Northwestern hopes to avenge it's entire season by taking out a mediocre Michigan team on Saturday.  Michigan, also touted as potential LEGENDS DIVISION contenders, is not having a great season by any stretch of the imagination.  The Wolverines sit at 2-3 in the Big Ten and have yet to record a positive rushing total in the past two games.  Fans, though, can be comforted that they have at least qualified for a bowl game that Michigan fans can haughtily look down their collective noses at.  

Michigan's offensive woes have made this a winnable game for the ailing 'Cats.  And even though a theoretical Northwestern victory has lost a lot of luster against the unranked Wolverines, it would still be vastly satisfying.  One of the great pleasures of college football fandom is rooting not only against a current team but entire programs, fanbases, and civilizations.  All Big Ten fans have been traumatized by Michigan and Ohio State for so long that you could put a winged helmet on Rocky Balboa and I'd be singing the Soviet National Anthem.

Of course, this would mean that Northwestern would have to pull out a victory at all.  Last week, I speculated on twitter about some potentially devastating Northwestern loss scenarios for this season including deadly meteor strikes, vacating the 1995 Big Ten championship, and having a mass of Chicago-area Northwestern fans cause a large enough ruckus to force a forfeit.  I've brainstormed a few more since then:

-Colter breaks away for game-winning touchdown but is tackled by the Visitor Section Tarp, which has escaped its moorings and is out for vengeance.
-All of Northwestern football turns out to be an elaborate long con from a family of grifters who wait for the 'Cats to be in winning field goal range before announcing that the game is over, disassembling the stadium, and selling it to be ground up and shipped as gravel as part of an art installation project.
-Northwestern wins a game in dramatic fashion, but does so to the advantage of Biff Tannen, who has traveled back in time, wagered heavily on the 'Cats, and immediately forces us all to live in a post-apocalyptic Biff Town.
-A Soviet sleeper agent alters Northwestern's super-patriotic flag uniforms to hypercolor fabrics that reveal pictures of Lenin when exposed to sweat and moisture.  The game is forefeited when a riot breaks out led by the surviving relatives of Apollo Creed and professional wrestlers from the 1980s.

Northwestern's uniforms have created a Patriotic Singularity 

LET US WIN A BIG TEN GAME

The Wildcats are certainly hungry for a victory.  They will be without Venric Mark the rest of the season and have a fairly banged up with emerging threat Stephen Buckley also injured.  It has been a rough season for the 'Cats, but a victory here would still keep them in bowl contention and give some much-needed stakes to the Hat Game.  Buck up, Northwestern fans.  The 'Cats have been alternately maddening, depressing, and shocking, but never boring, and they can use your fist claws this afternoon.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Flew Too Close to the Sun, On Wings of Pastrami

Beware to those who fail to heed former Northwestern head coach/football sage Dennis Green's words about premature ass-crowning.  We came into the season with the most ambitious expectations on the program in years, with dreams of Indianapolis.  We shrugged off injuries to Mark and Colter and Jones and McEvilly and shaky play against a less-than-terrifying non-conference schedule.  We exchanged knowing looks as Michigan and Nebraska looked less than ept.  We were heartened by a heart-breakingly close loss to Big Ten standard-bearer Ohio State-- I will go to my grave believing that Colter got that first down, and I intend to produce a number of shoddily-edited, wild-haired internet videos to convince the world that football spotting was an inside job.
 
Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura delves into the labyrinthine conspiracy 
that cost Northwestern a crucial first down against the Ohio State Buckeyes that 
involves cover-ups at the highest levels of college sports.  His theories also explain 
the mysterious disappearance of Captain Freedom

Now, of course, we're considerably deflated.  The Wildcats sputtered on offense against Wisconsin, and its defensive line was treated like the USC Marching Band treated Ricardo Montalban in The Naked Gun.  Then, they were defeated by a mediocre, coachless Minnesota team.  I'm not an expert on football, but I'm pretty sure that it's not a good sign for a potential contender when the opposing team's interim coach has moved down to the sidelines for the first time in a decade and therefore spent the game in what the ESPN sideline reporters convinced me was an anti-social anxiety bubble.  Kudos to the Gophers and their young quarterbacks for overdosing on moxie and pulling out a victory on the road under those circumstances.  I invite them to run me over with their truck.

AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

The last time I can remember that the 'Cats came into the season with such lofty expectations was in 2001.  Northwestern had just come out of nowhere with an unexpected Big Ten Championship season which was sponsored by utter insanity-- it featured the hail mary and 54-51 in back-to-back weeks and then we all watched dreams of Pasadena evaporate on the cruel fields of Kinnick.

Kirk Ferentz celebrates the Hawkyes' defeat of a Rose Bowl-bound Northwestern 
team

Northwestern came into 2000 returning much of that team, including Zak Kustok and Damian Anderson.  Like this year's team, they started 4-0, and Kustok even began to get some vague Heisman rumblings after Victory Righting Michigan State.  Then, the season fell apart.  The Wildcats lost every single game, except a rainy homecoming contest against the Gophers.  That included a 56-21 drubbing against a terrible Indiana team led by Antwaan Randle-El, who played every single position simultaneously.

In a typical series, Randle-El passes to Randle-El, who runs it in for a touchdown, 
signaled by Randle-El.  This is an archaic series of events.  If this game happened
 today, Randle-El would also review the touchdown in the replay booth, pausing 
for a commercial on the Big Ten Network in which  Antwaan Randle-El would 
inform discerning consumers about the benefits of Rotel  or various diesel-powered 
farm implements

Northwestern's season seems fairly hopeless right now.  The devastating Colter/Mark option has been shelved as Mark recovers from vague injuries guarded like nuclear secrets.  Colter has been in and out of games, and the Northwestern offense has stalled without both of them out there.  The defense has also struggled as the recipe for Wildcat victories has gone from outscoring teams to beating them in punting exhibitions.  The 'Cats offensive playbook has been replaced with the bleak, existential novels of Camus.  The 'Cats are fighting desperately not to repeat that particular historical event.
 
Another classic Northwestern historical maxim is to never follow Napoleon 
Harris into Russia, Ohio.

HAT IMPLICATIONS

Yet, with Big Ten championships and Rose Bowls and other pipe dreams seemingly off the table, it is time to focus on what really matters: retaining control of the Hat.  No one has enjoyed Northwestern's struggles this season more than Tim Beckman, who has been watching game film late at night on his throne made of hats and cackling into his Bugles.  While the Wildcats have sputtered, Illinois looks far better than preseason prognostications.  Granted, most Big Ten watchers assumed that Illinois would be so wretched that they would cease playing football by the end of the season and send their basketball, tennis, intramural floor hockey, dressage, and University Challenge teams to try to win football games.  Instead, the Beck Men are a respectable 3-3, they blew out Cincinnati, and they are Scheelhaasing people with alarming frequency.

In the meantime, the Hat seems more attainable.  Beckman has forbidden his players from wearing non-helmet hats; he has a giant no hat sign in the Illini locker room to prevent premature hat-hubris; a general Beckman Alert has been issued to all Lincoln impersonators in the general Springfield area.  This is a dangerous situation.  I'm declaring this a Hat or Bust season: I no longer care what happens to Northwestern football as long as Tim Beckman does not traipse across Memorial Stadium with a hat trophy.
 
Beckman gets dangerously confident about his chances in the 
Illinois-Northwestern game this season

TAKE ME DOWN TO THE PIZZA CITY

Indianapolis, Big Ten Championships, Pasadena are all glittering false oases.  Northwestern football once again finds itself in a comfortable place-- a hard-scrabble battle against the LEGENDS DIVISION for six wins and a berth in some sort of Pizza City Bowl.  It's time to adjust ourselves to that.  Winnable games, like this week in Iowa, seem less winnable.  Every game has Pizza City Implications.

Northwestern has been to five consecutive bowl games.  They have a bowl win streak of one.  Yes, the season may be disappointing thus far.  And yes, Northwestern may still reverse course, pull off an improbable run to the end of the season, and these losses may appear as an embarrassing blip on a triumphant march towards a championship.  But it is more than likely that Northwestern will continue to fight for a bowl berth in a wretched Pizza City location, and we can hope that a healthy Northwestern team will rise up and throttle an opponent from whatever conference has been hastily thrown together in the last eight months or whatever down-on-its luck BCS conference opponent or intramural or dental college team that a group of corrupt, pocket-lining, dinner-jacketed bowl conference representatives can throw at them, because this is Northwestern football, and there is a bowl win streak on the line.

A HIGHLY SCIENTIFIC BREAKDOWN OF THE MATCHUP WITH IOWA, CONSIDERING VARIABLES SUCH AS OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE SCHEMES, STATISTICS, COACHING PHILOSOPHIES, AND HISTORY

Oh fuck.  Get out of Kinnick alive.

DON'T DESPAIR, IT'S STILL FOOTBALL SEASON

Why do we watch Northwestern football?  What is the endgame?  Maybe it is because we enjoy watching young adults smash into each other.  Maybe it is because we are surrounded by embarrassing and inadequate fist pumpers.  Maybe it is because, with all of the horrifying revelations about the long-term health implications of football, we are looking forward to being looked upon as savage blood-sport enthusiasts by our grandchildren who will treat us like so many Ernest Hemingways or confused Kumite bettors.  It is certainly not because we root for a program that has been traditionally wreathed in glory or is a perennial national championship contender.  

There can only be only one team to come out of the LEGENDS division each season, and by 2015, the Big Ten will have 46 teams and a six round playoff structure.  The odds are, many years Northwestern won't be in Indianapolis.  Even with the Wildcats' incredible and fun resurgence, there will be years when they will scrap and claw for a wretched bowl berth, and there may even be years when they fall short of that.  But I'm not about to let that get in the way of spending three hours during football season yelling at people on television, playing out hypothetical bowl eligibility formulae, and writing and then deleting things about Brian Griese that would otherwise put me on some sort of FBI watch list because he is bad at talking about football.  And, most importantly, there is a hat at stake every year, which I am determined to care about.