Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nonconference Update

Sometimes, time moves really fast and you wake up and realize that Northwestern is 4-0 against a challenging non-conference slate of mostly FBS teams, quarterback Dan Persa is looking like the best Northwestern signal caller since Otto Graham, and people in the nineteenth century continue to have comical facial hair.

A lot can happen when you're not paying attention

Northwestern survived a nailbiter against Vanderbilt, crushed Illinois State, dominated Rice, and played fairly decently against MAC powerhouse Central Michigan. It was very clear in each of those games that Coach Fitz and Mick McCall wanted to embrace the running game and it became clearer that running the ball might fall by the wayside alongside other foiled plans such as the Concert of Europe or reliable '80s movie villain William Atherton co-opting Val Kilmer's talent with lasers.

Viscount Castlereagh (left), a major voice in the development of the
post-Waterloo Congress system managed to survive a minor political
scandal when he shot rival and fellow cabinet minister George Canning
(the saucily-posed man at right) in a duel in a more civilized age when
politicians were able to cut through the red tape of political disagreement
with firearms. Much like Northwestern's non-conference schedule,
Castlereagh wisely chose an opponent that he could reasonably handle as
Canning had never before fired a pistol; likewise, Northwestern has not only
added ancient rival Chicago Dental back to its non-conference schedule but
is also scheduled to take on a local haberdashery and leading
representatives of the Bull Moose Party at Ryan Field next season.


Obviously the big story for Minnesota is whether or not the Gophers will rally around embattled coach Tim Brewster-- actually, I don't think the unnecessarily martial cliche "embattled" is strong enough for Brewster's position; "besieged" seems more appropriate or alternately "approximating the college football coaching version of the four seconds before a wild-eyed Mola Ram rips out one's heart in an underground amphiteater conveniently located above a giant pit of lava."

Mola Ram thought he got a good deal on Pankot Palace until he realized the upkeep cost
on miles of underground tunnels and shoddy plank bridges

From all accounts, Brewster's style is relentlessly positive, but he might have to assert himself more in order to prove to the school that he still has control of the locker room. Perhaps he can model himself after legendary Paraguayan General Dr. José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia y Velasco who became known as El Supremo Dictador of Paraguay 1814 (from a time in the nineteenth century when it was perfectly acceptable to fashion oneself formally as a dictator and have it printed on nineteenth century business cards that one hands out while taunting other leaders at international conferences). According to his Wikipedia page, Francia's reign followed the modern dictator playbook to a T: becoming instrumental in tearing the country from the yoke of Spanish oppression, declaring oneself head of the national Church, closing the borders, antagonizing neighbors, and then coming up with increasingly spectacular demands such as personally conducting all weddings, declaring war on dogs, and demanding that citizens tip their hats to him when he passed or, if hatless, carry a hat brim for tipping purposes. Francia remained in power until 1840.

El Supremo assures you that if he
was not a dictator, he would not
have gotten away with that

The 'Cats will be hoping to take advantage of a discombobulated Minnesota squad on the cusp of a coaching coup and Gopher fans hope that they'll be able to turn around their disastrous start in conference play with a win.


I recently stumbled upon the miraculously thorough Sword Swallower's Hall of Fame, chronicling the greatest practitioners of this noble art. I have no proof, but I'm willing to wager that if it happened in sword swallowing in the last several hundred years, it appears on that website, with sections for performers with fantastic names like "Veno the Electric Sword Swallower," "The Yankee Yogi," and, tantalizingly, an entry referencing an 1867 work entitled "Bizarre Medical Abnormalities."

An 1899 poster of sword swallower
Chevalier Cliquot found on the Hall of Fame
website. As the poster demonstrates, the
Cliquot act evidently consisted of
swallowing multiple swords, balancing rifles
on his face, and modeling what I'm anxiously
hoping will soon become acceptable attire for
high-stakes business meetings or international

Finally, readers need to be aware of this lost footage of a sadly abandoned Orson Welles project entitled "Orson Welles: the One Man Band" in which he plays a number of elderly and certainly gout-ridden members of a bygone London club. There's no audio on the club scene and I'm having trouble deciding whether that makes this more or less horrifying:


Northwestern will be hoping to start of Big Ten play with a big win in the Gopher state, avenging last year's loss and paving the way for a not entirely implausible shot at going 6-0 against the reeling Gophers and knee injury-ravaged Boilermakers. Even with a weak non-conference schedule, that would be quite a coup by Fitz and the team, one worth tipping one's cap or Francia-approved hat substitute to.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Opening Week

Northwestern is careening into the beginning of football season as the Wildcats travel to SEC country to take on Vanderbilt. Northwestern has never beaten the Commodores, losing to them 0-3 in 1947 and tying them 20-20 in 1952. Teddy Greenstein's preview reveals a Vanderbilt squad riddled with enough injuries to resemble the crooked union P.OW. camp from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Robbie Caldwell taunts Fitzgerald by claiming that the
gangrene has eaten away his legs, not his eyes, before
despondently falling upon a rope-covered spirit.

Paul Myerberg at presnapread ranks Vanderbilt at 107 out of 120 teams, and that was before the unexpected retirement of Bobby Johnson in July and the spate of injuries. On the other hand, Vanderbilt has the upper hand in the crucial race to fill the ranks of the Chicago Bears with its players. The Commodores have five Bears: Jay Cutler, Chris Williams, Earl Bennett, Hunter Hillenmeyer and D.J. Moore, while the Wildcats are down to Nick Roach and Corey Wootton-- Brett Basanez, Eric Peterman, and Zeke Markshausen have all been purged from Halas Hall.

Brett Basanez with the Bears brain trust shortly before his


The Enormous Ten finally announced its divisions, putting Northwestern into annual contests with Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Michigan. Obviously, the most important thing to consider is the degree of Northwestern antipathy and by that degree the schedule is adequate, preserving the recent rivalry with Iowa, the inexplicable protected rivalry with Michigan State, and allowing a yearly face off with Michigan, which is not a direct Northwestern rival as much as the Scourge of the Big Ten, Rich Rodriguez's recent failures be damned.

Northwestern Conference Antipathy Scale. The
Y-Axis is in Piniellas, the world's angriest

Fortunately, the Big Ten has chosen to protect the Land of Lincoln rivalry game with Illinois, as Abraham Lincoln would surely appreciate the spirit of two feuding parts of Illinois, much like the friendly rivalry that developed between Northern and Southern states during his presidency. Of course, realignment is for the football-less abyss of the offseason. Why worry about 2011 when it is scant days before Northwestern football players will run repeatedly into Vanderbilt football players for our amusement?

I'll tell you who isn't thinking about
realignment: Mike Hankwitz, here shown
graduating from the Patrick Fitzgerald
Fist Pump Academy


Today is also noteworthy for the release of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's memoir's entitled A Journey, inadvertently starting an inevitable rash of litigation with the future estate of Steve Perry. Critics have questioned the timing of the release shortly before a crucial Labour election to select the new leader of its party from an ever-increasing number of Milliband brothers. More importantly, it features anecdotes about Prince Charles fearing former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's menacing crotch-pointing, which he suspected was a gesture of class enmity. That link is definitely worth clicking as it contains video of Prescott's frank exchange of punches with an egg-throwing protester, in which Blair provides a startlingly accurate assessment of the incident:
The egg was funny. The mullet was funny. The left hook was funny. The expressions on both their faces were funny.


In 1957, Warwick E. Kerr, an unassuming bee expert in Brazil, accidentally let 26 Tanzanian queen bees escape from his apiary. Before anyone could do anything about it (one imagines a Brazilian bee war room, where chain-smoking, horn-rimmed scientists in their shirt sleeves pounded helplessly upon their slide rules and pushed around plastic models of honeycombs), the queens had mated with local bee populations creating a terrifying swarm of killer bees. The panic over killer bees caused the release of no less than three killer bee movies from 1967-1978, or, as it is known in Hollywood, the golden age of killer bee movies. These movies came out of a place of scientific curiosity-- for example, the 1976 TV movie The Savage Bees posits what effect a swarm of killer bees would have on Mardis Gras (apparently deleterious), 1968's The Deadly Bees asks whether it would be problematic if a mean-spirited woman gained psychic control over killer bees, and 1978's The Swarm raises the question of whether or not Michael Caine needed a new boat.

G.O.B. is not on board

How much would a killer bee sting hurt? Thankfully, entomologist Justin O. Schmidt has compiled the Schmidt Sting Pain Index to answer your question of whether you would rather be assaulted by a marauding fire ant or a bald-faced wasp. For the sake of science, Schmidt let himself be stung by 78 different species of hymenoptera (the order including bees, wasps, ants, and sawflies) and came up with this agonizingly descriptive list of sting sensations:

  • 1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
  • 1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.
  • 1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
  • 2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
  • 2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
  • 2.x Honey bee and European hornet: Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.
  • 3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
  • 3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
  • 4.0 Pepsis wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.
  • 4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.
Don't be fooled by the rival Starr Sting Pain Scale, which also goes from 1 to 4, but lacks panache to let you know whether or not a hornet sting feels like being worked over by a neighborhood street tough dancing triumphantly over your prone, bleeding body in front of your friends and loved ones or running, arms akimbo and hair aflame, from the results of a collision between trucks carrying propane and toy car friction motors.


The Wildcats are looking to a strong non-conference performance in order to make it to an unprecedented third bowl game in this last season of this eleven-strong, Nebraskaless Big Ten. Vanderbilt might be suffering from injuries, but they're at home with something to prove for new coach Caldwell and will be seeking to swarm the Wildcats with their relentless defense. The Wildcats look forward to the beginning of the Dan Persa era. Starting the season with a loss would certainly register on the football fan equivalent of the Schmidt Scale or, as Schmidt himself might put it, would feel like being pummeled by a large number of pool noodles which causes you to think, hey, this isn't bad because by Schmidt Scale standards these should be covered in some sort of caustic blistering agent, but really it's to lure you into a false sense of security before being riven in all directions by an unseen assortment of construction equipment.