Thursday, October 20, 2011


The Wildcats will head home from Saturday's loss against Iowa to face Penn State under the lights. Though Northwestern mounted a comeback from 17 down to tie the game and menace Iowa fans with the specter of another game slipping through their fingers in the manner of a suave international jewel thief continually foiling a dogged Interpol agent, the 'Cats ran out of mojo in the fourth quarter. Hawkeye fans hope that a win against Fitzgerald will finally break the Wildcats' spell over their snake-bitten program, but I suspect that Northwestern lost the game to lure them into a false sense of security. Next year, Iowa fans will not only face a Northwestern team hell-bent on vengeance, but a rival patriotic card display promoting Soviet industry by filling the stands with gigantic pictures of Lenin and tractor factories located in the former Tajik SSR.

Jubilant Hawkeye fans storm Iowa City to celebrate finally
defeating the indomitable Wildcats

Iowa now prepares for a cross-divisional showdown with Indiana as they attempt to stay in the lead for the division. The loss, meanwhile, marks the fourth consecutive defeat for the Wildcats as they cling precariously to the cliff of bowl eligibility while the prospect of contending for a divisional crown has been tied to the railroad tracks and no doubt gruesomely eviscerated by a passing locomotive.


Watching the World Series is bittersweet since its very existence evinces the Cubs' masterful futility. This year, instead of retreating to their traditional October irrelevance, the Cubs are busy completing a complicated Morris Dance with the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres in an attempt to sign Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and, perhaps tomorrow, exhume the corpse of Branch Rickey in order to bring the Cubs a front office that uses modern baseball analysis instead of relying on some sort of arcane wizardry that hopes to enable the likes of Aaron Miles to successfully play Major League baseball.

Famed Elizabethan clown Will Kempe claimed to have Morris
danced from London to Norwitch over nine agonizingly
annoying days

As the drama unfolds, the only pleasure left for the bitter husks of Cub fans is to root against the St. Louis Cardinals and the machinations of Tony La Russa. La Russa, who fancies himself the type of manager who plays chess while the others play checkers, enjoys doing things like using back-up catcher Gerald Laird as a pinch-runner and playing the matchups to the extent where I'm fairly sure he would alternate pitchers every pitch if it was allowed by the rules. Unfortunately, watching the World Series also means being subjected to Fox coverage, bringing with it the dynamic duo of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck who combine an emotionless blasé delivery with inane gibberish. By the end of the game, it is no longer possible to distinguish McCarver's words from this Italian fake English go-go song. Fox has yet to unveil its baseball robot yet, but has treated fans to a special infrared camera that achieves the same effect achieved by Rowdy Roddy Piper when he put on the They Live glasses.

The Fox infrared camera in action. After the game, Buck and
McCarver pummeled each other in a parking lot for seven solid

Even when it comes to the facile world of sports fandom, there's nothing noble about watching a game specifically hoping for a rival team to fail. It feels somewhat seedy, not unlike going to a bullfight secretly hoping to see a goring, rooting for the Apes to neutralize Charlton Heston, or watching a demolition derby wishing for the cars to escape with nary a scratch. At the same time, sports provides a rare arena to guiltlessly wish misery upon a group of people with whom I have no other quarrel other than the color of their jersey and I hope that the good people of St. Louis are forced to endure an offseason reliving a horrible World Series moment such as losing a game because of an unnecessary headfirst slide by Nick Punto whose lack of a basic grasp of the laws of physics ends up dooming the Cardinals.


Just as Kirk Ferentz finally exorcised his Northwestern demons, Pat Fitzgerald will attempt to finally beat Penn State. Fitz is 0-3 against the Nittany Lions, including last year's stunning loss where the Wildcats blew a 21-0 lead, which served as a helpful preview of every loss this season. Northwestern has only beaten Penn State three times since they began playing them in 1993. At least that is one more than Penn State's early twentieth century rivals Washington and Jefferson College, who managed only two victories against Penn State from 1894-1917. It should be noted, however, that the Jaymen as they were then known (now their nickname is the vastly more satisfying Presidents although it is not clear whether it refers specifically to Washington and Jefferson or extends to all presidents, even crappy ones such as Chester A. Arthur) tied them twice, including an 1899 contest ended by the referee for fighting. Considering that football in 1899 was largely indistinguishable from the pleasant meeting of a pair of angry mobs, I'm assuming that the game descended into manly displays of pugilism and cudgelmanship.

Of course, no football game could roil nineteenth century American pugilists more than the works of Shakespeare. In the 1840s, a feud between actors Edwin Forrest and William Charles Macready took a violent turn as partisans for each actor pummeled each other in the streets of Manhattan. Forrest had taken to following Macready's American tour, taking the same roles as a way to prove himself the superior soliloquizer. As wikipedia suggests, their rivalry became a proxy battle for tensions between the United States and Britain; working class Americans favored the American Forrest as their own, while Anglophile upper classes preferred Britain's Macready. Feelings ran so strong that even virulently anti-Irish nativists joined with their emerald brethren in the time honored nineteenth century American tradition of hating British people.

Macready endured taunts, sheep carcases, and cries of "Down with the codfish aristocracy." In May 1849, Macready endured heckling at a performance at the Astor Opera House filled with angry pro-Forrest factions stoked by fliers distributed by Tammany Hall Boss Isaiah Rynders invoking patriotic rhetoric to quell this Shakespeare insurgency. The hostile crowd, who had earlier pelted Macready with offal, including what the wikipedia page describes as "bottles of stinking liquid," boiled over. The police surrounded the opera house as the mob attacked, and the state militia fired into the crowd.

The Astor Place Riot, May 7, 1849. It is odd for modern readers
that a performance of Shakespeare could trigger such violent
partisan fighting since Shakespeare today is associated with
the turtleneck and half-glasses set who are unwilling to
disagree with their fists and sword-canes. Instead, riots today
can stem from far more reasonable origins such as the outcome
of sporting events

The Astor Place riot was one of many violent disturbances in New York in the 1840s and 50s. In 1857, another major riot broke out among various gangs with names such as the Bowery Boys, the Dead Rabbits, and the Roach Guards in what has been called the Dead Rabbits Riot. On July 4, the Irish Dead Rabbits and the nativist Bowery Boys became enmeshed in a series of street fights that began when Dead Rabbits broke into a Bowery hangout, destroyed it, and drained it of its precious booze stocks. This act escalated into a street battle involving hundreds of gang members and associated looting enthusiasts. The fight deleteriously affected Rynders's career when his attempt to reason with the gangs to stop fighting was met with a riposte of stones throne at his top-hatted person.

Despite his stoning and removal from machine power, Rynders remained a
factor in American politics as shown in this 1859 cartoon. According to
this Harper's Weekly article by Robert C. Kennedy, the cartoon is satirizing
US Secretary of State Lewis Cass for his volte-face on the issue of forcible
German conscription of naturalized German American citizens visiting
Germany. On the left, Cass derisively blows his nose as a legion of
mustachioed Prussians drag a German American away to do their
Hohenzollern dirty work. On the right, Cass warmly protects a German
man while Rynders waves the flag in celebration of the government's
humane policies brought about by a sincere concern for capturing the
votes of German American citizens

The Dead Rabbits refused to accept responsibility for the riot and instead attempted to blame their rivals, the Roach Guard, clearly betting on the public siding with the gang that sounded slightly less likely to serve as the main antagonists for a cheap Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles knockoff. They issued this statement to the New York Times:
We are requested by the Dead Rabbits to state that the Dead Rabbit club members are not thieves, that they did not participate in the riot with the Bowery Boys, and that the fight on Mulberry street was between the Roach Guards of Mulberry street and the Atlantic Guards of the Bowery. The Dead Rabbits are sensitive on points of Honor, we are assured, and wouldn't allow a thief to live on their beat, much less be a member of their club.

The Wildcats will be facing another tall task in handling the vicious Penn State defense. Their hope is that the inconsistent Nittany Lion passing attack will stall against the heretofore porous Wildcat pass defense and that Persa, Colter, Ebert, and the rest of the Wildcat Gang can manage to outscore them. A win in front of a hopefully rabid homecoming crowd could hopefully give Northwestern enough momentum to salvage the season, terrorize the rest of its Big Ten opponents and Rice, and send Pat Fitzgerald Morris dancing towards Bloomington while belting out a soliloquy about his young men in a way precisely calculated to rally the Wildcat faithful and disparage the codfish aristocracy.

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