Sunday, November 30, 2008

Breaking down the bowl scenarios

With the Big Ten season over, it's time to figure out how the bowl scenarios will play out. Northwestern's bowl game will be determined by several factors: their overall record and place in the Big 10 standings, the placement of Ohio State in a BCS bowl game, past attendance at bowl games, likely number of fans drawn, the current astrological status of former planet Pluto, and the Austrian succession.

The machinations of Frederick II are a minor, but important addition to the
byzantine BCS rankings. Here he is playing the flute, an activity that reportedly
enraged Frederick I; the psychological effects would later cause great pain for
residents of Silesia and the University of Texas Longhorns.

How does the bowl picture become so cloudy? A BYCTOM exclusive takes a look in depth.


The bowl selection process involves a shadowy cabal of bowl representatives, titans of industry, deposed heads of states that no longer exist, and underwhelming Batman villain King Tut.

The bowl selection committees
include a Holy Roman Emperor, an
Avignon Pope, a King of Sardinia,
and a White Raja of Sarawak

Bowl selection committee meetings are often rife with treachery, double-dealing, and international intrigue as different schools campaign briskly through mailings, courtiers, assassins, and feminine wiles. For example, the 1999 Independence Bowl selection involved at least three poisonings and retinue of grape-wielding harlots on the part of Ole Miss. Each bowl is tied to a conference pairing, with Notre Dame involved as a wildcard. Notre Dame can go to any bowl it chooses, appearing in 1995 in the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Carquest Bowl, the Copper Bowl, and the not-yet-existent bowl by bending time and space through the use of arcane papal magic. As early as 1875, Notre Dame managed to get their mediocre Strong-Man Decathlon Team through to the post-season despite their underwhelming performance in the events of triangular weight-lifting, single-strap unitard mending, bicyclemanship, and fisticuffs.

Adam Weishaupt, early important figure
in the Sun Bowl selection committee.

After the meetings, bloodshed, and bastard pregnancies are cleared away, the bowl committees reveal their picks on national television, while simultaneously giving instructions to their worldwide operatives. The bowls attempt to find attractive conference match-ups while simultaneously winding their tentacles tighter around world governments and international organizations.

The Motor City Bowl announces its 2006 Central Michigan-
Middle Tennessee State matchup to a jubliant crowd


Because of Oregon's win over Oregon State, Ohio State will likely get an invitation to a BCS game via a complex system of alliances. That means that everyone in the Big 10 moves up a slot, leaving a competition between Northwestern and Iowa for the Outback Bowl, a postapocalyptic death race through the Australian Outback.

Paul Posluszny on the sidelines of the 2007
Outback Bowl

The lobbying between Northwestern and Iowa has been fierce. Northwestern president Henry Bienen sleeps under the watch of his personal guard of crack musket-men. The Iowan leader plans to ward off assaults using a variety of oblong rocks. Northwestern will be touting its superior record, its head-to-head defeat of Iowa at Kinnick, and its clenched-tooth plutocrat alumni base while Iowa will be arguing for its nomadic Winnebago population, superstar running back Shonn Greene, and the fact that some random lineman every year has long, flowing blond hair and then vanishes into some sort of airbrushed van Valhalla (or even a Vanhalla, if you will) before passing the mantle onto some other Norseman.

As a consolation, the other school will end up at the Alamo Bowl, which pays homage to the glorious victories of General Santa Anna and his invincible armies. The Big Ten representative will have to match up against a high flying Big 12 offense. Northwestern's last trip to the Alamo Bowl was similar to the outcome of the actual Battle of the Alamo, as Northwestern was unable to stop Heisman winner and professional gas station attendant Eric Crouch. Iowa was defeated in the Alamo Bowl in 2006 by Texas, a crucial first step in the plan to end the United States's brutal occupation of the Republic, making Texans finally unafraid to fly the Lone Star flag over virtually every structure in the state.

By any external logic, Northwestern should go to the New Year's Day Outback bowl, but in my expert opinion and a thorough examination of the records of past bowl consistories, the 'Cats will end up in the Alamo Bowl. If Northwestern does not end up in either of these bowls and ends up getting completely screwed, I am making a rallying cry to all NU alumni to drop what they are doing, drop their monocles and canes used for the clearing of rabble, and take part in a massive street riot, demanding justice for this outrage through clenched teeth.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Rational Assessment of the Rivalry with Illinois

Northwestern's rivalry with Illinois is the worst rivalry in all of college football.

A good rivalry rests on the twin pillars of stakes and hatred. The stakes in the Illinois-Northwestern battle have been historically low thanks to a shared heritage of football ineptitude. The last two years may have been the biggest two Sweet Sioux games in the history of the rivalry and both involved one team attempting to pad its bowl record and another scraping for the possibility of spending a December evening in Detroit. Even when one of these two teams awakens from its slumber to throw its weight around the Big Ten, the other team usually is having the type of season that would require several Sinbad-led montages to even approach the fringe of mediocrity.

The low stakes contribute to the embarrassing lack of hatred in this rivalry. A good rivalry should transcend football and reach levels of enmity traditionally associated with hillbilly blood feuds or the inexplicable hatred of Armenians by virtually every Eurasian people. I simply cannot muster up the passion to hate Illinois the way I hate other Big Ten teams. For example, after the victory in Ann Arbor, I was disappointed that the Northwestern fans did not raze their stadium, burn their crops, and capture the surviving children to be sold as entertainment for warlords and bandit captains in far flung lands as a traveling troupe of acrobats and gladiators. I also find most Illinois fans to be civilized unlike Iowa fans who actually travel in hordes, eat all of their meals in haunch form, and live in stone caves from whence they have chased lesser Iowans by threatening them with stones and crudely-fashioned clubs. I wish the Illini well when they are not playing Northwestern. Even their coach looks like a sort of benign muppet.

Ron Zook demonstrates his natural
gaping-mouthed muppet posture

Of course, this is all for football. As soon as basketball season rolls around, I hate the Illini for showboating around our coterie of clumsy Croatians who are forced to alliteratively stand around stiffly and watch the baskets rain down upon them.

Perhaps it makes sense to look to Europe for a proper sense of rivalry. I was thinking about Italian rivalries earlier this week when I saw the Il Palio horse race in Siena prominently featured in the new James Bond movie. The race consists of horses representing any 10 of the 17 traditional districts in Siena.

The best part about the race is that the riders (who ride bareback) are allowed to use their whips to attack other horses and riders. I'm personally coming out in favor of any sporting event that encourages competitors to give their competitors a face full of bull penis. Incidentally, in the movie, Bond chases the villain out from a sewer grate into the massive, teeming crowd that you can see pictured above. Instead of merely removing his jacket and disappearing, the villain inexplicably draws attention to himself by shoving helpless passers-by out of his way and then firing his pistol indiscriminately into the crowd, hitting everyone in his way except for James Bond. This has to be the lowest moment in villainy since the evil biotech CEO in "The Sixth Day" kept sending clones of his dead henchmen to kill Arnold Schwarzenegger. Personally, after the third or fourth time a henchman died in the line of duty, I'd consider mixing it up and give a few new heavies an opportunity to be flung into bottomless pits, or vats of caustic chemicals, or heavy machinery involved in the manufacture of rotating helicopter blades.

Unfortunately, the one time I saw Il Palio, the race looked almost civilized, instead of the Ben Hur-like bloodbath I was hoping for.

For a true Italian rivalry, one has to turn to the pugni, a series of Venetian street battles in the Early Modern period where local neighborhood organizations would gather on the city's bridges from time to time in order to beat each other in the name of something. Armed with sticks and canes, the two sides would battle until one gave up, the light ran out, or the showdown turned into a festive street riot. Robert C. Davis's The war of the fists: popular culture and public violence in late Renaissance Venice decribes the pugni as a particularly fertile ground for nicknames such as "World Eater," "Eats the Dead," "Man Killer," and "Destroyer of Boldness." I'm just going to go out on a limb and suggest that any time the eating of the dead is suggested, you've got yourself a viable rivalry.

But the account gets better. By the end of the seventeenth century, the Council of Ten had tired of the chaos resulting from the pugni. As a result, factions found other ways to compete without necessarily destroying large segments of the city. I'll let Davis explain:
"Such traditional rivalries were more likely to be expressed in the so-called forze d'ecole, another form of competition which required both great strength and considerable agility. Here twenty or more costumed participants from each side would attempt to amaze or shame their opponents by building the tallest and most elaborate human pyramid possible."
To sum up: The Illinois-Northwestern football rivalry is terrible because Illinois is traditionally lousy and the fans do not live in caves. The rivalry should ideally be strong enough to involve attacking opponents with bull penises or building human pyramids, but probably not shooting at James Bond.


BYCTOM did not exist in the direct aftermath of the Michigan game, but if it did, it would have borne the following message:


Sweet Sioux Swan Song

Northwestern defeated Illinois 27-10 last Saturday, but the story line that attracted national attention was the discontinuation of the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk trophy. On the one hand, I regret the ending of this tradition, and the 50% reduction in pre-modern hand-to-hand weaponry in Big Ten rivalry trophies. On the other hand, I support the NCAA's crusading effort to prevent Illinois from using any Native American imagery, only because they will eventually find the urge to put a hung-over frat boy in buckskin and have him flail away at some sort of 1950s version of Indian-themed calisthenics irresistable. Ending the Sweet Sioux tradition is a small sacrifice we all must make in order to avoid seeing this again:

With the Sweet Sioux retired, Illinois and Northwestern bigwigs will meet to determine the next trophy that will symbolize this heated, tradition-rich rivalry. No doubt they will not give the search for the trophy the seriousness and gravity it deserves.

I suggest that they replace the trophy with Dick Butkus. Dick Butkus can be transported by crate to the site of the game every year, before he is released to the winning team. He will then spend the year running a neighborhood bar and grill, like he did on "My Two Dads." In the event of Dick Butkus's death, he will be replaced by J Leman and Tim McGarigle, assuming that McGarigle is let off of traffic duty after telling the Commissioner where he can stuff his red tape and his due process.

Alternatively, the trophy could be named after the Tully Monster, Illinois's official State Fossil. The Tully Monster is, of course, a tiny worm-like creature, so I suggest that we take advantage of our crumbling school systems' promotion of scientific illiteracy and re-imagine the Tully Monster as a flying Tyrannosaurus that has an entire bleeding populace hanging from its jaws while its useless, vestigial forearms carry a crude bludgeoning instrument, which would look much more intimidating and symbolize the intensity of the rivalry between these two programs. If anyone asks how fierce the rivalry is, it can be described as a flying Tyrannosaurus with the ability to make crude tools and possibly shoot laserbeams from somwhere on its face, so yeah that's pretty goddamned fierce, I would say an order of magnitude more fierce than an old oaken bucket.

Yow yow yow yow yow. YOW.

In 1926, a young songwriter penned "Wild Cats," a rousing melody written to inspire the fighting men to a victory over the Kaiser's invincible legions of mustachioed, pointy-helmeted fighting men. Realizing the war was over, and not particularly inspired by the Post-Locarno age of diplomacy, he turned his attention to the Northwestern Wildcat football team, and added these inspiring lyrics (cribbed from the good people over at Hail to Purple):

Wild Cats, They're Purple Wild Cats Yow-ow!
Wild Cats, They're winning Wild Cats Yow-ow!
Bring your Champions, they're our meat
U Northwestern won't be beat
Stratch 'em, bite 'em, claw 'em, fight 'em
Yow! Yow! Yow! Yow! Yow!
Yow! YOW!

"Wild Cats" has sadly not been heard at Ryan Field for some time, but its spirit of declaring your champions to be our meat lives on.

Damn you, Wilhelm, we will never forget your treachery