Friday, September 30, 2011

Two Minutes Hat

Hat Week has arrived, and Northwestern is poised to take on Illinois in the high-stakes Battle for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, the Champaign-Urbana Campaign-Urbana, the Uproarial at Memorial, The Donnyzook against the Fistgerald.

I can only use Don King language to express the pugnaciosity of the
hatritude of these two teams. Incidentally, a cursory google image search
for pictures of Don King reveals that apparently he now makes public
appearances only in air-brushed patriotic jackets, although the image to
the right from a Spanish-language version of his wikipedia page
demonstrates perhaps Don King's most audacious publicity strategy yet

One of the first BYCTOM posts expressed the thesis that the Northwestern-Illinois rivalry (then contested for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk) was the wost rivalry in all of college football. Things have apparently gotten a bit more intense in recent years. One reason for the ratcheting of tensions between the Illini and the Wildcats is the national attention from the Wrigley Field game. Of course, most of that attention stemmed from the setting of the game at the Friendly Confines and because eleventh hour safety concerns caused the creation of the Forbidden End Zone. People tuned into that game for the novelty and to see if straying near the Forbidden End Zone would trigger some sort of Indiana Jones trap that would cover center field with an array of impaled corpses, impossibly disgusting Hollywood insects, and an unnecessary Kate Capshaw musical number made entertaining only by the presence of the guy who has some sort of modified tommy gun that only fires when he is also maniacally cackling.

Despite any recent intra-nois feuding between the two teams, this is a rickety shell of a rivalry game for a number of important reasons. For one, the Illinois-Northwestern game, as far as I can tell, has never had any bearing on the Big Ten title, at least not since college football has abandoned archaic rules such as the Musket Point or the Falconry Circle. Nor has a loss for one team been catastrophic enough to knock them out of any serious contention, with the exception of maybe the last Big Ten slot in a bowl game so lacking in prestige that it was the undercard to an illegal monkey wrestling championship.

"The saber pierced the monkey's liver. He howled for a minute
then lay on the ground, done for. Jake was also done for. He had
1300 pesetas on the big one. The one called El Apuñalador. Jake
swallowed his whiskey. He stopped only to punch his monkey-
minder on the way out of the door. 'Bad advice,' Jake said."
Hemingway ended up cutting the entire monkey stabbing
scene from the The Sun Also Rises.

A college football rivalry should stir up inexplicable passion in both fanbases. There should be the feeling that a crappy season can at least be salvaged a victory over your team's rival. As a Northwestern fan, I do not really get that feeling about the Illini, who I tend to support in Big Ten games out of Big Ten former cellar-dweller solidarity. And I'm certain that no fan of a team in the Big Ten has ever uttered the phrase "at least we beat Northwestern" to console themselves because Northwestern, despite its recent run as a respectable college football team is still historically the worst team in the history of big-time college football, and Big Ten teams are still reeling in disbelief that they can lose to Northwestern under any circumstance, even blatant Northwestern chicanery such as surreptitiously replacing the offensive line with farming equipment or switching out an opponent's regular hypnotist with an evil hypnotist.

There are some sources of rising tensions between the teams and fans (I enjoy using the diplomatic reporters' phrase "rising tensions" when I'm talking about something as hilariously inconsequential as college football, as if Zook has given some sort of saber-rattling speech on the steps of the Illinois athletic department announcing a tariff on crew cuts or Fitz has recognized the Illinois backup as their legitimate quarterback and will only agree to play defense against him). On this Champaign-area radio show, for example, the co-hosts play a clip of Illinois coach Paul Petrino complaining about Pat Fitzgerald's description of Northwestern recruits followed by one of the hosts heroically attempting to get angry about Northwestern (the callers, for their part, don't seem to share his enmity about Northwestern and are mostly cautiously optimistic about the 4-0 Illini in a shocking display of reasonableness by callers to a sports talk radio show). Chicagoland Illini players led by Martez Wilson seem to take exception to Northwestern's "Chicago's Big Ten Team" slogan after the 'Cats's marketing strategy has successfully managed to make Northwestern a household word in Chicagoland households filled with Northwestern alums or fans of a Big Ten team that is currently playing Northwestern.

An Illini fan takes exception to the self-proclaimed
"Sausage King of Chicago" noting that there are
representatives from the finest Midwestern sausage
factories all throughout the Chicagoland area

I'm always fascinated by athletes such as Wilson applying ex post facto bulletin board material to their wins. After all, it takes an exceptional amount of skill, dedication, and focus to become a college athlete. I'm assuming that Martez Wilson would have played well even if Northwestern's athletic department had marketed the team as the Mewling Feeblemen of the Big Ten because he's Martez Wilson and he tends to play well in football games because he is a very good football player. This effect, however, permeates football on all levels. Perhaps the most dramatic examples come from the Patriots episodes of NFL Films's excellent America's Game Superbowl retrospectives. Patriots players constantly talk about getting motivated by slights such as a team packing its luggage to the next playoff game. In one hilariously melodramatic scene before the 2005 Super Bowl, Bill Belichick's pregame speech consists of reading out the Eagles' planned parade route. The players claimed in interviews how much this speech motivated them, although I suspect that most of their impetus to win came from their life-long dedication to excelling in football culminating in the most important game in their professional lives. What I find great about these slights is that players and coaches are apparently furious about foresight and logistics more than anything, as if Boston did not have plans for a championship parade and at the last minute just found a bunch of cars and ticker tape sitting unused in a basement in Faneuil Hall.

A respectful lack of preparation left Boston
desperately lacking festive implements for
the Patriots' championship parade left
players triumphantly waving around
artifacts such as Gouveneur Morris's leg

Another factor weighing against this inconsequential rivalry game is the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which I've taken to calling The Hat. This is clever because the trophy is literally a hat. But in a college football world littered with hat-based trophies, it is the worst of all possible trophy hats. The Land of Lincoln trophy is a hat trophy permanently attached to a base. This is disastrous. If your team is saddled with a hat trophy, the least you can do is go whole hog and make it into an actual hat that you can put on your head in triumph. Instead, all players can do with this trophy is hold it up or, more satisfyingly, rip it violently from its base and then parade around with it in all of its goofy hat trophy glory while yelling Lincoln slogans such as "A hat trophy divided against itself can be worn." On the other hand, at least it is not as ridiculous as the trophy ideas up for vote for the Iowa-Nebraska LEGENDS DIVISION showdown.

Options include a corn bowl FILLED WITH REAL CORN or a corn cob shyly
waving a husk arm

Of course, possibly of more interest to Northwestern fans is how the team rallies around all-everything quarterback Dan Persa. If Persa can return to last year's impressive form, the Wildcats could be a factor in the Big Ten, but if it sputters against the impressive Illini defense, it may be a short season.


If you do choose to check out the America's Game retrospectives, I highly recommend watching the 1976 Raiders episode. It captures the essence of the 1970s raiders: a fully functioning Al Davis in his prime, John Madden calling refs "jerks" before succumbing to the sweet life of luxury buses and multi-fowl meat concoctions, players alighting from buses wearing full-length mink coats, and this guy.

Raiders announcer Bill King spent the 1970s nearly indistinguishable from a
Get Smart villain called the Groovy Guru

I would say that the 2000 Ravens one is also notable for Trent Dilfer's appearance and the comical discrepancy between the amount of credit he gives himself for the Ravens' victory versus everyone else in the entire universe, but now you can watch ESPN and get the same effect with the unfortunate omission of Shannon Sharpe soliloquies.


Hopefully the spirited rivalry between Northwestern and Illini fans will remain in check this weekend and no major riots will ensue. Of course, while a Wildcat-Illini imbroglio seems relatively unlikely, there are all sorts of triggers to incite crowds, such as operas and ballets. Wikipedia has helpfully compiled a list of classical music riots, although the writer of the page serves as a wet blanket to the whole thing by noting that "the usual respectful and sedate manner of classical music audiences means that any sort of rough behavior, ranging from catcalls to shoving, can be seen as a comparative 'riot'."

Probably the most famous of these disturbances is from the Paris premier of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The combination of the music and Vaslav Najinsky's choreography apparently stunned the crowd, who reportedly began yelling, and inevtiably descended into fisticuffs in the aisles, as one does. There is even a disputed account of French composer Camille Saint-Saëns taking umbrage at the use of the bassoon and storming out. The most influential opera riot is certainly the 1830 performance of Daniel Auber's La Muette de Portici, which ignited national sentiment and spurred opera lovers into the streets to rebel against their iron-fisted Dutch overlords.

This 1831 Jacobus Schoemaker Doyer
painting depicts Dutch ship captain Jan
Van Speyck detonating his gunboat before it
can be captured by Belgian rebels. Van
Speyck can't believe it either

Few of the other riots seem as dramatic. For example, one of these riots involves a 1927 performance of George Antheil's Ballet Méchanique, a piece that utilized mechanical sounds, such as fans simulating airplane propellers. According to the wikipedia page, "the fans were positioned to blow into the audience, upsetting the patrons." Another ended poorly for composer Erik Satie. His surrealistic ballet Parade involved collaboration with Picasso who built the sets, and Serge Diaghilev Ballets Russes company. Satie took exception to a poor review and sent an angry postcard to the reviewer. The reviewer then sued him and, again, as whoever wrote this wikipedia page put it "at the trial Cocteau was arrested and beaten by police for repeatedly yelling "arse" in the courtroom. Satie was given a sentence of eight days in jail."


They're coming for the Hat, Illinois. You'd better be prepared because when Fitz knows there's hat on the line, he's going all out. All out for the hat. For weeks, he's thought of nothing but hat. And now it is upon him. Him and the team. Two coaches. Two teams. One state. One hat. The entire nation is watching, and they only want to know one thing: at the end of the day, who is going home with the hat? Nothing else matters other than the hat.



Matt said...

Hemingway passage = amazing

BYCTOM said...

Thanks, I'm slowly transitioning this blog into an Ernest Hemingway cockfight review newsletter.