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.

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.


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.

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