Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bowl Eligible

Northwestern defeated Minnesota in a tense LEGENDS DIVISION showdown with Minnesota, smashing the six win barrier, and securing a golden ticket that can potentially lead to a phenomenally crappy bowl game in the desolate outer reaches of the bowl landscape.

Far-flung Bowl officials were on hand to scout Northwestern in
their 28-13 victory over the Golden Gophers

But six wins is not enough to guarantee a bowl berth, especially in the topsy-turvy mediocrity of the Big Ten this season. At six wins, the 'Cats can be left out in the cold. In 2004, the Wildcats' 6-6 record was not enough for them to get to a bowl game after faltering against Timmy Chang's Hawaiian Juggernaut. This year, it seems the football team can still squeak their way to the type of bowl game mocked by people inexplicably angered by the presence of more college football, but nothing is certain.

Northwestern got to their sixth win thanks to a seemingly improving defense. Minnesota effectively moved the ball, but had trouble scoring-- one threat was neutralized by a Brian Peters interception despite the fact that his broken left hand is swaddled in a club cast reminiscent of the tail end of an anklyosaurus.

The stopping power of an ankylosaurus is accurately modeled
in this scholarly comic from something called


The discovery of dinosaur bones in the nineteenth century led to a predictable amount of scientific intrigue, back-biting, and accusation that occurs in the volatile confluence of a nascent scientific discipline, rough exploration, and Cretaceous grave-robbing. The enmity between Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh has been well chronicled (most entertainingly in Bill Bryson's wonderful A Short History of Nearly Everything) as a reliable source of comical dinosaur rivalry, as their competition to extract and identify dinosaur species fueled an incredible advancement of both dinosaur knowledge and academic pettiness.

The relationship between Cope and Marsh contained spectacular examples of skullduggery in the name of science. Marsh outclassed his rival at dinosaur-based espionage. At an early collaboration in New Jersey in the 1860s, Marsh apparently stabbed Cope in the back by bribing site workers to send fossils only to him. A Cope expedition in the 1870s included two men in Marsh's employ; one of them apparently claimed that he planned to lead Cope away from fossil sites in a classic act of dinosaur perfidy. Marsh, however, suffered a reversal of fortune when one of his men sent some fossils to Cope.

Dino-rivals Cope (l) and Marsh. Marsh is the bearded man in the top center of
the photo at right, shown with his phalanx of armed assistants no doubt
wielding rifles should they meet a rival fossil-collecting gang or should they
dig deep enough to uncover less deceased dinosaurs

The two sniped at each other in newspapers and scholarly journals, disagreeing over taxonomy and other scientific concerns. Throughout the 1870s, they struggled to keep major fossil finds from each other, going as far as using hush money, accepting tips from pseudonymous fossil hunters, and keeping tabs on each others' fossil collecting henchmen. This secrecy was encouraged by their increasing reluctance to travel to fossil sites themselves, instead funding teams of mercenary diggers and "dinosaur rustlers" that attempted to steal fossils from rival camps. I like to imagine that they also sent telegrams to each other gloating over their ruthless thefts, threatening each other, and using the word "bones" as often as possible such as "When you awaken tomorrow, you will find that it is I who controls the greatest sum of bones," or "I shall never forgive this treacherous act of bone-thieving and you should hope that you do not live to see how I avenge my bones," or ""I won't sue you, for the law is too slow. I will break your bones. A bone for a bone, that is how I account for my bones."

An 1896 Marsh illustration of a Stegosaurus that in the best of
possible worlds would have been mailed to Cope with the phrase
"Feast your eyes upon these glorious bones" scrawled triumphantly

Marsh held the upper hand throughout the 1870s and 1880s. He ascended to the presidency of the National Academy of Sciences in 1883 and secured a position with the U.S. geological survey. Cope struck back when he began attacking Marsh and John Wesley Powell, the head of the Survey. The rivalry continued to their death, when Cope ordered his skull preserved and measured against Marsh's in order to prove that he literally had the largest brain. Marsh did not accept this phrenological challenge. Their legacy lives on, however, in my new publication called The Smallest Stakes: A Journal of Comical Academic Arguments featuring articles such as "I'm laughing at your use of the term 'trope': a catalog of my colleagues' bumbling ontology, 1991-present," and "I am bringing my burliest graduate students to our next conference."


Not only has Northwestern attained bowl eligibility, but the brave Wildcat basketball team has managed to win a pre-season basketball tourney of dubious prestige. Northwestern avenged an NIT loss against Tulsa, beat LSU, and downed Seton Hall in the championship game to win the Charleston Classic.

The Wildcats, resplendent in their new uniforms, jubilantly
hoist the hardware

The tournament win augers well for a veteran team. They will struggle to fill the shoes of Northwestern basketball legend Juice Thompson. John Shurna will attempt to lead the 'Cats to the promised land with a familiar cast of characters such as tournament MVP Drew Crawford, Alex Marcotullio, JerShon Cobb, and the unstoppable lumbering of Luka Mirkovic. Northwestern also returns last years successful formula of a high-scoring variant of the Princeton Offense and the disruptive 1-3-1 zone defense. The team is 4-0 after the tournament and a win over inexplicable perennial season-opener Texas Pan-American with whom the Wildcats must have some sort of intense bone feud.


The Chicago Bears collected another convincing win against San Diego last week. But they also lost Jay Cutler for the season, just as he began engineering an effective passing game fueled by his cannon arm and elusive mobility honed by running for his life. The offense will instead turn to relatively unknown backup Caleb Hanie. The Bears came close to reuniting with Chicago fan favorite Kyle Orton, who seemed poised to ride into town and help the squad Bears their way to victory with his array of acceptable mediocre professional passing after being unceremoniously dumped by a Denver Broncos team enthralled by their 1940s quarterback play.

"ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?" Kyle Orton wins the crowd
with another 6 yard out

Instead, Orton was snapped up by the Kansas City Chiefs through the arcane waiver process that reportedly saw the Dallas Cowboys attempt to claim him specifically to prevent him from helping potential NFC playoff rivals in a move that Jerry Jones learned from the treacherous Cardinal Richelieu. As a final indignity, the Bears signed one of the McCown brothers. Though they can still make the playoffs by thrashing a weak AFC west slate, the odds of seeing Cutler triumphantly return for a Bears playoff game and sulk the squad to victory seem as remote as they did after their early season losses.


Meanwhile, Northwestern's football squad faces off Saturday against a Michigan State team with essentially nothing to play for. This is an unexpected result given the apparent reluctance for any team to win the Big Ten this year, suggesting that the divisions should have been named Chaos and Entropy (in all seriousness, that would still be less dumb than Legends and Leaders). Instead, the new Big Ten Championship game has unexpectedly taken the drama out of the last week of the season. The Spartans have already clinched a spot in the game and are unlikely to position themselves for a BCS spot unless they win the inaugural Big Ten Championship game. State, therefore, has little to gain by beating Northwestern. Mark Dantonio claims the Spartans will go all out to win, though it would be surprising to see him risking injury to some of his more important or most battered players.

For Northwestern, a victory guarantees an elusive bowl spot and moves them up the rank to a more prestigious game in the vague hierarchy of crappy bowls. They'll also be playing an emotional last home game for the seniors and attempt to wipe away the disastrous five game losing streak with a five triumphant victories, a point that Fitz will not publicly make, although I suspect he feeds his monotonous "one game at a time" nonsense to the press while secretly filling his players' heads with odes to their greatness and portraits of himself leading them to glory across the Alps while perched on an elephant that is stomping rival Big Ten mascots like so much Alp detritus.


Northwestern's program has entered another spectacular year with a bowl eligible football team and a Charleston Champion basketball squad. For some other programs, these accomplishments are risible but given the historical performance of both teams, these are titanic victories. Northwestern can make this a historical year by winning a bowl game and (dare I dream it) making the NCAA tournament on the back of Shurna's deadly chest heave. There is nothing to stop them, accept for jealous rivals who attack them in academic journals of sporting success and try to get their hands on their precious bones.

Friday, November 18, 2011


The Wildcats took care of business against Rice last weekend and head into a crucial showdown with Minnesota for bowl eligibility at Ryan Field on Saturday. The Wildcat defense contained Rice, the offense rolled as Persa connected with Ebert for a 90 yard score, and Northwestern managed to win a game it was supposed to win without causing spectators any undue heart palpitations.

A Northwestern fan prepares for a game
against a plucky non-conference opponent

The seemingly-revitalized Wildcat defense held Rice scoreless for most of the game. Their resolve will be tested against Minnesota, who gamely stepped into Northwestern's traditional role of upsetting Iowa, and retained possession of their hideous pig-trophy. The Gophers also hung in against Michigan State, but fell apart against a Wisconsin team that decided that the best way to avoid losing on a fluky hail mary was to completely annihilate their opponent. Minnesota QB Marqueis Gray has battled through injuries this season as well as some seemingly inexplicable benchings in favor of his freshman colleague Max Shortell, but looks to be at full strength against Northwestern.

The Wildcats are favored this weekend, but beating Minnesota has rarely been easy, even as their program has veered comically off the rails since the end of the Glen Mason era. The 'Cats suffered a defeat to the Gophers in 2009, and have found victory by the narrowest of margins; they squeaked by last year and in 2007 by a single point, and needed a near walk-off interception return in order to secure victory in 2008. No one on either side is taking anyone for granted.

Minnesota's first-year head coach Jerry
Kill relies on the ancient motivational art
of bellowing to ensure excellence from his


The Chicago Bears have been surprisingly decent. Like last year, the Bears spent the early season on a quest to punish quarterback Jay Cutler by subjecting him to an unending series of sackings. And again like last year, the offensive line has found some semblance of cohesion and Mike Martz has either been convinced or cajoled at the point of a bayonet into calling more rushing plays and short passes in his Greatest Show on Sludge offensive attack. In short, we've seen the Bears return to winning in spite of themselves with good defense, a great running back, and phenomenal special teams.

For most of their existence, the Bears have had the same identity, and it is amazing how, no matter what players or coaches end up on the team, the Bears remain the Bears. My favorite Bears season was probably the 2001 season, where a mediocre Bears team careened into the playoffs thanks to two consecutive Mike Brown overtime interceptions. The most Bears victory of all time, however, probably was this 2004 game against the Tennessee Titans. Chicago quarterback Craig Krenzel passed for 116 yards and two interceptions, and the Bears scored in regulation on an interception return by defensive end Michael Haynes, an R.W. McQuarters punt return, and a field goal. They won in overtime with a safety.

Announcers enjoyed reminding viewers that Krenzel
majored in molecular genetics at Ohio State. In this photo,
a number of Dallas Cowboys science enthusiasts happily
indulge his wish to get a closer look at Cowboys Stadium
grass ecosystem

Last Saturday's game against the Lions was another classic Bears win, as they scored touchdowns on two interception returns, a Devin Hester punt return, and a Forte run set up by a Detroit fumble. The game was also notable for a comical brawl ignited by a Matt Stafford tackle on an interception return, which emptied both benches.

The Lions are lucky that Martz coaches from the
press box and is not allowed to bring his
gladiatorial implements to Soldier Field

Though the Bears are unlikely to win the North unless Aaron Rodgers decides to spite Packer fans by inexplicably retiring mid-season, purchasing a large tract of land in Mississippi, and contentedly drive a lawn mower around its premises for several months, they remain in the mix for a Wild Card berth.


Theo Epstein has emerged from his Wrigleyville lair to proclaim that Dale Sveum will be the Cubs' new manager. He will replace Mike Quade, who lost favor with the organization because he refused to intimidate the opposition with an array of false eyebrows patterned on historical figures.

Quade models the "Eyebrows of Yalta" collection

The exact impact that a manager has on a baseball team is not completely certain. Unlike football head coaches, who spend a week devising their team's overall strategy, or basketball head coaches who expertly use timeouts to slow the last minute of a close game to a crawl and contort comically along the bench for our amusement, baseball managers affect a game mainly through setting lineups, devising pitching changes, foolishly calling for bunts despite concrete evidence that sacrificing outs is more often than not detrimental to a team, and occasionally berating umpires in a manner that compromises the dignity of everyone involved. It seems in the modern game, the manager's job largely involves controlling the clubhouse and eating shit from the media, especially in Chicago, where pundits blast managers for not leading their teams to play better. On a team bereft of major league talent like the Cubs, this means that the media expects the managers to emit baseball improvement rays in order to force his players to hit and field better.

I don't know anything about Sveum. I'm working on making sure I pronounce his name correctly so I can most accurately hurl epithets at my television when he does something order a hit and run with Alfonso Soriano batting or call Jeff Samardzija to pitch, or any of the million other minor decisions a manager will make during the course of the endless season as the Cubs inevitably sputter through a rebuilding year. I mostly know him as the third base coach of the Red Sox who was often criticized for his ambition in sending runners home.

Sveum (l) performs the vital third base coach role of congratulating a player
hitting a home run. Reed Sox fans' venom for the occasional out at the plate
was matched at the time for Cubs fans' consternation with then-third base
coach Wendell Kim. Kim earned two derogatory nicknames: "Wavin' Wendell"
and "Send 'em in Kim"

Sveum joins a long line of Cubs managers dating back to Albert Spalding in in 1876. The position of manager was in flux in the nineteenth and early twentieth century with managers who were either active players or retired players more akin to modern managers. The Cubs' nineteenth and early twentieth-century squads used a mixture of player-managers such as Cap Anson, Frank Chance, Silver Flint, and the dashing Bob Ferguson, who had not only one of the most swashbuckling middle names in baseball history (Vavasour), but also one of its best nicknames ("Death to Flying Things"). In the years between Anson and Chance, Cubs managers did not play, but directed their teams from the bench, content to spit, smoke, and encourage their players' general baseballmanship.

Cubs managers from 1878-1905 (clockwise from top left) Bob
Ferguson, Cap Anson, Silver Flint, Tom Burns, Tom Loftus,
and Frank Selee. The clean-shaven Frank Chance took over in
1905, shattering baseball's mustache ceiling


Northwestern has looked greatly improved on defense the last two weeks and will be looking to prove that their defense is not merely the result of an inadequate Nebraska coaching scheme and playing Rice. Otherwise, they will have to rely on a traditional Northwestern game plan to outscore the opposition. Minnesota fans certainly see this as a winnable game for their reeling squad after a slate of disappointing early losses.

A win here puts the Wildcats into technical bowl eligibility. Unfortunately, with the rest of the Big Ten likely to fill its berths, the 'Cats will need some teams on the precipice of eligibility to fall apart and hope that the bowl fatcats come a-callin' with their wads of cash, their silver topped canes, and their promises to do their stadium up all pretty. Otherwise, the Wildcats will be ineffectually waiting by the phone in the cold before challenging the University of Chicago to some sort of Quiz Bowl in order to satisfy bowl-starved Northwestern students and alumni. Yet all of this prognostication is for naught without a win against the plucky Gophers and perhaps even an upset against Michigan State to ensure a place at some miserable bowl and turn fans' frowns upside down.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Husked Corn and Other Staple Crops

Northwestern beat Nebraska. Northwestern beat Nebraska. Northwestern went into Lincoln, Nebraska, beat the #10 team in the country, and has begun an inexorable march to a Pizza City bowl to wreak havoc against another middling team that has also slunk into the postseason, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Pat Fitzgerald can smile again after a rough stretch for his Wildcat football squad

The Northwestern offense once again rallied around jack-of-all-trades Kain Colter after Dan Persa's injury in the second quarter. Colter hit Jeremy Ebert on an 81 yard pass and led the 'Cats on a game-clinching seven minute drive against Nebraska's fearsome "Blackshirt" defense that got its name from Husker football coach Bob Devaney's hatred of former Italian Prime Minister Luigi Facta.

Luigi Facta is best known for stepping down during Mussolini's March on Rome in
1922. He initially gained power for a perceived positive attitude due to his perennially
smiling mustache, among the most spectacular of Europe's interwar mustaches. I
found the logo on the right on Nebraska's official page and not an ill-fated Nebraska
video game for the Atari Jaguar where the Husker defenders were forced to prove they
were bad enough dudes to rescue the president

More importantly, Northwestern's defense played its best game of the season. Though they allowed a career day in the air for Husker QB Tyler Martinez, they kept the Nebraska running game in check, even though they have a running back named "Rex Burkhead," a running back name that would only be topped by something like Truck Shoveler. The Wildcat defense stopped Martinez, Wrench Lunchhandler, and the Husker offensive line repeatedly and caused two key fumbles as the Nebraska coaches stubbornly stuck to the their run game against a stout Northwestern front that I now know would make these Wildcats unstoppable in 1904.


Northwestern must hold steady as Rice comes to Evanston to avenge last years 30-13 loss in Houston. Though Rice has had a tough year at 3-6 and sports one of the most porous defenses in college football, Northwestern fans know first-hand the danger of taking an opponent for granted. A home loss to Rice after last week's monumental victory in Lincoln would be a profound reversal of fortune that could end Northwestern's bowl hopes.

Rice is itself coming off a momentum-swinging victory over Conference USA foes UTEP. Rice quarterback Nick Fanuzzi came off the bench to lead the Owls with 405 yards passing and three touchdowns, as noted in this article from the Rice Thresher student newspaper that is now making me mildly disappointed that their football team is not also named The Threshers with a correspondingly violent Texas football hand gesture. The Owls have also managed a Big Ten upset this season as they defeated Purdue and helped move the Danny Hope regime to "embattled" status.

Purdue Coach Danny Hope has become more haggard with every

Dan Persa will return as quarterback for the Wildcats after suffering a shoulder injury that forced him out of the Nebraska game. Persa will add that to his growing list of ailments that he has shrugged off like a nineteenth century strongman who plays through injury because science has yet to diagnose them properly, for example shrugging off a hernia induced by excess triangular weight lifting as a bowel malady cured only by snorting lizard powders and applying electrodes to his person.


Rice Stadium was the famous venue of President Kennedy's 1960 Moon Mission Speech, where he likened space travel to the difficult feats of climbing the highest mountain, flying across the Atlantic, and attempting to defeat the University of Texas at football. Northwestern has unfortunately as far as I'm aware been the site for any presidential moon grandstanding.

Kennedy returned to Rice a year later for his lesser
known follow-up speech entitled "I Hate the Moon,"
where Kennedy got tough on the moon, characterizing
its alteration of American tides as suspiciously
communist in nature, casting suspicion upon the 1961
lunar eclipse, and earning a rousing ovation for claiming
that "if the man in the moon were to come into this
stadium right now, I would punch him his smug lunar

Kennedy wanted to send astronauts to the moon as quickly as possible, but space travel created complicated legal issues over moon sovereignty. In 1967, United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union signed the Outer Space Treaty to regulate acceptable uses for outer space. The Treaty banned launching nuclear missiles from space or storing them on the moon or other celestial bodies. It also banned setting up lunar military installations. The Treaty's provisions unfortunately served as a direct provocation for Bond villains who spent the remainder of the century constructing moon bases and threatening the Earth with all manner of space-borne attacks such as missiles, weather disruptions, and, in up to 65% of Bond movies, some sort of space laser.

The Treaty was in part a reaction to American meddling in space for defense purposes. The 1967 West Ford project launched 480 million cooper diodes into orbit in order to construct an artificial ionosphere in order to facilitate global radio communications. The project was created as an alternative to conventional cable or radio communications that the government feared were vulnerable to Soviet disruption. British and Soviet scientists protested, with Pravda chipping in with a headline reading "USA Dirties Space." The project inspired a clause in the treaty to provide for international consultation to alert other nations to space experiments. Satellite technology quickly rendered the West Ford project obsolete, although remnant diodes remain in orbit.

A 1979 Moon Treaty attempted to subject space and all celestial bodies to international control. The treaty banned exploration of celestial bodies without notifying other nations or consulting the UN Secretary General and forbid claiming sovereignty over other planets, moons, and the like. This treaty has been approved by Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, and Uruguay, none of which have managed to successfully put a person in position to either peacefully explore the heavens or exploit space for nefarious means or tell other to stay the hell away from Ganymede.

An important array of laws governing the use of outer space exist
specifically to prevent this from happening


Last Friday, the Northwestern football season appeared over. Now, the Wildcats have renewed hope. A victory over Rice and either Minnesota or Michigan State will make Northwestern eligible for spectacularly awful bowl game/tractor expo and I can't possibly be more excited. Of course, at 6-6, Northwestern can go to a bowl only if other conferences cannot fill their allotments or the teams bow out of the bowl from shame or some sort of ridiculous NCAA infraction such as punishing players for high-fiving too vigorously for the NCAA's liking. Winning out will guarantee a bowl berth in some god-forsaken wind-swept land. Northwestern fans like the team's chances more against Rice and Minnesota, although the Gophers have been dangerously scrappy lately. Michigan State remains the toughest game on the schedule, though one can never underestimate the Spartans' predilection for unexpected localized ineptitude.

After being mired in the doom and gloom of a losing season, Northwestern has hope again. And if we can play a basketball game on an aircraft carrier, why can't Northwestern play a shitty bowl game on the moon? We do these things not because they're easy, but because they're hard.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


A victory for Northwestern at last. The Wildcats recorded their first win since trouncing Eastern Illinois and snapped a five-game losing streak by beating Indiana and then stepping on them to get inches above the Big Ten cellar. It was a remarkable offensive performance against Indiana's matador defense as the Wildcats put up 59 points. Along the way, Drake Dunsmore set a Northwestern record with four touchdown catches, setting off a hailstorm of horrible commentator puns such as "Drake Duns-score," "Drake Dunsfour," and others too ghastly to dignify with a mention in this august online publication. As a professional supplier of ape-related puns to car dealerships using giant inflatable monkey marketing, I urge Big Ten Network television crews to holster their puns and leave it to the pros.

"Our prices are bananas," "This A.P.R. will
make you go A.P.E.," and "Let this orangutan
sell you a tan Durango," are the ones I'm
giving out for free

No one doubts that Northwestern can put points on the board. The Wildcat offense confused Indiana with a variety of looks, as the versatile Kain Colter lined up at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, superback, and right tackle as well as kicked an extra point, coordinated the defense, took a turn inside the Willie costume, liaised with the media, organized the Athletic Department budget, and participated in a psych 110 experiment during media timeouts.

Fitz and Mick McCall sent Colter on a mission to represent
Northwestern football at the European Sovereign Debt Crisis
summit after handing the offense to Trevor Siemian and the

Northwestern's defense, however, still gave up 38 points to the Hoosiers and had difficulty tackling their dynamic freshman quarterback Tre Roberson. While Northwestern's defense allowed the offense to outscore Indiana, they will have a tougher task as they travel to Lincoln to begin their rivalry against divisional foes Nebraska.


Northwestern will be looking to try to save their season against the newcomers who mark the first step in Big Ten expansion towards 64 teams. As most Wildcat fans know, the last meeting with Nebraska ended in an Alamo Bowl routing appropriate for its location near the actual Alamo. The defeat has been seared into the minds of Wildcat fans thirsting for vengeance and Nebraska fans, some of whom can recall playing in something called the "Alamo Bowl" in the year 2000.

This year, unfortunately, the possibilities of revenge seem slim for the Wildcats. They face a 7-1 Husker squad ranked #10 in the BCS standings that has only lost to a seemingly unstoppable Wisconsin team that had not yet exposed its vulnerability to the hucking the ball 50 yards into the endzone with no time remaining play. Northwestern, on the other hand, limps into this game quite literally, with Dan Persa suffering from a painful turf toe injury. The Wildcats also must win in Lincoln's creatively-named Memorial Stadium against 80,000 screaming Husker fanatics hoping to intimidate the Northwestern offense with noise and their horrifying mascot who lurks in the shadows with his frozen grin belaying a confidence in all manners of sinister uses for corn farming implements.

Nebraska's mascot was created as a composite of popular
children's nightmares

How will the game shake out? On the one hand, the Huskers don't pass the ball particularly effectively, which helps cover up some defensive struggles against the long ball. On the other hand, Northwestern's run defense has been closer to Maginot than Thermopylae, and they will be facing a far stouter defense than Indiana's feeble unit. No one but Pat Fitzgerald seems to think the Wildcats have a chance. But Northwestern football thrives as the underdog with no expectations, and Nebraska may be looking past the 'Cats to a meeting with potential inaugural Big Ten Championship opponents Penn State the next week. Anything can happen in the Big Ten, and Northwestern has yet to notch their annual signature upset by failing to beat a surprisingly weak Iowa team. Hopefully, the Wildcats can catch an overconfident Nebraska team unaware as they prepare mainly by choreographing elaborate touchdown celebrations designed to flout the spirit but not the letter of stringent NCAA restrictions to prevent football players from enjoying themselves.


Nebraska joins the Big Ten as a vital corn-producing region with a team nickname paying homage to their connection to the crop. The American mastery of maize continued to fascinate corn's greatest 20th century enthusiast, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. In the 1955, Khrushchev implemented a wide-ranging program to jump-start corn production in the Soviet Union. His enthusiasm grew after visiting the United States and, in particular, the vast Iowa cornfields of Roswell Garst, who then sold the USSR thousands of tons of seed to help rectify the Soviet Union's wretched state of cornlessness.

Comrades! We will crush the imperialist Redenbacher

There's a wonderful report on Khruschev's corn program in Central European University's OSA records of intelligence reports filed for Radio Free Europe about the goings-on behind the Iron Curtain. According to a 1958 report entitled "Khrushchev and Corn," the author has noted that Khrushchev had championed the crop since 1939. The document points out that "Almost every foreign speech...pays tribute to corn and often yields such bon mots as 'Corn in the hand means a pork chop in the mouth.'" The corn campaign, however, failed to live up to its expectations. The directive ordered growing corn in less than optimal conditions, and collective farm administrators dragged their heels in corn planting. The Politburo blamed problems on resistance from farm authorities and appointed corn inspectors, which the report incredulously describes as "another echelon of farm authority." "Only a Gogol could do justice to the Khrushehevian kolkhoz [collective farm] corn inspector," the report concludes.

The Radio Free Europe reports are a fascinating source of Soviet statistical misinformation and bureaucratic rapaciousness. The writer of the reports demonstrates a simultaneous cynicism and appreciation for the absurdity in these accounts, describing Soviet actions invariably as "malfeasance and skullduggery." In a report entitled "Butter and Egg Man-- Soviet Style," the author describes the results of a Soviet drive to catch up to the United States in livestock products such as meat, milk, and eggs. It reproduces a story (from where, it is unclear) about a Kirghiz collective farm where the chickens and cows began to double and triple egg and milk production over the amount they would normally produce when bound by traditional restrictions such as the laws of physics and biology. The reason for the increase was not the development of a Soviet super-cow (which surely would have ended the Cold War and begun a reign of worldwide Soviet hegemony), but through what the report describes wonderfully as "the swindler's machinations" of the farm administrator. Inquiries revealed similar statistical anomalies at nearby farms. The administrator, however, remained in his position.

Another report that must have been filed by the same author entitled "Kolkhoz Cash And Carry Operators" from 1959 discusses the corruption of state farms. The author attributes the problems to the practice of consolidation of farms into larger entities, reflecting a Stalin-esque "gigantomania" with enormous projects that led to opportunities for large-scale corruption among the "conniving cadres." The boodle involved inventing fictitious orders for supplies and pocketing the excess. As the annex notes "all sorts of business operators (deltsy) and intriguers are being attracted, as flies are by honey, by the chance to make profits" in acts of brazen misappropriation of state resources that would stagger even the most sticky-fingered Chicago machine bosses. The one significant weakness in this sort of Soviet boondoggle is that the Communist Party's faceless bureaucracy left these men unaccountable to the people and therefore unsuitably lacking in the nicknames necessary for the perpetration of acts of swindlery and corruptitude. Think of how much more impressive the reports would be if these acts of larcenous bureaucracy were perpetrated by people named "Tractor" Ivan Stepanovich or Grigory "Little Lenin" Pavlovich.

This poster celebrates the triumphant ordering of 100,000 fake
tractors by crooked kolkhoz operators


It is true that Northwestern is facing long odds against Nebraska. But it is also true that this is college football where the improbable and the unlikely occur on a weekly basis. Northwestern is still technically fighting for a bowl spot and a major upset this Saturday can turn the season around and ensure a berth in whatever god-forsaken bowl game would have the Wildcats. But should Wildcats yield to inevitability and the football team falters in its upset, I have no problem falsifying reports of victory and spreading them across the Big Ten. And then pilfering money meant for the purchase of vast swathes of Soviet capital goods.