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.