Friday, December 8, 2017



There was nothing at stake beyond the Hat in this game.  Northwestern had already locked up a mid-tier bowl, cemented its best winning streak in decades with a preposterous series of overtime wins literally unprecedented in the history of the sport, and the Fighting Illini had spent the season laying in a ditch and getting poked.  The game had originally been planned for Soldier Field, but had been moved back to Memorial Stadium after a hilarious debacle of low attendance and Interim Coaching; now the game took place in front of an equally woeful smattering of brave Illinois fans who had come out to see the team collectively thumbs up and sink into an orange morass of melted steel.  This series of events is exactly like the decline of the Hanseatic League.

"The Hatman Cometh,"

The Wildcats have many reasons to be favored. But it's now or never for the Illini, who hope to avoid their second winless Big Ten season since 2012. The last time Illinois beat Northwestern was 2014, when the current seniors were freshmen. There should be added motivation to capture the Land of Lincoln Trophy. Can the Illini catch the Wildcats looking forward to a bowl game?

Shannon Ryan, "Saturday's Matchup, Prediction: Northwestern at Illinois," Chicago Tribune

Line: Northwestern by 16 1/2

Lance Gravedigger's Guide for Northwestern Football Bettors and Other Maniacs

Guys I'm at the game and I think there are legitimately 45 people here.

Stilltalkinboutthechief, Comment on "Gamethread: Northwestern vs. Illinois" at

It was the lady refilling a tray of mini-hamburger buns in the press box who informed me that stadium staff had been told to expect a crowd of less than 10,000 — far punier than the announced crowd of about 30,000. I took her word for it. There was no need for a specific confirmation to see there was no one here.

Steve Greenberg, "Northwestern crushes Illinois 42-7 in a setting with no, um, rival," Chicago Sun-Times 

I've spent the afternoon in a fine purple Lincoln get-up rousing the purple horde and antagonizing our Intrastate Rival with some fine oratory from ol' Honest Abe, my friends, and the few Illinois fans are cowed and concerned #HATHATHAT


guy dressed as a Purple Lincoln tripped over his enormous, draping coat and fell into a tray of cotton candy and he's trying desperately to pick it out of his fake beard.

Stilltalkinboutthechief, op. cit.


There was the sound again, that thin roar.  Not much of a crowd.  Looked like the gray concrete stands, cracks of orange, smattering of purple, couple of Ditkas.  

bill cubit

It was all on the line, though. One win, two wins, no wins, I would say listen up, men.  Men.  This isn't fly fishing.  This isn't high tea with the Cultural Attache of Azerbaijan.  This isn't middle school social dance where they teach you the fox trot instead of the 2 legit 2 quit dance.  This is football, gentlemen.  That's the kind of thing you would hear from Ron Zook.

ron zook

I checked to see and they still had the Hat.  Still the trophy.

bill cubit

Hats. Trophies.  Trinkets.  For me, it's about looking them straight in the eye and telling them, gentlemen you know what you did out there.  Hold that feeling.  Wear it.  Carry it with you when you leave here, in your greatest triumphs of designing skyscrapers and piloting hydrofoils or at your lowest moments of being abandoned by your love at the top of Aconagua and having to silently make your way down the mountain alone carrying nothing but your supplies and your perforated heart with you and I say, do you really need a cooper hat?

ron zook

I always thought the hat was kind of sharp.

bill cubit

It's mounted on a base.  I really wanted to wear that hat.

ron zook

There's a hollowed out area there where you could stick it on your head.  You didn't know that?

bill cubit

Ah, hell.

ron zook


And yet, hapless, beleaguered, and starting a true freshman quarterback in the place of Chayce Crouch and Literally Jeff George Jr., the Illini managed to stop Northwestern and take a 7-0 lead; it was as if the vast football cosmos had decided that if the Wildcats were going to do the win an impossible three overtime games in a row to preserve a ridiculous win streak and look great against Purdue and Minnesota dance , they would have to pay the losing to the most wretched vintage of the Illini in a god-forsaken away game and watch as the Hat transfixes the entire state and ushers in an Illinois football reniassance piper, this is a single sentence., op. cit.
TOUCHDOWN! some teens are playing keep-away with the lincoln guy's hat, he's calling them ignorant dough-faces and one of them is telling him that he's using the insult anachronistically.

Stilltalkingaboutthechief, op. cit.

As I mentioned before, this type of shameful display is the type of thing you would expect from Pat Fitzgerald, who, I shouldn't even have to mention, had spent the beginning of this season cavorting around in short pants.

Fanofcats95, "Game Thread," forums


The sun had already started setting.  4:30 tops this time of year, in Champaign-Urbana.  Probably still playing after Thanksgiving, those turkey and gravy leftovers still sloshing around in the linemen's bellies, maybe putting on a little paper pilgrim hat that their baby cousin made before coming back here to put a hat on a guy and drive 'em into the field turf.

bill cubit

We were stuck watching as they gave up the lead, completely unable to do anything about it.  The first few years, I tried.  Tried to grab a linebacker and give 'em a butt slap.  Tried jump into a huddle and say listen up, how you respond today is not just about lines of scrimmage and yardage.  Gentlemen, it's about how you respond when you're in trouble, when you're down, when you're laid off and offered a buyout with a kind of crappy severance package because the online crane and heavy equipment online rental startup couldn't handle the recession and you've got to get back out there on the road and you're about three weeks from having to park the car in the White Hen lot down the street to throw off the repo guy.  Nothing.  No one saw me.  No one heard me.  Hands went right through the butts.  Tried to rip off my shirt and just kept having more shirts.

ron zook

Spent a long time ripping shirts.

bill cubit

It was because they were weak.  And soft.

tim beckman

Ah shit.

ron zook


I remember the smell of the workshop.

tim beckman

Oh jumping junipers.

bull cubit

Yes, that smell, my friends.  The smell of freshly-sawed wood, wood glue, the smell of steel and sparks and ash from the stove in the corner.  Grandad hammering away with the records on his old phonograph of that man reading the bonesaw catalog.  Grandad took me on a walk and we hit that clearing, the sun straining through the branches around us.  It was like a stadium, I thought.  Like the one over at the school on Friday nights, all lit up with bark grandstands a few curious squirrels cheering us on and that's when Grandad turned to me and said Timbus (it was a family name), Timbus take a look around you at this clearing right here in the woods.  I want you to ask yourself if there's ever been a better spot that the good Lord could have made if he was making one of those pretty paintings like in your Grandmother's book, just look around and imagine a more perfect spot for a bear to come out of absolutely nowhere and maul the absolute shit out of us.

That night, he showed me The Book.  It must've taken him years, lonely years sitting in his old chair by the window, sipping on that rotgut that Mr. Millman used to slip him even though he wasn't supposed to, drawing up detailed plans for a suit to repel a bear attack.  But he was getting older and gaunter and more tired and he said to me Timbus there is one thing I want from you in this life and that is for us to build this suit and when you're big enough we're gonna put it on you.  And then I want you to fight a bear.

tim beckman

Oh gravy, the bear suit.

bill cubit

Grandad wouldn't let me use the power tools, but sometimes I'd fetch wood and sometimes he'd measure my skull, and much of the time he had me sitting in the corner practicing my headbutts against a bear head that he took from the lodge one night because he said those sons of bitches owed him money.

You know, we moved away and I didn't see Grandad much and I got bigger and into football.  But every once in awhile I'd hear from him-- a card on my birthday, maybe a quick trip (never more than a night) around Christmas time, a flip book of a person in armor just socking a bear in the jaw.  I sort of indulged him, I didn't think he'd ever finish it.  Then one night, a truck pulls up in front of the dorm and a guy brings by a giant crate and tells me he believes in me and vanishes.  Shit, fellas.  Shit.

Dad told me Grandad was sick, and I have no idea how he managed to finish the thing, the will it took to even polish it up and stencil URSA DANGER onto it while he coughing and shaking, but I couldn't just ignore it.  Couldn't.  There was a note written in a brittle, fading hand that said "Promise me."  So I tried.  Spent the whole summer driving around, suit in the trunk, looking for bears.

tim beckman

I told him to get to the part about the circus.

ron zook

Why on Earth would you do something like that?

bill cubit

Gotta be honest, I kind of like the part about the circus.

ron zook

Long and short of it, fellas: couldn't find a bear.  Not on any land where I wouldn't immediately be searched and questioned.  So we were all drinking one night and I told my buddy Dewey about the whole thing and he said, Timmy ya gotta fight that bear.  I'm gonna help you.  Your problem is that you're trying to go to the bear.  Why not make the bear come to you?

Ya know, I thought it would be tricky to find a bear circus desperate and on the brink of financial ruin, but let me tell you fellas: that's pretty much all of them.  And we found one and pooled some cash that I made running a football camp where I clobbered 12-year-olds with one of those American Gladiator jousting q-tips and Dewey got from selling gray market iguanas and he came back he told me with a bona fide circus bear, probably pissed off and ferocious.  So I went out there and I put the thing on for the first time-- I just couldn't bring myself to do it before and it took ages, there were diagrams and strap mechanisms and epaulets that were just for show, and I threw that sucker on and hit the claw deployment button and prepared to kick some bear ass Beckman-style, and I saw what Dewey had done.  It was a cub, tiny, shaking. I couldn't hit that little guy.  I have no idea if it even knew how to fight a regular man, let alone a man with spring-loaded foot-talons and pneumatic karate chops.  Dewey you asshole, I told him.  He was laughing his ass off in the corner, snapping pictures.  I wouldn't fight that bear unless it at least had a helmet and maybe some shoulder pads.  Dewey, you shifty lizard fuck.

I drove hours in silence.  I was going to do it.  I was going to lie and tell the old man I beat the heck out of a bear, that it tried to slash and claw and maul me, but Grandad the neck guard held perfectly and I was able to snare the big ol' bastard with the wrist net, would've been the easiest thing.  But I just couldn't.  I looked at him, wasting away in that sad bed, and I told him.  Look, we found a bear.  But he was small, and he needed at the very least some kneepads and a mouthguard, and Grandad just lay there, blank and shrinking.  Christ, Timbus, he said.  Christ.

I drove out of there and threw the suit into Lake Erie.  Every day, I tell myself he would have eventually understood that deep within him he'd want to make a bear an anti-human suit. I have to.  I have to.

tim beckman

And that's why you always had walk-ons running windsprints in papier-mache wildcat heads while you threw cans of fancy feast at them?

bill cubit

Did you know there was a hollowed out recess in the hat trophy where you could stick your head?

ron zook

You're shitting me.

tim beckman


It didn't take long for Northwestern to take its first lead following the turnover on downs as Thorson threw a 53-yard pass to Bennett Skrowronek on the first play of the drive to put the Wildcats at the Illini's five-yard line. A jet-sweep handoff to Jelani Roberts on the ensuing play went for six and put Northwestern in front, 14-7. It was the second touchdown of Roberts' career.

"Wildcats Earn Seventh-Straight Win, Keep Land of Lincoln Trophy"

The Wildcats scored on a Joe Gaziano strip that defensive end Samdup Miller recovered and ran in from 3 yards out for a 21-7 third-quarter lead. Linebacker Paddy Fisher's interception led to Jeremy Larkin's 4-yard touchdown run for a 35-7 edge in the fourth quarter.

Shannon Ryan, "Northwestern wins seventh in a row with 42-7 drubbing of Illinois," Chicago Tribune

this is fucking miserable, the lincoln guy found a stephen douglas guy in his section; they're doing debates at each other, and the security guy told me that he'd have to throw me out if i whipped some polish sausages at them, but he said believe me, buddy. i know

Stilltalkingaboutthechief, op. cit.

Meanwhile, the Danish forces of Queen Margaret battled a gang of ruthless privateers known as the Victual Brothers who kept running the blockade. They later evolved into a group of other raiders called the Likedeelers whose most important legacy is the creation of this stupendous Wikipedia Sentence: "Their most famous leader was Captain Klaus Störtebeker, who first appears in the record as a Victual Brother around 1394.[7] The Low German word Störtebeker means "Down the beakerful". He allegedly got his name because he could swallow four litres of beer without taking the beaker from his mouth.", op. cit.

What no one realizes is that I have concealed copper spray paint on my person and i'm sanding my hat.



We found quickly that we could pass through and somehow stay inside of people.  Inhabit them.  But not really compel them to do anything.  Like tracking down Paul Kowalcyzk and hitting him with a pool noodle.

bill cubit

That's not quite true.

ron zook

You could nudge them.  Coax them.  Maybe draw their attention to something just out of view.

bill cubit

You could coach 'em up.  Get in there and really focus and let that vendor know in his mind that for a split second that he might want to select not the popcorn nearest his hand, but the next one to his left.  Gentlemen, I would sort of radiate out of my being into this person, you can think about the obvious popcorn but I say we surprise 'em, we call an audible on this one, just you and me right here, looking at the guy dressed like purple lincoln.

ron zook

Yeah, you got him to pick the other popcorn.

bill cubit

I immediately managed to inhabit a guy who was going to chest bump just to feel it.

ron zook

We weren't sure how Beckman figured it out.

bill cubit

Next thing we know Beckman's floating through a scrum and he's sort of melting straight into the big kid's nostrils and he's talking about the flag.

ron zook

Couldn't make anyone do anything they didn't want to do, it's a Hat Game and you've got to do flag stuff.

tim beckman

We tried to stop it, tried to float through the other nostril.  Whole time I'm yelling Son, you're on television, this isn't the XFL, you don't have a nickname like Dale Unsportsmanlike on the back of your jersey.  This is football.  You go for the ball.  You go for the ball.  Well not really yelling, sort of emanating into a corner on the horizon of the consciousness.  

ron zook

It was too late.  The kid grabbed the flag and just underhanded it right into the ref's face.  Guy flew backwards like he was a kung fu henchman. Beckman cackled.  First time I ever heard that guy laugh.  Usually it was all yelling and bear anecdotes.

bill cubit

God damn I always wanted to do that.

tim beckman

Of course you wanted to do it, I had to be held back from chop blocking a line judge in '97.

ron zook

I wanted to stab a ref with a dial-a-down.

bill cubit

Let's see if I can get someone to knee a Wildcat in the scrotum.

tim beckman


"This doesn't happen by accident," Fitzgerald said. "There were a lot of people taking shots at (our players) There were a lot of people taking shots at our program, taking shots at the coaching staff.
"I thought (our players) answered that by shutting the noise off and doing the only thing you can in those circumstances: Go to work. The Chicago work ethic. Roll your sleeves up and go to work. That's what they did and that's why we're Chicago's Big Ten team."

Shannon Ryan, op. cit.

Chicago's Big Ten Team

A billboard on I-94

Illinois. Our State. Our Team.

Short-lived billboard on I-94

And so, after a rampage over a reeling Illinois team, Northwestern collected its ninth victory and bowl berth.  The Hat returns safely to Evanston in a Hat Transport Vehicle.  An improbable season where Northwestern was all of about a minute of overtime away from barely scarping a berth in the Disused Robocop Set Dressing Bowl sees them going to Nashville against a squad of Pretender Wildcats.

Northwestern found itself at the center of minor bowl intrigue.  As Ohio State fans raged about the Playoff and the impossible and arbitrary selection system did its job of consistently riling up at least one particularly annoying fanbase, the Outback Bowl committed crimes.  They selected Michigan over Michigan State and Northwestern despite the Wolverines' inferior record and head-to-head loss to the Spartans.  Apparently there was some sort of arcane rule that would prevent the 'Cats from appearing in the Outback Bowl because Northwestern players are still being peeled from the Raymond James Stadium from a New Years' Bowl game only two years ago that seems impossibly distant, when Tennessee under Butch Jones was thought to be an ascendant young team and not a collection of flop-sweating bureaucrats desperately mailing out job offers and self-addressed-stamped envelopes to football coaches and television personalities.  The Holiday Bowl selected Michigan State despite their head-to-head loss against Northwestern due to their stronger Football Brand.

Here is where I am going to admit that any rage about Bowl Game Hierarchies on the part of this blog is disingenuous because I don't really care what game they go to, but raging about slights is a large part of the fun of following this insane sport that is literally governed by committees of weirdo bureaucrats and committees just picking things.  College football takes a chaotic sport and supports the entire thing with an impossible infrastructure built from a century of going from a few side-whiskered hooligans literally stomping each other to death to an unwieldy and inexplicable billion dollar entertainment complex.  Of course there's a loose hierarchy of prestige around the 40 more or less interchangeable bowl games that, on the margins, disappear and reappear with the regularity of pun-named headshops on a main shopping street near a college campus.  But the decisions of these bowl committees make sense only when you consider them as a money-making apparatus; wherever there is a mid-December bowl game played in front of fifty people, there is some guy in a tophat skimming money somewhere, someone making money off of merchandise that looks dated and ridiculous exactly 12 minutes after the game ends, someone somewhere making off with a truck of stadium nachos destined for the black market.  

Bowl prestige is ridiculous, funny, and fits perfectly with college football, which is run completely on grievances.  So yes, Northwestern probably could have gone to a slightly more prestigious bowl, but they have 80 fans and no National Brand, so they will go to Nashville to play their SEC mascot doppelgangers as a reward for this bizarre season of overtime fist-clutching.  They will try to hoist their second bowl trophy in a row and fourth all time, and they will send out a remarkably successful group of graduating players including Justin Jackson, an all-time great while letting Pat Fitzgerald complain about Bowl Position for an entire month., op. cit.


The lights juddered and turned off.  The spectators filed out leaving a trail of soda cups and anguish.  And as the last of the security, vendors, stat-men, and mascot wranglers all left, a pale, unearthly light began to light up the stadium brighter and brighter invisible except to us, standing on the fifty yardline.  

bill cubit

It was only then that we could really see each other as more than just murky forms and abstract blobs.  Cubit, face contorted into a grotesque yowl, his heart perforated by daggers.

ron zook

Zook, squinting quizzically, his limbs frozen into a waterski ready position.

Beckman dragging himself across the ground, holes where his hamstrings had once been, and covered in tattoos depicting his enemies the University of Illinois Board of Regents, the 2012-14 Northwestern Wildcats, the clerk who had kicked him out of home depot when he lost patience waiting for someone to help him grab a lawnmower bag from the top shelf and took a ladder himself before he fell sending a palette of lawn care accessories crashing to the floor and rolls of duct tape rolling through the toilet aisle, tripping other customers who unleashed a rain of plungers and rakes, ad signs that say "caution: venomous reptiles."

bill cubit

I told them, Gentlemen, the light had arrived.  And sure enough, we were starting to dissolve, to fade.  I had no idea what our purpose was.  Before, it was always clear.  To get the ball.  To control field position.  To get off the field on third and short.  And off the field to make sure that the guys were growing, preparing to take what they'd learned about getting the ball and figuring out how to take it to the boardroom, to their families, to writing and directing a one-man show that sure, maybe a lot of people aren't coming to, but it wasn't really about the audience, it was about getting it off their chest and moving quickly through the impression of their dad and their eighth-grade science teacher who told them they wouldn't be shit and wouldn't he like to see them now, not specifically in that moment, in a dank basement performing for a chagrined grandmother, but you know, in the larger sense, they've got families and jobs now, is the sort of thing that I would break down the players with after practice.

But here, I don't know exactly what the point is.  There's no score.  There's no winning.  There's showing up for this exact game somewhere in Champaign-Urbana, in Evanston, in a baseball stadium or neutral site only with the two other souls, with no idea why we're flung together or what we're supposed to accomplish with nothing in between.  Just an endless cycle of fading in and out, an endless cycle of Northwestern and Illinois football games.  Gentlemen, I said.  Gentlemen, we might not know each other or like each other, but here we are and it's been an honor...

ron zook

He faded out.  It wasn't gentle.  Not awful either, just a bizarre sensation of sort of loosening but all over. 

bill cubit

It's kind of like taking off eight layers of bear armor, except your entire being.

tim beckman

I asked him if he thought this was all just some interim state, something that happened to everyone-- professors sent as whatever we are over to academic conferences, insurance adjusters sent to floods and mudslides, plumbers appearing whenever they pull out one of those hundred-ton municipal sewer grease balls?

bill cubit

I had an answer for him.  A good one too.  But he had already begun to fade and soon I would too.  But I'd tell him that we were here to win the Hat.  That's the concrete goal.  That's what unites us.  That's why we're at the Hat game.  I believed that the Hat, wrested from that jowly crewcut, grayer than I remember, would absorb us and let us finally rest.  The Hat, glowing, pulsating.  That was why.  But we couldn't do it.  We watched them get bowled over and touchdowned.  There had to be football at the root and the goal had to be winning the football game; you win the game and you win whatever the hell this is and we'd be stuck here until we figured out how.  I had to believe that because anything else, manifesting, as it were, forever at an Illinois-Northwestern football game with no purpose and no escape was otherwise too bleak to 

tim beckman

Friday, November 24, 2017


Northwestern has won now won six consecutive games, a rare feat not accomplished in more than 20 years by going repeatedly to overtime, outlasting coaches and adventure quarterbacks and receivers whose hands have turned to stone at precisely the wrong time, by living impossibly long in a zone between winning and losing and beating Purdue but also letting them hang around and so it makes sense that they went out on a cold, wet, and miserable day and let the Earth envelop the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Teams can no longer run on Northwestern's defense and Minnesota could not pass or hold onto the ball or do much other than stand around in the rain and write beleaguered civil war letters to their loved ones.  This has somehow become par for the course.  The Gophers haven't scored a point in Evanston since 2013.  Two years ago, the Gophers could not stop Northwestern from eating almost an entire quarter on a single drive.  Saturday, Gopher quarterback Demry Croft managed only two completions on the day while throwing three interceptions.  And a week after Purdue shut down the Northwestern running game, the Wildcats steamrolled the Gophers as Justin Jackson continued piling up yards and moving up in the Northwestern, Big Ten, and college football record books. 

P.J. Fleck rues forgetting to instruct his 
team in the art of S.C.O.P.R. (Score Points in Rain)

This game's theme was misery as rain and later sleet pounded the stadium.  Though it made the gameday experience unpleasant as the wind roared through the north endzone and rain seeped through saturated gloves and everyone involved wanted to go home and clutch at a mug of warm cocoa, it appears that Northwestern has found a winning formula to stem the tide of visiting fans from overwhelming the stands by largely making the entire stadium uninhabitable, much like how the Russian army destroyed their own cities to slow down the advancing Napoleonic forces.  Next time a Big Ten opponent rolls through, be it Iowa or Wisconsin or Michigan, Northwestern should consistently spray water at spectators, hurl small ice chips at them, and bring in gigantic fans to blast them with howling, frozen winds to empty the stadium of all but a handful of Northwestern supporters jumping around on defense in order to feel their limbs (this would not work on Nebraska fans who would somehow bud off each other to form ever-larger chains of red-sweatered colonies that would engulf the entire stadium while talking about how many more of their buds there are in the stadium and also yelling "let's go shirts").

Northwestern's largest ratio of Northwestern fans during a Big Ten 
home game this season

The Wildcats now have eight wins.  They are heavily favored over a truly wretched Illinois team trying to salvage a miserable season with a Hat and a deathblow of Northwestern's hopes to play in a higher-ranked bowl that will invariably skip them over for a better Football Brand school anyway at stake. 

Northwestern has had a truly bizarre football season that has played out like a higher-stakes sequel to last year.  While the 'Cats certainly could not match the original's shocking home loss to a bad FCS team, they raised the emotional stakes by looking shaky against crappy non-conference teams and dead in the water against a Duke Blue Devils team that has spent the ACC season getting repeatedly exorcised.  But the highs have been higher with a preposterous and literally unprecedented three-overtime winning streak, eight wins, and even a narratively satisfying blowout over the very same P.J. Fleck who had beguiled them in 2016 with a Big Ten roster to boot.  There is no way they can top this rollercoaster unless the team is literally disbanded in August, forfeits at least one game, and then reconvenes in time to inexplicably beat an Iowa team that is contending for the West title and also P.J. Fleck has now taken over at Alabama.  

There is no reason why Northwestern should not beat a young Illinois team whose best days are surely ahead of it.  Yet there is no telling what the promise of the Hat does surely makes madmen of anyone, and the Illini will certainly come out mustering all of the offensive firepower and Jeffs George that they can in this storied Rivalry Contest.


The following column was mailed to BYCTOM's North American Headquarters stapled to a crude, papier-mache Abraham Lincoln head and a flip book indicating various karate moves that would be inflicted upon the editorial staff of this website and the corporate hierarchy of the VIL Network, an entertainment and sports portal presented by Amalgamated Anvil and Anvil Lubricants.  

They sent me out with a cardboard box
Full of orange ties and laminated cards
With OSKEE acronyms
But what those bureaucrats will never know is
I took the Hat.

The current hat's a crude replica
I had done in the trophy underground
The very shop that made
The Civil conFLicCT for Diaco
He disavows

I wear the Hat around the house
And when I watch the Illini lose on TV
Yes it's quite heavy 
And my neck aches, hunched and stiff
Hamstrings are fine

Look at the woeful Illini now
On the eve of this Rivarly
Winless in the con'frence
Imagine how they'd do with signs that said
"No Northwestern"

Or Northwestern pinatas
Or plush Willie Wildcats mauled by trained falcons
Or shredded to fluff as I run them down in a combine harvester
While I yell over the roar to the team THIS IS WHAT WE WILL DO TO THEM
And then I light myself on fire in a special suit
And run around screaming and making a scene
It's a metaphor for the team
To get Fired Up

Admit it, you miss all of this
With Lovie Smith and his placid dignity
Instead of signs and clocks
And literally falling and while I'm prone on my behind
Getting flagged

Here's my prediction for the game
I don't care at all

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Win Streak

After 15 minutes of game time or approximately Lawrence of Arabia in real time, neither Purdue nor Northwestern had scored.  It was a cold, endless, inexplicable night game so perfunctory that Northwestern did not even bother to break out its Night Game Gothic alternative uniforms but instead paraded around in a ridiculous industrial camouflage.  The game was marred by strange penalties, an unending aerial assault (Purdue asked backup quarterback Elijah Sindelar to throw the ball 60 times).  By the end of the game, Northwestern looked fairly certain to win, but Purdue hung around enough in the fourth quarter to theoretically tie it-- by the end, I was hoping they would, that they would get their 15 points or whatever they needed to even the game and send it to overtime where I am pretty sure the remaining dozen Northwestern fans deranged enough to stay through all 19 hours of this game would have immediately smeared themselves with hot dog condiments, constructed cardboard capes, and chanted as Northwestern ceased being a football team and immediately became a bizarre overtime cult.
Remaining Northwestern fans prepare for The Overtime by performing 
their profane ritual of putting their hands in the air, putting their hands up in the air

The Wildcats hung on for their seventh win and fifth straight by maintaining their fearsome run defense, daring Sindelar to beat them.  Purdue, though, refused to allow the 'Cats to bash them with Justin Jackson.  They plugged every running lane, bringing in safeties and linebackers and Purdue fans with the most robust Joe Tiller mustaches to crowd the line of scrimmage.  That seemed to work until Riley Lees unleashed a brilliant punt return only to have the officials call it back-- with no clear footage of the infraction, a confused Ryan Field crowd unleashed a torrent of abuse screaming out SIR YOU WILL HEAR FROM MY LAWYER in disgusted unison.  The Wildcats responded with a quick drive and did not look back; a blistering 94-yard drive after a near goal line stand just before the end of the first half further increased the lead presumably because Pat Fitzgerald was unable to signal in his traditional end of half play to take the ball and tunnel underground.
Riley Lees gains a new nickname the Aggrieved Punt Returner

Wisconsin's win over Iowa ended any hope of Big Ten insanity somehow leading the 'Cats to a near-impossible berth in the championship game.  Northwestern will now try to avenge last year's defeat against the Gophers, who spent last Saturday sending the Nebraska Cob Nobblers to the Harsh Realm and extend their win streak.  It's all bowl positioning and hat trophies now, and the possibility of a nine-win season that would have seemed impossible after the Duke game.


More than any sport, college football nurses cults of personalities around charismatic coaches, none more so than Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, who is charismatic enough to start his own cult.  The Gophers nabbed Fleck from Western Michigan where he led the Broncos to becoming a MAC powerhouse that may have also been no less than the third best team in the Big Ten West last season.  He also invented the greatest football slogan of all time in "Row the Boat," a motivational mantra he developed after the tragic loss of a child.  "Row the Boat" became inextricably linked with Western Michigan football, a horse team that somehow became confusingly adorned with all manner of nautical symbolism.

Western Michigan puts up a hippocamp statue of its Martime 
Horse theme outside Waldo Stadium

Last year, I wrote about Fleck being trapped by his popular catchphrase, tiring of rowing the boat but constantly harangued by those who want to hear about boats and rowing.  But that was a deranged fantasia written on the the world's final blogspot website.  Fleck has gone beyond rowing the boat to a host of ludicrous motivational acronyms.  Here for example is Fleck explaining F.A.M.I.L.Y. (Forget About Me I Love You) and H.Y.P.R.R. which is somehow an acronym for How Yours Process Results Response, which is a completely insane thing for an acronym to stand for.

Fleck is an acronym savant, the kind of person who would blast into a 
room prepared to tell a group of people about A.L.U.M.I.N.U.M. 
(Always Leave Unused Melodicas In Numbered Utility Modules) and then, 
finding himself in Canada, improvising to Actually Lackadaisical Ungulates 
Make Intolerable Neighbors In Unkempt Meadows without blinking

I normally think ludicrous motivational acronymeering is ridiculous and insipid, but it works for Fleck because he comes across as completely sincere, as someone who believes wholeheartedly in whatever HYPRR is and is ready to HYPRR with you and your entire family for months if necessary.  It also works for Fleck because he works in an insane business, the business of asking large young persons to smash into other equally large or sometimes even larger people while literally a 100,000 people scream at them and point at them accusingly with foam #1 fingers. Maybe Fleck hopping around in a rented hotel conference room with a wireless microphone telling his players about the revolutionary SCOMPTT Method (score more points than them) can bring the Gophers back to contention in this hilarious and miserable football conference; maybe his slogans will collapse in on themselves and remain plastered on the walls as ironic icons of football ineptitude like Butch Jones's Champions of Life rhetoric or Tim Beckman's numerous propaganda posters.
Illinois locker rooms are dedicated with the
 tattered remains of Beckman's information campaigns

I am not predicting anything about this season because Minnesota and the non-Wisconsin and non-Illinois Big Ten West is completely inscrutable.    


The single defining fact of Northwestern basketball had been its absence from the NCAA Tournament.  College basketball exists in a strange netherworld where teams play what seems to be like hundreds of games on frozen, anonymous weeknights and flash through on the ESPN score crawl in obscure, indecipherable initials before finally emerging in March as a fully-formed sports product kept aloft by buzzer-beating triumph, crowd-sobbing heartbreak, and a vast and technically illegal gambling apparatus.  There is winning those endless games, rising through the various arcane rating systems, and getting the team's name on one of those brackets and there is nothing, and for the entire history of the NCAA Tournament Northwestern did not exist.
And then there they were.  They appeared to clinch their tournament appearance with a miraculous, last-second heave.  Then, buoyed by the emergence of Northwestern's vast alumni network of sports personalities that have somehow cornered the market on the world's dumbest profession, by Celebrity Moms and Dads, and through a tournament run that included The World's Least Advised Foul, a Goaltending Rules Controversy, and A Child-Meme, Northwestern became ubiquitous and almost instantaneously overexposed and despised.

This year's Northwestern team arrives in a different universe.  For years, every Northwestern team just wanted to make the tournament, to appear on that bracket, and to return to getting dunked through the Earth's core.  Now, the team has expectations to make the tournament.  The transformation of the team from a desperate also-ran to a very good team is welcome but the experience is totally different.  The Wildcats will be favored in several games.  Every win comes with the question of how it affects the Tournament Resume instead of being judged on the traditional Northwestern metric of how angry opposing fans are to lose to Northwestern.  A failure to make the tournament this year would be disappointing instead of a soothing swoon into the embrace of a sports curse.

Northwestern basketball will be unrecognizable because they are playing in an airport-adjacent monster truck and wrestling arena.  The school is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into an awful and bullshit renovation of Welsh-Ryan arena that will have things like seats and lighting and ways for players to enter and exit the court without having to get all fired up and do their IT'S GAME TIME chants and then politely wend their way through the hot dog line, but this is a mistake as grave as the grave digger that plies its trade regularly at the All State Arena.  Welsh-Ryan was a glorious shit dump that turned into a bona fide home court by the end of the season, when Northwestern fans-- more than the other team even-- packed the cramped stands that floated on top of the court and turned it into a raucous thunderdome and now that the school has had like three games of this atmosphere they are off to play in front of a quarter of an arena filled with the skeletons of hardy explorers who attempted to sit in the top deck during a DePaul game and were never seen again.     
Northwestern saved money on Welsh-Ryan Arena renovation costs by 
making the NCAA Tournament and therefore opening a hole to other 
dimension from which energy flowed and destroyed the site of this unholy occurrence

The administration is trying to build Northwestern sports into brand that doesn't have anything to do with historical lousiness.  They've got a football team that makes bowl games.  They've got a basketball team in the tournament.  They've got the facilities and arenas from exorbitant amounts of money raised by top-hatted boosters.  And, as befitting a college sports program, there's even a discomfiting scandal complete with a disturbingly inept attempt at a cover up that looks like someone in the athletic department tried to run off a player by framing him for not performing in the bullshit make-work program they invented by forging his signature and repeatedly misspelling his name.

The Wildcats return nearly every key player from last year's run, bring back a few more from injury, and add additional recruits.  But last year's run was on a razor's edge-- McIntosh's dagger against Rutgers saved them, the Mighty Heave of Nate Taphorn got them in, and no one is as aware of the precariousness of NCAA qualification than the team that watched that Juice/Shurna team miss it by a combined total of  like five points spread over several agonizing games.  There's nothing guaranteed this season; they won't take anyone by surprise, they are playing in an arena on Mars, and they still rely on their starters to do nearly everything.  Northwestern basketball has cleared its greatest hurdle, but now, after the ecstatic excitement of filling out a bracket and seeing Northwestern players in One Shining Moment, the question is what can they do to follow up. 

Friday, November 10, 2017


We live in overtime now. The strictures of regulation football no longer exist to constrain the Northwestern Wildcats; they start now at the 25 yardline, the clock no longer moves, there is no longer field position or quarters or movement of the sun across the horizon. Here in this dimension beyond time and space and logic and reason the Northwestern Wildcats are unstoppable, indomitable, also receiving votes.

Northwestern has won three consecutive overtime games, a feat that has literally never been done by any other team. This record reminds me of the people who decide that they're going to break the record for skijumping off a mountain into a basejump and then landing on a jetski and that is also on fire in that sure they are doing something unprecedented but it's only because no one else in their right mind would even think to do it.

I just watched the movie McConkey, which details Shane McConkey's
career from extreme skiing to BASE jumping and then combining
them with wingsuit flying after designing a mechanism to release his
skis midair and you learn that like 90% of extreme skiing stunts exist
because of Roger Moore

The Wildcats are 6-3 and ranked #25 in the Playoff Poll even though no rational person has explained to me why the Playoff Committee, which solely exists to pick the top four teams in the country after entire college football season including the Lucrative Conference Championship Games have finished, has a full set of rankings going down to #25 weeks beforehand other than to thrust us further into a chaotic world where we now have three sets of more or less meaningless top-25 ranking systems between warring factions of Playoff Bureaucrats, reporters, and graduate assistant coaches who are all as we speak publishing their own newspapers and pamphlets attacking each other.

Literature sent to discerning college football bloggers by
various rankings including the Playoff Committee's
"Have You Gone Mad?" and the Coach's "A Diffent
Against the Affociated Preff"

Northwestern is bowl eligible. Their previous overtime victories came against teams that spent last Saturday opening a black hole in the Big Ten, creating a swirling vortex that may well suck the entire conference out of the playoff picture and has already destroyed the entire Big Ten East. Michigan State, which fell to Northwestern in an insane three-overtime denouement that ended only when their quarterback panicked after fumbling, grabbed the ball, and Rex Grossmanned it into the ripped and bloody hands of Nate Hall, outlasted Penn State in a seven-hour rain epic where the Spartan Stadium field might as well have turned into quicksand for the Nittany Lions and devoured the entire team. Iowa annihilated Ohio State from the surface of the Earth. No one knows how it happened. The Buckeyes went into Kinnick Stadium and got rampaged upon by a team that had spent the entire season treating the scoring of a twentieth point like Moses searching for the Promised Land. They dropped 55 on them. They did a fake punt, a religious desecration in the House of Ferentz. The result was so baffling that football archaeologists have begun excavating Kinnick stadium in search of proof.

Both of those teams would have prime playoff positioning now, with Michigan State able to seize control of the East with a win against the Buckeyes and Iowa heading into a showdown with Wisconsin except they made the mistake of traveling to Ryan Field to get overtimed and now I want nothing more for them to win out, for them to miss any chance at playoff glory under the triumphant cackle of Northwestern's Generic Wildcat Growl #15 sound effect.


When Thorson's hail mary got batted down, I relaxed knowing that the game had shifted from hostile Memorial Stadium to the Realm of Overtime, a fissure in time-space where the laws of football no longer exist and Northwestern becomes a dominating football force.
The game featured much of what Northwestern has brought to bear against the Big Ten-- tough run defense, an offense that moves in fits and starts like an old pull-to-start lawnmower, Justin Jackson. This week, the Wildcats got a tremendous performance from Kyle Queiro, who picked off Tanner Lee twice and nearly ended the game on a third that just slipped out of his grasp. Pat Fitzgerald added to his increasing museum of avant-garde clock management by basically running out the clock for no apparent reason at the end of the first half when the team had a decent shot to at least give Charlie Kuhbander a better shot.

Once again Northwestern played well enough to win; a team that does nothing but go to overtime has, in fact, discovered how to be literally the exact amount of better required to beat another team.

when you win three straight games in overtime

Nebraska fans have reached their breaking point. They demand that Mike Riley be fired, removed, and arrested, and 90% of Nebraska football sportswriting is just Scott Frost fanfiction where all Hypothetical Scott Frost dialogue has been hastily repurposed from the 1997 film Batman and Robin.

STANDAHDT," says the lede from the Lincoln Journal-Star
in a column entitled "The Ice Man Hiredeth: Eighteen
hypothetical columns about hiring Scott Frost"

It is impossible to tell how good Northwestern is. Part of that is the chaotic nature of college football, where all rankings and formulas are ridiculous because the entire season is 12 games of unpredictable chaos dictated by an oblong ball and dependent on the emotions and consistency of teenagers and grown adults who have decided on a career path that depends a lot on yelling and also blowing whistles at people. The Wildcats, left for dead after a listless victory over a putrid Nevada team and a complete dismantling at the hands of what turned out to be a fairly crappy Duke team, now have six wins and will be favored in their three remaining games. It is not impossible that they could somehow win nine games or for them to lose all three or to play Purdue to so many overtimes that they manage to cross over into Sunday when they are still going for two-point conversions and Ryan Field is converted into an Overtime death cult where fans cut the North stands tarp into robes and demand more overtime periods to slake their overtime lust.


Purdue is here. Purdue under Jeff Brohm, which has transformed itself from the hapless punching bag of the Big Ten with its sinkhole-riddled field and despondent fanbase of train spotters watching a postmodern art installation of football despair to an actual, frisky, scary team that let's not get ahead of ourselves here they still lost to Rutgers.
Purdue and Northwestern is the essence of an 11:00AM Big Ten game, one to be played and forgotten as soon as humanly possible, and the lunatics in charge of college football television have moved it for some reason to a night game. Night football, prime time, national broadcast on ESPN2 no doubt under the strictures of some arcane Big Ten/ESPN contract that prevents them from moving it to ESPN: Handball where all channel descriptions are written in English phonetically but in Cyrillic. Under the lights, where Northwestern and Purdue will inspire millions of college football fans in the Chicago area to stand around anxiously as bar staffs fumble around complicated satellite television systems to get the Notre Dame game while Purdue Pete peers ominously from the preview box.

Purdue actually has to apply for a waiver to allow Purdue
Pete to be used at night. Here is what Purdue Pete originally
looked like before it was destroyed, buried, resurrected,
buried again and burned, resurrected again while taking a
human host who transforms into Purdue Pete when in
proximity to certain brands of train engine, and finally
defeated in combat by Ross and Ade, who trapped it in
a concrete slab from which it has only escaped four times

Purdue comes in with a much-improved defense and a coach who likes to do things like call reverse flea flickers while scanning a playbook taken from NFL Blitz. The Boilermakers, though, will be without one of their quarterbacks after David "That Name Again Is Mister" Blough suffered a gruesome ankle injury against the Illini. Elijah Sindelar will take over as starter, although Brohm had been rotating both this season in order to sow chaos and terror among opponents. Northwestern will hopefully be able to figure out how to beat Brohm's squad instead of the usual method of intimidating Purdue by wearing helmets, repeatedly confusing Purdue's linemen by convincing them of radical changes to the rules of football moments before the snap, and doing nothing and watching the entire Purdue football team walk one by one in to an open manhole.

Northwestern sits as a consensus top-30 or so team in all the rankings and will probably be ranked should they keep on winning through the soft part of their schedule. But there are no guarantees with this team, which has risen to stonewall some bizarrely good teams and struggled against decidedly mediocre ones, with the status of those teams constantly fluctuating through this insane Big Ten season. The Wildcats have been riding a razor's edge for the past three weeks where a single play could have beaten them in all three previous games, and Purdue hasn't rolled over for anyone. They're on their way up. But all I can say to them is that if the Boilermakers want to win this game in Ryan Field under the towers and the weird, emaciated blow-up Wildcat tunnel and night sky they need to do one thing: for their own good, they had better not let the game go into overtime.