Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Week 1

The 2011 football season finally arrives this Saturday with the Wildcats jumping right into the fire against a BCS opponent. Though Northwestern opens on the road against Boston College, the Athletic Department has prepared frenzied Wildcat fans by putting up an enormous 44-foot tall mural of Coach Fitzgerald on the South Tower to terrorize opponents, Evanston residents, and passers-by.

The Athletic Department plans to use the giant Fitz poster to disseminate
crucial information to Wildcat supporters. I'll be honest, even I thought it
was excessive to go back to the Lenin poster well on this one, but I could not
possibly resist-- the only way the Athletic Department could possibly goad
me into Soviet propaganda cliché more easily is if they announced they
were immediately changing the mascot to a tractor


Northwestern fans have been in a minor panic over the quarterback situation between a hobbled Dan Persa and near Ticket City Bowl hero Kain Colter who makes up for his inexperience under center with moxie and an alliterative 1950s superhero secret identity name. Northwestern will catch a break by dodging the Eagles' excellent running back Montel Harris who is nursing a knee injury and will not be plying his dark arts against the Northwestern defense. More worrying is the possibility of linebacker Luke Kuechly getting to Persa (if he plays) and sacking him hard enough to cause a minor disruption to the Earth's rotation that wreak meteorological havoc across the surface of the entire planet. This is because Luke Kuechly is 37 feet tall, carries an NCAA-approved battle-axe, is mostly made of malevolence, and trains in the off-season by supping upon the bones of the impertinent who dare disturb him in his lair.

The Dark Curse of the Kuechly can only be lifted if Lou Holtz
can successfully pronounce his name during a live telecast


The Wildcats will hope to set the tone early this year by avoiding erratic performances in non-conference games. This is a Northwestern tradition, dating back to contests against nineteenth century arch-rival Chicago Dental where Northwestern emerged barely victorious and covered with a series of worrisome bite marks.

FIBA BASKETBALL
This week, the FIBA European Championships begins in Lithuania. The tournament also goes by the colloquial title EuroBasket because the only way for it to be more European would be if the logo was a man wearing Capri pants jumping over a Trabant that is blaring disco music. Which would be better than the current theme song, featuring a lively group of Lithuanians belting out the exact sort of bland pop song designed by computers for international sports tournaments instead of a more satisfying Eurovision style imbroglio. At least Marijonas, Montas, and Mia have included the mystifying lyric "Who's gonna weep about losing?/Raise your glass it's time for a bruising," which is the motto of the world's most menacing Toastmasters chapter.

This year, the tournament has expanded from 16 to 24 teams. Unfortunately, FIBA Europe based their decision on how teams fared in qualifying rounds to determine seven of the teams that got their berth instead of a more entertaining system of payola and skullduggery. EuroBasket will also do away with the festive trapezoidal zone to use the more familiar American rectangle. Other new EuroBasket rules have made it illegal to temporarily reform Yugoslavia for the duration of the tournament, split into smaller teams after geopolitical crises, earn victories by promising bail-outs or otherwise take advantage of the Eurozone Sovereign Debt Crisis, or throw up the barricades. Everyone also must have Detlef Schrempf haircuts.

Bourbon intrigue is still legal at Eurobasket provided a
team can provide successfully provide a Bourbon


With the NBA lockout, there will be more NBA participation than usual. France boasts a roster including the NBA's Tony Parker (T.J. didn't quite make the cut), Joakim Noah, Nicolas Batum, and Beethoven in the Age of Romantics. Other notable NBA players include fake German Chris Kaman who was last seen challenging Indiana Jones to fistfights underneath rotating propeller blades, and a powerhouse Spanish team featuring all of the known Gasols, Rudy Fernandez, the mysterious Ricky Rubio, and Serge Ibaka. Of course, the most glorious revelation of Eurobasket is that the Slovenian team not only features 2009 playoff hero Goran Dragic, but also his brother Zoran.

A catastrophe divides Slovenia's team against itself

The team I'm most interested in is Great Britain's squad. The British squad features Chicago Bulls iron man Luol Deng, who is hoping to lead the newly-unified British team to a respectable enough record that they will be allowed to play in their home Olympics. His task will be harder this summer though. Former Bull and master of the difficult Ben Gordon why the fuck are you taking that shot there's 18 seconds on the shot clock and you are falling out of bounds with eight dudes surrounding you because you are literally on top of the opponents bench, oh you made it shot, Ben Gordon, will not be joining Team GB this summer. Unfortunately, it's not part of some long-delayed Reverse Benedict Arnold scheme on the part of Gordon or even part of some sort of insane triple-cross where he starts dunking on his own basket and then announces that he has Bosnian citizenship. Apparently, he's decided he'd rather not risk playing. The British team is also missing its talisman Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who is apparently unstoppable in low-level FIBA tournaments.

The other reason why I'm interested in the British team is because it is not only battling Europe's toughest basketball competition, but also the complete apathy of 99% of the population of the United Kingdom. Fortunately, youtube has a repository of videos from an organization called Back British Basketball that feature street interviews with people uninterested in basketball, and a heroically chipper young man with a megaphone who is attempting to shout at British people until they care about basketball. Here he is, for example, at the Britain-Macedonia game unleashing a Deng chant to the tune of Seven Nation Army in front of a group of bemused spectators. Surely such an effort is worth it to cheer for the team to not embarrass itself so badly as to be forced from the Olympics like a surly bar patron.

RAISE YOUR GLASS, IT'S TIME FOR A BRUISING

The excitement of Wildcat football is almost unbearable this time of year. Feel free to paint all of your unexposed skin purple at your place of business or erect enormous Pat Fitzgerald monuments at your home. They'll understand, unless the neighborhood children are afraid of crew cuts, intensity, and fists.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Salacious Posting

August is traditionally a time for quiet reflection, meditation, and installing seatbelts on your couch before spending the rest of the autumn rocketing around your living room from the endless excitement of Northwestern football action. But this August has been chock-a-block with innuendo, Zambrano meltdowns, and scandal so salacious that it would even raise the eyebrow of the most inbred Bourbon aristocrat preternaturally inured to acts of drawing-room depravity beyond comprehension in the New World.

I speak, of course, of the quashing of the plan for Northwestern to intimidate basketball opponents with a hideous all-purple basketball court.

Behold! Who dare enter the Wildcats' fearsome Fortress Dimetapp?

This abomination came from that hated scourge democracy when the athletic department gave fans a chance to vote for their favorite of several new court surfaces. The purple court naturally grew popular as the Internet invariably gravitates toward the ridiculous or the potential site of a Grimace atrocity. The athletic department, however, got skittish and approved a more traditional design that looked more like a basketball court and less than the last thing seen by Mike Teevee. This engendered speculation that the department gleefully ignored the results of an online poll, like a group of Facebook Soviets. Lake The Posts reports that the poll was close enough to run lighting tests on the purple court, which turned out unfavorably because have you taken a look at this thing, it's a giant purple eyesore.

Northwestern's bland new court, shown next to a picture of Leonid Brezhnev,
someone who (like Northwestern's athletic department) would also disregard an online
poll with an iron digital fist, although admittedly my evidence of vote meddling is based
entirely on how much I enjoy using the word quash and socialist-realist paintings of
Brezhnev


Regardless of the courageous attempt by the athletic department to prevent Northwestern from becoming a national joke in basketball with a garish court design, let us not forget the fact that Northwestern is already somewhat of a college hoops punchline. After all, Northwestern basketball is known for the following things:

-Never appearing in the NCAA tournament
-Playing home games in a rustically charming barn
-Fraudulently claiming victory in the 2011 NIT

Therefore, why not gain some national notoriety by playing home games on a fruit roll-up surface (let's assume it's a Fruit Roll-up with a really 1990s-sounding flavor such as BlasterBerry Xtreme Blast)?

YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE LAST OF CARLOS ZAMBRANO (THAT IS WHAT CARLOS ZAMBRANO THINKS)


This could be the last opportunity to bust out this classy Zambrano Meltdown Recap graphic as the once-brilliant, now mediocre, always entertaining right-hander may have tossed his last pitch as a Cub. Let us remember by clumsily ruining:

Zambrano!

Big Pitcher for the Cubs,
Switch-Hitter, Clubber of Balls,
Player with Rosin and the North Side's Ace Hurler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
Pitcher of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your two-seam fastballs under the park lights luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the bats smash and go free to smash again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of beverage dispensers I have seen the marks of wanton anger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my pitcher, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another pitcher with pointed hand yelling so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic bee bees amid the toil of piling pitch on pitch, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft rubber;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a batter pitted against the gatorade,
Blonde-headed,
Arguing,
Whacking,
Planning,
Fanning, breaking, re-fanning,
Under the vines, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant umpire laughs who has never lost a strike zone,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the bleachers, Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, blue-jerseyed, sweating, proud to be Big Pitcher, Switch-Hitter, Clubber of Balls, Player with Rosin and Ace Hurler for the North Side.

A MOST CURIOUS SCANDAL

The last BYCTOM entry featured a list of phrases that it would take to get my attention in an NCAA scandal, callously dismissing NCAA scandals as unworthy of my Victorian outrage. A few days later, Charles Robinson broke the Miami scandal, describing a spectacular set of allegations set amongst a swashbuckling display of NCAA-defying derring-do.

This a photo of me after neglecting to mention that
I'm also interested in articles about allegedly using
a yacht to facilitate off-shore prostitution


My favorite of the allegations involves the bounty system--not only because I enjoy bounties on both the Lee Van Cleef level and as the setting for coconut-based mutinies (according to Arthur Herman's To Rule the Waves, the mutiny on the Bounty ignited after Captain Bligh antagonized his crew with the accusation "Damn your blood, you have stolen my coconuts!"). Devin Hester, now on the Bears, allegedly racked up thousands of tainted booster dollars as a reward for returning kicks and celebrating excessively. I fully support compensating players for drawing hectoring celebration penalties from zebra-striped killjoys, a practice I will encourage when I start my own doomed upstart football league and force boring players to wear jerseys bearing the slogan "HE CELEBRATE INADEQUATELY."

I don't particularly have an interest in the consequences for Miami; I'm mainly enjoying the brazenness of the (alleged) defiance and reveling in the (alleged) sordidness of the whole affair. It would be horrifying to live in a time when a credible fictional scandal concerned the King of Bohemia attempting to cover-up a dalliance with a profligate opera singer that would dash his betrothal to a Scandinavian princess on the rocks of Victorian propriety.

In this Josef Friederich illustration
from A Scandal in Bohemia, Wilhelm
Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein,
the Grand Duke of Cassel-Felstein
avoids notice with this casual
diguise.


ALL OF THIS IMPROPRIETY IS MAKING MY HEAD SPIN

NCAA enforcement is part of a long tradition of trying to make some sort attempt to define amateur sports; after all, even the great shamateur cricketer W.G. Grace had been bankrolled with pound notes secreted in his spectacularly bushy beard, and I would be shocked if there wasn't some sort of outcry over a fin de siècle rugby scandal involving illicitly attained top hats, monogrammed handkerchiefs, cane toppers, fox hunting privileges, dirigible tours, or seigniorial rights. Somehow, we will solider on, burdened by the shocking revelation of (alleged) booster malfeasance in college football, brave baseball less a Zambrano, and futilely pretend to enjoy basketball without a garish purple court to serve as the landing point of a thousand Wildcat dunks.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Return to Wildcat Football in the Month of August

Rejoice, friends! Professional sports may have tainted themselves with tedious labor disputes, the Cubs may be helplessly flailing themselves into oblivion (as I'm writing this, twitter rumors are flying that Carlos Zambrano has cleared out his locker and announced a professional wrestling style non-retirement retirement); a Dickensian bleakness surrounds Chicago sports. But no longer! Wildcat football begins in earnest as players return to Camp Kenosha next week and expectations are high. Fitz has said he has expectations beyond making another "Pizza City Bowl," the excellent presnapread.com has NU ranked #35 in the nation, and Northwestern's marketing department has begun an actual Heisman campaign for senior quarterback Dan Persa.

Persa Strong billboards have appeared throughout the
Chicagoland area trumpeting "Chicago's Heisman Candidate"
although I'm disappointed that none of them feature him
uncomfortably wielding tools within some sort of purple Tron
landscape like this iconic 2005 poster. Clearly the most
menacing Wildcat is Tim McGarigle, who is unfairly given a
chain saw which is overkill on par with allowing Bill
Laimbeer to traverse basketball courts using a fully equipped
war chariot

I have to admit, while I am excited about seeing what Persa can do, I'm worried about the athletic department's potential for hubris in constructing their Ozymandius website. Let's hope that Persa does not become the Northwestern football equivalent of the Palace of Soviets, an enormous Stalinist edifice designed to terrify Moscow residents with a glowering cloud-guzzling Lenin statue.

A drawing of Boris Iofan's winning design for the Palace
of Soviets. The Palace was to take the place of the Cathedral
of Christ the Savior. The German invasion, however, halted
construction on the building and the site was turned into
an enormous public swimming pool


WILDCATS AT CAMP

The return to Camp Kenosha also means the return of media days and interviews. Here is a particularly fascinating passage from Skip Myslenski's interview with Coach Fitz, mentioning Superback Drake Dunsmore's bold statement that he expects the 'Cats to win the division:
"We've got it on our goal board. Our goals are simple. After consistently preparing, we want to win the Legends, win the championship and win our bowl game. I don't think that's unique to just us, though. So now what are we going to do about it? I got no problem with you asking a question and him answering it directly. I'd rather have him do that than sugar coat it and give a B.S. answer and then he walks away and says, 'No, this is how I really feel.'"

I prefer that too, we tell him, attempting to make a joke.

"At the end of the day, guys, we're not starting over here," Fitzgerald goes on, totally ignoring the lame effort. "There's a lot of teams in our league starting over, trying to reinvent themselves. We're far away from there. We crossed that bridge a long time ago. There's a certain set of expectations and if you don't get that kind of stuff done, we should get a little ticked off about it. I think that's the way everybody feels around here."
First off, I'm concerned that Fitz has slipped into casually mentioning the LEGENDS DIVISION like it is a real thing. I'm greatly concerned about slipping into LEGENDS AND LEADERS complacency and firmly believe that every mention of the unbearable division names should come with a bracketed discalimer that LEGENDS AND LEADERS are dumb names for divisions and are greeted by Big Ten fans with Heston-like incredulity. At the same time, I admire Commissioner Delaney's Soviet response to seeing the nearly universal rejection of the names and deciding to force them upon us anyway.

My favorite part of this passage is in the middle where Myslenski gives play-by-play of Coach Fitz artlessly no-selling him on a feeble joke. In Myselnski's defense, I'm fairly sure that Fitz does not have a sense of humor beyond carving giant pumping fist runes into Iowa cornfields and then cackling as he circles them in one of Patrick Ryan's helicopters.

"The aristocrats," concludes Myslenski. Fitz is
unmoved


Fitz's ability to bulldoze anything vaguely interesting with a barrage of inspiring coach-talk is nearly superhuman; if the United States were to fall victim to some sort of horrible catastrophe that involved a large wave of radioactive mutants overrunning our state capitals, he could coolly appear on television and assure us that not only are our young men are doing the best they can to bludgeon enough radioactive mutants with blunt objects to secure a cordon around, say, Lansing, Michigan until the National Guard arrives, they were ticked off at the mutants and were bludgeoning them with chips on their remaining shoulders.

NCAA INVESTIGATIONS

Another college football season comes with another set of scandals of players on the take, clandestine coaches gleefully shattering NCAA regulations for sport, and revelations involving shadowy figures. The largest one caused the removal of longtime Ohio State coach Jim Tressell this spring. To be honest, I have not been following these stories particularly closely even if it means the weakening of a successful rival program. For one, doing so involves taking the NCAA and its byzantine code of regulations seriously while their enforcement and the bizarre half-measures designed by schools to artfully elude them are farcical.

A group of recruiters from an unnamed program evade the
watchful eye of NCAA regulators by meeting high school
underclassment on Berlin's Gelinicke Bridge

I also find these sorts of scandals tiresome because they're not particularly interesting. I refuse to read anything about NCAA scandals unless articles describing them include a close approximation to the following phrases:
  • a network of international operatives
  • as he ignited another NCAA rule book and flung it from a fifth-story window
  • was given a collection of colorful capes
  • he proclaimed from his self-constructed throne
  • but the briefcases were filled with useless confederate dollars
SLOUCHING TOWARDS WRIGLEYVILLE

The Cubs, meanwhile, stood pat at the deadline except trading Kosuke Fukudome to the Indians for a pair of lowly regarded prospects. I was crushed by the trade because Fukudome is one of my favorite Cub players-- he was the only Cub with an on-base percentage over .370 (only two Cubs currently sport OBPs over .350: Reed Johnson and Carlos Zambrano. In fact, using the weighted on-base average metric, Johnson and Zambrano are the Cubs' most effective bats), but more importantly, I really enjoyed the fact that his name was Fukudome.

In Wrigleyville did Jim Hendry
A stately Fuck You Dome decree


HERE COME THE CATS

Football is here! As we speak, the Bears are prepared to attempt to deploy an offense featuring the battered remains of Roy Williams, an offensive line designed for one purpose: murder, and the fearsome spectre of Corey Wootton in the exciting NFL preseason. The 'Cats, meanwhile, hope to improve on last year's withering end to the season en route to a well-deserved bowl victory in Pizza City, Potato Town, the Duchy of Pre-Owned Tires, or even Pasadena in what Delaney is trying to call the Heroic Victory of the Conference Cadres Bowl.