For the past three years, the Northwestern-Michigan game has ended in a conflagration of unlikely football misfortune robbing the Wildcats of a victory over a depleted, languid Michigan team. That did not happen this year. Instead, Northwestern kicked off and then I'm pretty sure the field opened up and swallowed the Wildcats whole for the rest of the game. I know that people come to this website for detailed play-by-play football expertise, so I've diagnosed some of the key plays in this video below (you might not want to blare this one at work):
The result was a 38-0 debacle that only became watchable once it mysteriously transformed into a festival of improbable Cubs bunts through the magic of television. Northwestern's football Wildcats were utterly dismantled and are no longer undefeated. Michigan put up another shutout and remains ascendant, insufferably.
Losing to Michigan is annoying. The rebirth of Michigan and the barely-disguised giddiness of national football pundits at the reestablishment of a Football Brand is annoying. The incredible series of idiotic San Francisco 49ers skulduggery that exiled an excellent NFL coach and brought him to Michigan through a blood-red sky on a war chariot raining a pestilence of nose tackles upon the Big Ten is annoying. Jim Harbaugh is profoundly annoying.
Every week, an assistant coach is tasked with assuring Harbaugh that he
has not been thrown out of the domed settlement on the surface of Mars
in Total Recall
Despite the disheartening clobbering, the Wildcats are still 5-1, still close to clinching a bowl berth, and in contention in the Big Ten West. Their time in the national spotlight has passed; now Northwestern fans can retreat to the shadows comfortably away from college football bloviatrics and enjoy what still has the possibility to be an incredible season. A repeat of the 2013 season, where a hot Northwestern start devolved into a series of inconceivable late-game meltdowns where the Wildcats found themselves turning into the opposing team on Friday Night Lights every week will hopefully not happen.
Listen up, we're gonna run the you scramble around for two minutes
before heaving the ball up against their entire defense with no time
remaining and I want you to throw that ball with metaphoric resonance
about small-town football and triumphs and misery and what it means
to be a man and I want you to do it while people scream in wide-eyed
wonder in slow motion in the stands, what are you doing, don't you get
in that huddle without this post rock CD
But Northwestern will not contend for anything if they don't get past an undefeated Iowa team with its own designs on the West in a bloodthirsty Big Ten showdown.
BIG TEN FOOTBALL: THE NATION'S SHOVIEST FOOTBALL
Iowa-Northwestern games are technically football in that there are football teams and balls and crowds and everything. But the games are also demolition derbies, where dream seasons from teams far removed from Big Ten royalty smash into smoldering piles of ligaments and animus. Pat Fitzgerald broke his leg in the 1995 Iowa game, preventing him from playing in the Rose Bowl. A dreadful Iowa team crushed Northwestern's chance at Pasadena in 2000, relegating the 'Cats to a share of the championship and a berth in the Alamo Bowl. Both teams lost starting quarterbacks in consecutive years in 2009 and 2010. Iowa and Northwestern exist to ruin each other's seasons in complete anonymity because not a single soul outside Iowa City and Evanston is aware that these teams play each other every year on a regulation football field.
Artists' rendition: Iowa 12, Northwestern 7
The Hawkeyes are flying high with an undefeated season and the Wildcats are still recovering from the drubbing they received in Ann Arbor. It would appear that Iowa should cruise to an easy win. The Hawkeyes, however, have been hammered by injuries. Star defensive lineman Drew Ott is lost for the season. The offensive line is so beat up that Kirk Ferentz may suit up; he has spent the week lifting triangular weights, looking for his leather helmet, and practicing hand-to-hand combat against Soviet agents in preparation. Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard his also nurturing an injury, but he plans to counter by having the best football name since Army quarterback Trent Steelman managed to tactically subterfuge his way through Northwestern's defense some years back.
Northwestern's miserable outing in Ann Arbor exposed some problems that the defense had covered up. They still have trouble moving the ball against good defenses. The defense had trouble stopping Michigan's power running game, and Iowa's Jordan Canzeri has absolutely sliced defenses apart. Last week against Illinois, the Hawkeyes simply stopped throwing the ball, giving it to Canzeri over and over again as he literally ran over the Illini to seal an Iowa victory. Add in that Ferentz, long considered an ambassador of Big Ten Fuddy-Duddery has embraced a Cornfield Gambler persona that has the stereotypically staid Hawkeyes going for it on fourth down, embracing the forward pass, and occasionally eschewing a field-goal-and-safety scoring philosophy, and it is not hard to see why they are undefeated and favored. This time it is the Wildcats who live and die with the defense, run the ball between the tackles, and try to punt other teams into submission in order to win football games while Ferentz mocks Fitz's conservatism from the groovy psychadelic bus where he now lives.
The Wildcats will honor the twentieth anniversary of the Rose Bowl team on Homecoming this Saturday. They will be wearing throwback 1995 uniforms. This marks the seventh different uniform combination Northwestern has worn this season: white helmets, white jerseys, Aggressive Wildcat Bite Helmets, Dracula Uniforms, Chicago's Big Ten Municipal Corruption Boodle Bag helmets, Lake helmets, Colbert Eyebrow uniforms, and Fake Opposing Uniforms to Convince an Overwhelming Away Crowd At Ryan Field to Root For Northwestern Uniforms. Northwestern's marketing partnership with UnderArmour has been vital for building the Northwestern Brand, which is crucial for twenty-first century football programs who plan on using their Solid Brands to stop the option play.
THE CUBS ARE VERY GOOD AND YOU ARE GOING TO READ ABOUT IT IN THIS BLOG
There is a dumb comfort to fatalism. When the seemingly-insurmountable lead evaporates through a series of miserable Rube Goldberg events, well it could never end well. It's not necessarily a belief in curses or goats or any sort of supernatural malevolence. It is just the idea, lodged in the Neanderthal Cortex of a primordial human brain that if something happens a few times over the short course of a human lifetime, it is a truth from time immemorial. The Cubs would never win anything and, if they did, they could never beat the St. Louis Cardinals, as ever-present at the top of the National League Central division as a sun shining the Right Way.
The Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in a playoff series. They beat them and the St. Louis Cardinals are no longer able to play baseball. They can go out and play some stickball or get together on the diamond to practice calibrating their baseball caps to avoid tilting them at morally unacceptable Strop levels, but these games will not be sanctioned by Major League Baseball and there is nothing anyone can do from disseminating accounts of them all over the Midwest.
The bizarre Costas diatribe against Strop after a disastrous outing is one
of the funniest subplots of the season. "KNOW THIS, STROP," Costas
said, puffing out his bulging eye sacs to make him appear larger and more
menacing. "WHEN YOU ARRIVE IN WHATEVER DAMNED AFTERLIFE
WILL ACCEPT YOUR SHODDY RELIEF PITCHING SOUL, I HOPE YOU
FACE AN ETERNITY SERVING UP MEATBALLS THAT WILL SOAR
ACROSS THE HEAVENS TO DESTROY YOUR MOST CHERISHED
MEMORIES AND WHILE THAT IS HAPPENING YOU ARE MOCKED
WITH GRAVITY-DEFYING BAT FLIPS WHICH HANG FOREVER
TURNING AND ECHOING DEMONIC LAUGHTER AT YOU, HERE I
SHOULD NOTE I AM PROBABLY ALSO OPPOSED TO BAT FLIPS BECAUSE
THAT SEEMS LIKE A REALLY BOB COSTAS THING TO GET ANNOYED
WITH, THIS IS BOB COSTAS SIGNING OFF WITH UNEARTHLY CACKLING."
Costas then rode off on his High Horse, which is a normal, regular-sized horse.
The Cubs sent Jason Hammel, a pitcher sponsored by the American Meatball Council for the past several months, against the Cardinals in a potential series-clinching game. Hammel immediately gave up a hit and home run to put them down 2-0 before fans even had an opportunity to aggressively point to their arms in an effort to remove Hammel from the game in world where it was possible to make citizens' pitching changes. The move to keep him in seemed even more ludicrous in the second, when Maddon sent Hammel to bat with men on base. Hammel responded with an RBI single, setting the stage for Javy Baez to homer home the go-ahead runs and for Cardinals pitcher John Lackey to argle-bargle his way back the mound in a delightful display of baseball fury. A Cardinals rally (started by a scrappy backup catcher who hit .200 this season, whose crucial RBI double against the Cubs was fore-ordained by the Big Bang) was answered by thundering Cubs dingers including a Kyle Schwarber blast that affected the rotation of the Earth.
If the Cubs can defeat the Cardinals, if they can make it to the National League Championship Series, then hell, why can't they make it to the World Series? If all it takes to break through the playoffs is a team full of young people who do not realize they are Cubs, a manager who manages the team with cuddly zoo animals, and a lumpy, chin-bearded home run machine, then I suppose it is worth unmooring ourselves from an entire baseball cosmology and actually believe. Or, do what I plan to do and miserably watch every playoff game, spending the most fun Cubs season of all time in a protective flinch waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Playoff baseball makes Larry Kings of us all
IMAGINE DOING SOMETHING OTHER THAN WATCHING OTHER PEOPLE PLAY SPORTS THIS WEEKEND
Northwestern faces off at 11:00am in Chicago's Big Ten time slot against Iowa at Ryan Field. Perhaps a return to confines of Ryan Field alongside the '95 team can shake the team from whatever hit them last Saturday at Michigan. All that's at stake is a bowl berth, contention in the Big Ten West, and avoiding a Ranked Northwestern Death Spiral that has claimed so many other seasons. The vestigial quasi-rivalry with Iowa, Homecoming, and a stadium filled with hostile Iowa fans will certainly lend the game an intense atmosphere.
There is no fatalistic doom-and-gloomery that hovers over a Northwestern/Iowa game. Instead, it is a shared horror that both promising seasons can simultaneously implode by slobberknocking so hard that it causes some sort of rift in the slobber/knock continuum, throws the earth off its orbit, and opens the Big Ten West to be claimed by Purdue. After all, we are living in a world where the Chicago Cubs have beaten the indomitable St. Louis Cardinals in a playoff series and the Laws of the Universe no longer apply.