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. 

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