Friday, November 29, 2013

Haturn Devouring His Hat

HAT-- Hat!

Hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat.  Hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat?  Hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat; hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat!  Hat-- hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat.

Hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat hat.  Hat hat hat hat hat.

Hat hat hat hat?


Hat hat hat

Hat hat hat hat hat.


It is Hat Week.  Hide your valuables.  Send your loved ones away.

Northwestern's season has come down to this.  The Wildcats have not won a football game since September 21st.  They will not be bowling.  They have suffered a litany of football indignities too gruesome to describe on the way to a stunningly awful season.  There is no hope.  There is no redemption.  There is only Hat.

Last week, Michigan State did something only few other teams have been able to do on a miserable, cold, windy day in Evanston (and lest you think it was not windy, I defy you to rewatch the game and count how many seconds it would take ESPN's ace announcing crew to refrain from talking about the wind.  That's why Northwestern is Chicago's Big Ten team-- because the announcers will not stop talking about wind conditions).  They decisively beat the Wildcats without having to resort to some bizarre, last-minute, physics-defying, deity-intervening play.  The 'Cats moved the ball well on the Spartan defense in the first half, but the loss of Kain Colter to injury and some big offensive plays from Michigan State tipped the game in their favor, Northwestern lost, and now hat.

There is one indignity so wretched and one low that Northwestern has avoided so far: to lose The Hat to a woeful Illinois team coached by Beck Man.  And that reduced this season to a single game.

I don't care that the 'Cats are not going to Indianapolis, and I don't care that they're not ranked, and I don't care that they have lost every game in an increasingly horrifying fashion that has convinced me that we are living in Homeric times and Pat Fitzgerald has accidentally started a petty feud with a lesser ancient Greek demigod who has decided to punish his fist-pumping hubris with a series of outlandish defeats.  This season has been a waking nightmare, but these seasons happen and Northwestern will return to bowl contention.  But I care deeply about the Hat and all hat-related ideas, and I refuse to see the Land of Lincoln trophy spirited away by that purple-hating, no Northwestern sign-having, "that school up north" referring, visor-wearing, sub-Zookian geek show from Champaign-Urbana.


General Beckman was confident coming off his first conference victory at West Lafeyette.  By the end, soldiers had written that he was at the end of his rope.  He had in the past been reprimanded for sideline interference and the unauthorized use of mouth tobacco, so it was no surprise that he had attacked a subordinate with a spittoon.  There's no evidence for this, but a rumor had started that said he had long, bleary-eyed late night conversations with a hat that he whittled.

Historians now believe Beckman's campaign was derailed by 
his unceasing obsession with hat-vengeance

Letter from the front of Tim Beckman's War on Northwestern

November 25

Dear Mother,

It is cold.  The lads were heartened by our victory in West Lafayette.  We were far from home and the enemy had a train and a drum.  Gen. Beck-Man had us return home and dig trenches around the hat.  We are tired, we are strained, we have a losing record.  One weary soldier has mentioned something about basketball season, and when Gen. Beck-Man heard about this, he said I'll show you a basketball and tried to dunk on an entrenched artillery piece.  He has reprimanded us ordering the officers to violently rip hats off of our heads.  They do this half-heartedly.  I long to come home, but I suppose we may not until Gen. Beck-Man finally gets his hat or is fired out of a cannon.


Beckman's men were exhausted.  He had marched them day and night from Indiana, but refused to proceed in a Northern or Western direction because they didn't do that in his company.  He had an officer plot out a route that included an Atlantic crossing and the Cape of Good Hope.  Instead, the officers ceremonially renamed the directions "Chief" and "Dee Brown."  Their compasses were artfully redesigned (chuckles softly to no one).

November 29

Dear Mother,

We are under constant watch.  Some of us have begun to refer to Gen. Beck-Man as "Lord Stovepipe."  He has taken our razors and made us wear long beards to look "more civil warry."  Only one man has tried to desert, but he was found by J Leman and ceaselessly pelted with monocles.  We have been building a giant Pat Fitzgerald out of straw and our unit must attack it each day and take the hat from its head.  It is shoddily built, and has fallen on many good men.  We dare not question or protest.  We can only shout "Chicago's Big Ten Team," affix our bayonets, and hope that we avoid its flailing fists.



This is the last game of the season.  The Wildcats can salvage some hope against an equally downcast Illinois team or face a cold, hatless winter.  Let us endure one more game, let us rally for The Hat, let us flood Memorial Stadium with our Lincoln regalia, let us spend the rest of our lives taunting our Illini friends and loved ones by wearing nothing but stovepipes in their vicinity, let us hope we have Tim Beckman to kick around for as many seasons as it takes to drive him into hat-madness. 



Friday, November 22, 2013

You Maniacs

How is this possible?

Michigan players dashed into action.  They vaulted over benches and spun around sideline personnel.  The holder came sliding in like a Beastie Boy navigating a car hood in the Sabotage video.  And the kick went up with less than one second preventing a Northwestern Big Ten victory, the longest second that has occurred since human beings invented the idea of measuring time.


Northwestern has had bad seasons.  The entire Northwestern experience is wrapped in those bad experiences.  Even if you were not alive when the Wildcats lost 267 consecutive games by 800 points apiece, were (possibly apocryphally) defeated by Interstate 94, and began each game by hastily reviewing the rules of football that players had put off learning because of the accelerated pace of midterm exams due to the quarter system, the history of crappy Northwestern football is imbued into your brain as a Northwestern fan.  You may not have chanted "we are the worst" or participated in an aquatic grow-a-goalpost experiment, but your collective fan memory has.  Northwestern's historical crappiness is the foundation of the Northwestern football narrative.  The 'Cats were bad.  They were the worst.  Dennis Green.  Then they were surprisingly good and lost the Rose Bowl.  And now they are fine.

But there's a difference between the outright historical futility of Northwestern football and whatever the hell is going on.  You could secure a grant, hire a dozen football chaos theoreticians of both bearded and non-bearded variety, put them into a lab with a simulated Ryan Field and moveable Northwestern figurines, and a Pat Fitzgerald action figure with Kung-Fu Fist Pump Action, and 50,000 simulated Nebraska fans, and I'm not quite sure they could invent the ways that Northwestern has lost so far.
Northwestern might win by a field goal or a butterfly flaps its wings on Deering 
Meadow and, ah, the other team runs 45 consecutive laterals with no time
 remaining and are stopped on the one-yard line, but get the chance to sneak it in 
because the referees have discovered a loophole left over from the nineteenth 
century that penalizes Fitzgerald for not having a festive boater hat and insulting 
the game with his bare-headed impudence and then the game ends and Ryan Field 
spontaneously bursts into flames MUST GO FASTER

Northwestern came into this season with so much promise and hype.  Then, the season has been derailed by offensive woes and the disappearance of Venric Mark into the Springfield Mystery Spot.  There is no joy.  There is no hope.  Football is despair, misery, and, to be honest, kind of darkly funny at this point because it should not be possible to keep losing games like this unless they are making weekly appearances in inspirational sports movies as the opponents in the last game of the season.


Northwestern lost to Michigan in an absurdly heart-breaking manner on Saturday.  It is clear at this point that it is not just bad luck and poor late-game coaching and execution that is dooming the 'Cats.  Instead, it must be all part of some sort of nefarious anti-Northwestern plot concocted by dark forces beyond our comprehension.  A brief survey of potential plotters:

The Soviet Union
Northwestern deployed its America Uniforms in order to America its opponent last Saturday.  The mainstream media wants you to believe that the Soviet Union dissolved in late 1991.  But its clear that the Soviet government has remained operating in secret since then, plotting Soviet revenge and churning out Soviet documents in a shadowy reverse samizdat process.  It's also clear that the Northwestern uniforms from last week were a provocation that could no longer be ignored.  Let's be clear: for legal reasons, I am not alleging that the Michigan special teams unit is made up of Soviet sleeper agents who are identified by discreet Ivan Drago tattoos, that they met in secret before the game to sing the Soviet national anthem, and then they unfurled a giant poster of the guy who used to wrestle professionally in Soviet underpants.  I'm just asking questions.

The Bohemian Grove
Long thought by conspiracy theorists to be a gathering by various global elites for secret meetings to consolidate their power and perform bizarre rituals, the Bohemian Grove has recently been revealed to be site where global elites gather to destroy Northwestern football.  Insider sources tell BYCTOM that the Grove visitors enjoy acting out failed Northwestern offensive remade into light operettas, having hundreds of pizzas delivered to the Fitzgerald residence before big games, and somehow manipulate global economic systems and politics to a pinpoint degree to affect football recruiting, weather conditions, officiating, and the rules of football that will somehow end in a Northwestern loss because of a minor fluctuation in the stock price of a Swiss hedge fund.

 Former Head Basketball Coach Bill Carmody
Carmody attempted to take the 'Cats to the dance for more than a decade.  Earlier this year, he saw the football team's ignominious bowl record shattered in a glorious Gator Bowl victory.  A few months later, he was fired.  Shortly after, Carmody disappeared.  Some say he has moved on from Northwestern as a sought-after guru of the Princeton Offense.  Others say he has moved into the tunnel system underneath the university, wearing a mask for some reason, and is determined to never let the football team steal his glory again.  Carmody and his shadowy operatives drawn from the former Yugoslavia have furtively followed the football team, they've divulged the meaning of those weird offense signal signs to opposing defensive coordinators, greased Northwestern footballs, and replaced one of the referees for the Ohio State game with a man named "Milos Fourthdownavic."

Calves' Head Club
A secret society devoted to mocking the death of Charles I through various food items: a cod's head to symbolize the beheaded king, a pike representing tyranny, boars' heads because Charles preyed on his subjects, and calves' heads representing Charles and his supporters.  Maybe it's my twenty-first century manners poking through, but that dinner is really heavy on heads.  The Calves' Head Club was broken up by an angry mob in 1734.  Now, they meet to make fun of Northwestern's terrible season.  They eat tiny frankfurters cut into four by one inch pieces to commemorate the Ohio State game, a bowl of corn flakes to celebrate the hail mary by Ron Kellogg III, and then they rub themselves in pig entrails to represent the Michigan game. 

Tim Beck Man, Head Coach, University of Illinois Football
Sometimes, you make an elaborate cork board to trace the various ways that various shadowy organizations have it in for the Wildcats.  And sometimes you think about who benefits the most and all becomes clear.  Tim Beckman is sabotaging Northwestern football because he wants the Hat.  Last year, the 'Cats humiliated his Illini and left him miserable and hatless in the cold.  This year, he has pulled no punches.  I am confident that Beckman has assembled a coterie of the nation's most deranged Lincoln impersonators to help him pull a series of daring wrecking operations to destroy Northwestern's morale before the Hat Game by convincing them that the Hat should be closer to Springfield.  Beckman has stopped at nothing.  He has disguised himself as Northwestern equipment managers and long-snappers, infiltrated the Wildcat video room, and replaced Big Ten chain gangs with clean-shaven Lincoln impersonators whose lack of beard allows them to roam amongst us undetected.  Sure, this has not helped the Illini this season.  They are equally winless in the Big Ten and Beckman nearly attacked his own offensive coordinator last week.  But Tim Beckman doesn't think in terms of wins and losses or titles.  He thinks in terms of hats and no hats, he has no sense of right and wrong, and he is determined to win the hat at all costs.


The grim season marches on as Northwestern is forced by some arcane, awful rule to play another football game on Saturday.  Sure, it might be wearying to think of insane Rube Goldberg scenarios where Northwestern can let another one slip away.  Instead, though, this is a significant opportunity.  Michigan State are in the driver's seat of the LEGENDS Division, and no one on the planet think Northwestern can come out on top here.  But this is just the opportunity for an improbable and absurd win.  I fully expect Northwestern to hang in there all game and then, on the last possession, throw one victory right pass followed by 15 Reverse Victory Right backward passes and then weave their way to the endzone for America.

Keep the faith, 'Cats fans.  Sometimes you win games, sometimes you lose games, and sometimes you lose games despite the fact that it should be impossible to lose them because of things like the physical laws of the universe.  No matter what, the Wildcats continue to suit up and smash into other teams.  The odds are against Northwestern.  Clearly, unknown shadowy forces are against Northwestern.  The Michigan State Spartans are definitely against Northwestern.  As fans, though, we can do nothing less than support their effort, cheer on the seniors, and possibly die from emotional trauma.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Good Gravy

We should have seen this coming.  All of the preseason hype, all of the accolades, all the sweet dreams of the Kolter-Mark option (which sounds like an exotic financial implement that could short-circuit the United States economy), all of the rankings.  It has all come crashing down like a proverbial House of Cards, by which I mean Pat Fitzgerald is now inexplicably talking with an absurd southern accent and delivering fourth-wall breaking asides about Purdue to a camera that isn't there.
Kevin Spacey sounds so much like a Shelby Foote impersonator that I expect him 
to threaten to bring hellfire on someone's district then turn to the camera and 
start talking about Beauregard

Last week, Northwestern faced a Nebraska team without its wobbly slingshot passing all-everything QB Taylor Martinez and looked like they could finally pull off a Big Ten win.  Instead, with no time remaining, a ninth-string quarterback impossibly named "Ron Kellogg III" lofted a ball in the endzone at a Northwestern defender who improbably tipped into the waiting hands of a Nebraska receiver in a play known as Inconceivably Heartbreaking Defeat Right.  At least that is what I am told.  I did not see the play because I was busy gambling on jai alai, but at this point Northwestern football no longer has the ability to shock me.

Chi Chi Ariguzo's endzone collapse is a pretty decent summation of the season to date
Northwestern is 0-5 in the Big Ten and is desperately scrambling to make a bowl, any bowl.  The 'Cats will play anyone, any time in December.  They will play the fourth-place Sun Belt finisher in an abandoned tile warehouse?  They will play the remaining UFL all-stars in a rendering plant.  They will undergo some sort of Captain N process to play against the 1991 Los Angeles Raiders in a Tecmo Super Bowl.  They could really use a win.


Northwestern hopes to avenge it's entire season by taking out a mediocre Michigan team on Saturday.  Michigan, also touted as potential LEGENDS DIVISION contenders, is not having a great season by any stretch of the imagination.  The Wolverines sit at 2-3 in the Big Ten and have yet to record a positive rushing total in the past two games.  Fans, though, can be comforted that they have at least qualified for a bowl game that Michigan fans can haughtily look down their collective noses at.  

Michigan's offensive woes have made this a winnable game for the ailing 'Cats.  And even though a theoretical Northwestern victory has lost a lot of luster against the unranked Wolverines, it would still be vastly satisfying.  One of the great pleasures of college football fandom is rooting not only against a current team but entire programs, fanbases, and civilizations.  All Big Ten fans have been traumatized by Michigan and Ohio State for so long that you could put a winged helmet on Rocky Balboa and I'd be singing the Soviet National Anthem.

Of course, this would mean that Northwestern would have to pull out a victory at all.  Last week, I speculated on twitter about some potentially devastating Northwestern loss scenarios for this season including deadly meteor strikes, vacating the 1995 Big Ten championship, and having a mass of Chicago-area Northwestern fans cause a large enough ruckus to force a forfeit.  I've brainstormed a few more since then:

-Colter breaks away for game-winning touchdown but is tackled by the Visitor Section Tarp, which has escaped its moorings and is out for vengeance.
-All of Northwestern football turns out to be an elaborate long con from a family of grifters who wait for the 'Cats to be in winning field goal range before announcing that the game is over, disassembling the stadium, and selling it to be ground up and shipped as gravel as part of an art installation project.
-Northwestern wins a game in dramatic fashion, but does so to the advantage of Biff Tannen, who has traveled back in time, wagered heavily on the 'Cats, and immediately forces us all to live in a post-apocalyptic Biff Town.
-A Soviet sleeper agent alters Northwestern's super-patriotic flag uniforms to hypercolor fabrics that reveal pictures of Lenin when exposed to sweat and moisture.  The game is forefeited when a riot breaks out led by the surviving relatives of Apollo Creed and professional wrestlers from the 1980s.

Northwestern's uniforms have created a Patriotic Singularity 


The Wildcats are certainly hungry for a victory.  They will be without Venric Mark the rest of the season and have a fairly banged up with emerging threat Stephen Buckley also injured.  It has been a rough season for the 'Cats, but a victory here would still keep them in bowl contention and give some much-needed stakes to the Hat Game.  Buck up, Northwestern fans.  The 'Cats have been alternately maddening, depressing, and shocking, but never boring, and they can use your fist claws this afternoon.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Flew Too Close to the Sun, On Wings of Pastrami

Beware to those who fail to heed former Northwestern head coach/football sage Dennis Green's words about premature ass-crowning.  We came into the season with the most ambitious expectations on the program in years, with dreams of Indianapolis.  We shrugged off injuries to Mark and Colter and Jones and McEvilly and shaky play against a less-than-terrifying non-conference schedule.  We exchanged knowing looks as Michigan and Nebraska looked less than ept.  We were heartened by a heart-breakingly close loss to Big Ten standard-bearer Ohio State-- I will go to my grave believing that Colter got that first down, and I intend to produce a number of shoddily-edited, wild-haired internet videos to convince the world that football spotting was an inside job.
Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura delves into the labyrinthine conspiracy 
that cost Northwestern a crucial first down against the Ohio State Buckeyes that 
involves cover-ups at the highest levels of college sports.  His theories also explain 
the mysterious disappearance of Captain Freedom

Now, of course, we're considerably deflated.  The Wildcats sputtered on offense against Wisconsin, and its defensive line was treated like the USC Marching Band treated Ricardo Montalban in The Naked Gun.  Then, they were defeated by a mediocre, coachless Minnesota team.  I'm not an expert on football, but I'm pretty sure that it's not a good sign for a potential contender when the opposing team's interim coach has moved down to the sidelines for the first time in a decade and therefore spent the game in what the ESPN sideline reporters convinced me was an anti-social anxiety bubble.  Kudos to the Gophers and their young quarterbacks for overdosing on moxie and pulling out a victory on the road under those circumstances.  I invite them to run me over with their truck.


The last time I can remember that the 'Cats came into the season with such lofty expectations was in 2001.  Northwestern had just come out of nowhere with an unexpected Big Ten Championship season which was sponsored by utter insanity-- it featured the hail mary and 54-51 in back-to-back weeks and then we all watched dreams of Pasadena evaporate on the cruel fields of Kinnick.

Kirk Ferentz celebrates the Hawkyes' defeat of a Rose Bowl-bound Northwestern 

Northwestern came into 2000 returning much of that team, including Zak Kustok and Damian Anderson.  Like this year's team, they started 4-0, and Kustok even began to get some vague Heisman rumblings after Victory Righting Michigan State.  Then, the season fell apart.  The Wildcats lost every single game, except a rainy homecoming contest against the Gophers.  That included a 56-21 drubbing against a terrible Indiana team led by Antwaan Randle-El, who played every single position simultaneously.

In a typical series, Randle-El passes to Randle-El, who runs it in for a touchdown, 
signaled by Randle-El.  This is an archaic series of events.  If this game happened
 today, Randle-El would also review the touchdown in the replay booth, pausing 
for a commercial on the Big Ten Network in which  Antwaan Randle-El would 
inform discerning consumers about the benefits of Rotel  or various diesel-powered 
farm implements

Northwestern's season seems fairly hopeless right now.  The devastating Colter/Mark option has been shelved as Mark recovers from vague injuries guarded like nuclear secrets.  Colter has been in and out of games, and the Northwestern offense has stalled without both of them out there.  The defense has also struggled as the recipe for Wildcat victories has gone from outscoring teams to beating them in punting exhibitions.  The 'Cats offensive playbook has been replaced with the bleak, existential novels of Camus.  The 'Cats are fighting desperately not to repeat that particular historical event.
Another classic Northwestern historical maxim is to never follow Napoleon 
Harris into Russia, Ohio.


Yet, with Big Ten championships and Rose Bowls and other pipe dreams seemingly off the table, it is time to focus on what really matters: retaining control of the Hat.  No one has enjoyed Northwestern's struggles this season more than Tim Beckman, who has been watching game film late at night on his throne made of hats and cackling into his Bugles.  While the Wildcats have sputtered, Illinois looks far better than preseason prognostications.  Granted, most Big Ten watchers assumed that Illinois would be so wretched that they would cease playing football by the end of the season and send their basketball, tennis, intramural floor hockey, dressage, and University Challenge teams to try to win football games.  Instead, the Beck Men are a respectable 3-3, they blew out Cincinnati, and they are Scheelhaasing people with alarming frequency.

In the meantime, the Hat seems more attainable.  Beckman has forbidden his players from wearing non-helmet hats; he has a giant no hat sign in the Illini locker room to prevent premature hat-hubris; a general Beckman Alert has been issued to all Lincoln impersonators in the general Springfield area.  This is a dangerous situation.  I'm declaring this a Hat or Bust season: I no longer care what happens to Northwestern football as long as Tim Beckman does not traipse across Memorial Stadium with a hat trophy.
Beckman gets dangerously confident about his chances in the 
Illinois-Northwestern game this season


Indianapolis, Big Ten Championships, Pasadena are all glittering false oases.  Northwestern football once again finds itself in a comfortable place-- a hard-scrabble battle against the LEGENDS DIVISION for six wins and a berth in some sort of Pizza City Bowl.  It's time to adjust ourselves to that.  Winnable games, like this week in Iowa, seem less winnable.  Every game has Pizza City Implications.

Northwestern has been to five consecutive bowl games.  They have a bowl win streak of one.  Yes, the season may be disappointing thus far.  And yes, Northwestern may still reverse course, pull off an improbable run to the end of the season, and these losses may appear as an embarrassing blip on a triumphant march towards a championship.  But it is more than likely that Northwestern will continue to fight for a bowl berth in a wretched Pizza City location, and we can hope that a healthy Northwestern team will rise up and throttle an opponent from whatever conference has been hastily thrown together in the last eight months or whatever down-on-its luck BCS conference opponent or intramural or dental college team that a group of corrupt, pocket-lining, dinner-jacketed bowl conference representatives can throw at them, because this is Northwestern football, and there is a bowl win streak on the line.


Oh fuck.  Get out of Kinnick alive.


Why do we watch Northwestern football?  What is the endgame?  Maybe it is because we enjoy watching young adults smash into each other.  Maybe it is because we are surrounded by embarrassing and inadequate fist pumpers.  Maybe it is because, with all of the horrifying revelations about the long-term health implications of football, we are looking forward to being looked upon as savage blood-sport enthusiasts by our grandchildren who will treat us like so many Ernest Hemingways or confused Kumite bettors.  It is certainly not because we root for a program that has been traditionally wreathed in glory or is a perennial national championship contender.  

There can only be only one team to come out of the LEGENDS division each season, and by 2015, the Big Ten will have 46 teams and a six round playoff structure.  The odds are, many years Northwestern won't be in Indianapolis.  Even with the Wildcats' incredible and fun resurgence, there will be years when they will scrap and claw for a wretched bowl berth, and there may even be years when they fall short of that.  But I'm not about to let that get in the way of spending three hours during football season yelling at people on television, playing out hypothetical bowl eligibility formulae, and writing and then deleting things about Brian Griese that would otherwise put me on some sort of FBI watch list because he is bad at talking about football.  And, most importantly, there is a hat at stake every year, which I am determined to care about.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Northwestern Football Post-Apocalypse

Have you spent the off-season resting?  Have watched the Wildcats without couch seatbelts or bleacher restraints?  Have you enjoyed a relatively non-taxing non-conference schedule spending all of your leisure hours longing about in lawn furniture, reading historical fiction, and faxing hat-threats to Tim Beckman's office?  Well, dust off your gameday defibrillators, friends, because this is the Big Ten schedule and Northwestern football wants to make orphans of your children.

Kudos to Northwestern fans for making the ESPN Gameday atmosphere appropriately apocalyptic.  Fans toted signs alluding to libraries, making ESPN acrostics with sculpted Ns, and paying proper tribute to Slab SquatThrust and an unidentified Tecmo Super Bowl player who I will assume is Willie "Flipper" Anderson.  Even the stands seemed to be more than 50% purple-- this still doesn't look great on television, but there is essentially nothing the school can do to shut out Big Ten fanbases with more alumni in the Chicago area than Northwestern short of coming up with some sort of Voight-Kampff test to identify Ohio State fans as part of the ticket purchasing process.
Buckeye fans are detected by the amount of suppressed outrage they display when 
shown photographs of Brett Basanez

Nevertheless, despite harping on the five minutes and three seconds that separated the 'Cats from a perfect record last season, we saw the same game haunting game.  The lead evaporated, Kain Colter came either inches from that fourth-down conversion or was victimized by an inaccurate spot, and Brutus the Buckeye left Evanston with his stupid, google-eyed, oval head held high.


Despite weathering another close, painful loss, Northwestern played the class of the Big Ten well.  Mark was dangerous in the option game, and both Colter and Siemian found receivers.  Rashad Lawrence caught eight balls for 149 yards.  The Wildcats' maligned pass defense held a Heisman candidate to a pedestrian-for-him 226 yards.  Northwestern acquitted itself well as the Capital of Football.  Unfortunately, the 'Cats had no answers for Ron Dayne impersonator Carlos Hyde, who smashed through the Northwestern defense like a human battering ram.

A stolen page from Urban Meyer's playbook taken when he left his 
baggage train unguarded.  Reports that hte playbook includes 
siege towers and sapping methods banned by the NCAA remain 
unproven unless the Northwestern Athletic Department can 
successfully bribe an Ohio State courtier

But is it enough anymore for Northwestern fans to hang with a national championship contender?  Some already have been distraught that the 'Cats were merely beating non-conference opponents instead of treating opponents to the three-part Conan the Barbarian enemy-crushing system.
Professional Barbarians Hate Him!  Click here to see this ONE CRAZY TRICK that 
has destroyed an enemy's farming infrastructure

The loss stings because for once, there did not seem to be a canyon of football talent separating both teams.  Northwestern outplayed Ohio State for much of the game.  We were all very close to jubilantly rushing the field again as Pat Fitzgerald's fists grew three sizes, and we were very close to doing the most damage to the civic identity of Columbus, Ohio short of flooding their city with aggressive Leif Ericson impersonators.

On the other hand, playing Ohio State close has not done anything to harm Northwestern's reputation.  They are still ranked in the top twenty in both the AP and USA Today polls, and they look as good as their somewhat lackadaisical competition in the LEGENDS division-- it is entirely possible that we can see a rematch in Indianapolis, or more accurately most of us may see a rematch because we're not all going to make it out of the Dreaded Fourth Quarter alive.


Right now, the Road to Indianapolis is blocked by angry badgers.  Wisconsin enjoyed their own bye week after losing to Ohio State, but are another formidable Big Ten team.  I have heard rumors that the Badgers graduated some players, gained others, and have a new coach, but Wisconsin football is an eternal constant.  Every year, the head coach draws from their secret list of the World's Hugest Persons, plants them on an offensive line, and Ron Daynes at defenses until the sun ceases to burn and Earth becomes a lifeless husk scrubbed clean of any evidence of human existence except for some ruts created by a Wisconsin tackle.
Wisconsin has an attorney on the sidelines who legally changes running backs' 
names to Ron Dayne as they enter and exit the huddle for ease of continuity

This game has less fanfare and excitement than last week, but it's no hangover.  The 'Cats will be traveling to Madison, which is in a perennial state of Football Apocalypse every Saturday, with its Camp Randall Thunderdome, its State Street bartertown, and a captive audience of thousands forced to jump on command to appease their evil overlord, Everlast.

Wisconsin also fancies itself a contender for the Big Ten crown, and will be fighting hard to avoid starting conference play in a 1-2 hole.  Northwestern risks losing its preseason buzz by faltering here before even starting LEGENDS division play against Minnesota next week.  They need to recover from last week's media frenzy and heart-breaking let-down and prepare to enter a hostile environment devoid of thousands of fans carrying signs with encouraging messages such as "Everyone Sports Purple Neckties" or "Excelsior!  Sports-Play, Now!"


We're deep into October, which means that the Cubs have safely finished their exhibition of fruitless baseballing and have repaired to their homes so they could engage in deep studies about how to more effectively manufacture outs, serve up meatballs, and festively collide into one another in the outfield.  The Cubs' season went as expected, with Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer all but declaring the season a lost cause from the outset.  Still, there were moments of progress: Anthony Rizzo looks like a serviceable first baseman, Carlos Villanueva sported an incredible mustache for a substantial portion of the season, and we all got to be unreasonably excited about Junior Lake for a couple of weeks.  Future Superstar Starlin Castro celebrated his first year of a large contract with an impression of a professional baseball player roughly on par with my impressions of Daniel Dravot, Peachy Carnahan, and the super-plummy Indian Civil Service agent in the "Hats On!" scene from the Man Who Would Be King, by which I mean it required someone to find an antique shop to remove him with an actual vaudeville hook.

The Cubs' strategy was simple: to let young players take their lumps and to trade any veteran who showed even a scrap of ability.  The sell-off included a rejuvenated Scott Feldman to Baltimore, the Carlos Marmol Experience to L.A. (where he has just been called up to the NLCS because I guess Don Mattingly wants to terrify St. Louis batters with the threat of poorly aimed fastballs colliding with their torsos), and Alfonso Soriano, who went to the Yankees and immediately mashed eight home runs every game.  In addition, the Cubs jettisoned speedster Tony Campana, human being Brent Lillibridge, platoon man Scott Hairston, and other players for fan favorites such as Cash Considerations and International Bonus Slot Money.   

The result was a parade of pitchers from various minor league organizations, interchangeable banjo-hitting infielders, and mystery players who seemed to drift ephemerally between Iowa, Chicago, and a ghostly spiritual plane.  The Cubs lost 96 games, though they managed to finish ahead of other hapless punching bags like Houston, Miami, and the White Sox, which replaced their broadcasts with two and a half hours of of Hawk Harrelson G-rated profanities sometime in mid-August.  

Dale Sveum was put in charge of this hapless venture.  He had no chance of succeeding with the club, but nevertheless got the axe after his second season at the helm.  I'm not sure why he was let go-- by August, my ability to stomach the Cubs dwindled and they existed for me as the occasional highlight reel that consistently showed Jeff Samardzija getting shelled and then walking to the dugout like a sad Musketeer.  It seems as though Sveum was expected to lose, but was not losing with enough style or panache for the Cubs front office.
Perhaps they let him ago because they got sucked into the web of Joe Girardi intrigue, hoping to lure Chicago's Big Ten Professional Baseball Manager back home by promising him season tickets to Wildcat football games and cut privileges at the bouncy castle in Wildcat Alley.  Nevertheless, Cubs fans can expect another several season of futility until the balley-hooed prospects are ready to take their place on the major league team and promptly forget how to get on base, drop easy fly balls, and have their pitching arms explode into a confetti of tendons and sinew, taking their place as the proper heirs to Chicago Cubs baseball tradition.


Last week's game was a reminder that Northwestern football is exciting, thrilling, and almost certainly fatal.  The Wildcats played well against a team in the mix for a national championship.  The offense with Mark is back to ludicrous speed, the defense stepped up against a dangerous attack, and the 'Cats did enough to win.  'Cats fans, however, will not be satisfied with a moral victory at Wisconsin.  Northwestern needs a win, and I would take an immoral victory achieved by the Wildcats by finding a Gary Andersen doppelganger and having him instruct his players to punt on first down, attempt four to five dangerous laterals on every play, and leave the game in the middle of the second half because he received news on his headset of trouble at the old mill. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013


arricade your homes and places of business.  The Football Apocalypse is here.  As it is written in the Book of Football Revelations and the Associated Press, there will come riders from the East.  They will bring with them the Signs of the End of Times: Poisonous Nuts, Terrifying Googly-Eyed Mascots, Satantic I-Dotting Rituals where the I stands for the phrase well-known in demonology: "I intend to do evil things upon your person," A Creepy Geriatric Whose Head is Not His Head, Weird Quasi-Biblical Prose that is not going to make it to the end of this paragraph before Getting Tedious, and other augers of an Intention to Ruin Your Evening.
Gameday is Nigh!

Northwestern football is many things, but I think we can all agree that it is historically a blight upon the noble narrative of college-aged men who wish to smash into each other in a vaguely organized fashion.  Lots of momentous events have occurred in one hundred plus years since Northwestern football players started futilely attempting to score touchdowns.  Most importantly, many of them used to have mustaches and now, very few of them do.

In the 1930s, the term "Great Depression" was coined by a person who had attended more than a dozen Wildcat football games.  Images of Northwestern's offense have been known to turn the stomach of even the most hardened sports beat reporters, even those from Cleveland.  In the late 1970s, Northwestern lost 2,000 consecutive football games to Big Ten foes, non-conference opponents, a resurgent Chicago Dental College that had been nursing a Count of Monte Cristo Revenge plot for nearly 70 years, and carnival rubes who had never played football before but managed to score effortlessly on Wildcat defenders and earn themselves a stuffed gorilla.
Kennedy's moon mission speech initially asked "why does Northwestern play football at all?" after 
his line about Rice playing Texas, but it was scrubbed because Northwestern winning football games 
seemed far less feasible than landing on the moon with only analogue tape machines and short-sleeved 
shirts, but also because the nation was not prepared to hear a Kennedy attempt to say the word "Northwestern"

The world changed in 1995, when Darnell Autrey and Pat Fitzgerald led an 85-man blasphemy against the Touchdown Jesus, the Wildcats went to the Rose Bowl, and they won an almost-unfathomable Big Ten championship.  Other Big Ten football fans may mock Northwestern supporters for investing the year 1995 as such a turning point for thinking about the team, but think about this: in 1995, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory came out, and after that, Steven Seagal's career entered a death spiral that led to the Glimmer Man, Exit Wounds, and a million interchangeable films where he waddles listlessly around Bulgaria. Clearly, 1995 is not just an important point in Northwestern football, but one that marks a significant shift in all of Western civilization.
Actual, latter-day Seagal movies.  First off, kudos to Seagal for appearing in a film 
where the word "belly" features prominently in the title.  Secondly, please enjoy 
this curated list of actual Seagal movies as the titles get progressively more generic: 
Out For a Kill, Mercenary for Justice, Shadow Man, Attack Force, Flight of Fury, 
Urban Justice, Against the Dark, Driven to Kill, Pistol Whipped, and Maximum 
Conviction, which I assume is about a man who, driven by his convictions, begins  
a massive letter-writing campaign to reform City Hall before  successfully running 
for office as a  reform candidate and then karate chopping 600 armed Bulgarians

Even after this resurgence, Northwestern has shifted to imploding in increasingly heart-wrenching ways in big games and especially bowl games.  Somewhere, Big Ten Legend Eric Crouch is polishing his Alamo Bowl MVP trophy.  Jeremy Maclin is still scampering across the Alamodome turf.  And someone has hired that UCLA guy who returned two consecutive onside kicks for touchdowns to head a Department of Northwestern Football Antagonism.

But here we are in 2013.  The 'Cats have exorcised their bowl demons.  They have exuberantly ripped apart a plush monkey doll and paraded its head around at a press conference like the world's least impressive Jim Corbett impersonators.  They are 4-0 again and facing an undefeated Buckeye team at home.  ESPN is in Evanston.  ABC national television is in Evanston.  Approximately 95,000 Ohio State fans are in Evanston to take over the stadium and shame Northwestern on said national television.  The capital of the Greater Football-Land Metropolitan Area is Evanston, Illinois, and this time it is not because they are playing a game in a one-endzone geek show against the Last Days of the Zook Empire.  Stock up on bleach.


All of the carnival hoopla surrounding this game can only mask the fact that Northwestern has to play Ohio State.  Two weeks ago, Ohio State demolished Florida A&M by a score of 222-0.  At the same time, the Wildcats sputtered against an unacceptably frisky Maine team, only pulling away in the second half.  One of the problems of increased expectations for Northwestern is a concern about how it beats teams.  While Wildcat fans would traditionally take any win against any opponent, even if it came weeks later on a technicality due to some bureaucratic error that mislabeled the score, now fans are concerned that they are not pummeling FCS opponents enough. 

Meanwhile, Ohio State has maintained its position at the top of the Big Ten pecking order.  They defeated Wisconsin handily without having to resort to any clock-confusing wizardry.  Superstar quarterback Braxton Miller missed two games and his replacement, Kenny Guiton, threw dozens of touchdowns against nonconference opponents without a second thought. Miller is expected to be the quarterback against Northwestern because Urban Meyer has not realized the winning football strategy of using as many quarterbacks as humanly possible all of the time.

Historically, Northwestern has faltered against Ohio State.  They've beaten them once since 1971, when Brett Basanez and Noah Herron led a stirring overtime comeback.  This game has led to the importance of the number 33 in Wildcat numerology: Herron, wearing #33, scored the games decisive 33rd point with his 33rd carry, and I also saw a drunken bar patron menace close to 33 people with a bar stool after the game was over.
Noah Herron temporarily ends the Buckeyes' reign of terror against Northwestern football

The 'Cats open this game as home underdogs.  In a spot of good news, Venric Mark will play for the first time since a brief cameo in the opener.  The addition of a dynamic playmaker will only help the offense, which struggled against Maine. Nevertheless, Northwestern faces hurdles.  The pass defense will be tested.  They will need to take advantage of turnovers.  And they should possibly look into some type of subterfuge such as convincing the Buckeye coaching staff that the Wrigley Rules are still in effect from Gameday and they are barred from any use of the south endzone for any reason including touchdowns, touchdown dances, safeties, touchbacks, team-building exercises, and general Big Ten expansion talks.


In the meantime, you have from now until Saturday evening to prepare yourself for the momentous, exhilarating, terrifying prospect of a football apocalypse.  The United States government has shut down in preparation.  There are no longer any laws in the United States.  You can go to Columbus with a crew of several thousand and crane equipment, steal Buckeye Stadium, remove it to a vacant lot, and leave threatening messages on Brutus Buckeye's voicemail account because there is no one left to stop you.  The Big Ten can add as many teams as it likes without consequence and no one can prevent Jim Delany from walking around with a cape.  The game will have no referees except for the angry fake Mayan guys from Legends of the Hidden Temple who will pop out of the locker room and attempt to startle players in false start situations.

Stock up on canned goods, water, and Wildcat Hats.  Gameday is coming.  And, on Sunday, when the dust has cleared from Ryan Field, when nothing remains of the braying fans, when expired sausage products disintegrate in the parking lot, Northwestern will have won or lost a football game, and this means something. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Remember the Maine

A week after routing Syracuse, the Western Michigan Broncos rowed into Ryan Field and gave the 'Cats a first-quarter scare.  The offense stagnated and the defense yielded large chunks of yards to a quarterback operating under the pseudonym "Tyler Van Tubbergen."  Fitz pumped his fists to little avail.  Automatic kick machine Jeff Budzien missed a 42-yarder.  The Broncos went up 3-0.  The 'Cats finally scored a touchdown after about 17 grueling minutes.  On the next play, Van Tubbergen found a wide-open receiver streaking down the field for a 75-yard touchdown.  Charlton Heston sunk to his knees in front of the Statue of Liberty.  Mighty Casey took his second strike, looking.  Edvard Munch was hired to paint literally every Northwestern fan at the game.  Things looked grim.
 Northwestern fans react to a 10-7 Western Michigan lead

The scare, however, was temporary, and the 'Cats rallied behind Treyvon Green to run up a 24-10 lead at the half.  Green rushed for 158 yards while Kolter added 106 on the ground.  Ibraheim Campbell intercepted another pass, making that 5 straight games dating back to last season.  Campbell has grabbed picks off of tip drills, on overthrown passes, by jumping routes, and through the long con known as the "The Viscount's Rake" which involves hiring a confidant to serve as an opposing team's offensive coordinator who designs plays specifically to go in Campbell's direction and then, in the dead of night, uses counterfeit university documents to rename opposing sports facilities after a fake donor so they have to play their basketball games at the "Ernest P. Worrell Family Arena."  In the summer, Campbell will intern with a consortium of suave international jewel thieves.

In the end, the 'Cats were too much for P.J. Fleck's squad.  The game was never in doubt in the second half, and it's possible that the 'Cats just came out flat in a bad first half that will henceforth be known as the "Van Tubbergen Mutiny."  Fitz prefers not to dwell.  Ever since that horrible football laboratory explosion, he spends his time after games in torn clothes, wandering around Sheridan Road, unable to remember anything about the game except for the fact that he has an undefeated Maine squad coming to Evanston on Saturday.


Maine is Northwestern's only FCS opponent.  The Black Bears are 3-0, including a win against an FBS opponent.  Granted, that team, UMass, is in its second year in the FBS and had come off an opener where massive Wisconsin linemen sat on them for 60 minutes. 
UMass plays at Vanderbilt this week, and I plan to go to the game wearing purple 
boxing trunks and scream I WANT VANDERBILT!  DO YOU HEAR ME OLD MAN?  

Regardless of their record, Northwestern should beat Maine handily.  But games against the FCS this season are hardly gimmees.  In Week 1, four FCS schools scored upsets, including season-derailing victories by North Dakota State over Kansas State and Eastern Washington over a ranked Oregon State team.  FBS schools pay these teams for record-padding-- after a loss, angry FBS coaches should be forced to remain on the 50-yard line to present their opponents with over-sized novelty checks made out to "I'll See You In Hell."

Northwestern, of course, is no stranger to the FCS home upset.  That is because Northwestern received a grant in 1975 to explore every possible avenue of football-based humiliation.  Circumstances certainly did not favor the 'Cats that year.  The New Hampshire game was the emotional home opener in Fitz's first year as the team attempted to handle the loss of Randy Walker.  New Hampshire also had a ludicrous speed offense coached by none other than Chip Kelly; I assume that most of Kelly's offensive concepts are based on neutralizing Tim McGarigle.

(I should add here that I know McGarigle had graduated before the 2006 season, but I assume Kelly was preparing for him anyway because of a little-known NCAA by-law that said if McGarigle was living on a houseboat reliving the tragic memories of the Sun Bowl, it would be legal for him to suit up for one last season, but only if he initially refused to play and then told the NU coaching staff that this time he was playing by his rules and also because this time it is personal.  There is also an NCAA by-law that says we haven't had a dumb McGarigle joke here for awhile and I'm going to work it in this way even though it makes much more sense to reference his stint as an opposing linebackers' coach for Western Michigan because we don't do things by the book here at BYCTOM.  Go ahead and take away my badge, Chief, but I'm working this one my way.)


Maine in the nineteenth century was of course the United States's primary front in a war against rapacious British land-grabs from Canada.  In the 1830s, an area claimed by the U.S. as the northern part of Maine was the subject of a border dispute arising from vague provisions of the Treaty of Ghent.  That treaty attempted to restore the borders to those agreed upon in 1783.  One can only speculate that the Treaty of Ghent did not resolve this issue because delegates became too distracted by the Ghent nightlife, which is how the phrase "like a diplomat at Ghent" became a winking euphemism in nineteenth-century foreign policy circles.

Meanwhile, tensions increased as lumberjacks from New Brunswick began lumber-jacking in the disputed territory.  American and Canadian lumberjacks organized themselves into armed militias.  The Governor of Maine denounced the Canadians as "unruly wood thieves."  Maine land agents were captured.  Sabers were rattled.  A skirmish was interrupted by an unexpected bear attack, as one would expect during nineteenth-century conflicts.    

Finally, British and American diplomats formed a compromise treaty.  According to Wikipedia at least, this compromise involved both sides allegedly hiding maps and accusations that the British forged a map made by Benjamin Franklin to convince Americans to accept the treaty.  I have no idea if that is true, but I'd prefer to assume that all nineteenth-century diplomacy hinged on things that Nicolas Cage would do in one of those movies where the Declaration of Independence is actually a code for a Secret Declaration of Independence that replaced a list of accusations against King George with a number of rhyming clues about a Crown Jewel hidden in one of Alexander Hamilton's wigs that is being held in Teddy Roosevelt's right nostril at Mount Rushmore and there are evil treasure hunters trying to get to it first in order to compromise America's Freedom.
Wait a minute, it says here that the American territories were won by the Duke of 
Portland in a crooked horse race and his descendants can use any inhabitant for 
cudgeling practice

The U.S. and Canada remain in dispute over the Machias Seal Island off the coast of Maine.  The territory is referred to as a "grey zone" with both sides attempting to flood the island with lighthouse keepers.  It is also the setting for a movie I'm producing called "The Gray Zone: Bear Puncher," where Liam Neeson exploits the murky international boundaries to guide illegal bear hunting expeditions but of course something goes wrong and Nesson is forced to punch dozens of increasingly-larger bears and, if we get the budget, a gigantic lobster with a granite chin.


Northwestern looks like a legitimate challenger for the LEGENDS crown as Nebraska's defense was dismantled by a good UCLA team at home and Michigan was nearly done in by a plucky Akron team supported by the powerful Michigan Suffering Lobby.  Michigan State is undefeated but is planning to play every single eligible man on their roster at quarterback for a snap this season. 

You'll notice this post has not looked past the Maine game.  But the fact is that if Northwestern defeats the Black Bears (in a civilized, un-Neeson-like manner, we presume), they will be 4-0 heading into a bye week before a looming showdown with Ohio State.  And, if Ohio State beats Florida A&M and a tough Wisconsin team that has spent the past week sending threatening telegrams to officials, we could see a showdown between the two unbeaten teams in what we can calmly describe as a GODDAMN FOOTBALL APOCALYPSE 2013 AT RYAN FIELD.  And the Four Horsemen of the Football Apocalypse shall appear: Sack, Fumble, Hamstring Injury, and NCAA Sanctions for Allegedly Selling Your Own Pants.  Lee Corso could potentially put on a Wildcat Hat.  The game will be a sold-out free-for-all with Northwestern fans going all out to claim up to 25% of their own stadium.  Pat Fitzgerald could end the game needing experimental fist replacement surgery.

It's all very exciting, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  We all know Fitz has nothing but Maine on his mind.  He has contacted the State Department for Grey Zone maps to better understand the Maine mindset.  Next week, he will focus on the bye week by scrutinizing tapes of patio furniture and lawn maintenance equipment.  Let's hope for a quiet week unmarred by bear attacks of the literal and football variety. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Least Northwestern of Games

Last Saturday, the 'Cats opened the season at Ryan Field by hosting out-of-conference nemesis Syracuse.  The 'Cats hoped to improve on their first game with the comforts of home: a reasonable time slot instead of playing at some ridiculous midnight moon time, stands full of Wildcat partisans, and an inspiring tarp that stood in for empty seats that opposing teams could look towards and imagine thousands of angry fist claws shouting at them on third down, theoretically.
Early speculation remains that the tarp will be deployed at a future Big Ten game-- 
imagine the opposing team feeling comfortable down by the north endzone and 
prepared to go about its business when the tarp is suddenly lifted to reveal a secret 
cache of Northwestern fans in a common football tactic known as the "Trojan Tarp"
(Photo from

Northwestern and Syracuse have played enough over the past few years to create something of a rivalry.  Some Syracuse fans have complained about the officiating in the last game that allowed Northwestern's dramatic comeback; I will never forgive Greg Paulus for his excellent play in a win against Northwestern, and I'm disappointed that Fitz never returned the favor by putting in Juice Thompson or Luka Mirkovic in for a play to show them what it's like and also to accrue a never-used NCAA infraction for attempting to play graduated basketball players in a football game because of spite.


I think as Northwestern fans, we can all be greatly disappointed by the kind of football played by Northwestern the past weekend.  Kain Colter returned to combine with Trevor Siemian into an unstoppable bomb-throwing, scrambling, optioning, quarterbacking monster that I will be referring to as The Colterian.
As the old football adage says: if you have two quarterbacks you 
have no quarterbacks unless they are melded into a two-headed 
multi-limbed mutant capable of optioning to itself and coming 
up with the world's most elaborate celebratory handshake

The high-powered offense and an opportunistic defense that snagged another four interceptions allowed the 'Cats to leap out to a 34-7 lead at the half.  I don't know about you, but I watch Northwestern for the adrenaline after last year's Four Quarters of Terror campaign, not to watch them slice up a defense, to watch Dan Vitale and Treyvon Green become stars, and to see the spread offense wreak havoc with an arsenal of receivers who are all named Jones.  There weren't even accusations of Wacky Races skulduggery to have opinions about and no coaches calling the team a disgrace to the concept of college football which is doubly insulting because the NCAA exists and sets a pretty high standard of being an insult to college football. 

I hope the Northwestern football establishment realizes the disappointment of fans who expect to spend the duration of games strapped into their recliners as the Wildcat defense is expected to perform a Reverse Teen Wolf and return to a feeble teenage Michael J. Fox status that allows the other team to start inexplicably executing hail mary passes and Roundtree Catches.  What kind of lunatic who is invested in a college football team wants to see them playing extraordinarily well against an ACC team because of an incredibly entertaining offense that dominates even with Venric Mark out?  I don't ask much from Northwestern football other than a vision of oblivion in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter where I enter an otherworldly plane, an out-of-body experience that is happening because I'm worried that the football team I like might lose.


This week, Northwestern will play Western Michigan.  This was not supposed to happen.  It came about because of the Assassination of the Northwestern-Vandebilt Rivalry by the Coward James Franklin.  As you may recall, and given that you are reading like the eighth-most trafficked Northwestern football blog on the internet I'm guessing that you do, Vanderbilt canceled its 2013 and 2014 series against the Wildcats with a variety of low-tech notification methods including a telegraph, a passenger pigeon, a Soviet-era analogue hotline, and a disastrous attempt to send a gorilla-gram with an actual gorilla that just ended in a tragic Nashville-area gorilla rampage presumably because Northwestern kept beating them and James Franklin and the Vanderbilt Athletic Department are yellower-bellied than the Yella Fella Yellawood pitchman who is apparently a powerful football booster at Auburn University.
No, thank you, I prefer not to be Coltered, says a 
terrified James Franklin.  I should probably add here 
that I have no idea if Vandy dropped the series because 
they wanted an easier schedule, but I took a vow long 
ago that if I could vaguely accuse an opposing athletic 
program of ducking Northwestern I would react the 
same way that Clubber Lang would because I train 
alone, I blog alone, and I tweet "shut up old man" at 
any geriatric Vanderbilt supporters I can identify 
in cyberspace

Western Michigan is a program in transition.  They are led by 32-year-old first-year head coach P.J. Fleck, who has the square-jawed enthusiasm of a Fitz but has decided that he is obsessed with overwrought boat-paddling metaphors.
Fleck traces the influence of his motivational techniques to Hagar the Horrible

The Broncos have had a rough season so far.  Last week, they were upset by FCS Nicholls State in the Fortress Waldo Stadium (which is perhaps the platonic ideal for a MAC stadium name, with the possible exception of Kelly-Shorts-- much like the Great Fillmore/Arthur Muttonchop Debate, I believe that is best left to the taste of the reader).  Northwestern is expected to prevail here against an inexperienced team whose best days are ahead of it.

It would be a mistake, though, to assume the 'Cats are taking this lightly.  Pat Fitzgerald is more committed to living one game at a time than Vin Diesel is to living one quarter-mile at a time and expressing himself through tank top.  Fitz doesn't care about what happens beyond that; if a government agency were to deploy to his house and tell him that in two weeks, a group of malevolent aliens will invade the Earth and the only way to stop them is by commandeering a spacecraft that can be piloted by high-intensity fist pumps and that Fitz was the only one who could stop the imminent destruction of the planet, I'm fairly sure he would send them away because he wants to take another look at that Western Michigan bunch formation.


I don't know if you've been paying attention, but the Illini had a fairly convincing victory against a Cincinnati team  that had previously laid waste to Purdue University.  This week, they take on a ranked Washington team in Soldier Field.  According to ESPN's Big Ten Blog, "Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said back in 2011 that he hoped the university would become the 'king of Chicago,'" in the escalating War to Determine Chicago's Big Ten Team.  Jim Phillips then escalated the situation by dressing in regal purple robes in front of a map of the Demesne Kingdom of of Chicagoland with sketches of dragons in Missouri and giants near Peoria.  The desperate attempt of Northwestern and Illinois to capture the Chicago market has been one of the most dramatic turf wars in the Big Ten as they vie against each other and the approximately 99% of Chicagoans who root for the Bears and whatever college they went to.

Meanwhile, Tim Beckman and new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit are planning on extricating themselves from the Big Ten cellar this season.  A win against Washington would not only be a major step in righting the program and establishing the Beck Man Era in Champaign, it would also be a warning shot fired across the bow of Northwestern, a notice that the Beck Men are coming for The Hat.  As we speak, Beckman is doing pull-ups in a dimly-lit corner of the Illini football complex and had #HAT tattooed across both of his sets of knuckles.


"However, when the revolution broke out, he changed his name to Anacharsis Cloots and set himself up as a spokesman for the human race."

That is a pretty good sentence, and it is by Hugh Gough in an essay about the French Revolution's effect on Europe (in his edited volume Ireland and the French Revolution).  He is referring, of course, to the Baron de Cloots, a Dutch-Prussian nobleman who got caught up in the revolutionary fervor of 1789 as a way to promote his ideas about a broader revolutionary world state.  Cloots was a close relative of Cornelius De Pauw, a French philosopher who pushed the idea that the New World degenerated all men and beasts who arrive there.  Americans took umbrage to this.  Even ideological enemies Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton could agree that they did not live in an ecological backwater that stunted growth and had cruddy, inferior wildlife.  Jefferson and Madison exchanged notes on weasel measurements in order to counter claims of degeneracy; Jefferson attempted to counter the claims of the Comte de Buffon, the leading degeneracy advocate, with a process that could best be described as "take a look at this moose-- who is degenerate now, Buffon?" 
Buffon scoffs at the paltry size of American 

Cloots got too wrapped up in the Revolution for his own good.  As the Terror folded back on itself, Cloots was unable to see the Revolution carried into universal human principle.  On the other hand, he left a legacy of inspiring historians to craft spectacular sentences, such as this one by William Doyle in the Oxford History of the French Revolution:

"To substantiate the charge of a foreign plot, a clutch of colorful aliens perished with them too, including Clootz, who bade farewell to his beloved human race in front of the biggest crowd ever to surround the guillotine."


Western Michigan may not be the most daunting opponent on the schedule, but the Broncos have nothing to lose in Evanston.  Fitzgerald will attempt to guide his team to another rejection of Northwestern football as we know it by winning without trying to kill his fans and without accusations of intrigue.  And then he will take the title of Anacharsis Fitz, Spokesman For All Humanity when he declares "Something something, Our Young Men, Winning, Go 'Cats."