Friday, November 19, 2010

Iowa and Illinois

Another year, another close, exciting, Big Ten Championship-ruining victory over Iowa in what is turning into one of the secretly most exciting rivalries in the Big Ten. For three consecutive years, Iowa's season effectively ended at the hands of Northwestern, including last year's BCS-busting win over a team with national championship ambitions in Iowa City (the game was also notable for the unfortunate injury of Iowa QB and super-patriot Ricky Stanzi whom I fully expect to see ripping up pictures of the late Ayatolla Khomeini or headbutting the Soviet flag in the near future as in this encapsulation of the platonic ideal of American patriotism).

Pat Fitzgerald broadcasts taunts of Northwestern invincibility
on the Kinnick Stadium jumbotron

Instead, Northwestern played its best game of the season, with the defense rallying from another suspect third quarter and Dan Persa doing Dan Persa things such as eluding tacklers, completing accurate passes, accounting for the majority of the entire offensive output, and leading a heroic fourth-quarter drive to win the game. For Iowa, attempting to beat Northwestern recently has become like trying to invade Russia from the West-- tempting, seemingly doable on a giant map filled with tin cavalry units, but ultimately unconquerable.

Pat Fitzgerald's orders to incinerate of Evanston dining and
grocery establishments forces Kirk Ferentz to lead Iowa back
west to resupply in the Quad Cities

For Northwestern fans, the victory has a sour aftertaste. Although it is always satisfying to continue to be a gigantic spear in the side of Iowa, and the Wildcats finally closed out a game against a good program, the win came at the cost of Dan Persa. It's a shame for Persa to get down just as he was attracting national attention as one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Persa set the Big Ten record for completion percentage and also led the team in rushing, making him as invaluable to Northwestern's offense as Giuseppe Garibaldi to the Italian risorgimiento.

Persa faces down Big Ten foes just as Garibaldi such dominating powers as
Napoleon III and the Pope. Of course, Garibaldi had one thing that Persa


By the mid-nineteenth century, Garibaldi had earned a peerless reputation as a military leader to the extent that none other than Abraham Lincoln had offered him a commission in the Union Army. This article describes the process by which Garibaldi seriously contemplated taking an American command post. The offer came not initially from the State Department, but from a more traditional source of American foreign policy: the self-aggrandizing actions of a rogue American consul based in Belgium. James W. Quiggle approached Garibaldi in 1861, hoping to distinguish himself by bringing the Italian hero to the Union cause. Despite Quiggle's insubordinate actions, Secretary of State Seward and Lincoln remained intrigued by getting Garibaldi on the their side and attempted to take over recruiting efforts and shove Quiggle aside before he could inadvertently damage negotiations such as by parading around European capitals with a sash reading "Garibaldi Assistance Requester USA #1."

Seward calling Quiggle into his office to
dress him down, no doubt letting him
know that the President was on his ass
and threatening to bust him down to
Guatemala consular duty so fast it would
make his head spin

The plan, of course, did not work out. Garibaldi sought to command the entire army and to declare the aim of the war as ending slavery. Lincoln could not at the time do either of those things and Garibaldi would soon be wounded and imprisoned after a failed invasion of Rome, guarded by French troops and the indomitable Swiss Guard. Meanwhile, news of the approach had leaked, leading to British taunts against the President's military prowess. By the time the Emancipation Proclamation sufficiently assured Garibaldi of the war's anti-slavery credentials and he had recovered, the United States no longer felt a pressing need for his services. The Union War effort had come into the hands of generals such as Ulysses Grant. In case you were wondering, Grant biographer Marie Kelsey has put up this impassioned defense of Grant's alcoholism as an apocryphal smear campaign created by jealous rivals in the military and contains more information a person would ever want to know about Ulysses Grant's drinking habits, a goal of gung-ho revisionism:

Here then is a humble and modest man who had but one goal, that of saving the Union. And he accomplished this goal! The debt owned him by this country can never be repaid, except by everlasting honor and respect. That respect can be bestowed by eliminating the "drinking comments" from conversation about Ulysses S. Grant and by eradicating that image from the American consciousness. Grant deserves nothing less. Through the technological marvel of the Internet the U.S. Grant Network is working ceaselessly toward achieving that goal!


This Lincoln talk brings us to the upcoming game against the University of Illinois in the annual Land of Lincoln Rivalry Showdown. The game has attracted national attention because it is being held at the Purple Confines of Wrigley Field, bringing ESPN's Gameday crew, and attracting a festive, bowl-like atmosphere to add to the traditional overwhelming interest across the Big Ten and all of college football for how this game will play out.

Vandals from the Athletic Department took the Paint the Town
Purple Campaign from several years ago to its logical conclusion

Wrigley Field is my favorite sports venue, so I'm naturally over the moon to see it deployed for Northwestern purposes. Of course, Wrigley is no longer designed for football since the days when it served as the Bears' home stadium before they moved to Soldier Field in 1971. Instead, the east endzone crams up against the padded Ivy, leading to criticism of the field as less than ideal for football, beginning a snowball of warnings about the dangers of the field to the point where one expected a description of how the east endzone wall was now being used to guard Mayan idols from treasure hunters and grave robbers.

Multifarious dangers lurk in the East End Zone

In a bold step, Big Ten officials announced today that the field would only use the West endzone, allowing the East to lay fallow as grass grows on the blood of lesser football teams. This change makes sense; no one wants to see players catching touchdown passes only to be tackled by a brick wall, and the shifting of all play to a single endzone won't really change the complexion of the game much unless you paid for bleacher seats in right field. Obviously, no one consulted noted Wrigley Field safety expert Ozzie Guillen to also make light of terrifying dangers such as crumbling concrete blocks and large aggressive, rodents. If anything, single end zone adds to the carnival-like atmosphere of the game, giving the forbidden end zone an air of menace that curses all players who break its harrowing plane for all eternity with football-related plagues such as fumbilitis, alligator arms, jock itch, and sexual-assault allegations.


The Illini have continued their struggles under Ron Zook, becoming the first Big Ten team to succumb to the hapless Minnesota Golden Gophers last week. The Illini have looked formidable on defense at times this season and will be looking to contain Evan Watkins, who replaces Persa. One concern about the game is how Watkins will respond to being thrust unexpectedly into action. In the past, Fitzgerald has gone ultra-conservative with back-up quarterbacks. Two years ago, Kafka spent most of the time running the Kafka Smash play instead of passing when he filled in for the injured Bachér (which worked as he broke the Big Ten single game rushing record), and last year Persa rarely threw when he filled in for Kafka, with the notable exception of his TD pass against Iowa. Northwestern has not had much success running the ball this season and has lived by the short passing game, so it will be interesting to see how much they let Watkins air it out.

For Zook, this might be his last stand at the helm of the Illini. For Northwestern, another win would notch another eight win season, improve bowl positioning, and build momentum to ruin Wisconsin's BCS aspirations in the Madison tundra. That is, of course, assuming that both teams survive the death trap of Wrigley Fields ivy, log traps, and gigantic hall of mirrors installed earlier this week to confuse defenses as to who is the real quarterback. Hopefully, Northwestern seizes this rare opportunity as a game of national interest to affirm its status as a program on the rise and keep the hat in Evanston for another year until next year's game at a Schaumberg area Discovery Zone.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Iowa Week

It's Iowa Week, and Wildcat fans are buzzing about the looming showdown with recent rivals from the Corn Capital coming in caravans and hoping to avenge Northwestern's consecutive upsets ending the Hawkeyes' Big Ten title hopes. It's been an interesting couple of weeks for Northwestern. Throughout the year, Northwestern has had trouble putting games away, really only beating ISU and Rice comfortably.

The game against Indiana naturally involved letting the Hoosiers back in when underrated Indiana QB Ben Chappell hit Duwyce Wilson to narrow the margin to three points. Of course, a Northwestern-Indiana close score is not a particular surprise to anyone paying attention to recent Northwestern/Indiana clashes, a section of the population limited to Northwestern fans, Indiana fans, and angry Big Ten Network subscribers who would ordinarily watch these teams play only if the game occurred on their front yard. These games always come down to the final moment, as if Northwestern and Indiana find themselves in a sort of football stalemate.

Experts on stalemate warfare: (left to right) Gen. Sir Douglas Haig, Field
Marshal Horatio Kitchener, the tyrant-Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Field Marshal
Paul von Hindenberg. In Britain, the war was frequently referred to in the
1920s and 1930s as the Great War, as a way of describing the mustaches of
all participants political and military. The exception, of course, was
Woodrow Wilson, whom I suspect remained clean-shaven to avoid association
with the greatest conflict of mustachioed persons in the history of humanity,
a tactic that certainly hurt his 1916 rival Charles Evans Hughes (far right)

With the victory over Indiana, Northwestern took its bowl eligibility swagger into Happy Valley and played 29 minutes of inspired football. Instead of discussing the Wildcats' painful collapse at the hands of the ageless Paterno, why not take a gander at this germane video presentation that essentially boils the second half of the game into less than four minutes.

Congratulations to Joe Paterno on his astounding 400th win and mastery of
gestures used solely to demonstrate an intense hatred of snakes. HE HATES THEM


The official BYCTOM position on fist shaking in American political discourse is very clear: politicians should do everything they can to get rid of inferior, meeker, and more television-friendly gestures such as the Bill Clinton button thumb, and return to angrily shaking their fists in the direction of their opponent in order to demonstrate derision at their positions and the dire danger that opposition policies will rain down upon the nation. Note that I'm not advocating a Ukrainian-style legislative riot (kudos to the clever deployment of umbrellas into impromptu egg and debris shields); speakers' fists should abuse only air molecules or possibly comical effigies of political rivals.

Progressive Wisconsin Governor and later senator Robert LaFollette was a master at using his fists for political purposes. Though he earned the nickname "Fighting Bob" for his tenacious pursuit of reform and dogged anti-corruption efforts, it's also apt for his pugilistic speaking style.

The most impressive thing about LaFollette's fist-shaking is that in two
pictures to the right, including the impressive double-barreled action
at the end, LaFollette deploys his fists on the radio, the medium
traditionally most resistant to fist-shaking

LaFollette is an impressive figure in terms of being able to dish out a fist shaking as well as take one. I'll let the author of LaFollette's wikipedia page explain:

After the speech, Senators Frank B. Kellogg (Minn.), Joseph Taylor Robinson (Arkansas), and Albert B. Fall (N.M.) in turn attacked La Follette's position on the war. Senator Robinson was a combative and fiercely partisan defender of Wilson and the Democratic Party. His speech "synthesized the scattered attacks on La Follette that had been filtering in for seven the speech progressed, he became more agitated and abusive. The virulence of Robinson's attack shocked the floor and galleries into complete silence." A United Press correspondent described Robinson's speech as "the most unrestrained language that ever has been heard in the Senate." La Follette sat motionless in his chair, even when Robinson began shaking his fist at him.

The attack came because of misconstrued reports of a LaFollette speech defending the sinking of the Lusitania. In onerous minutes of online searching, I have not successfully located a transcript of Robinson's comments, although evidently he insinuated that LaFollette harbored a loyalty to the hated Kaiser himself, an excellent tactic used to discredit so many American politicians that have used stump speeches as an opportunity to assure constituents of their unswerving dedication to hated foreign monarchs and pledged to work tirelessly to see voters crushed under said monarch's bootheels.


I always support the inane movement to designate official state things (for example, Illinois's official state dance is the square dance, state fossil is the tully monster, and official type of municipal voter fraud is use of the deceased), so I've always been moderately fascinated that Maryland's official sport is jousting. One would think that the sport went back to some sort of colonial method of feud settlement as practiced by legendary Marylanders such as Lord Baltimore or Omar, eventually evolving in the nineteenth century and codified into a less lethal version much like how modern cockfights include full medical inspections and tiny beak guards. Instead, the joust became the official sport in 1962 encouraged by a group of equestrian enthusiasts enamored with the idea of crowns and pointy maiden hats and left in a helpless situation because Medieval Times had yet to be invented.

From the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association, a photo (left) of a the triumphant
announcement of the adoption of jousting as official state sport. (Right) A depiction of
the type of behind the scenes manipulation, and use of doubloons used to pass the motion
through the intrigue-inundated Maryland state legislature of the 1960s described by a
contemporary local reporter as:
"that nest of the damn'd/the vile reprobate/
A scoundrel's abode/where the rogues machinate/
I bet a few of them are commies"

Unfortunately, Maryland jousting is not a bloody spectacle of impalement. Instead, jousters use their lance-like poles to snare hanging rings, in much the same way that medieval knights would thunder through European countrysides ridding the land of tree-dwelling pests.

Unfortunately for famous joust victim Henry II of France, the
Lord Lorges did not abide by the Maryland Joust Association's


Iowa comes into town looking for revenge from last year's BCS-busting loss to Northwestern in Iowa City, dropping a second consecutive home game to the 'Cats. Northwestern again represents a classic trap game for Iowa as they host Ohio State next week. But as ESPN's Adam Rittenberg reports, Iowa won't be looking past the Wildcats after recent trouble beating them. As Rittenberg points out, Fitz is 3-1 against the Hawkeyes, and since 2002, Northwestern has accounted for three of Iowa's ten home losses.

This decade, Northwestern and Iowa have split the series 4-4,
evidently as evenly-matched as these large-hatted women
squaring off in late nineteenth century Australia in a type of
fighting which I would like to coin as fancy-boxing. I think the
woman in white has the clearcorner advantage by looking at the
tale of the tape:

(source: The Powerhouse Museum, Haymarket New South Wales)

I like that there is some genuine passion in this rivalry, with Iowa fans reacting to each loss like a Gruber Brother being continually informed of John McClane's incessant survival as they climb to higher levels on the Heston Scale of incredulity (incidentally, the highest Heston scale rating I can find recently is in the trailer for the Russell Crow Robin Hood movie showcasing a blood-curdling "I DECLARE HIM TO BE AN OUTLAW" outburst. I haven't seen this movie, but I have a hard time believing anything else that happens in it can be better than that).

Traditionally, visitors to Ryan field view Northwestern as either a minor speed bump on the way to a showdown with a fellow title contender or a winnable game in the quest for bowl eligibility; it certainly is a change of pace for a team that actually wants to beat Northwestern for the sake of beating Northwestern, to direct a fist pump at Pat Fitzgerald rather be on the receiving end of it, to tear fans' fancy cummerbunds asunder and grind their monocles into dust. It should be an atmosphere approximating that of a Big Ten game in Evanston.

On paper, of course, Iowa has the edge. The Hawkeyes have an excellent defense, an underrated running game to test a vulnerable Northwestern run defense, and a quarterback in Ricky Stanzi having a spectacular year; Northwestern has looked very vulnerable against some very bad teams. On the other hand, I'm going to say throw out the record books. Go ahead and print out a list of every game Northwestern has ever played against Iowa starting with their first contest in 1897 when the rules of football included outmoded features such as pistol duels, knuckle dusters, and used cockfighting in lieu of a coin toss and then throw that stack of paper outside of the nearest window. The Wildcats have had no business beating Iowa most of the time in the Kirk Ferentz era, so hopefully Northwestern will finally be able to put a complete Big Ten game together and continue to inexplicably dominate in this underrated rivalry.