Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Football Is Coming

It has been an agonizing eight months since the Wildcats' triumph over the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.  Since Northwestern's triumph over more than 60 years of post-season futility, regular-season futility, general football-related futility, and athletic futility so futile that it occasionally resembled some sort of performance art, the Wildcat basketball team stared into the depths of a post-Shurna world, Coach Carmody was granted his sarcastic stomping around the sidelines with his palms upturned papers, the Bulls somehow won a playoff series with their entire offense geared around Nate Robinson, the Hawks won a Stanley Cup involving nearly enough sudden-death overtime minutes to match the entire lockout-shortened season, the Cubs and White Sox continued to insult the sport of baseball, the United States won a Gold Cup, and this sentence was conceived, gestated, and finally burst forth onto the internet in a brazen assault against anything a rational person would ever consider reading.
Yes, winning a Stanley Cup was amazing, but what Chicago 
sports fan did not enjoy the budding rivalry between Bulls 
miniature bench gunners?  I'm surprised John Lucas III did not 
somehow hit either one of these persons with a folding chair at 
some point

Meanwhile, the 'Cats are scant weeks from a visit to Berkeley with a high profile matchup against Cal carrying the exhilarating and terrifying burden of expectations.


The football team's win was quickly overshadowed by the firing of Bill Carmody and subsequent hiring of Chris Collins.  With Collins, the 'Cats have another high-profile, young and energetic coach who seeks to do the impossible and bring a tourney berth to Evanston.  Like Pat Fitzgerald, Chris Collins also seems to have undergone some Clockwork Orange procedure that has robbed him of the ability to communicate in anything other than high-intensity coach speak about Northwestern Excellence and Our Young Men, and Building the Program.  Personally, I would prefer a brasher approach that would involve him aggressively making a lay-up in Bo Ryan's face or recreating his 2 Legit 2 Quit performance at press conferences, which is no doubt a way to inspire champions.  After all, MC Hammer did not take over the rap world by talking about taking things one rap at a time but by implicitly threatening his audience with some sort of bodily or emotional harm.
Intimidation personified

The danger, of course, is that adding an additional young, energetic head coach could cause some sort of problem with the university's general humors situation.  If, and this is only a terrifying hypothetical, so please do not go cowering into your shelter yet, Collins embraces the fist pump, the result could throw the entire Earth off of its rotational axis unless some soccer team in a corresponding Southern Hemisphere locale is able to locate two young coaches who celebrate with David Lee Roth kicks aimed at the horizon.

If these fists are a-shakin', the Earth may start a-quakin'

Collins faces a tall task ahead of him.  He'll be aided by the return of stalwarts Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski, and another year from JerShon Cobb.  Despite this talent, he's clearly building for the future when Northwestern takes its rightful place as a potential top-68 team that plays one or more games than they usually play.


And so it is.  The 'Cats return with as much preseason hype as the ill-fated 2001 team.  Fitz's squad lost some stalwarts on the offensive line and on the defense, but returns the bulk of one of the most successful teams in school history.  The dynamic tandem of Kain Colter and Venric Mark are back, with Trevor Siemian lurking in the shadows as someone willing to do the unthinkable and pass the ball in an ungentlemanly rebuke to Northwestern's Jazz Age rushing attack.   Dan Vitale only got better and will potentially rumble for many yards, although I have to consult my AP Football Cliches Style Manual to see if superbacks count as a position where players rumble for yardage along with fullbacks, tight ends, and terrified linemen with eyes the size of serving platters.
A definitive moment in the history of football rumbling that 
does not involve "William" The Refrigerator Perry

The defense returns Tyler Scott, who was second in the Big Ten in sacks, linebacking revelation Chi Chi Ariguzo and ball-hawk Damian Proby, and a legitimately intimidating secondary that includes Ibraheim Campbell and Nick VanHoose.  The return of these talented players and others who will no doubt make their mark in 2013 has not settled the important strategic issue of how many heart attacks Pat Fitzgerald plans to give me in the fourth quarter of football games this season.  While certified 'Cat-killer Matt McGloin has gone off to ply his dark arts in the NFL, Devin Gardner and Tyler Martinez have hopes to rob my scalp of its hair, and Braxton Miller is bench-pressing garbage trucks and throwing footballs through the entire Get Smart doorway apparatus.  Last year's defense was monstrous against the run; this season, perhaps they can strike fear into opposing quarterbacks beyond the usual taunts, japes, and threats to grind their bread through some obscure bone-based mechanism.
Good gravy, the Athletic Department is literally using 
this image on the banner of the official Northwestern 
Football Website.  I fear that Pat Fitzgerald may be slowly 
turning into a Mario Brother


In 1938, flour salesman Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel decided that Texas's corrupt, venal, inefficient, and exclusionary political culture was lacking something.  It lacked an unqualified radio host in the governor's mansion devoted to playing the greatest hits of Texas swing and shilling for Hillbilly Flour.  Therefore, he started one of the most incomprehensible political runs in the history of the United States that took him from Austin to the United States Senate.  The ascent of Pappy O'Daniel is wonderfully chronicled in Please Pass the Biscuits, Pappy: Pictures of Governor W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel by Bill Crawford and John Anderson, which combines an entertaining narrative of O'Daniel's career with a wealth of incredible photographs of O'Daniel glad-handing hundreds of persons and inanimate objects. 
Pappy O'Daniel enjoys the spoils of victory

O'Daniel, who inspired the identically-named radio enthusiast facing down a challenge from a broom-wielding opponent in O Brother Where Art Thou, rose as a marketing executive with the Light Crust Flour Company.  In the early 1930s, he found a goldmine in radio advertising by starting a program that featured music interspersed by his own folksy musings about a wide array of topics, many of which alluded to the benefits of Light Crust flour.  More importantly, he hitched his wagon to Bob Wills, the King of Texas Swing, who called his band the Light Crust Doughboys and made O'Daniel's show a sensation across the state.   Eventually, O'Daniel and Wills had a falling out, but O'Daniel hired a new band that emulated Wills's sound, right down to his signature yelping.  By the mid-30s, O'Daniel started his own flour company, Hillbilly Flour, and his own band, the Hillbilly Boys.

Because we live in the twenty-first century, you don't need to go to a specialized library or even put on pants to hear an example of O'Daniel at the height of his powers, selling flour and sweet fiddle licks across the oil fields and prairies because someone has put them on the internet.   In addition to selling flour, O'Daniel wrote songs, including the ballad "Beautiful Texas" and the Hillbilly Boys theme song, which is the catchiest flour jingle ever created by human endeavor.

The original nature of O'Daniel's run for governor is not clear and was probably partially conceived as a stunt to sell more flour.  But O'Daniel packed people into his rallies, which were essentially massive open-air concerts.  He campaigned on some promises for pensions and with a platform of the Ten Commandments, apparently prepared to lose the wife-coveting and graven-idol lobbies that had were sweeping through 1930s Texas with wild campaign promises to build graven idols of neighbors' wives.

Somehow, O'Daniel swept into victory in the Democratic Primary, which all but assured victory in the general election.  While in office, he continued to put out his weekly radio show from the Governor's Mansion, a move unprecedented until Jesse "The Body" Ventura commentated on XFL Football Games while still serving as governor of Minnesota.  Naturally, he swept to reelection in 1940, presumably because other candidates had crappier fiddle players.
Pappy O'Daniel seemed to subscribe to the Le Petomane School of 
Western Governing

By then, however, his ambitions had become grander.  In 1941, Senator Morris Shepherd died as did the aged son of Sam Houston that O'Daniel sent to replace him.  Pappy O'Daniel intended to claim the seat for himself.  At a special election, O'Daniel joined a slate of colorful candidates that included the barrel-clad, the bellicose, and Lyndon Baines Johnson (Crawford and Anderson compare this to the 2003 California recall election).  He defeated LBJ by less than 2,000 votes by somehow out-corrupting him, the only man to ever defeat Johnson in an election.  Once in the Senate, O'Daniel sunk into relative obscurity as he became increasingly devoted to ferreting out communists in the American government, as was the style at the time. 


It's time to watch our lads in purple helmets smash into other gentlemen in different colored helmets, time to live in a world where Northwestern football is actually seen not only as decent but good, time to watch the NCAA fall all over itself in comical fits of hypocrisy, time to watch the Big Ten absorb insults as to the quality of its football, and time to savor the final year of LEGENDS and LEADERS and a conference bereft of Rutgers and Maryland.  To be honest, I'm baffled as to what to expect and still overwhelmed from the bowl win.  The logical next step is to keep the streak improbably going to Indianapolis, to Pasadena, and in the service of fine flour products for the entire family.


Purple Flag on Saturday said...

Good to have you back!

BYCTOM said...

Thank you.