Northwestern is ranked. According to the Associated Press and the cabal of harried graduate football video coordinators who fill out the Coaches' Poll, Northwestern is one of the top 25 teams in these United States. And now they have a looming showdown with a good Duke team in Durham that will be broadcast on the Internet to Northwestern fans, Duke fans, and people involved in football betting pools so degenerate that they spend halftime betting on nineteenth-century horse races by looking up the result in microfilmed copies of Gentleman's Magazine.
Among the Gentleman's Magazine's famous writers was Samuel Johnson (l, pugnaciously
squinting), who craftily evaded a ban on parliamentary reporting by inventing the country
of "Magna Lilliputia" and helpfully explaining that parliament's debates, which bore eerie
similarity to the actual Parliament. It is hard to know how Johnson could have found anything
extraordinary to write about eighteenth-century Parliament, such as when MPs would attempt
to murder each other. In the early 1760s, radical reformer John Wilkes (r, depicted by Hogarth)
dueled Samuel Martin after Martin referred to Wilkes as a "stabber in the dark, a cowardly and
malignant scoundrel." The two met at Hyde Park, where Martin shot Wilkes in the stomach.
According to Edward Walford's Hyde Park from 1878, some gadflys suspected Martin of practicing
for months and attempting to lure Wilkes to the duel through his use of brazen eighteenth-century
epithets. Wilkes survived long enough to get tried in absentia for co-writing a pornographic
poem that was read in the House of Lords by his arch-nemesis, the Earl of Sandwich.
The Wildcats crushed an overmatched Eastern Illinois with another dominant display from the defense. The defensive line and linebackers stymied the Panthers all afternoon. Matthew Harris picked off two passes although one was on a faltering trick play where a panicking wide receiver attempted to huck the ball up to Mount Olympus and the other when the Panther quarterback improvised a shovel pass as if someone in the crowd had suggested the ball had suddenly become a rabid bat.
This game did not tell us much about Northwestern other than reinforcing the fact that the Wildcats can comfortably defeat a team that is structurally set up to be worse than Northwestern at football. Eastern Illinois showed up, collected its check, and was subject to Chicago's Big Ten Football Stadium roaring comfortably at a one-tarp level (Northwestern has not yet deployed the Full Tarp; with the one home game happening UNDER THE LIGHTS before Big Ten play fills Ryan Field with jeering Iowans for the rest of the season, we may not yet see it). The game certainly reinforced the Wildcats' defensive bonafides. Opponents have yet to score a touchdown against them. There are a number of rational reasons to proceed with cautious optimism, but for the love of everything holy the Northwestern Wildcats are ranked and I'm not going to let my native sports pessimism to take over here and heartily invite the Big Ten Conference to be effortlessly CRUSHED BENEATH ANTHONY WALKER'S CLEATS I'LL SEE YOU CHUMPS IN INDIANAPOLIS.
TITANIC SHOWDOWN BETWEEN FOOTBALL POWERHOUSES
On Saturday, the sudden proclamation that Northwestern might be good will be put to the test by a very good Duke team. Duke has made short work of its two first opponents, Tulane and North Carolina Central. Before the season, pundits had questioned whether the Blue Devils could withstand numerous key graduations, especially on defense. They have not yet shown any ill effects and now the 'Cats are going into their steamy swamp stadium in a battle of undefeated football titans.
Duke and Northwestern have met fairly often since the late '90s. Both teams are small, private schools in big conferences that have spent most their footballing history flailing ineffectively at opponents like balloon men in a car dealership parking lot. Northwestern has gotten the better of Duke, taking six of the last seven. In fact, the Duke/Northwestern quasi-rivalry is evidence of Duke's stunning turnaround; the last Duke victory in 2007 ended a 22-game losing streak, and Duke played in the ACC Championship game just six years later.
Despite these similarities, Duke fans have endured the relative tragedy of their football program because Duke basketball is an unstoppable death-juggernaut. While Northwestern sports are generally ignored or pitied, Duke's basketball team is almost universally reviled. Northwestern takes the court to indifference; Duke basketball plays against a planet of seven billion fist-shaking Beck Men. Northwestern has actively sought to emulate Duke's basketball success through a complex conspiracy involving numerous shadowy organizations, clandestine meetings, and hiring a guy who was literally Coach K's assistant coach.
The mysterious disappearance of Duke Assistant Coach Chris Collins and his sudden
reappearance at the head of Northwestern basketball is explained by the Chris Collins
Conspiracy Corkboard that explains everything clearly and is not at all inscrutable-- in fact
the Chris Collins Conspiracy Corkboard won Honorable Mention, Most Scrutable at the Screedies
Conspiracy Awards or at least would have if it weren't for the intervention of shady forces
beyond your wildest imagination
If the Wildcats wilt in the Carolina heat, they can still rally against Ball State (LET ME REMIND YOU: UNDER THE LIGHTS) and turn a strong non-conference record into a bowl campaign. If they beat the Blue Devils, then it's TOOT TOOT THIS TRAIN ONLY STOPS IN PASADENA time and the Northwestern hype will switch into overdrive, kept off the front pages of the sports sections of Chicago's Big Ten Newspapers only by a particularly noteworthy Notre Dame practice.
THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE IS NATIONAL AND FOOTBALL
The NFL has kicked off again with the controversy, lawyer-laden press conferences, and general up-in-armsmanship that has come to define America's game. The actual games are almost incidental to ancillary NFL nonsense. Some of it is a designed spectacle; the NFL has blown up the draft into a three day list-reading extravaganza that closed down parts of Downtown Chicago for upwards of a week. Other times, it is the general bumbling created by the NFL's desire to serve as an independent branch of the United States justice system featuring a court lorded over by a a man who acts at all times like the guy from Bananas who goes mad the second he takes power and starts issuing underwear statutes.
The NFL's pompous nincompoopery came to a head during the Great Ball Deflation Media Event of 2015, which climaxed with Roger Goodell upholding Roger Goodell's decision to suspend Tom Brady over a shrill chorus of Wahlbergian moaning before an actual judge intervened. At least the ball deflation scandal involved something as silly as Patriots skulduggery; earlier attempts to adjudicate on domestic violence through football justice were bungled so egregiously that I am surprised that Goodell has not yet mistakenly suspended himself before quickly changing suits and exonerating himself at a press conference featuring military hardware.
Even without scandal and legal wrangling the NFL has become exhausting. Professional football includes the grandiose bumbling the NFL specializes in, but comes packaged with what can only be described as the dumbest shit imaginable. The NFL's broadcasts aren't uniquely joyless; every televised sporting event bombards us with the same corporate simulacra of the concept of fun. NFL games, however, are presented with a ponderous self-importance where announcers imbue inane platitudes about football players making football plays at the quarterback position in the national football league with the gravity of a U.N. conference on arms control. Ads airing on sports events are universally intolerable, but only NFL games stop seemingly every three minutes to breathlessly shill rifled beer bottles, various pickup truck brands in increasingly hardy settings that will seemingly climax at the Super Bowl with a consumer-grade Gravedigger dragging Dennis Leary through the apocalypse, and an endless wave of Babas Booey screaming about fantasy football.
The fact that rational people tune into this week after week and that Americans are willing to cede precious hours of their lives to be screamed at by Trent Dilfer shows just how entertaining football games are. NFL players are really good at smashing into each other. And as long as players continue to fly through the air catching passes, drag five tacklers across the first down marker, and dramatically steam from their heads on winter days, we will continue to watch, no matter how badly the experience becomes laden with promos for TV shows about abrasive detectives who get results and this week the internet has become a person and it is murdering people.
This season airing concurrently on Fox, CBS, and NBC, Dan Bakkedahl
stars as Karl Fugue: Asshole Detective. This week, Fugue is suspended for
dropping leaflets outside police headquarters entitled Your Police Are
Morons illustrated with a cartoon of the chief clumsily struggling to put on
a dunce cap but he can't because he is so uselessly stupid. But then, Fugue
solves the case because despite his gruff obnoxiousness, he possesses
incredible powers of observation that no one on the force can match even with
their newfangled computers. He is reinstated, tells the chief that he is an idiot,
then goes to drink self-destructively, possibly with his reluctant partner, a
by-the-book detective who can't stand Fugue but respects him and also while
her career is going well, her personal life is in shambles. On the next
Karl Fugue: Asshole Detective, someone fires a gun and drives a car recklessly
DUEL IN DURHAM
It is way too early in the season to consider any game make-or-break. Last season, a roller-coaster where Northwestern struggled against non-conference opponents, scored two massive upsets against Wisconsin and Notre Dame, and then lost a bowl play-in game to Illinois, reinforced the unpredictability of Big Ten football. The Duke game, however, should reveal a lot about the Wildcats: whether the Stanford game was a fluke, whether the defense can remain dominant, and whether Thorson can continue to play like a quarterback with far more experience than he has. The game should be a defensive duel, complete with some pre-game social media chatter in which Ifeadi Odenigbo's expectations of a shutout have been received as if he referred to the Duke team as malignant cowards in Parliament. Everyone expects a close game, everyone that is except for Karl Fugue: Asshole Detective who is also a sports-betting sharp whose encyclopedic knowledge of college football betting patterns allows him to foil a series of shrimp restaurant robberies before that goddamn idiot chief has a chance to mess things up with his computers in Episode 8: Pick Six Murders.