Friday, July 24, 2015

Words, Words About Sports

The Cubs have made it to late July and they have managed to go through nearly 60% of a baseball season without dissolving into a Cubbish morass of ineptitude.  They have hit baseballs in the right direction.  They have thrown baseballs at a regulation strike zone.  Most of the outfielders have managed to show up with regulation baseball gloves and not oversized novelty gloves and propeller beanies.  It's a new world.

The Cubs remain in contention for one of the dozens of available wildcard playoff spots this season because of the sudden influx of young, talented Cubs.  Anthony Rizzo has matured into one of the best hitters in the National League.  Jake Arrieta is pitching like a legitimate ace.  Kris Bryant was an instant all-star, Addison Russell has become an excellent fielder, and Starlin Castro is being the best Starlin Castro he can, which means he is swatting ineffectively at baseballs with a pool noodle.  And every time one of these guys starts to falter or slump they bring up another bat.  This week, it was Kyle Schwarber, a neckless stump-person who treats baseballs like they are a nameless bar hooligan in a Steven Seagal movie.

Cincinnati detectives at a crime scene where two baseballs were brutally schwarbered

Schwarber had a brief cameo as a DH-- he nominally plays catcher the way Russell Crowe is nominally the front man for 30 Odd Foot of Grunts-- but came up this week after a thumb injury to Miguel Montero. And, in a series with the Reds in which the teams played baseball nearly ceaselessly for 24 hours, Schwarber exploded. On Tuesday, he blasted a ninth-inning home run to tie the game, knocked the go-ahead dinger in the 13th, and then exploded into a supernova firing bats across the cosmos.

For the first time in years, the Cubs are fun. That is not to say they are a juggernaut. They play in the same division as the red-hot Pirates, and the St. Louis Cardinals continue to grimly march towards the division crown, replacing injured pitchers like a gritty Midwestern hydra regenerating heads so it can devour Ancient Greeks the right way.

"Seeing that Heracles was winning the struggle, Hera sent a large crab to 
distract him. He crushed it under his mighty foot."
I would read a book of myths as told by a Wikipedia Editor

Even though the Cubs are headed towards almost certain Cubs disaster, summer is infinitely better with a relevant baseball team that has not yet crushed us.

BEARS FOOTBALL IS BLEAK AND HOPELESS

The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, appear to be moving towards the season with the graceful dignity of Peter Lorre from the first five minutes of Casablanca.  They have installed a new GM, a new coach, a new offense, and will run a heretical 3-4 base defense.  Fortunately, the hands at the wheel are steady, with the McCaskey family committed to running a professional football team in their image, which is currently confused, vacuous mustache staring.

George McCaskey's hero is Ludwig von Reuter who also has a mustache and runs things into 
the ground

The greatest lightning rod for Bears criticism remains quarterback Jay Cutler.  Cutler is entering his sixth year with the Bears, during which he has become as popular in Chicago as a crooked politician dumb enough to get caught.  Cutler arrived with a reputation as a big-armed malcontent who was just good enough to disappoint you.  This was welcome in Chicago's barren quarterback wasteland where fans cheered Rex Grossman for his mastery of the fling-it-up-to-Bernard-Berrian play, where Kyle Orton became a folk hero for managing to look competent nearly as often as he looked like he had grown a beard so he could walk into one of those dingy Chicago bars identifiable only by a faded Old Style sign and order one for him and one for his beard, and where fans cheered Rex Grossman again as he replaced Kyle Orton and this had been going on with a series of interchangeable Grossmen and Ortons since time immemorial.

Cutler had a few seasons of promise and excuses.  The Bears fielded a five-man OSHA complaint as an offensive line and a squardon of interchangeable undersized punt returners at receiver.  When the Bears turned their receivers into a fleet of hulking dreadnoughts and approached competence on offense, the defense turned into a performance art piece about launching oneself gracefully at the air behind a running back. Nevertheless, Cutler has failed to transcend the team's shortcomings and torpedoed the offense with infuriating interceptions.  Every quarterback throws baffling interceptions from time to time; Cutler throws picks so ill-conceived that they appear almost spiteful.  Bears fans have given up on him.  The team gave up on him last season when they benched a healthy Cutler for Jimmy Clausen, a quarterback who had failed to look like a functioning NFL player for even a single snap in his short, miserable career and also he has a baby head.

Cutler has also committed the unforgivable sin of making a large amount of money.  He signed a seven-year $126 million contract, although it is important to remember that NFL contracts deliberately obscure, misleading, and fictitious.  It is not uncommon to see NFL contracts include rich parcels of land in Frisland or Poyasian bonds.  Cutler's contract binds the Bears for a shorter period of time and money than indicated, but it's not negligible.  It is too onerous to release Cutler and has rendered him untradeable, and new general manager Ryan Pace seems to regard his quarterback like an elderly person will regard a tribal bicep tattoo in the year 2070.

The Jay Cutler/Ryan Pace relationship reminds me of a version 
of What About Bob, but instead of being charming and ingratiating, 
Bob sits sullenly in the corner, texting pictures of his boat shoes

Jay Cutler also has an unpleasant reputation.  In this ESPN article ranking the NFL quarterbacks (behind their insider paywall), Cutler is invoked like a chain-wielding wraith portending quarterback doom before finally revealing himself at #20 as a bunch of nameless NFL people call him a jerk.  His air of hostile indifference is well-documented.  It does not bother me if my team's quarterback is a churl because I don't imagine I'll ever have to interact with him, but I can understand how a guy theoretically paid a bit less than the GDP of Nauru who looks at any given moment like he might walk out of the stadium before a gleeful opposing cornerback has the chance to finish sauntering into the endzone with one of his errant passes might antagonize fans.  At the very least, Cutler's mediocrity and toxic reputation means we don't have to see him attempt to act in terrible commercials.  His only onscreen role seems to have been as himself in a fantasy football sitcom, which is a shameful miscasting; Jay Cutler was born to play the dismissive sheriff who doesn't believe in chupacabras until it's too late or someone credited as "guy who won't move yacht."

The Bears will, barring an unexpected miracle, be a dreadful team to follow.  They are in the midst of a complete rebuild.  They face a brutal schedule.   Doug Buffone has passed away, leaving an entire metropolitan area of braying, nasal mustard enthusiasts bereft of anywhere to complain about Jay Cutler for hours at a time.  The entire enterprise will be a joyless slog.  And yet, one year one hopelessly miserable team rises out of nowhere to get obliterated by the Patriots or the Packers in the playoffs and it might as well be the Chicago Bears, sucking all around them into their black hole of mediocrity and dysfunction.  It is not likely, but we just sent a probe towards Pluto, discovered a vaguely Earth-like planet 1,400 light years away, and the Chicago Cubs might sneak into the playoffs.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Televised List-Reading

The National Basketball Association has just capped off its five hour list-reading extravaganza in Brooklyn.  The NBA draft has everything a person wants on television: garish suits, extended shots of people talking on cell phones, xenophobic booing of gangly European dunk magnets, and basketball players forced to deceive the American public with disingenuous hats. 
 
LaMarcus Aldridge and the NBA draw helpless basketball fans into a web 
of lies

In a vacuum, it is hard to understand the appeal of a clumsy, ponderous spectacle where the most exciting thing that happens is some giant dressed like an anthropomorphic blueberry awkwardly shaking hands with a hairless future-man while an off-stage panel publicly describes his shortcomings.  I can't imagine sitting through it live until second-round picks are distributed based on one-on-one pickup games between Darryl Morey and Sam Hinckie.  But the NBA draft and even its overwrought three-day NFL cousin are great because they celebrate hope, intrigue, and developing intractable opinions without any firm basis of knowledge.  Teams and, to a lesser extent, creepy self-proclaimed draft experts, spend hundreds of hours evaluating players, but their picks are in the hands of fate; the only certainties in the history of the NBA draft are the inevitable deaths of everyone involved and the fact that Jan Vesely was not an NBA player.


The Bulls selected Arkansas power forward Bobby Portis with the 22nd pick in last night's draft, even though they have a crowded frontcourt.  I have not seen one minute of Bobby Portis playing basketball.  I am not a basketball scout.  But I am thrilled with the pick because Portis seems to excel at two important skills the Bulls require: making crazy faces and yelling.
 
Opponents cower in fear from the dreaded "Portis Head" 

Portis will be mentored by experienced bigs Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Pau Gasol in bellowing and scowling.  Nikola Mirotic, in his rookie year offers something no one else on the Bulls has: a great, big, bushy beard.  Many pundits expected the Bulls to get a backup for Derrick Rose, but they thought Portis was the best player left on the board and Nate Robinson is still available.

A VERITABLE AND AUTHENTIC SATAN OF MODERN EUROPE

"Whatever subject he started he always got back to his favourite theme, and he represented Prince Bismarck, however he might be for the moment disguised, as a veritable and authentic Satan of modern Europe."

That is how you start a goddamn book review.  W.T. Stead, the notable British journalist and editor known for, among other things, using his newspapers to suggest sending Charles Gordon into Sudan and then excoriating the government for its failure to rescue him and dying on the Titanic, took a flamethrower to recently-deceased Otto Von Bismarck in an 1898 article in his Review of Reviews.  The quote above is attributed to a conversation he had with Robert Morier, the British Ambassador to Russia (Stead traveled to Russia during the height of British Russophobia and published The Truth About Russia in 1888).  It is fair to say that Stead shared this opinion.  In a review of  German press agent Julius Moritz Busch's memoir Bismarck: Some Secret Pages of His History, Stead opened both barrels on Bismarck and his Boswell, Busch.
 
Moritz Busch, Otto von Bismarck, and a pyschic portrait for the floating ghost head of W.T. 
Stead, oh yeah I should probably mention that Stead was an ardent spiritualist who wrote 
extensively about his communication with ghosts and telepathy and automatic writing

There are certainly countless responsible histories you can read of Bismarck that analyze Busch's memoir as a historical source and give you proper context with which to read Stead.  But this is not a place for responsible, contextual history, this is a place for taking a look at nineteenth-century invective and luxuriate in the bile and sort of weird insults and curses laid upon one of Europe's most reviled Victorian statesmen.  Here are some headings and subheadings from the article describing Bismarck or Busch:

THE ARCH-REPTILE
HIS WORMS ON THE PRESS
AN UNCONSCIOUS JUDAS
A PRINCE OF LIARS
BAITING A TRAP WITH A WOMAN
THE DIPLOMATIC SATAN REVEALED  




Stead attacks Bismarck and Busch for manipulating the press. He quotes his own description of the use of a "Reptile Fund" (money set aside for espionage, manipulation, and other underhanded secret deeds) to influence the foreign press from his own The Truth About Russia because extensively quoting yourself in a scathing review is a power move:
In the journalism of Europe it is the lot of some correspondents abroad to fulfil with automatic and unfailing regularity the useful and, from Bismarck's point of view, the necessary functions of the earthworm.  There are, for example, some supreme types of this species on the Times, whose despatches, telegraphed daily to the leading newspaper in the world, are little more than ill-digested reproductions of the inventions and calumnies of the Reptile press-- their "news" is merely the secretion of the reptile passed through the alimentary canal of the worm.  But it helps to form the compost upon which public opinion is based, and thus from the great central bureau of Berlin are fed all the newspapers of the world.
Stead describes Busch as little more than a tool of Bismarck, rendering him as a sort of attack-butler.  
It would be difficult to outdo in caddish insolence the way in which Dr. Busch suffered himself to write of journalists whom he regarded as outside the official circle.  Jeames de la Pluche(1) himself was less of a flunkey than Dr. Mortiz Busch.  One of his articles in the volume is simply superb as a revelation of the way in which a great man's valet can give himself airs.  Even Lord Salisbury's footman in Arlington Street(2) might take a lesson from Dr. Mortiz Busch.  The good German Boswell is really the most unmitigated snob on record.  It is very amusing, and yet in its way not a little pathetic.  For even Dr. Moritz Busch is a human being.
(1) Jeames de la Pluche is a former footman/railroad speculator character whose rise and fall is chronicled in The Diary of C. Jeames de la Pluche, a series of letters in Punch by Thackeray writing as M.A. Titmarsh, Esq.
(2) I don't know anything about Salisbury's footman in Arlington Street, but I am going to assume he  the apex of High Victorian butler snobbery who wore a suite made from tails collected from lesser footmen.

As way of proof, Stead offers up an example of how Busch addressed Bismarck:
Pray excuse me for comparing you to an animal, but you remind me of the picture of a noble stag, which, time after time, shakes off the snarling pack, and then, proud and unhurt, regains the shelter of his forest, crowned by his branching antlers. 
 "It is much to be wished  that Prince Bismarck did belong to an entirely different species, if only for the credit of our common humanity," Stead wrote.

The whole of the article is peppered with attacks on Bismarckian subterfuge and Bismarck's impressions of Queen Victoria and other notable British figures.  Stead's review is not a bad way to spend some time reveling in pointed Victorian insults, a model for all book reviews as the following passage should convince you:
  
 NINETEENTH-CENTURY CONGRESS MURDER

We'll end with a final mention of a bizarre spectacle from early American politics when statesmen settled their disputes by shooting each other in the face with pistols.  In 1831, Missouri Congressman Spencer Pettis and U.S. Army Major Thomas Biddle met in a deadly duel that ended both of their lives.  The dispute arose after Pettis, a supporter of Andrew Jackson, attacked Biddle's brother Nicholas, the president of Jackson's hated Second Bank of the United States. 
 
A contemporary pro-Jackson cartoon shows him attacking a monster-bank.  Nicholas 
Biddle is wearing the top hat

According to an article from an 1877 edition of the Hartford Weekly Times by a correspondent who claims to have been a close aid to Nicholas Biddle and signed his article "BOWIE-KNIFE," Biddle's character was "assaulted with bitter vituperation."  Thomas Biddle, who lived in St. Louis, and Pettis began to attack each other in the press with insults such as calling each other a "dish of skimmed milk."

The conflict became violent when Thomas Biddle attacked Pettis in a hotel room.  As BOWIE-KNIFE puts it, Biddle grabbed a cow-hide and "inflicted a very severe chastisement upon Pettis."  Pettis recovered before all involved decided it was sensible and manly to shoot each other.

The venue for the duel was settled as an island outcrop between Missouri and Illinois called "Bloody Island," which should be the title for some horrible pirate fantasy novel.  The island got its name from the numerous duels fought on its soil, as explained by the Missouri State Archive's helpful page on Missouri dueling.  According to that page, the Biddle-Pettis duel was the third major political duel fought on its sand.  The existence of a dueling island could not have been unique to Missouri, and I assume other states had their dueling arenas such as:

RHODE ISLAND: Lockjaw Caverns
GEORGIA: Skeleton Corner
TEXAS: Hellfire Gulch
MISSISSIPPI: Scurvy Coves
KENTUCKY: Headbutt Quarry
FLORIDA: The State of Florida

Biddle and Pettis chose to duel at five feet, an absurdly short distance (Biddle was near-sighted and we were years away from the advent of prescription dueling goggles), and both fired and killed each other.  Bloody island continued to host duels well into the 1850s before people came to their senses, realized that politicians probably shouldn't murder each other, and decided to settle disputes with honor and skill in the Atlasphere.       

Friday, June 19, 2015

This Post Was Hacked

The sports calendar has climaxed this week, with the NBA and NHL crowning new champions, American Hero Abby Wambach cowing foreigners with the Forehead of Freedom, and the Chicago Cubs contending for a playoff berth or as I call it, pre-disappointment.  The smoke from hockey fireworks still lingers over Chicago.  In Evanston, a confused and desolate community cries into the infinite night for its Hat.

TURNOVER

There are five major professional sports teams in Chicago and, at any given time, at least three are bound to be in turmoil.  The Chicago Bears are rebuilding after firing Marc Trestman.  Trestman, sought as an offensive guru after the Bears spent too many years relying on Devin Hester and the defense to score points, failed to qualify for the playoffs and was also the least football coachy-looking person who has ever coached football.  This shouldn't count for anything, but in the weird, quasi-authoritarian NFL, where coaches demand the same respect as a Kipling-esque military officer who has forged his own kingdom and death-cult on the fringes of some nineteenth-century empire, Trestman looked like a man perpetually realizing he was on the wrong train.  

Trestman was instructed to pose as if he just invented hands.  If you didn't want this dude to 
inexplicably become a juggernaut head coach in the face of  the square-jaw, man-bellow 
NFL, then I don't understand you

The Bears replaced Trestman with John Fox, who looks like a first-page google image search result for "professional football coach" and have started a process of dismantling the vestiges of the Lovie Smith era.  They will remain tethered to quarterback Jay Cutler, who is rapidly becoming as popular in Chicago as the guy with the nineteenth-century murder house. 

Across town, the Bulls have made move eerily similar to the Trestman hire two years ago.  They fired defensive mastermind Tom Thibodeau to bring in unconventional offensive guru Fred Hoiberg from Iowa State.  The Bulls and Thibodeau reached an impasse; Thibodeau, a basketball monomaniac who spent most games in a purple-faced reverie demanding that Jimmy Butler play more minutes, clashed with a front office that historically spends most of its time scheming against and occasionally punching its head coaches.

Thibodeau's departure was, in some ways, necessary.  It is no coincidence that his teams tended to wear down at the end of the season, and his offenses had grown stagnant.  At the same time, who doesn't want to root for a crazed basketball lunatic?  Thibodeau legendarily has no apparent interests other than basketball.  He spends his days screaming at basketball players, his evening screaming at televised basketball players, and he counts basketball players who don't box out in order to fall asleep, screaming.  He wears a black and white tracksuit every day.  He probably sleeps in a giant, hollowed out basketball chamber like Darth Vader's little Vader-dome.  He reluctantly squeezes into a suit on gamedays, which makes him look like an angry detective who is escorted out of an interrogation room with Carlos Boozer because he can't stand to look at his defense.

BOOZER: And I'll tell you what Coach, when I didn't hustle back on defense, I liked it.
THIBS: (Restrained by five other detectives)

Hoiberg may be a fine coach.  It's not fair to dismiss him only because he is yet another Iowa State guy replacing a successful Bulls coach who feuded with the mercurial front-office cabal.  It's not fair to have a lingering distrust of him because he played for the terrible post-Jordan Bulls teams and may also have tricked us all by using the name "Rusty LaRue."  But what about this clean-cut guy who looks like he could be on a 1940s-era war bonds poster could possibly be more fun than a coach who lives like a basketball monk who took a vow of yelling?

THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS CYBERCRIME OF THE CENTURY

I remember when kids looked up to baseball executives.  They'd go to the ballpark, take in its immensity, the sights, the sounds, Billy Crystal's descriptions of a fictional baseball player called "Mickey Mantle," and the larger-than-life, home run-crushing titans and immediately ask their parents who negotiated the salaries and entered into arbitration with their heroes.

And now, in St. Louis, instead of telling them about finance majors and computer programmers who handled the implications of the luxury tax the right way, parents must look away ashamed.  Because they will have to look their sons and daughters in their innocent eyes and tell them the truth.  That the St. Louis Cardinals weren't a collection of scouts and data analysts and math whizzes, but a vast and ruthless organization of cybercriminals who built their Red Empire on stolen data, mendacity, betrayal, and probably a grisly string of heretorfore undiscovered cybermurders.

St. Louis cyberhacker supercriminals in action

The Cardinals' hacking story is one of the greatest dumb baseball chicanery stories in recent memory.  Charlie Pierce argued that use of computers to steal data has robbed baseball thievery of an earthy, pre-digital romance:
Time was, if you wanted to steal some scouting reports, you had to drag your sorry ass to Salinas or Visalia somewhere, and get the busted-knuckle old scout sockless in some local dive so you could steal his spittle-soaked notebook out of his shirt pocket. It was maybe 98 degrees in Visalia and the ceiling fan in the joint didn’t work and, if you had an open wound on your hand, and something from the cover of the notebook somehow got into your bloodstream, you could lose three fingers to an infection the old scout had picked up under questionably legal circumstances in Boise the year before. A baseball thief had to work for a living back then.
But it is precisely the computerized nature of this scandal that makes it so goddamn hilarious.  While cybercrime as a crime is scary and serious, the word "cybercrime" is ludicrous-- to me, it seems like a criminal should have been able to perpetrate a cybercrime only between the years 1995 and 2002.  Cybercrime sounds like the name of a direct-to-video Dolph Lundgren vehicle where a brilliant hacker has to stop an evil computerman from launching nuclear missilesby typing furiously into a computer before the script devolves into 25 minutes of kickboxing.

Jack Quarry was a CIA computer expert who left the agency when he 
accidentally typed too hard, blowing up his partner. But when an evil 
computer mastermind begins overriding American security systems, 
stealing Abraham Lincoln artifacts, and hacking into stadium Jumbotrons 
and regaling terrified sports fans by brandishing computers armed with 
malicious nuclear weapons software, Quarry is reluctantly called into action.  
Cybercrime: how do you stop an enemy who can be anyone with a computer 
anywhere until the last 25 minutes when he is inexplicably within kicking 
range?   

And, of course, the allegations are sweeter because they affect the St. Louis Cardinals, a team with a small but irritatingly vocal subsection of fans who act as High Baseball Moralists who have nonetheless rallied around baseball's second-roidiest slugger and a front office dedicated to cutting edge crookedness.  Then again, it is always dangerous to enjoy a scandal engulfing a rival team because it is only a matter of time before the dogged baseball Joe Fridays of the world end up on your team's door.  And the Cardinals remain unreachably entrenched into first place in the National League Central, prepared to close ranks and barrel into the World Series fueled by the adversity of having some nerdy front-office guy load up some floppies with batting averages.  Baseball is America's game.

KHRUSHCHEV ARRIVES

Nikita Khrushchev famously told the West that the Soviets would bury them.  He boasted of ICBMs and submarines destroying American cities.  He taunted Eisenhower with models of successful Soviet satellites while American versions detonated before leaving the atmosphere.  And he angrily demanded to go to Disneyland.

Peter Carlson's K Blows Top: A Comic Interlude, Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America's Most Unlikely Tourist, follows the madcap adventures of Khrushchev's whirlwind tour of the United States in 1959.  Carlson, a journalist who writes that he became obsessed with Khrushchev's visit during down time while working as a copy editor at People magazine, has assembled a history of the visit .  He tells the story through press clippings and interviews with key players including Khrushchev's son Sergei.  Carlson is interested in the absurdity of Khrushchev's visit playing off against American anti-Communist hysteria and in the ludicrous media attention, which he views as a seminal modern media event.

Carlson remains fascinated by Khrushchev, whom he describes as a consummate politician with a tendency towards purple-faced apoplexy.  The book naturally opens with the famous "kitchen debates" between Khrushchev and his rival Richard Nixon.  The two sparred during Nixon's visit to the Soviet Union, as the American government reluctantly remembered that they were essentially dropping a crate armed with a sweaty, suit-wearing biological weapon against dealing gracefully with communism into Moscow. 

Eisenhower: This is a delicate diplomatic mission, one that needs someone 
who can go into the Soviet Union and stand up for the United States without 
turning it into a jowly, anti-communist bark-off. 
Dulles: But Nixon's already on the plane
Nixon: Jesus Christ

The State Department intended to leverage an invitation to the United States into Soviet concessions to ease off on his demands that the Western powers leave Berlin.  Khrushcehv knew that Berlin was a sensitive subject. "Berlin is the testicles of the West," Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs, "whenever I give them a yank, they holler."  But, characteristically, Khrushchev ignored the diplomatic demands and decided to accept the invitation.  He gathered in entourage and boarded the TU-144, the world's tallest airplane, and set course for Washington.

As Carlson relates, the visit inspired varied reactions, from small towns urging him  to visit (Moscow Idaho, for example, trumpeted the town as the "largest dry pea shipping center in the United States"-- I feel like the good people of Moscow probably could have found another angle) to opportunities for Congressional grandstanding.  The opposition to Khrushchev's visit was not all knee-jerk anti-communism.  Khrushchev, as he frequently reminded Eisenhower and other officials, was capable of unleashing nuclear destruction upon American cities.  He had brutally repressed the Hungarian Revolution just three years earlier.  And, while Carlson clearly relishes the absurdities of Khrushchev's trek across America (for example, a struggle with a national dentist's organization for a New York hotel ballroom becomes a farcically patriotic battle), he does not completely gloss over the horrifying stakes of the Cold War.

According to Carloson, the American media crush completely destroyed 
a supermarket that Khruschchev visited as photographers leapt onto 
checkout counters and stood in deli meat cases to get important shots such 
as this one of him staring at a can of pickles while surrounded by hundreds 
of grim-faced suit-wearers

K Blows Top, though maintains a light tone, focusing on the unthinkably bizarre result of having America's greatest enemy arrive at the doorstep, and having that enemy be Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev charmed his hosts, but also pugnaciously defended any perceived slight to the national dignity of the USSR.  This included bludgeoning banquet crowds with stacks of dubious Soviet statistics, slyly alluding to missiles, and publicly bristling over a refusal to take him to Disneyland because American authorities told him they could not guarantee his security.
"What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there?  Have gangsters taken hold of the place?" ...  Khrushchev was starting to look more angry than amused.  His fist punched the air above his red face.
The New York Post's Harry Salisbury described the Premier's temper while simultaneously throwing in a pithy review of Dostoevsky's works:
This trip is like one of those tea parties in Dostoevsky when everyone meets in apparent comity and then, after three of four minutes, Nikolai Nikolaevich for no discernible reason overturns the boiling samovar on the head of Alexander Alexandrovich...It is a Russian party elevated only by the possibility that the guest of honor may blow his stack.  It is both awesome and deplorable how suddenly Nikita Khrushchev can blow his stack.
Khruschev's visit, though bumpy, did actually appear to foster some goodwill.  He invited Eisenhower to visit him in the Soviet Union.  It appeared that the trip had made some intangible progress to bring some greater amount of understanding between the American people and the Soviet Premier.  Seven months later, an American U2 spy plane was shot down in Soviet airspace. Khrushchev was furious.  He scuttled a Four Power conference in Paris and returned to New York to harangue the United Nations.  Khrushchev's trip had little value as a turning point for US-Soviet relations, but, as Carlson points out, it has immense value as a bizarre press spectacle.

THROUGH SUMMER

The City of Chicago had a much less bizarre media blitz for the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.  The Hawks won their third championship in six years as sports writers quibbled about whether they qualify as a dynasty and, if they did, whether or not it was an elite dynasty or a sub-elite oligarchy, or whatever the hell other kinds of mumbo jumbo that sports radio people come up with to stop themselves from staring into the void for four hours a day.  The Hawks have improbably rallied from one of the worst-run sports teams in the country to the class of the city.  It remains to be seen whether the Bulls can overcome their space-emperor ownership, the Bears can overcome their incompetent, mustachioed, third-generation football-meddlers, or whether the Cubs can one day transcend being the Chicago Cubs.  

The Hawks used Soldier Field as the site for their championship rally amongst thousands of fans.  But Soldier Field will soon bear witness to a far greater glory.  Beck Man is coming.  Soldier Field will not only be the site of championship celebrations and Chicago Bears perversions of football, but the site of the Great Hat Reckoning.  

Friday, May 29, 2015

BYCTOM Investigates!

Playoffs are exciting, championships are thrilling, but sports leagues across America and the globe know that nothing is more gripping than investigations bearing reports spanning hundreds of pages, hearings, and stone-faced press conference denials. As professional sports have evolved from corrupt rackets started for the benefit of gamblers to corrupt rackets worth billions of dollars, it's time to give fans what they want and start a Sports Investigation Hot Stove League that captures all of the excitement of dour lawyers, slumping, jowl-heavy officials, and the refusals to comment that we all crave.

THE UNITED STATES VS. FIFA

This week, the United States and Switzerland staged daring sheet raids on FIFA officials accused of various acts of bribery, corruption, and basically being FIFA officials. FIFA graft has been as much a part of international soccer as falling down and rolling around on the ground as if the pitch was covered in a complex series of invisible bear traps. According to the New York Times, "Soccer officials treated FIFA business decisions as chits to be traded for personal wealth, United States officials said. Whether through convoluted financial deals or old-fashioned briefcases full of cash, people were expected to pay for access to FIFA’s river of money and publicity."

The main reason why the United States has finally acted was because the justice department successfully strong-armed a criminally corrupt soccer official into cooperating. The informant is named Chuck Blazer because of the well-known rule that if you're a shady soccer bureaucrat ready to make a government deal and you also have a separate apartment for your cats then you have to have a Steven Seagal name.

The most surprising aspect of the FIFA arrests is that an international body is actually making an attempt to hold some corrupt officials accountable. This is the same body that awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a site so ludicrous that bribery is the only rational explanation other than gambling that by 2022, soccer will have transformed into an apocalyptic death-cult where players who can survive the searing heat will be allowed to live within the walls of the city and work on post-apocalyptic society constitutions that are ham-fisted metaphors for current crises. The Qatar World Cup has already had an appalling human cost in the thousands of migrant workers trapped in exploitative and deadly conditions to build stadiums, infrastructure, and hotels. FIFA has examined these troubling reports of thousands of worker abuses and deaths and decided that the best course of action is to move the 2022 World Cup to the winter.

As I am writing this, the world waits on tenterhooks to see if FIFA President Sepp Blatter will resign or get voted out. Blatter has stated that he will not, and he usually has a steadfast coterie of cronies that he can count on to re-elect him in perpetuity even though him and his supporters within FIFA are literally the only people on the planet who want to see any more of his oily visage popping up on television to say something impressively awful.
Blatter defaults to making "I don't know how these with artifacts from the 
recently-looted pyramid came to be carefully arranged in the living room 
of this luxury hotel suite" gestures

Blatter operates with the charm of a low-level political donor with dubious diplomatic license plates; he is the prototype of the international bureaucratic lizard person, and he infuses a sport with unmatched global appeal with the spirit of crooked bean counting.

UPDATE: Sepp Blatter has won re-election as FIFA president. He is the Sphinx, he is a pyramid, he is eternal and unmovable; he is a bad vaudeville act with a cane-cutting chainsaw. 

DAYS OF DEFLATION

There is nothing funnier in American sports than when the National Football League and its overwhelmed Vice Principal Roger Goodell vow to get to the bottom of something. The NFL, a non-profit pickup truck marketing agency, wants Americans to know that it stands for America and it won't allow its players to besmirch the reputation of a sport where millionaires run into each other as fast as possible. And when players, coaches, and equipment managers threaten the very game itself, there will be hell to pay.
The Great Patriot Ball Deflation Media Event is quite possibly the greatest NFL scandal of our lifetimes. Its stakes were violations of pedantic NFL rules which, as of this publishing, have not yet been added as amendments to the United States constitution. It involves the type of moronic Patriots wacky races-style skulduggery that trapped a standoffish coach and perennial homecoming king quarterback in a series of hilariously humiliating press conferences. It involves Goodell squandering any ounce of goodwill he could have gained from this by throwing around suspensions with the reckless abandon of Barney Fife with a submachine gun.

In the NFL justice system, the players are represented by two separate
yet equally important groups: Roger Goodell, who hands down
punishment; and Roger Goodell, who arbitrates appeals to Roger
Goodell's decisions. These are their stories.


But the by far the best part about the Deflation Event is the Wells report, the results of an investigation running more than 200 pages with transcripts of text messages, scientific charts, and the results of hundreds of man-hours of digging into the question of ball pressure. Today, we examine one of these heroes.
THE ADVENTURES OF BROCK JAW: NFL INVESTIGATOR

Brock Jaw woke up in his car. He used takeout cartons for a pillow and a racing form for his blanket even though he had an officially licensed Kansas City Chiefs branded snuggy in his trunk. It was time to go to work. It was always time to go to work.

For five weeks he tailed the Patriots' assistant equipment manager. He knew his apartment, his car, his friends, his bar. He woke when he awoke, slept when he slept, and lived in his shadow. Brock Jaw didn't have to go home anymore, not since the divorce. He figured his wife would take him back after he cracked the incorrectly-branded headphone case, but he was wrong. She didn't understand. She wasn't out here, defending everyone from garish cleats.

Goodell told him not to engage with the equipment manager. The Commissioner said he'd take his badge. But Roger Goodell didn't sleep in his car for the past five weeks and wake up smelling like gas station coffee. Roger Goodell didn't spend hours at a corkboard tracing football needle receipts. Roger Goodell didn't have to watch that smug son-of-a-bitch walk around like there was no Brock Jaw around every corner, held back only by the bylaws of the National Football League and probably municipal laws, but Brock Jaw wasn't sure.

"BROCK JAW, NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE," Jaw said as his car fishtailed around a corner into twelve fruit stands. "Did you deflate the balls?" he said, shaking the equipment man. "Did you tamper with them? Did Brady know? "DID BRADY KNOW?" he screamed, wiping produce from his eyes.

"You're with a professional sports league, I don't have to talk to you," the equipment man said.

Brock Jaw launched a pomegranate inches from the equipment manager's face. From his car, the NFL radio dispatch squawked out an emergency signal. "This isn't over," he seethed. But for now it was. Brock Jaw stepped on his accelerator and turned on his siren blaring The Equalizer. It was a code 451: illegal pants. "Jesus Christ," he said.

BECKMANIA

Our old pal Illinois head football coach and frustrated bear swatting at out-of-reach picnic supplies Tim Beckman has found himself in hot water again. Beck Man has been in fine off-season form since unthinkably wresting The Hat from its rightful place in Evanston and has been clearly driven mad with Hat Power since. In February, he demanded that reporters cover Illinois football positively. "The challenge is still, how important is the University of Illinois to you? It's very important to us. We can be successful if we're all in it together." "I AM THE HAT-HOLDER," he added, throwing on a cape. "I AM YOUR NEWSPAPER. HERE'S A HEADLINE FOR TOMORROW'S EDITION: BECK MAN HAT MAN."

Beckman then announced the creation of a Beckman-edited Illinois 
propaganda newspaper called Iltruthni filled with articles such as 
"Illinois Football's Tractor Procurement Numbers See Dramatic 
Increase" and "Hatless Pig-Dog Pat Fitzgerald Cowers Like Child"

More seriously, former Illinois football player Simon Cvijanovic accused Beckman of mistreating and abusing players. Other former players from Illinois and Toledo have corroborated his allegations while still others came to Beckman's defense. Cvijanovic claims that Beckman and his coaching staffs dismissed injuries and forced players into dangerous and stressful situations. Beckman denies the allegations, and the university has begun an investigation.

One of Cvijanovic's allegations, however, seems completely in line with what we've come to expect from Beck Man, as the Tribune reports:
Cvijanovic said Beckman created a dangerous culture around injuries, forcing hurt players to wear purple signifying the color of rival Northwestern.
"This shows how he views injured players. Like you're weak," said Cvijanovic, who will graduate from Illinois.
There is no doubt that stoking the flames of an intrastate football rivalry between two bad teams that no one cares about is the first priority of all Beck Man practices. Here are some other likely Illini practice scenarios:
  • Recruits are blindfolded and forced to take the hat from a papier-mache Pat Fitzgerald without ringing any of the bells placed on his person
  • Illini football players enrolled in seminar class called "We Have Always Been At War With Northwestern"
  • All tackling dummies now say "Chicago's Big Ten Team"
  • It is the last day of training camp. It's a hazy dusk and Beckman pulls aside the newcomers and says to them your last task is to get to the dining hall. They take their first tentative steps when they see them charging down a hill. It's a dozen makeshift Willie Wildcats built by Beckman at the anti-Northwestern crafting studio he built in a shed, but his costume-making techniques are still crude, so the Willies have crooked smiles and mismatched eyes, and they are coming straight at the players out of the forest and they are on fire.   
INVESTIGATE!

Several open questions remain: Will Sepp Blatter ever be successfully removed from his post at the top of FIFA and sent off to some soccer St. Helena?  Will Roger Goodell get his man? And will Embattled Coach Tim Beckman (his title as specified by the latest AP Style Guide) be able to prove that his brand of deranged coaching psychosis is within university-sanctioned bounds of deranged coaching psychoses?  And if he is fired, will he still keep up a one-man anti-Northwestern hatred campaign by standing at Ryan Field wearing a t-shirt with his anti-Northwestern logo on it but no one notices because it is a Big Ten game and only 35 people are cheering for the home team?  Only one man knows, and he is Brock Jaw, and he can't tell you because he's got a hot tip about improperly branded sports drinks.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cubs Baseball Returns to Make You Miserable

It is April and the Chicago Cubs will begin playing baseball in order to cause misery and despair to legions of beer-swilling mustachioed mustard monsters.  For several years, the Cubs have been irrelevant: the team has been stripped of competent baseball players in exchange for prospects and allowed to sink to appropriately Cub-like depths in a shameless tanking exercise. Ticket prices, of course, remained among the highest in baseball even as team president Theo Epstein all but announced OUR STRATEGY IS INTENTIONAL INEPT FLOUNDERING GIVE US YOUR MONEY.

It's equally exciting as a Cubs fan and infuriating as a fan of baseball teams trying to win baseball games and a person who has foolishly given money to a Ricketts that this plan appears to be working. The Return of the Cubs to Contention is a major baseball story this spring.  The team is a trendy pick to contend for a wildcard spot; enough maniacs have descended upon Las Vegas to give them absurdly low odds to win the World Series.
 
That is insane enough to be the plot of one of those 
bachelor parties gone bad movies but instead of 
inadvertently murdering a croupier or getting in 
too deep with an organized crime syndicate or falling 
victim to a crooked casino with complicated gambling 
games that are just made up on the spot but all called 
"baccarat" in order to fool unsophisticated rubes the 
protagonists decide to put actual hard-won dollars, 
AMERICAN dollars for the love of god, on the Cubs to 
win the championship of Major League Baseball

The optimism has come with the development of young players.  Anthony Rizzo had a breakout year by learning to hit left-handed pitching.  Starlin Castro returned to the All-Star game after a year as one of baseball's worst everyday players.  Jorge Soler came up to give major league pitching the battering he once threatened to unleash upon an entire dugout's worth of baseball players.  And Javier Baez, glorious Baez, joined Cubs in August.  Baez, a mercurial baseball maestro whose potential to alter the Earth's tide with his tater-mashing is held in check only by his complete inability to successfully hit a ball with his bat.  Consider this: Baez came to the plate 229 times last season.  Of those, he put the ball in play 36 times.  Nine of those 36 hits left the yard; that's a dinger percentage of 25% and if that isn't a real stat it should be.  He also struck out 95 times, more than 40% of his total plate appearances.  This sample size is so small that baseball stats people would regard it like Vigo the Carpathian regards ghostbusters, but still.
 
A thorough analysis of advanced batting statistics (click to enlarge)

 And, after a couple of weeks superprospect Kris Bryant will appear as soon as he has passed a bizarre and arbitrary deadline that will allow the Cubs to keep him on a rookie payscale for an additional season, which the Cubs have  justified by saying he needs to work on his fielding with the subtlety of a CBS sitcom character ordering a footlong hotdog in mixed company. The Cubs have a number of heralded prospect bats waiting in the wings, but Bryant has eclipsed them all by demolishing minor league pitching last year and going on a spring training rampage that left a trail of baseball carcasses in his wake.

The Cubs were not content to sit around with their exciting young team.  They made additional not fucking around moves.  First they signed America's Favorite Cool Grandpa Joe Maddon to manage the team.  Maddon unexpectedly became available when Tampa GM Andrew Friedman bolted for the sunny skies and infinite money piles of Los Angeles.  The Cubs fired first-year manager Rick Renteria and signed Maddon in a round of baseball skulduggery that has the Rays filing tampering charges and (presumably) Renteria plotting vengeance in smoky tents filled with medieval topographical maps.  The Ricketts brought to the Cubs a healthy dose of intrigue: Theo Epstein's Second Clandestine Voyage from Boston, the Wooing of Joe Maddon, the Betrayal of Renteria, and the War of the Spanish Succession.
 
This time, bereft of gorilla suits, Theo Epstein fled 
Boston in the disguise of Lenin disguised as a 
Guy Who Isn't Lenin

Then the Cubs signed Jon Lester, the first big-time free agent pitcher of the Epstein era (let's forget Edwin Jackson exists).  Lester was brought in as the ace who can one day anchor a champion pitching staff.  Not to be fatalistic, but given the success rate of big time ace pitcher free agent signings and the involvement of the Chicago Cubs, there has never been a larger Sword of Damocles hovering over a baseball pitcher; there is an Aircraft Carrier of Damocles regularly sending squadrons of Damocles bomber jets at Lester's shoulder and cruciate ligaments.  

For several seasons Cubs games were not only meaningless in the existential sense of all sporting events being a trifling distraction from societal problems and I don't even an own a TV, but meaningless even within baseball's limited universe. You could slate the Cubs into last place in April and find them comfortably resting there undisturbed in September.  The only mild pleasure from Cubs games came from the potential of watching Cubs ineptly run into each other.  Now, even if they don't make the playoffs, the Cubs are at last interesting and it is not just because they will be playing their games in a dilapidated hellhole.

WRIGLEY RENOVATIONS

The Cubs' renovations of Wrigley Field are behind schedule.  This makes sense because the Cubs are philosophically behind schedule.  The outfield bleachers will spend this season as pits, barren baseball wastelands filled with dirt, more than a century of stale beer, and, by the end of the season, I assume roaming bands of abandoned prospects attempting to build a civilization out of sunflower seeds and fungo bats.

Theo Epstein, wearing a crown fashioned out of forbidden Old Style cans and Jed Hoyer, wearing pinstriped epaulettes, will begin to use the pits as part of hardline contract negotiations.  Edwin Jackson will be the first to be DFP'd-- designated for pits, forced to rely on his wits, charm, and ineffective fastball to negotiate his way through the numerous pit civilizations.  He will team with a man once known as Brian LaHair but now goes by his pit name Gargantuous The Hair who knows the ways of the pit but may have his own agenda.  But the greatest horror in the Pit does not come from the warring factions of pit dwellers or the pit pits or the festering bites of vienna hotdogs mutated into sentience by decades of proximity to urinal trough organisms.  No, it is the Toweled One, a mysterious man who stalks silently at night.  He wears ragged pants, a tattered jersey with only the letters "ior" visible and a cap pulled low over his face.  Severed elbow ligaments dangle from his belt.  Only one man has escaped and he has been driven mad; he screams about Tommy John surgery and teeth before becoming transfixed with fear and the only words he'll mutter are "in Dusty we trusty."
 
The Cubs' new Special Adviser to the General Manager on Pits, 
Thunderdomes, and Mutant Outlands

The Cubs are also installing a videoboard this year.

SEASON OUTLOOK

The Cubs will be improved this year.  This is because they have decided to use actual major league baseball players.  In addition to the ballyhooed prospects, the Cubs brought in on-base specialist Dexter Fowler, and Miguel Montero, a solid defensive catcher and maker of intense yell-faces.  Montero is also adept at pitch-framing, an art of openly deceiving umpires that is an acceptable part of baseball unlike attempting to steal signs, which is punishable by having a baseball thrown at your face because baseball is a violent murder sport invented in the nineteenth century by train robbery gangs. 
 
Early baseball action: a strikeout

Yet, while it's exciting to have a baseball team that aims for more than a top draft pick, it's probably a bit premature to assume they will make the playoffs.  For one, they play in the same division as the dangerous Pirates and the grimly inevitable St. Louis Cardinals.  Other awful teams, like the Padres and the Marlins will also contend for the Wild Card.  Fortunately, I can't imagine either of those teams ever causing  misery to Cubs fans.

Secondly, the Cubs' prospects, as good has they have been, are still prospects.  Soler probably won't continue his blistering pace.  Baez may never learn to hit major league pitching.  Kris Bryant has played exactly as many big league games as you or me, assuming that Carlos Zambrano did not just google himself for 1,000 pages.  Pitchers Jake Arrieta and Justin Hammel may not replicate last season's breakouts.  Joe Maddon's honeymoon will end under the thunderous echo of 10,000 guys with mustaches and a Chicago sports press manned by lumbering men writing the words "wins=winning games=winners yes?" in their notebooks next to sketches of sausage products.

And yes, the Cubs are still the Cubs.  Stewards of a century-plus World Series drought, compilers of losing seasons, standard-bearers of sporting ineptitude.  Perhaps, the Cubs will win one year, but it is equally possible they continue to lose until baseball transforms into another sport entirely after Wrigley Field is taken over by the pit people and baseball quickly transforms into an inevitable future death sport involving bullpen cars and pitching machines.  The Cubs have gouged fans and reached for taxpayers' wallets.  They have sent forth armies of stonegloved fielders, strikeout mongers, belly itchers, and Junior Lake against professional baseballers, they have intentionally made a mockery of team whose name and everything it stands for is already a mockery and in 2015 they have attacked us with the absolute worst thing with which to afflict a Cubs fan: hope.  You maniacs.

Friday, November 28, 2014

HATURDAY HATPOCALYPSE HAT GAME BOWL GAME HAT

It is here.

Which team will qualify for a virtually non-existent bowl game in Detroit or somewhere spiritually aligned with the concept of a Detroit bowl game ? Which team can persevere in the face of intense media scrutiny?  Which team has what it takes to be the second-best team in the state?  Which team has a better back-up quarterback?  Whose cuisine will reign supreme?  Who wants The Hat, the universally-recognized symbol of the greatest rivalry in the history of college football?
 
Hat

It's Hat Saturday.  Haturday.  Win or go home.  The most important game between Northwestern and Illinois in the history of the rivalry and it's to punch a golden ticket to a Siberian bowl wasteland or be forever cast into the dustbin of forgotten teams that don't play in bowls even though the difference between playing in a crappy bowl game or not playing in one is for all intents and purposes meaningless.  This game is no less than the climax of the Tim Beckman era, and a win or die showdown for watered-down, grade-inflation bowl eligibility; it is the platonic ideal of a Land of Lincoln game.  This game could be a glorious continuation of Tim Beckman-related Hat Invincibility or it could go down as one of the most ignominious defeats in Northwestern history which includes losses via multiple onside kick returns, allowing the greatest comeback in the history of college football, losing to an FCS opponent at home, losing 34 consecutive games as students threw the goal posts in Lake Michigan in mock triumph, and failing to defeat Brady Hoke.

DO BECK MEN DREAM OF ELECTRIC HATS

Tim Beckman is one of the best things to happen to Northwestern football.   Illinois and Northwestern shared Big Ten Cellar-Dweller Solidarity, occasionally rising to the top of the conference and serving as a welcome breath of fresh air against the ceaseless and boring domination by the Ohio States and Michigans.  Illinois's football past is only slightly less bleak than Northwestern's.  I can't sum up the Illinois football experience better than the lede from this article: "Illinois senior football players were asked to name their favorite memory during their time in the program for the team's website. For most of the 18, the best memory was the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl."

The rivalry game, first for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk and then vastly superior Hat, was a good way to end the season and usually seen as winnable.  Then Tim Beckman came to down, guns blazing, staring down piano players.

Beckman made no secret of what he wanted: state pride and its currency: Hats.  His introductory press conference was rife with references to destroying purple objects, referring to Northwestern as "that school up north," putting up that anti-Northwestern sign in the locker room, and probably getting angry at Kansas State and sending hate mail to the purple teletubby for what the producers of the that show would see as novel and unexpected reasons.  If you for whatever reason have read more than one entry of this blog, you've noticed that I think the War on Northwestern is an unending wellspring of hilarity.
 
Try to think of something funnier than this

But, in some ways, Tim Beckman has won.  Beckman, and the conversion of the trophy into a coveted Hat, has made the Illinois game a must-win.  It's more than just a win against an in-state rival (Beckman, who makes pronouncements with the understated, soft-spoken cadence of a desperate Depression-era carnival barker, declared this the "state championship," apparently oblivious to the existence of Northern Illinois).  The cosmic laws of the universe simply cannot allow a person who uses all of the ridiculous flopsweat-addled manufactured rivalry tricks on what is historically the worst program in the history of college football to prevail in that game.  Instead, Beckman functions best as a frustrated foil; Beck Man the Saturday morning cartoon villain whose plots are forever frustrated by his own incompetence.

If Tim Beckman had turned the Illini into a football juggernaut, his goofy Northwestern-baiting would be embraced as part of his motivational tactics.  But his Illini have not exactly set the world on fire.  Beckman has won a total of four Big Ten games since taking over in 2012.  His tenure has been marked by weird incidents on and off the field, including a public censure by the NCAA for chewing tobacco on the sideline, acquiring sideline interference penalties including the one linked above where he's simultaneously flagged and run over by a referee, and criticism for attempting to poach Penn State players seconds after sanctions came down.  I don't blame him for any of those things; there's no room for dignity in coaching college football and Beckman should be able to use whatever sideline substances he wants whether it's chaw or the chemicals that are constantly pumped into Ed Orgeron on gameday to prevent him from removing his shirt.  But it would also be fair to say that his position at Illinois is under siege, and he may well be coaching for his job on Saturday.

GET ON UP FOR THE HAT GAME YOU CHUMPS

What else can we say?  It's the Hat Game.  Northwestern is carrying a modest two-game win streak including a decisive 38-14 victory over a train accident Purdue team that was never really in doubt.  But the Wildcats suffered a massive blow on offense when Trevor Siemian injured his knee.  That means that the already-struggling Northwestern offense will turn to big-armed backup Zack Oliver.  Oliver looked good to close out the game.  It would not be surprising to see the 'Cats use their other quarterback in Alviti Packages because they sound like the Macguffin at the center of a heist movie.
 
Slide the briefcase across the floor.  Stay there.  I need to make a call.  If I don't call 
by precisely 2:30, we'll destroy the Alviti Packages.  You're not getting anything 
until my boss confirms he has the Colter Options

The Illini may also use their backup at quarterback.  Beckman replaced a rusty Wes Lunt with Riley O'Toole in their win against Penn State.  Northwestern fans may remember O'Toole from his cameo in the 2012 game, when he relieved Nathan Scheelaase in a Northwestern romp.  Lunt may also play.  Maybe the teams will switch quarterbacks at halftime just to mix things up.

The game will match one of the country's least productive offenses (playing with up to two quarterbacks, neither of which has ever started a game) against one of the worst defenses.  Northwestern plays defense better than anything the Illini do and are at home, albeit badly outnumbered by Illinois fans.  The 'Cats have beaten Wisconsin and Notre Dame while the Illini have felled mighty Minnesota.

Don't write off the Illini.  This game is for The Hat.  It is for a bowl.  It is for Tim Beckman's job, for continued irritation at the whole Chicago's Big Ten team thing, for a tiny crack of dawn in the darkness that has shrouded the Illinois football program since the Fall of the Zook Empire, and I expect the Illini to come out like maniacs to let that Hat radiate happiness around Champaign in the dismal winter months to come in The Greatest Rivalry in All of College Football.

COME OUT THIS SATURDAY.  It is the Hat Game.  It is going to be pleasant outside.  Are you prepared to sit idly by and ignore what will certainly be the hattest hat game of the century with a trip to Detroit at stake when you and your loved ones can be part of a braying purple throng ready to sweep Beck Man and the Illini down I-57, hatless and bowl-less, in the last opportunity to do so at Ryan Field this season, and with the only socially acceptable venue for yelling at college students who are running into each other for our amusement?  Don't let the Illini enact a Glorious Revolution and turn Ryan Field into a House of Orange.
 
Beckman's hatred for Northwestern is so intense, I 
can see him taking over another team and 
attempting to maneuver them into the Big Ten and 
use their resources to try to crush the Wildcats, like 
William III attempted to do against the Sun King, 
Louis XIV

HATURDAYS OF THUNDER


This is the greatest Hat Game in history.  A bowl is on the line in a win or go home thunderdome.  We might not have Tim Beckman to kick around anymore.  No one wants to see Beckman ever hold a Hat in triumph; the thought is sickening, appalling, disgusting.  At the same time, I want to see more on the line in this game.  Beckman's ridiculous, tone-deaf, absurd rivalry campaign has made this game relevant again and not even entirely ironically.  I hope he sticks around for many more Hats to come and for this game to be not about Detroit or whatever shitty bowl game the bowl gods conjure up but one day about Indianapolis or Pasadena.  

Even in a sport where wins and losses can swing the tenor of an entire season, this has been one of the most bizarre Northwestern seasons I can remember.  It featured at least three or four moments when all seemed lost.  It featured a heinous blowout at the hands of the hated Hawkeyes and a football game against Michigan so terrible that it was not played so much as perpetrated.  It continued the inexplicable and frustrating Northwesternings from last season, but also contained one of my favorite Northwestern games ever played when every single break Northwestern missed over the past two years came to their way in the service of ruining Notre Dame's day.  And it culminated in a knock-down drag-out fight to the death for a Hat, a crappy bowl game, and all that is worth rooting for in college football.