By now, you know that Northwestern will play on New Year's Day against the Tigers of Auburn at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. This time Northwestern leapfrogged a 9-3 Wisconsin team fresh off of a demolition of Hawaii, a stunning reversal of fortune for the Wildcats who have been twice scorned by the Outback Steakhouse people in what could have been the biggest controversy in Australia-U.S. relations since the American Revolution ended transportation to Georgia and thus flooded Australia with confidence men and bacon thieves.
I would enjoy it if Outback Steakhouse was actually owned by
Australians instead of a bland American conglomerate so that
they could force flummoxed coaches to play on a rounded Aussie
Rules cricket field such as the Brisbane Cricket Ground, home of
the Brisbane Lions and known colloquially as "The Gabba"
The Big Ten's bowl hierarchy after the selection of BCS teams is sort of nonsensical as playing in a better bowl has virtually no consequences except the prize of playing on New Years and not going to Detroit to entertain Mike Illitch's Praetorian Guard. That is why instead of it being up to corporate boards and attendance figures and the sort of backroom cronyism that involves suspenders, brandy, and hearty chuckling through clenched teeth locked in a vice grip on the most malodorous cigars on the market, the remaining bowl-eligible Big Ten teams should throw in their lot with Lady Luck and spin a Wheel of Bowls to determine their location. Fate cares not for alumni populations or which fan base owns the most Winnebagos and it spares everyone the bleating and hand-wringing of boosters who would have no recourse to complain about the machinations of a soulless wheel. Better yet, why not throw all of the non-BCS bowl games into a giant World Cup-style draw and watch as, for example, Penn State misses out on a BCS game only to be thrown into the Meineke Car Care Bowl as Charlize Theron tries valiantly to appear simultaneously jocular and not afraid of a rampaging Paterno?
The BCS selection show in the best of possible worlds
Auburn finished 7-5, dropping five of its last seven and prompting ESPN's Mark Schlaback to claim that "Perhaps no team took more of a back door into a bowl game than the Tigers" while ranking the Outback Bowl the 20th best bowl games of the 34 to be played this year. Hurting the appeal of the bowl games is the mascot matchup, another boring cat-cat contest. Auburn will be looking to confuse the Wildcats both with Gus Malzahn's spread offense and the fact that despite being represented by tigers, Auburn faithful are constantly going on about eagles, which points to a solution that can only be resolved by ace Northwestern reporter Skip Myslenski who was last seen foaming at the mouth at the British Museum.
That, at least, is vaguely more interesting than Northwestern's generic Wildcat, which is pretty much one step removed from simply naming the team "Mascot." The story of how the 'Cats got their nickname (from Tribune reporter Wallace Abbey after a tough loss to powerhouse Chicago in 1924, a more civilized age when teams can get named for a good showing in a loss and reporters had names such as "Wallace Abbey"), lends the name a colorful origin, but it does not change the fact that Northwestern athletics currently share a moniker with, by my count, five other Division 1 programs (including the FCS New Hampshire Wildcats that would have beaten Northwestern in 2006 if the stadium was not covered in tumbleweed). Until that day in 1924, Northwestern was known as "The Purple," taking a page from Harvard, Chicago, Stanford, and the House of Orange and before that as the "Fighting Methodists" as students dressed as the Wesley Brothers held open-air pep rallies to exhort Northwestern's football program and other popular Northwestern tests of strength such as tug-of-war and the thrashing about of one's footmen.
MASCOTS OF THE BIG TEN
Northwestern has by far the most generic mascot of the Big Ten, as illustrated on this official BYCTOM Pyramid of Mascot Ubiquity:
The pyramid flows from the base of specificity to a generic pinnacle and
is broken up by category rather than individual mascot. Just below
Northwestern is the category of animal mascots, although it should
be noted that the Big Ten bucks a national trend by featuring
ground-dwelling pest animal mascots, with the exception of Penn
State, although Penn State gets points for essentially making up its
own wild animal. The next category features specific groups of people,
slightly less generic than animals, although there was unfortunately
not room to shunt the Illini off to a "mascots specifically denigrated
by the NCAA" category. Note that Iowa straddles the animal and
person categories as they're technically named for Natty Bumppo
(who, for those keeping extensive records, fits into the categories
of frontiersmen and musket-wielders), but choose to be represented
by an anthropomorphic tight-wearing hawk. Next on down is flora,
greatly less represented than fauna in the mascot/nickname world.
Finally, the pyramid ends with Indiana, whose Hoosier mascot is obscure
beyond conjecture and is therefore represented by a
grimacing Lou Piniella.
Of course, if the pyramid had swung in the opposite direction, Northwestern could have a mysterious nickname such as "Hoosier" with an entire Wikipedia page devoted to its possible origins including categories such as "Frontier banter" and "Pugilistic Boatmen." I suppose it proves the ancient mascot axiom that the price paid for a unique nickname is the fact that theories about its origin include the phrase "did not become an insult until." Another problem with the Hoosier nickname is its susceptibility to having it turned onto Indiana fans with a "Hoosier daddy" chant, drawing the red-sweatered ire of Bobby Knight and a classic shame on you column from Tribune columnist Eric Zorn entitled "Regardless of Intent, NU Rowdies' Taunt was a Bad Call." Zorn then backed off his criticism of Northwestern, sheepishly explaining to his readers that "I have never heard any of the rap or rock lyrics I'm told employ the phrase 'Who's your daddy?' to mean, in effect, 'Am I not at this time in a position of dominance over you that parallels the position a father has over his offspring?'"
Eric Zorn is one of the Tribune's ace
Metro section columnists along with
Mary Schmich who moonlights as the
writer for the Brenda Starr: Woman
Reporter comic strip best known for
featuring a character with what is
best described as a silk-pajama eye-
patch. Despite this fact and a redesign
that makes the once-proud paper look
like it ought to be called "Hot Rod's
Klout Komix-- 5¢," the Trib is still seen
as slightly more reputable, although the
Sun-Times should get credit for actually
celebrating the firing of Jay Mariotti as
well as this publishing this fantastic
hatchet job by Roger Ebert, although he
still appears on ESPN to expose readers
to his nasal squawk and his giant head
so grotesquely boulbous that if he was a
Dick Tracy villain his nickname would
be "The Head"
Then again, without the Wildcat nickname, Northwestern would never have a fight song with the word "yow" repeated like the mantra of an over-caffeinated toddler, so perhaps an apology is due to the estate of the late Mr. Abbey.