Friday, September 11, 2015

Week 2: The Day of Two Noons

There are numerous ways to begin a season: elation, disappointment, caution, and amid accusations of football malfeasance.  This year, an unheralded Wildcat team looked awfully good against a sluggish and flummoxed Stanford, securing a jubilant upset and making the Big Ten look slightly less blighted.  A first-game victory tells us little, and it is important to be sober and dispassionate in our analysis but that is for fact-bloggers and football experts so let's build an elaborate cardboard edifice, wait inside, and then burst forth from it screaming about how Northwestern demands the Big Ten West, especially if you are living in a country where no one knows what the Big Ten or Northwestern or football is.


This first win has changed the complexion of the season.  The schedule had looked like twelve games of grim butt-holding.  Now, a convincing walloping of an FCS team and a respectable showing against Duke and Ball State (UNDER THE LIGHTS) can set the Wildcats up for a bowl run.  Some teams spend the season with a predetermined arc.  ESPN announcers constantly mentioned that Wisconsin, once scraped off the bottom of Alabama's boots, should expect to romp virtually unopposed through the West against a bunch of cardboard football programs such as Northwestern.  Ohio State's schedule remains under vigilant scrutiny should they fail to adequately humiliate each and every opponent they face.  Every Northwestern game, however, will remain an adventure game to game, quarter to quarter, and Pat Fitzgerald fist pump to Pat Fitzgerald fist pump, whether it results in a thrilling Wildcat comeback on a hook-and-lateral or an attack on Ryan Field by heretofore undetected Tremors monsters.

It is too early to celebrate.  But the fundamental tenet of sports fandom is irrationality, so for just one week let's allow for the possibility that Northwestern is much better than the prognosticators thought. In fact, let us throw out most of our assumptions about the universe as we know and spend the rest of the week as a cult of moon-haters celebrating every new moon as a victory and shaking our fists when it slowly grows throughout the month invoking our credo "I'll get you next time, Moon."


The Northwestern Wildcats scored 16 points and Stanford scored six and now Northwestern has one win and Stanford has zero.  This is a fact.  It is a matter of public record.  It is on television, on newspapers, on the internet, and possibly in Gregg Easterbrook's Game Over notebook.  The reasons for this result are up for debate.

Stanford did not play particularly well.  Quarterback Kevin Hogan struggled.  The running game, after the first drive, sputtered.  Wide receivers and cornerbacks dropped passes, including at least one sure interception in the endzone and one wide-open route where a receiver broke free of the defense with absolutely nothing to stop him from running into the endzone other than a temporary hallucination that the ball had turned into a vengeful porcupine.  Stanford fans have also complained about the early start time after traveling from the West Coast.  This problem, though, is part of the Ryan Field home field advantage, where opponents must learn to adapt to Chicago's Big Ten Time Zone.

(click to read)
Railroad companies introduced the first standardized time
zones in 1883. On November 18, the Day of Two Noons,
railroad stations across the United States simultaneously
synchronized their clocks. This is routine now, but the
synchronization provided some dislocation by reinventing
time itself and because The Day of Two Noons sounds like
the beginning of a Young Adult post-apocalyptic trilogy
where time itself is controlled by a mysterious Council that
can only be undone by a plucky tween and a mysterious old
man who knows the Terrible Secret of the Before Times.
This New York Times Article illustrates the concept with the
help of a couple of broadly-drawn Irish stereotypes which I
imagine newspapers brought out as their nineteenth-century
“Begorra,” remarked to his companion a vermilion topped
Hibernian who was watching the south face of the clock, “the
thing has stopped; phwats the matther wid it, anyhow? I don’t
see no time changin', do you Mike?”

Northwestern's defense, especially the defensive line, played well against a team whose M.O. is shoving people and falling down.  But the game belonged to the two 18s: Clayton Thorson and Anthony Walker.  Thorson's first game included a few nice passes and a few adventures through the hands of Cardinal defenders.  He won the game on the ground by flying untouched through the Stanford defense for a 42-yard touchdown.  Walker, on the other hand, was everywhere, tackling Stanford players at the line of scrimmage, in space, and in their classes after posing as a precocious guest lecturer before ripping off an elbow-patched sport coat and punching at their three-ring binders. 


It's football Saturday. You got your grill? You got your friends? You got your jersey and your facepaint and your foam finger with a generic football message? You got your Amalgamated Anvil and Anvil Lubricants? Well, friend, it's cookin' time.

World-Renowned Chef Vaughn Sharkle knows what tailgating is all about as he drives the Amalgamated Anvil and Anvil Lubricants RV through the heart of college football grilling.
"I've seen everything," Sharkle says moving his wrap-around sunglasses to the back of his head. "Shrimp, brisket, pork. The only thing college football fans are more passionate about their team is their barbecue."

And everywhere he goes, Sharkle draws a crowd with the smell of fresh, sizzling meat.
"You know a lot of people think of industry when they think of Amalgamated Anvil and Anvil Lubricants.  Hard work. Smelting aprons. The work that forged America. But Amalgamated Anvil and Anvil Lubricants are also a part of making America fun, like at this tailgate," said Sharkle completely spontaneously while casually flicking a beach ball with white hot anviling tongs in the direction of some giggling, clean-cut youths.

"I got involved with Amalgamated Anvil and Anvil Lubricants because we're all about the same thing: Make it More Awesome," Sharkle said, putting on a Make it More Awesome t-shirt.  "I'm going to keep putting meats in more meats and blow people's minds, just like Amalgamated Anvil and Anvil Lubricants has been doing in the anvil and anvil lubricant industry for 135 years." 

"Dude," he added.  

Vaughn Sharkle's quest for the perfect tailgate hasn't ended yet. You can follow him on Facebook and tweet to #AmalgamatedAnvil&AnvilLubricantGameDayHASHTAG and you could get Vaughn Sharkle and the Amalgamated Anvil and Anvil Lubricant Ultimate Game Day Tailgate Team to make your tailgate more awesome with Amalgamted Anvil and Anvil Lubricants.


Eastern Illinois looms next for the Wildcats.  The Panthers play in the FCS, and Northwestern fans are expecting a convincing victory after beating a ranked team.  But you can't sleep on the Panthers.  For one, expect them to take Northwestern by surprise by being primarily south and slightly west of Evanston.  For another, they will be gunning for an enormous upset of their own.  Last season, the 'Cats had a tough time scoring against Western Illinois in a miserable game involving a three-timeout kicker freeze and cheerleaders bearing placards reading (and this is a direct quote) "NECKS."  

Eastern Illinois threatens the Wildcats with a disembodied H.R. Giger panther head

Northwestern has only played Eastern Illinois once before in 2011.  Last year, the Panthers lost to all of the FBS teams they played as well as FCS Championship runner-up Illinois State, but they did pound the holy bejesus out of the teams they did beat.  Eastern is a surprising supplier of NFL quarterbacks. Jimmy Garoppolo was poised to start for the Patriots this season while Roger Goodell had Tom Brady imprisoned in the Château d'If. Tony Romo worked his way from an undrafted free agent to stardom, riches, and getting assailed by angry Texas talk radio callers for nearly a decade no matter what he does. Northwestern has not had a regular starter in the NFL since Otto Graham, with the exception of that time Brett Basanez played for the Panthers or whenever Mike Kafka surfaces in preseason games to a chorus of the same Kafka jokes everyone made when he was at Northwestern some seven years ago and will haunt him for his entire professional career until the debut of a quarterback named Bobby Sartre or Jimbo Nietzsche.


It has only been one week and it is foolish to draw too many conclusions.  Every single football article you will read this week probably includes that disclaimer.  But the entire point of college football is these madcaps swings in confidence and despair, anointing strong teams and contenders and consigning losers to the dust bin of Pizza City bowls.

Official AP Style Guide for College Football Writing

Northwestern beat a ranked Stanford team and siphoned off their AP poll votes like a Highlander who has just successfully beheaded someone.  The 'Cats are Also Receiving Votes.  The day has two noons.

No comments: