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.


NUMBSpiritLeader said...

Thank for writing your column. Your continuous mixture of football and historical references is both educational and entertaining. Go Cats!

BYCTOM said...

Thank you for the kind words. Glad you're enjoying the blog.