Friday, September 21, 2012

The Northwestern Wildcats are an Unstoppable Juggernaut of Harrowing Victory

I don't want to alarm anyone here, but Northwestern is 3-0 and the only school in the country to defeat three opponents from BCS conferences.  And the only cost was years of our lives.  The quick start, bolstered by a stout run defense and impressive running game, has Northwestern in great position for another berth in a prestigious bowl that will be located somewhere in Texas.  Even if the Wildcats fail to cash in another three wins or make it to a bowl outside of Texas, I'm guessing a consortium of Texas businessmen will swoop up and somehow force the team back into the Lonestar State and then call each other bastards and sons of bitches and erect tiny oil derricks behind them  like so many petroleum Hansels.

Grainy surveillance photos reveal powerful Texans behind a sinister plot to move Northwestern to
a reconstructed Southwest Conference by 2015

The Wildcats survived another close call against Boston College for their third win as they treated both endzones as like the Wrigley Field Forbidden Endzone and kept a respectful distance of several yards.  Much like that Illinois game, Mike Trumpy was the only Northwestern offensive player to laugh in the face of danger and break the goal line.  Trumpy, who had an excellent comeback game with 99 yards on the ground, trained in the offseason by swapping footballs with sandbags of equivalent weight, dodging blowdarts, and laughing at a perforated Alfred Molina.


The 'Cats ended up with nearly 300 rushing yards and 267 more in the air from a variety of quarterbacks, but only managed 22 points.  The Eagles took advantage of some NU turnovers and timely passes from quarterback Chase Rettig to keep it close.  Also, the BC coach has a pretty spectacular mustache and I am sure that inspired his team.  With only minutes to go, the 'Cats held onto a two point lead, but it proved to be enough as the defense gave another inspiring performance.  They held the Eagles to only 25 rushing yards, which has to be some sort of school record.  I bet even Chicago Dental College managed more than 25 rushing yards, although to be fair the forward pass had not yet been invented and at that point they were probably firing fullbacks out of cannons at the line of scrimmage until they got a first down or the players decided that they had put on a manly enough display of being shot out of things and decided to repair to their smoking lounges to savor a brandy and reattach their limbs.

Jeff Budzien was the most impressive Wildcat.  Football kickers are like washing machine repairmen or exterminators in that you do not want to see them because your team can't score touchdowns or your house is flooded and/or large throngs of aggressive millipedes on a civilizing mission. When they do show up, though, you would like them to be thorough and professional, and Budzien got the job done with five field goals on Saturday. And I got the job done with a hokey sportswriter-grade simile right there, here's an unnecessary reference to teeth.

You don't want to find yourself in a situation where you would need to call the 
A-Team because that invariably means you've gotten yourself into trouble with 
a group of a group of vengeful yokels, but if you must fend off a swarm of 
marauding hillbillies by assembling the contents of a barn into a machine 
capable of firing produce at speeds violent enough to throw a man from a tractor 
without causing him severe injury, you're probably glad you selected this 
particular group of soldiers of fortune in the Los Angeles underground

The scoring frustrations masked an impressive outing from the Wildcats.  Venric Mark has emerged as the most exciting diminutive Northwestern tailback since Tyrell Sutton.  Chi Chi Ariguzo has quickly become a game-changing defensive presence.  But there is still plenty to work on.  The front seven, which have looked dominant against the run, still have trouble pressuring the quarterback, and the 'Cats remain vulnerable to long passes.  Also the Northwestern players need to practice proper chest-bumping form.  Frankly, it's shocking to see an errant chest-bump from a Pat Fitzgerald-coached team.


Northwestern will host South Dakota on Saturday.  The Coyotes are an FCS squad, and Wildcat fans expect victory.  Veteran 'Cat watchers, however, know not to assume anything with this squad.  I would not be surprised for Northwestern to be up by one with three minutes remaining after allowing a 99 yard touchdown bomb and then all of a sudden the arena goes dark and an Orson Welles impersonator starts warning about an alien invasion while the Wildcat noise goes off in the background and the scoreboard keeps flashing pictures of Air Willie devouring helpless Wildcat Alley patrons and all of the seats turn into vibrating Mant seats then everyone has a good-natured laugh over the scare and Northwestern scores eight unanswered touchdowns and Lake Michigan turns into a sweet fizzy substance resembling lemonade.

Northwestern fans react to another thrilling Wildcat Victory


British elections before the 1832 Reform Bill had managed to streamline campaigning to avoid long, costly elections in many areas.  That is because several local constituencies, the so-called "rotten boroughs" only had a handful of voters, so the key campaign strategy usually involved buying the seats directly from the landholder at reasonable wholesale prices.  That system ran smoothly for centuries, especially in the days when British men resembled nothing less than an interchangeable assembly of collar ruffles and mustaches.  Occasionally, there were hiccups in the system.  The two seats in the borough of Gatton were controlled by Sir Mark Wood who canvassed the electorate consisting largely of himself and returned himself to Parliament along with his brother-in-law (James Dashwood.  Wood and Dashwood sounds like a horrible synth pop duo that scored a top 50 hit in 1984 and then died attempting to escape a small hut made entirely from cocaine).  They successfully fended off a challenge for a seat in 1803 by disallowing their rivals only vote.

Another by-election may have caused Wood some trouble.  According to an unreliable source, Wood attempted to elect his son to the second seat.  The only eligible voters were Wood, Wood's son, and their butler, Jennings.  I'll let Henry Sooks Smith set the scene:
The son was away and Jennings and his master quarrelled upon which Jennings refused to second the son and proposed himself. To get a seconder for the son, Sir Mark had to second Jennings, and it was ultimately arranged, and the vote of Sir Mark alone given. This was the only contest within memory.
I'm really disappointed that there was not a fourth voter (perhaps a foot-man or another wastrel son lying around) to see a full campaign pitting man against butler.  I'm assuming that Wood, the clever political operator, would have spent a small sum on pamphlets attacking Jennings's character, knowledge, and above all butling skills. 

Jennings says he polished the silver tea service before rushing 
off to fetch me some gout leeches.  But upon inspection, it only 
seemed like he put on one or one and a half coats.  Is this the
 man you want representing the five people in this household 
in the Parliament of the United Kingdom and also chasing 
away that dreadful vicar when he pops by?  Is this a man you 
want voting on the supply bill and also locating my hunting 
chaps?  Jennings.  Wrong for Britain.  Wrong for this house.  
I also think he has been in the sherry again.


Northwestern's out of conference success against BCS conference teams has earned some attention, and the Wildcats have pushed to the fringes of the AP Poll.  With another victory on Saturday, they will be in a strong position to begin Big Ten play against Indiana.  Beating South Dakota with limited moments of terror would be a feather in the cap for the program.  Northwestern fans know that victory is never assured.  As we have seen so far in the season, there are no rotten boroughs in college football and no victories that can be guaranteed by making a deal with a quarrelsome butler.  This young team is eager to show improvement against the pass and prove it can maintain a lead.  With the rest of the Big Ten unexpectedly reeling from tough out of conference losses, this could be a year to make some noise in the LEGENDS conference, especially if that noise is to change the conference title to something less embarrassing.

Friday, September 14, 2012

One Million Years BC

It has been two weeks and no one has beaten the Wildcats at football.  Not only did they defeat the favored Commodores in home opener, they also stood tall while the rest of the Big Ten generally flailed around like a drunken Dostoyevsky protagonist ruining a high-society party.  Football!

Understanding the Big Ten's rough weekend really can't be 
completed without a guide to what disappointed coaches look 
like when compared to specific Zaporozhian Cossacks.

Venric Mark had another excellent game to solidify himself as the feature tailback, but it was Northwestern's much-maligned defense that stole the show.  The same squad that looked discombobulated against Syracuse had a magnificent day holding Vanderbilt to 13 points and kept the 'Cats in the game as the offense continued to falter.  Chi Chi Ariguzo had another excellent day and netted himself Big Ten Defensive player of the Week honors.  Jeff Budzien nailed all three of his field goal attempts.  SEC teams were put on notice about coming to Ryan Field, especially if they are academically-minded SEC schools with a reputation for football futility only surpassed by Northwestern itself that have now turned themselves around and are also scrapping around for crappy bowl bids.


For the second week in a row, Trevor Siemian engineered the key drive with Kain Colter on the bench.  The quarterback situation, however, remains somewhat murky, with Fitzgerald describing his changes like he is going to the bullpen in a bizarre version of baseball where you can keep bringing guys back in again which you can't do in real baseball because of Tony LaRussa.

"Warm up all of the pitchers," LaRussa bellowed into the phone before sending 
a utility outfielder to pitch, a relief pitcher out to short, and calling for a 
left-handed mascot

Usually, a quarterback backlog bodes ill for football teams.  By now there should be chat of a quarterback controversy, or, as I am disappointed to have not seen in a headline yet, a "Quarterback KAIN-TREVORsy."  Instead, Fitz seems to be content to use both quarterbacks.

"We’re going to do what we’re going to do, and that means we’re going to play multiple quarterbacks, and we’re all right with it,” Fitzgerald said in this Chicago Sun-Times story.

Fitzgerald then added that he is experimenting with confusing the opposition further by having several Pat Fitzgerald lookalikes roaming around the stadium so that the opposing bench has no idea which is the real Fitz like the time that Michael Jackson did that at the Superbowl and then the real one sprang up out of a trap door and stared motionless at the crowd for a solid minute while wearing his nineteenth century military dictator regalia.  Then he yelled "Go 'Cats," cackled, thew a smoke grenade, and vanished through a secret panel in the floor.


Boston College comes to town after last year's wild opener.  The Eagles are coming off a 34-3 victory over FCS Maine and their athletic webpage assures me that someone named Spiffy Evans played a key role.  BC Quarterback Chase Rettig should continue to test the young Wildcat secondary.  I'm terrified of Ifeanyi Momah, who torched Northwestern for a career-high 157 receiving yards last year, even if he no longer is on the Eagles (thanks to JHodges in the comments for the correction). The prospect of Spiffy Evans is also extremely dangerous because he has a spectacular nickname and they usually don't give those out to guys who just kind of hang out on the bench.  Otherwise, I'd assume he'd have a less awesome nickname like "Benchy" Evans or "Rider Pine" or "The Bench-Man of Alcatraz" which admittedly would not make sense unless he played in San Francisco but I'm assuming someone with the nickname "Bench-Man" would not have a ton of choices about where he pursued his college football career so that is moot.

The heartening win over Vanderbilt has raised confidence in Northwestern fans who are expecting a win this week and a possible 4-0 start to the season.  Boston College has lost the services of mythical creature Luke Kuechely, also known as "The Sack-Man of Alcatraz,"  and are projected to have a difficult season in the ACC.

Nevertheless, veteran Wildcat fans know not to expect victory until the whistle has been blown.  The Eagles present Northwestern with third consecutive challenger from a BCS conference, and they are eager to avenge last year's loss.  Northwestern is a young team that has shown a penchant for collapse and comeback as per school tradition, and the BC game will do a lot to tell us what we can expect from them this season.


One persistent problem facing early modern navigators involved the search for islands that did not exist.  As map-makers or explorers fanned across the globe, they occasionally misidentified landmasses, and these nonexistent lands occasionally wound up on maps.  One of the most famous fake islands was Frisland, a north Atlantic island that appeared on the sixteenth century Zeno maps.

Frisland was apparently a reference to Iceland  as "Freezeland," which would be 
an excellent base of operations for Mr. Freeze.  Man, it is hard to explain to 
young people that our Batman movies used to be mainly about rubber nipples 
and puns about how cold it is

Frisland came from a map chronicling an alleged voyage by Antonio and Niccoló Zeno in the late fourteenth century.  The account included a voyage of several years around the North Atlantic accompanied by Prince Zichmni, who led a number brave attacks against several non-existent islands. Their descendant (also named Niccoló Zeno) wrote a book and drew a map in 1558 based on an account of the earlier brothers' voyage that claimed had been destroyed.  Either the earlier brothers or the later Niccoló had made up or misconstrued the voyage.  The Zeno maps remained in circulation for more than 100 years, giving an interesting example of the production and dissemination of contemporary knowledge and although I would hope that the obesession with perpetuating the myth of Frisland is a time-honored Zeno family tradition and there is a lone Zeno descendant somewhere attempting to scrape up a team of Frislanders to qualify for the World Cup.
A map of Frisland from 1623 with detailed place names.  Note the southern 
island of Monaco, no doubt a glamorous hotspot of nonexistent gambling, 
where patrons could bet on dragon-baiting, perpetual motion, and watch an 
early modern James Bond lose his fancy ruffles to a number of 
cat-toting megalomaniacs who threatened governments with gigantic muskets 
Pepys Island near the Falklands also did not exist, but was named after the British politician Samuel Pepys.  Pepys played a key role in the seventeenth century modernization of the Royal Navy and also kept a detailed diary that has become a crucial source for people interested in seventeenth century British politics and what Samuel Pepys enjoyed eating.  Someone has put his diary online, and a brief glance through has let me know under no uncertain terms that Samuel Pepys could absolutely devour a turkey if he wanted to whether roasted or in warm or cold pie forms.  The first three months of the diary carefully detail his turkey consumption where he described the birds as alternately brave, gifts from Mr. Shepley, or imported from Denmark.  The rest of the diary is full of well-nigh indecipherable nonsense such as:
I drink my morning at Harper's with Mr. Sheply and a seaman, and so to my office, where Captain Holland came to see me, and appointed a meeting in the afternoon. Then wrote letters to Hinchinbroke and sealed them at Will's, and after that went home, and thence to the Half Moon, where I found the Captain and Mr. Billingsly and Newman, a barber, where we were very merry, and had the young man that plays so well on the Welsh harp.

Samuel Pepys was an important figure in seventeenth century England, but 
nowhere but BYCTOM will let you know that he ate turkey no less than five 
times in 1660 and wrote about it; also he drank with a guy he referred to as 
"Mons. L'Impertinent"

There are a number of unidentified islands (including the fantastic "Isle of Demons") that came to be identified during a meeting of exploration, imagination, and (in some cases) stronger than average doses of grog.  At some point, all had been stomped out under the brutal boot of accurate cartography which sadly insisted here be accurate depictions of landmasses.


A victory against Boston College augers well for the Wildcats and puts them in a strong position for a bowl game.  There are no givens in college football, especially with the fluctuating performance of the 'Cats so far, but a defensive effort like the one we saw against Vanderbilt should propel them to victory.  A favorable early schedule may allow Northwestern to start Big Ten play undefeated, but we must be cautious.  A 3-0 Wildcat team may be as ephemeral as a non-existent island named after an English turkey-devourer with a penchant for cannonballs and lute practice.

Friday, September 7, 2012


The post's title is the maniacal cackling we let out after another close shave from the Wildcats in their wild opener against Syracuse.  A few more like that, I fear, will cause a fan to finally crack; after watching Northwestern squander a 35 point then come back to win a quadruple overtime game on a play where the ball bounces off of no less than four defenders before nestling in the arms of a Wildcat receiver in the endzone, he or she will don a purple bodysuit and terrorize the neighborhood by knocking balls, kites, and birds out of the air, acting as a demented vigilante defensive back.  Football is back and I could not be more excited.

Northwestern's traditionally crack offenses and generous defenses have made for thrilling come from behind wins and shattering collapses, sometimes in the same quarter.  The "Cardiac 'Cats" image may be just the thing the school needs to gain fans.  Instead of attempting to appeal to Chicago (which does nothing but bring the wrath of Martez Wilson upon us), why not embrace the reputation as the football team most likely to cause heart conditions?  Ads can depict a guy in a purple shirt yawning as he bungee jumps, base jumps, hang glides, lion tames, and participates in various late 90s Mountain Dew commercials until he finally keels over while watching the Wildcats hold a six point lead with less than five minutes remaining. 

Later billboards will show Fitz intensely loading fans into cannons, scaling the Petronas towers, and 
hunting the ultimate prey: man

Fans certainly have cause for alarm.  Last year's vulnerabilities against the pass look like they've returned.  Trevor Siemian replaced Kain Colter, as the sideline reporter conjured tales of quarterback intrigue (Colter revealed this week that he sustained injuries and asked for Siemian to step in a gentlemanly display).  The Carrier Dome remains an airless death trap filled with misery, despair, and the pervasive stench of armpits.  Yet, the 'Cats remain undefeated as they head to their home opener against their SEC equivalent.


This may shock you, but the last time Northwestern played Vanderbilt, they withstood a harrowing near comeback to hold onto victory.  At that point, the Commodores' head coach had retired just before the beginning of the season, and they sputtered to a 2-10 record.  Last year, new head coach James Franklin led Vandy to the Liberty Bowl.  They may be Northwestern's toughest non-conference opponent.

Franklin prefers the sideline karate chop to the fist pump, making him and 
Fitzgerald ideological enemies

Northwestern has a tall task ahead of them after last week's adventure.  But let's not forget that they looked dominant for much of the first half.  Venric Mark had a spectacular game returning punts, running, and shaking loose for a touchdown reception.  Chi Chi Ariguzo changed the game on defense.  The Wildcats refused to give in after a demoralizing collapse. Northwestern needs a big home win.  Northwestern and Vanderbilt have a kinship as small schools in power conferences that have traditionally been dragged around the football field like a dead bull in the Plaza Del Toros.  There is one key difference.  Northwestern was far better at sucking at football than Vanderbilt.  In fact, in its heyday, there was no school in the country better at losing football games than Northwestern.  Now that both Vandy and NU are scrapping for fringe bowl appearances, it is time to get unnecessarily riled up about beating them and giving them something to think about should we ever meet again in Pizza City.   


Professional football is here, and expectations for the Bears could not possibly be higher.  Brandon Marshall gives Cutler his best receiver alongside rookie Alshon Jeffery.  The aging defense hopes to eke out another creaky season, assuming Urlacher makes it to the end of the year without his knees eroding into stumps and forcing him to haul himself around on a plank of wood like the "hand me down a whiskey" guy from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  A healthy Matt Forte is one of the best backs in the NFL.  And they tell us that the offensive line should be somewhat better for some reason.

Bears fans are expecting a playoff berth and dreaming of a Superbowl.  They face a difficult path.  The NFC North is one of the toughest divisions in football.  Their three best players are coming off injuries.  Brandon Marshall is on the team.  The NFL has been turned over to replacement referees who will official like so many counterfeit Enrico Palazzos.  Everyone is waiting to exult in Jay Cutler failures because of an instantaneous and visceral reaction to his face. 
The only way for Cutler to catch on with the fanbase is to market himself as 
"The Sultan of Surl," a fearless circus man who performs acts of derring-do 
such as high-wire, wing walking, and standing behind J'Marcus Webb on a 
third and long situation.  Of course, he cannot do this without a mustache

The Bears will also be going into the season with additional Wildcats.  They traded for cornerback Sherrick McMannis, who will join Bears stalwarts Nick Roach and Corry Wootton.  They still remain outnumbered by Commodores-- Cutler, D.J. Moore, Earl Bennett, and Chris Williams all hail from Vanderbilt.  I would be shocked if the Bears ever had this many combined alumns from Northwestern and an opponent on the roster at the same time, a vital statistic of mainstream interest that I expect to hear about on both Northwestern and Bears telecasts.


There has been a lot of talk of stunts, acts, and daredevilmanship this week as Northwestern football promises another season seat-gripping intensity.  Naturally, I've been boning up on my knowledge of what Wikipedia refers to as the "impalement arts," the practice of hurling pointy things at another person for the delight and amusement of spectators.  These acts include the "Wheel of Death," "The Devil's Door," "The Double Ladder of Death," and "Bending Over on the Orient Express to Tie Your Shoe and Then You Look Up and There Is a Knife Wobbling Where Your Head Was Which Means You've Been Drawn Into a Web of International Intrigue Except This is On Purpose."  Nonetheless, I owe thanks to the heroic anonymous author(s) of this Wikipedia article for including the following sentences:

"There is a trick behind this stunt and budding impalement artists are warned not to attempt it unless coached by an experienced professional."

"For example, organising bodies for competitive archery prohibit activity that involves deliberate shooting in the general direction of a human being."

Most contemporary knife throwers are rank amateurs compared to Lon Chaney's character in The Unknown because they have arms.  In The Unknown, a 1927 Tod Browning silent film, Chaney plays an armless circus performers who delights the crowd by shooting firearms and throwing knives at Joan Crawford with his feet.  Chaney's dark secret is that he actually has arms, but prefers to hide them presumably because the prehensile foot act is more lucrative and throwing knives with your feet while wasting perfectly good hands seems unsporting to discerning 1920s circus audiences.  He is determined to protect his secret at all costs, and anyone who sees his arms ultimately dies by them.  Having hidden arms must be a tremendous tactical advantage and I am surprised that more professional boxers have not considered it.  Here is a clip that not only shows Chaney's act but also shows the comeuppance of an impertinent mustachioed strongman.


Northwestern hopes to keep up its winning ways against an equally hungry Vanderbilt squad at home.  As someone unlikely to take up skydiving or jousting or attempting to get the jump on Lon Chaney anytime soon, I'll gladly let the thrill of watching the football team attempt to score more points than the other team substitute.  There's nothing else to do but strap ourselves in and yell about football in the privacy of our own homes or football stadiums.  Five more wins and all roads lead to the Pizza City.