Friday, November 27, 2015

Week 13: The Sound Decisions of Learned Referees

Winter arrived last weekend in Madison.  The northern winds swept ice and snow across the Midwest and buffeted the stadium with freezing air and football misery.  It is as if Jim Delany, sitting comfortably in his LeaderLegend Big Ten Command Center flipped the switch from "football" to "Big Ten football" all the way up to "Ludicrously Big Ten football" and a torrent of sleet and cold and inability to pass the football like it was 1944 and we needed to send all our forward passes to the front and the Big Ten chaos referees all flooded into the stadium while the Big Ten Network beamed the debacle to dozens of American homes.  And, in the end, the Wildcats came away with a 13-7 victory, their ninth of season, and a chance to make it a 10-win Hat season. 

Both defenses played heroically.  Wisconsin's held even as the offense refused to hold onto the ball.  The Badgers turned the ball over five times; Wildcats continued to bedevil quarterback Joel Stave, who threw two picks and fumbled.  Tanner McEvoy, who threw an interception as a quarterback last year and now has become a receiver, fumbled as well.  Yet, time after time, the Badger defense held in their own end of the field as the Wildcats stalled out and missed field goals.  After an early pick led to a Northwestern touchdown, the coaches decided to run the Besieged Citadel offense.  Justin Jackson's 139 rushing yards accounted for about two-thirds of their entire output.
The Wildcats' play calling was so conservative that they only ran packages called "The 
Bourbon Restoration"

But the entire game was overshadowed by referee decisions. 


With the third quarter winding down, Northwestern had satisfactorily run into the Wisconsin enough times to get in punting position.  Badger receiver Alex Erickson caught the punt, shrugged off two Northwestern tackles, and weaved his way into the endzone to put Wisconsin up as Camp Randall erupted.  OR DID HE?  As the punt bounced its way towards him, Erickson signaled for his teammates to clear out.  As the referees later explained, Erickson's attempt to move the ball was an act of deception, of grave duplicity where he would signal a fair catch-- when the fair catch becomes not fair at all.  There is some precedent here.  Two weeks before, a Penn State returner had clearly made a fair catch signal then advanced the ball in an act of fair-catch signal derring-do that the officials ignored.  An apoplectic Fitzgerald charged onto the field,  his head so red that he resembled a human matchstick.  This time, the ball was handed back to an incredulous offense with six points removed.  The Badgers could do nothing and punted.

As a Northwestern fan, I applaud the officials for their enforcement of clear, well-known rules against that rogue Alex Erickson.  If Erickson wanted to make sure he got credit for his touchdown, he should have gone to the Memorial Library, requested a book from off-site storage entitled "Approved Football Gestures," and studied up on it instead of deceiving the Wildcats and preventing them from ineffectively attempting to tackle him.  I will quote here from the NCAA rule book:



With less than a minute remaining, the maligned Stave drove Wisconsin down the field.  Tight End Troy Fumagalli appeared to score the winning touchdown.  Instead, his knee was ruled down at the one subatomic molecule line.  On the next play, Stave appeared to have hit Jazz Peavy for the winning touchdown.  Peavy caught the ball, ran several steps, and then bobbled the ball as he fell out of the endzone.  After a lengthy review, the referees determined that every Wisconsin football player has an incredible name.  Then they lit up a few Gauloises cigarettes, consulted their Derrida, determined that it is impossible to determine what a "catch" is anyway, and ripped away the winning score.  On the next play, Stave was sacked and knocked out of the game.  Backup quarterback Bart Houston entered the field through swinging saloon doors and tossed an incompletion aimed at McEvoy. 

While Peavy appeared to snag the ball and possess it for several steps, the rules are clear.  Peavy may have caught the ball, stopped, filled in the proper catch paperwork (the Transfer of Football from Quarterback to Receiver is available as a PDF on the NCAA website), but failed to get it properly notarized before falling out of bounds.  This unfortunate oversight on the part of the Wisconsin coaching staff cost them dearly, but is clearly stated in the rules.


The sloppy pace of the game and the numerous sound and rational refeeeing decisions left a small but rowdy group of Badger fans with no recourse but to pelt their own cheerleaders, officials, and Northwestern players with snowballs.  It was a difficult loss on senior day, particularly for Stave, who thought he had rallied his team to victory twice.  Northwestern had numerous opportunities to extend the lead to the point where the referees would have no part in it, but the Wisconsin defense and the Wildcats' ultra-conservative play calling kept it close.  Northwestern fans in the stands had no idea how they won.  Pat Fitzgerald was delightedly perplexed.  And the Wildcats canceled their bus service back to Evanston so they could ride back in rum-running getaway cars.


The Hat Game is upon us!  This blog has already covered hat-lore in Thirty Days: Hat November, An Oral History of the Northwestern-Illinois Game at length.  Last year, the Hat Game reached its apotheosis as it became a bowl eligibility game.  With the Beck Man at the height of his powers and Northwestern desperate to salvage a miserable season, it is hard to imagine a more perfect Hat Game scenario than as the Golden Ticket to what turned out to be the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl against a superior Conference USA team.

This year, the teams have gone in opposite directions.  Northwestern has powered its way to a 9-2 record.  The Illini are reeling.  They fired Beck Man eight days before the season and released a 1,200-page report that depicts him as Will Ferrell's impression of George W. Bush.  After making fun of Beckman's absurd anti-Northwestern crusade for the past three years, many of his actual, real life behaviors turned out to be something like 15 percent less insane than this nonsense blog that claimed that he had an anti-Northwestern command center and crafting shed where he built shoddy replica Willies to set on fire and assault first-year players during Illini training camp.
There's no evidence that this is Beckman's car, but the man has crossed into the Beck Man 
Valley, where no piece of ludicrous anti-Northwestern activity can be ruled out unless 
specifically mentioned by a 1,200-page report.

The University of Illinois is also in turmoil.  The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game.  Bill Cubit is playing for more than just a Hat.  He hopes a win and a bowl game will keep him in Champaign-Urbana for a long time.  It is hard to root against the Illini this season as the team has fought through the disorder, and Cubit's Northwestern-related pronouncements remain within the bounds of normal football person behavior.

What happens to the Illinois-Northwestern rivalry now?  I've noted earlier that the intensity of the Hat Game developed as a rivalry not between the two schools but between Northwestern and Tim Beckman himself.  Without the Beck Man and his avant-garde dada interpretation of football rivalry, can the Greatest Rivalry in College Football persevere?  The Illini, like Northwestern, are a historically moribund team often left for dead by the Big Ten Football Brands, all of whom are insufferable.  Nevertheless, it is important to soldier on and remember that, no matter how well the Illini have coped through a tumultuous season, they have The Hat.  That is no way to live.
After last year's debacle, Northwestern has hired its Assistant Dean of 
Procuring Rivalry Trophies By Any Means Necessary

So, it is with a heavy heart and with all respect to our friends at That School South of What Beckman Called The School Up North, I say: 

Give us that hat, Cube Man.
Give us that hat back.
Want that Hat.
Hat Hat Hat


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thirty Days: Hat November

An Oral History of the Greatest Rivalry in College Football

For more than one hundred years, the University of Illinois and Northwestern University, separated by about 150 miles, have nurtured the premier rivalry in college football.  Both situated in the heart of Big Ten country, their annual game has not only stopped the state in its tracks, but has captivated millions of Americans.  The Northwestern-Illinois game goes beyond college football.  For residents of Illinois, this is a way of life.


The first Illinois-Northwestern game, played in 1892 ended in a 16-16 tie. The next ended in a 0-0 tie.  This portentous refusal to yield or play watchable football marked the rivalry for the next century and beyond.

PUTNAM WALNUT-RUMPP, Northwestern Wrench-back, 1893 [Interview appears in October 22 edition of the Occasional Northwestern]: We stood at half-field, us and the fellows from Illi-nois. Spirits were high. The crowd gathered ‘round the football circle and jostled each other. A monocle was brandished in anger. After twenty minutes of fisticuffs, we could not locate the foot-ball and so we declared it a tie and the Illinoismen retreated to their football wagon.

Northwestern and Illinois continued to play their annual game, but the rivalry lacked a trophy, something to be carted away by the victors. Several objects were tried: a mummy, a carved, anatomically incorrect dinosaur, a defaced picture of Kaiser Wilhelm, but none stuck until the 1940s.

NEIL PINCE-NEZ, Northwestern Football Historian: The mummy was a purported artifact looted from the Pyramid of Sensuret I and obtained in a complex black market mummy trading scheme. It began as a sort of reverse trophy. Students tried to hide the mummy in the visitors’ stadium to supposedly curse the rival team before the big game. Illinois students once successfully set the mummy up in Walter Dill Scott’s office with a nameplate reading Walter Dill Sarcophagus. The mummy, of course, wasn’t a mummy at all. It was a poorly done papier-mache thumb that was rescued after being hurled in anger at a professor. But this was around the time the Boris Karloff mummy picture had come out, and all anyone wanted to talk about was mummies. After a few years, it petered out as these things tend to do.  After that, it was all wolf-men.

A. BARTLETT HARRUMPH, Daily Northwestern, 1944-1949: I obtained the original trophy, the cigar store Indian, when the theater department was throwing out props. It had been used in a production of a play called The Tobacconist’s Wife about the proprietor of a cigar shop whose marriage of convenience draws him into a web of international intrigue. I remember grabbing the sculpture, scoot it into the newspaper offices and bellowing, “my wooden friend, what mischief can we get into?” My first idea was to hurl it at the provost, as provost-hurling was the fashionable university prank. 

NEIL PINCE-NEZ: As Harrumph will tell it, he bumped into some Illini fans at a bar and got into a fierce drinking contest.  Heavily intoxicated on brandy and Northwestern football braggadocio, he claims that he then offered the statue as a trophy.

A. BARTLETT HARRUMPH: I had been dragging the statue around as my new features editor Wally Scoop. It was right there with me in the tavern that night!

NEIL PINCE-NEZ: What I have heard is that Harrumph lost a high-stakes game of Suicide Whist. He was already cleaned out, but, out of pity, the Illinois fans took the trophy instead of the traditional wager of kidney punches and throttling, the usual fate of the destitute suicide whister.  They then decided to give it back to him based on the outcome of the upcoming football game in order to stop his sobbing.

A. BARTLETT HARRUMPH: When I came up with the idea of exchanging the trophy, I was hoisted upon the patrons' shoulders as everyone shouted in unison "THAT'S A CAPITAL IDEA."

The original cigar store Indian was stolen.  Afterwards, the schools only began to pass the tomahawk back and forth.  The "Sweet Sioux" Tomahawk became the symbol of the rivalry, but the circumstances behind the theft remain murky.

NEIL PINCE-NEZ: There are two main suspects in the theft of the statue.  One is State Senator Copernicus Smelt, a wealthy industrialist who hated the statue and wanted to replace it with a gigantic classical sculpture called the Spirit of the Prairie, which was basically a Colossus of Rhodes standing astride Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River with hands replaced with mittens in the shape of Illinois.  The other is a group of drunken fraternity members.

OTTO CORNELIUS SMELT III, Nephew of Copernicus Smelt and Chairman of the Smelt Foundation: Yes, it is true that my uncle had grand designs for the trophy.  He used to refer to the original wooden trophy as "that wood trinket" that is "good for bestriding nothing."  But there is no evidence to link him to any theft, no matter what fairy tales Pince-Nez wrote in his book.

NEIL PINCE-NEZ: He Who Smelt lays out a convincing case not only for Smelt's desire to steal the statue but also exposes his entire occult philosophy.  Only snippets remain on the record: Smelt's letters to both university presidents.  His pamphlets involving iconography of deities with Illinois hands.  And the treasure trove of rumored papers and books that vanished after his bizarre disappearance in 1974.

OTTO CORNELIUS SMELT III: My uncle died in a tragic falconry accident.

A. BARTLETT HARRUMPH: After the theft of the statue, both universities were thrown into chaos.  I wrote an editorial suggesting the tomahawk replace the full trophy and it was greeted with cheers from the simple man in the street all the way to the top levels of the administration.  I had to stop the Daily from running the headline "HARRUMPH TRIUMPH."

WINSTON FARMGRISTLE, Assistant Editor, Daily Northwestern 1946-48: I've always suspected that Harrumph stole the trophy.


In 1978, Northwestern and Illinois tied 0-0.  Northwestern would not win again until 1986.  The Sweet Sioux became anchored to the Illinois football trophy room.  In Evanston, the football program descended into the worst stretch ever suffered by a top-division football program.  The rivalry had fallen into disarray as the Wildcats no longer posed a threat.

HORACE GROAT, Host of Illinoize AM 1580 The Voice of Illini Football: The 1980s were good for Illinois football, they were good for neon pants, and they were good for Horace Groat.

NEIL PINCE-NEZ, Author of Lose Cruise: On the Bus with the 1981 Wildcats: In 1981, Northwestern lost its 34th consecutive game.  After the game, the students rushed the field and tore down the goalposts.  That's how I lost this eyebrow.

HORACE GROAT: At one point, Illinois didn't even bother to bring the tomahawk with them to Evanston.  They even recorded a novelty rap song in 1985 called Keep that Tomahawk.

BYRON "SATURN" HERMAN, Member of Planet Boogie: They hired me to write Keep That Tomahawk.  I had a small production company and I was really blowing up in Champaign-Urbana.  What I did was, I took a person's name and then I'd mention what they had to say and I'd bring it around like that.  Before that, people were turning on raps and they had no idea who the guy was or what he was about to say.  Everyone was pretty confused.

HORACE GROAT: They made a video, I don't know, I haven't seen it in ages.  It's got all the Illinois football players, and they're all dressed in neon orange jumpsuits in front of a painting of the trophy.  And for some reason, the first verse is some guy named Saturn wearing two headbands.

BYRON "SATURN" HERMAN: My name is Saturn and I'm here to say, I'm rapping all night and I'm rapping all day.  See that there?  I introduced myself and let people know that if they needed to find me rapping, it was a process that was not stopping.  Yeah, I got myself on that video.  Two headbands, like the rings of Saturn.

NEIL PINCE-NEZ: That song was preposterous.

BYRON "SATURN" HERMAN: Well, in 1986 they lost the Tomahawk at home, man.  You can't record a song called "Keep that Tomahawk" and then lose that Tomahawk.  I'm here to say that totally blew up in my face.


In 2009, Northwestern and Illinois decided to replace the Sweet Sioux Tomhawk as part of Illinois's effort to remove Native American imagery.  The question was how to replace the trophy symbolizing College Football's Greatest Rivalry.

A. BARTLETT HARRUMPH: After years of hard-fought games that captured the imagination of America, the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk had become an icon.  Sure, I agree we had to replace it, but with what? One day as I was driving I saw a license plate.  It said "Land of Lincoln." I pulled over.  Bingo.  I wrote a letter to the editor.

J. SMELT ROBERTS, University of Illinois Trustee 1994-2012 [published in Mascots and Trophies, July 2009.  Roberts died in a falconry accident in 2012]: It was down to three choices: Lincoln, the Tully Monster (the state fossil of Illinois) and a Colossus majestically bestriding Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, his hands fearsome mittens in the shape of Illinois.

A. BARTLETT HARRUMPH: I naturally gravitated to Lincoln's favorite piece of equipment: the rail splitting axe.  Those sons-of-a-bitch went for a hat.  A hat!  Who associates Lincoln with a hat?  Go ahead and stop someone in this state, and grab him by the lapel and say "Lincoln, did he have a hat, my man?"  The answer, you'll find, is "get the hell away from me!"  That's how preposterous it is.

J.G.A. PIDLOW-MACE, Northwestern Dean of Football Iconography, [Letter to A. Bartlett Harrumph, August 22, 2009]: I am afraid that the decision is final.  We believe the hat is a universal symbol of Lincoln to this great state.  Your desire to commemorate President Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, as fine an orator as we've had in this nation, as a rail-splitting ignoramus shows a disrespect to this great man and his hat as I've ever seen.  Though I am writing you a letter, I direct you to get out of my office on principle.     

In 2010, the Northwestern-Illinois rivalry once again attracted the notice of the college football world as the game moved to historic Wrigley Field.  ESPN's College Game Day followed them there.  

NEIL PINCE-NEZ: No one had played football at Wrigley since the Chicago Bears left for Soldier Field in 1970.  Dozens had tried with disastrous results.

HORACE GROAT: You could have taken the dinosaur bones out of the Field Museum that day.  No one cared about anything but the game.

RON ZOOK, Baseball? Football?  You tell one thing to Zook and that's this: get the dang ball.  This isn't pee-wee football.  This isn't cricket.  This isn't tiddly-winks.  This isn't Hungry Hungry Hippos.  This isn't the game where the wind-up dinosaur spins around.  This isn't Cluedo, which is what they call Clue in England.  This is football, gentlemen.  And Zook has one rule about football: you go after the football.  Ron Zook.

PAT FITZGERALD, Northwestern Head Coach, 2006-present: Any time you get a chance to get your young men into a position to take things one game at a time, you take that opportunity. And we saw this one and we circled it on the calendar. I said, young men: Take a look at this.  Don't think about it. Don't look at it.  One day, and we're not thinking about that day young men, but one day we'll take it one game at a time and the game it will be time to take it one of will be this game go 'cats.

NEIL PINCE-NEZ:  Just before the game, they were told they could only use one endzone.  For the whole game.  Ludicrous!  Sure, there was an unpadded brick wall at the end of one of the endzones.  But what else was going on in that endzone?  I'll tell you who didn't want you to know: Jim Delany and his goons who denied me at least four requests to investigate the banned endzone.

OTTO CORNELIUS SMELT III: The stenciled occult symbols found in the unused endzone are a ridiculous coincidence. Those tasteful Illinois-handed reptiles were a child's graffiti or a drunken fraternity prank. 

RON ZOOK: One endzone, two endzones, three endzones.  This isn't baccarat.  This isn't Battletoads.  This isn't Step Up 2: The Streets.  This is football, gentleman.  And this is what Ron Zook has to say about football: You've got to get into football mode, you've got to have a tough football mentality if you want to win at the game of football. That's a quote from Ron Zook.


In 2012, Illinois hired Tim Beckman from Toledo.  Beckman, who festooned the locker room with anti-Northwestern signs, imbued the rivalry with unprecedented rancor.

PETER FRANCIS GERACI, (( My client, Tim Beckman, will not be answering questions about University of Illinois football.

NEIL PINCE-NEZ: There had always been some animosity-- after all it is Northwestern-Illinois--but Beckman's swaggering demonstrations seemed not only to be a football rivalry but an ideology based entirely on hostility to Northwestern.

J. SMELT ROBERTS [Interview in the Daily Illini, December 10, 2011]: I applaud the hiring of Tim Beckman, who will help this University take the next step in the Legends Division and win whatever pitiful unbestriding trinket they have representing the rivalry with Northwestern.

JOHN BARGLE, Director, Big Ten Network Presents Tomahawk Tomfoolery:  In 1963, Northwestern fans spent months creating a fake student organization at the University Illinois with the ambiguous title of FEST!.  Students put on shows, raised money, and ultimately secured a float in the Homecoming Parade.  People were really excited about Fest!.  What Illinois's student government did not realize was that FEST! was an acronym for Fake Equine Statue Task(!).  The float, a literal Trojan Horse, burst apart in the middle of Green Street revealing a horde of Northwestern students contorting their palms into fist-claws and yelling incoherently.  That really put the quietus on that celebration.

HORACE GROAT: In 1987, I distributed eight counterfeit Willie Wildcat costumes.  There were Willies flooding the field celebrating Illinois first downs.  It took until the third quarter for seven to be subdued.  The eight got tangled up with the real Willie.  The authorities had no way to telling which was the real Willie.  Security shouted Willie trivia questions, but both remained in character, mute.  The standoff lasted for hours.
GABRIELLE MOLDOVA, Editor of Big Ten blog Beckman's first Big Ten Media Day was certainly memorable.  They had to get a new podium for the next coach because of all the fist dents.


GABRIELLE MOLDOVA: The anti-Northwestern propaganda in the Illinois locker room was insane.  There were anti-Northwestern signs strewn everywhere, even the urinals.  One player Instagrammed a picture of a series of posters from Beckman's office where he stuck his own head on a picture of the Macho Man Randy Savage elbow dropping a wrestler with a Wildcat head taped on it, but the picture was quickly deleted.

PETER FRANCIS GERACI: That is absurd blog nonsense.

H. BERTRAM JESSUP, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Interim Athletic Director of Communications [from August 2015 press release]: What you are holding is a list of confirmed anti-Northwestern propaganda brought by Tim Beckman onto university property.  However, in the interest of dispelling certain rumors, let me make it clear.  At no point, did Tim Beckman bring the following items onto campus: A set of purple wooden sticks perforated to be broken apart in a single headbutt, a spittoon with an anti-Northwestern symbol, a portrait of a caped Beckman charging the streets of Evanston in on an orange steed with a horse mustache, and a Russian Soviet-style poster with a legend that Beckman thought says "We Will Crush the Decadent Wildcat With Tractor-fists (it actually translates to "We Will Bring Hydroelectricity to the Republic of Turkmenistan.")

NEIL PINCE-NEZ: One has to be a skeptic of the list of Beckman objects.  There was something dark and sinister going on in the bowels of Memorial Stadium.  It wasn't just Soviet propaganda or headbutt planks, like you'll find in any college locker room.

DERRICK HARMS, Illini tackle, 2010-2013:  It was intense.  Rivalry is a big deal in college football. You're keyed up.  They're keyed up.  The fans are juiced up.  And the coach made it a point every year in training camp when he rented a decommissioned tank and drove it over a cardboard Evanston screaming GENTLEMEN, THE HAT.  But we just couldn't win it.

The feud reached its boiling point in 2014.  Northwestern and Illinois were both 5-7.  There was more than just state pride on the line.  Whoever won the game would go to a bowl game.  Whoever lost would stay home. A century of football animus had reached its apocalyptic zenith.

GABRIELLE MOLDOVA: For two weeks, every time we tried to run a story about any other Big Ten game, the comments just filled up with people talking about the Hat Game Bowl Game.

PAT FITZGERALD: There was a lot on the line in this game.  It was for our young men, for our seniors, a big game.  A chance to go 1-0 one last time.  Their young men, our young men, probably your young men were geared up to take it one game for this particular game, which hadn't yet been played one play at a time go 'cats.

The Illini prevailed and went to the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl.  Beckman disappeared with the Hat for weeks.  The Land of Lincoln Trophy spent the offseason under an armed guard of Lincoln impersonators.  But Beckman would not have a chance to defend it in Soldier Field.  He was fired only eight days from the start of the 2015 season.

Northwestern is 9-2 this season and ranked sixteenth in the country.  The 5-7 Illini once again need to beat Northwestern to become bowl-bound.

For months while reporting this story, Beckman and his attorneys refused to answer questions.  Two days before this story was published, I found a voicemail from Tim Beckman.  He refused any further contact.  The following is a transcript:


This article is dedicated to the memory of Neil Pince-Nez, who died in October in a tragic falconry accident.

Friday, November 20, 2015


Purdue football is a depressing morass of football ineptitude that nearly turned Ryan Field into an unimaginable house of horrors.  The Boilermakers managed to accomplish that with the dangerously plucky play of their football team and not by unleashing the pure creepy power of Purdue Pete, a mascot so unnerving that the students who portray him are invited to spend a semester abroad appearing briefly in mirrors in Japanese horror films.
Don't play this video or else seven days later you have to watch a Purdue 
football game

It is astonishing that decades of focus testing a mascot with a giant plastic head simultaneously wielding a hammer and the placid, blank expression of a loping movie slasher has made the current version of Purdue Pete the least harrowing.  Behold the 1960s version of Purdue Pete, who looks like a cross between a malevolent bad-trip Bob's Big Boy and a prescient antecedent to Frank from the movie Frank.
This really should be the new Purdue fight song

On Purdue's first play from scrimmage, Boiler quarterback David "The Bloughman's Crede" Blough hit a streaking receiver for a 68-yard bomb to tie the game and from there Purdue did not yield an inch.  At the half, the Wildcats clung to a 14-7 lead and had managed something like 19 passing yards, because the forward pass is an unmanful and unsporting instrument of deception.

The ineffective pass attack led to a miniature quarterback controversy.  Fitzgerald replaced quarterback Clayton Thorson with Zack Oliver after an egregious interception.  Oliver moved the ball somewhat more effectively until an equally egregious interception convinced the coaches to give Thorson another shot.  The quarterback rotation either showed a desperate attempt to spark the offense or a brilliant ploy by Mick McCall to use the fact that number 10 and 18 look similar enough on Northwestern's jerseys that the Purdue defense can be easily discombobulated by a classic quarterback switcheroo with the ultimate goal of convincing the opponent that any Northwestern player can become a quarterback at any time without warning.
McCall's substitutions ideally cause the opposition to yell out he's 
quarterback no he's quarterback no he's quarterback in the classic play 
known colloquially as the Reverse Quarterback Spartacus

Thorson recovered from his temporary benching to lead the Wildcats on the game-winning drive with his patented ungainly giraffe runs.  In the fourth quarter, a sleepy Northwestern defense came alive, keeping the Boilermakers out of the endzone.  There is little to learn from this game.  Purdue has given many Big Ten teams scares despite the team's moribund record, and Northwestern's offense continues to resemble a Rube Goldberg machine designed to manufacture punts.  Nevertheless, Northwestern is an unexpected 8-2 and any Northwestern fan who is disappointed should be immediately fitted with a Napoleon hat.  With two games to play, this is already the third-most successful team in the Pat Fitzgerald era.


After three consecutive wins, the Wildcats face their toughest challenge since Iowa on the road at Wisconsin.  The Badgers are also 8-2, and their only losses were to mighty Alabama and the undefeated Iowa juggernaut that is devouring the Big Ten West.  Wisconsin has flown under the radar this year, with some underwhelming wins and without the mesmerizing brilliance of Melvin Gordon who had one of the greatest seasons in the history of college football last year.

The Wildcats have their work cut out for them at Camp Randall.  They have not beaten Wisconsin there since the 2000 Damian Anderson game.  In fairness, the Badgers have not won in Evanston in the same period, which has to be the most confoundingly wonderful stat in college football considering the fact that Ryan Field is at best a neutral venue during Wisconsin games.  There are typically so many Wisconsin fans at Northwestern home games that the Wildcats appear to have been victims of a slick marketing scam that promised a home crowd and the customer service number is now a deli.

Last year, a ranked Wisconsin squad came to Ryan Field against a struggling Northwestern team at a time when Gordon threatened to explode for a touchdown every time he touched the ball.  Instead, the Badger coaches decided to put the ball in the hands of their quarterbacks Tanner McElvoy and Joel Stave, who had missed most of the season to that point struggling with the yips.  The 'Cats picked off four passes and had a tremendous game from Justin Jackson to secure the upset.
Joel Stave is shown celebrating the upset with his primary receiving 

This Wisconsin's team is markedly different.  Head Coach Gary Andersen departed for Oregon State and UW alumn Paul Chryst has come over from Pitt.  Stave has improved considerably and is enjoying a far better season.  Wisconsin's defense is as fearsome as Northwestern's and, though they lack a running back as terrifying as Gordon and starter Corey Clement will likely miss the game, there is no doubt the Wisconsin Badgers are going run the ball a ton because they ought to change their team name to the Wisconsin Running Behind 400-Pound Manifestations of the American Midwest.  The weather forecast calls for bitter cold and accumulated snow and is being televised on the Big Ten Network as the Big Tennest football event of the year as two running backs slam into defensive linemen for three hours in between commercials for extra-large men's pants.

Northwestern and Wisconsin have identical records and wildly different reactions to it.  Northwestern fans are giddy for the 8-2 season, even if both losses involved a systematic dismantling of the team into subatomic football particles.  The Badgers expected to effortlessly romp through the division-- during their opening game with Alabama, the broadcast put up a graphic of Wisconsin's schedule while the announcers cackled like televised von Schlieffens explaining how the forces of the Kaiser will trample unopposed across Western Europe.  Instead, Wisconsin lost the de facto Big Ten West championship game at home to Iowa in an unbearably ugly 10-6 game.  Wisconsin is heavily favored, but they, like Northwestern, are playing only for a shot at a "New Year's Six" bowl game.
"New Year's Six" is apparently a football term now as part of the Iron Law of College 
Football Terms that says they all have to sound like nineteenth-century anarchist regicide 

Northwestern will rely heavily on the defense and its running back trio of Justin Jackson (the ball! carrier!), Warren Long, and electric kickoff return man/receiving threat/hardbitten noir detective operating out of the Monadnock Building Solomon Vault.  Perhaps Godwin Igwebuike, who intercepted three Wisconsin passes last year, can continue to fool Wisconsin's quarterbacks into throwing to him by convincing them that he just spilled a bunch of purple gatorade on his jersey.  No matter what, it will be a difficult task to manage to scrape a victory in this series dominated by overwhelming home field advantage.


Northwestern basketball season has begun.  Chris Collins's third year features an intriguing mix of young players, but is led by two vestiges of the Bill Carmody era.  Those two are center Alex Olah, a bruising seven-footer from Romania who has quietly turned into one of the conference's best big men who is not temporarily hanging out in the Big Ten because the NBA won't let him in, and Tre Demps, an undersized gunning guard who specializes in insane clutch shots.

The Wildcats return sophomores Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsay and introduce sharp-shooting freshman Aaron Falzon.  These promising players, plus a forgiving out of conference schedule against an unending stream of Chicago Dental Colleges, should allow the 'Cats to rack up enough wins to contend for an NIT berth.  Unfortunately, their hopes of finally breaching the NCAA tournament took a big hit when Vic Law underwent season-ending shoulder surgery.  Law, a heralded Chicagoland recruit, seemed to come into his own at the end of last season and had fans excited for his next season.  His injury also seriously harms Chicago-area pun headline writers, who spent last week sadly filling notebooks filled with headlines such as "McIntosh reboots Northwestern's backcourt" or "Alex Olah says 'Adios' to backboard" before dramatically hurling a whiskey glass to the floor and storming out of The Siemian's Paw, Chicago's Big Ten sports pun headline bar.
Pun headline writers receive no solace from the news that freshman 
forward Dererk Pardon will redshirt this season

The NCAA Tournament is Northwestern's El Dorado.  Every November begins with a faint hope of making it in; every March reveals it to be mythical.  Before the Law injury, this season seemed like the best shot they've had since Shurna brought them within a Big Ten Tournament game of a shot.  Northwestern's weak non-conference slate does not help, nor does a season in the brutal Big Ten against some of the best teams in the country. 

Last year, Northwestern qualified for the College Basketball Invitational, a gray-market sub-NIT tournament that probably operates from illegal Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball rules, but the Wildcats declined to participate.  Northwestern declared that it was above such a lowly tournament. This was disappointing for fans of underground sporting events such as the CBI and illicit wrestling matches in which Bonesaw is ready.

Northwestern University does not officially endorse the use of any kind of saw

This Northwestern season gives fans an opportunity to see young players like McIntosh and Lindsay come into their own and send off two senior stalwarts.  A young, exciting team should bring out supporters.  There is no reason why Welsh-Ryan Arena, a tiny, ridiculous bleacher barn, should not become a tiny, ridiculous, sweat-soaked death barn filled with raucous fans actually cheering for Northwestern.  A pro-Northwestern crowd at a home game against Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, or Michigan would so discombobulate the visiting team they'd have no idea where they were and that would lead to at least one easy backcut layup.


Northwestern faces a tough challenge on the road at Wisconsin.  The Badgers are incredibly difficult to beat at Camp Randall and the game will be played in miserable cold and snowy conditions.  A Northwestern win would solidify them as the second-best team in the West and set them up for a potential New Year's bowl game.  A loss on the road against a good team would not be catastrophic.  We are only two weeks from Chicago's Big Ten Hat Vengeance Game at Soldier Field and the delightful, improbable, and terrifically fun season would be substantially dampened without reclaiming The Hat.

The Illini face a tough test on the road against an improved Minnesota team that gave Iowa all it could handle last week.  If the Illini falter, then the Hat Game will not only be for the Hat and a win in College Football's Greatest Rivalry Just Look at the Anti-Northwestern Merchandise, it will have an Illini bowl berth on the line.  Even though Northwestern and Illinois are sworn blood-rivals according to Tim Beckman's Clock, I've been rooting for them this season as they've played well in the midst of institutional chaos.  That all ends November 28th in the fog of Hat Rage.  All of Chicago will be watching this clash between Chicago's Big Ten Team and The Team That is Annoyed About Chicago's Big Ten Team Even Though Chicago's Big Ten Team is Pretty Much Every Big Ten Team But Northwestern and Illinois.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Week 11: Clocks

This week, the Playoff Committee released its newest rankings which, we should all remember, remain entirely meaningless at this stage. For example, the Playoff Committee could rank Purdue at #2, just ahead of Faber College and Texas State (not the Texas State in San Marcos, but the one carried to glory by a chemistry graduate student with NCAA eligibility played by Sinbad in Necessary Roughness) and it would not matter one bit until the Playoff Selection Committee selects the actual playoff teams.There is still no explanation as to why the Playoff Committee spends much of the season as the Sure, These Teams Might Make The Playoffs Committee.

The current Texas State had previously been Southwest 
 Texas State and originated as Southwest Texas State 
 Normal School. Lyndon Johnson attended and, 
according to Robert Caro, immediately turned the 
student government into a polarized hotbed of political 
intrigue before he went on to the White House to deploy 
the the Great Society and perfect a 
bunghole-sensitive pants ordering procedure 

The playoff picture once again revolves around Northwestern. The Wildcats own the only defeat against #7 Stanford, while they were obliterated by the undefeated fifth-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes. The Cardinal, however, remain in the playoff hunt. Playoff Committee Chairman Jeff Long explained that Stanford's loss to Northwestern counts less than other losses because the arduous journey from the California Bay Area to Evanston wreaked havoc on the players' body clocks. 
I think we would not be doing our due diligence if we didn't recognize that a team was playing at 9 a.m. Pacific Time, and I recall last year we had a game, I believe UCLA traveled to Virginia. So we look at those things. They're a factor. How big of a factor? I can't quantify that for you, but I know it was discussed by the committee members and probably should have been. 
There is no other satisfying explanation for a loss to Northwestern. It was the beguiling Central Time Zone, conceived of by midwestern railroad barons specifically for football purposes, that made Stanford players incapable of tackling Clayton Thorson or stopping Kevin Hogan from lofting a passes to Kyle Queiro in the endzone.

Ryan Field's dozens of home fans and aggressive tarp arrays already bring the Big Ten's
fiercest home field advantage, but what can teams do when the very laws of time and space
are brought to bear on their helpless players?

It is a good thing that the Playoff Committee is here to sift through the unpredictable and impossible riddle of college football and come up with rankings that factor in time zones, humors, and phrenological analyses of quarterback skull shapes to throw into chaotic mix.

"I think we would not be doing our due diligence
if we didn't recognize that the quarterback's
forehead indicated docility and inability to diagnose
defenses at the point of the snap is a factor when
arbitrarily determining a list of good football teams
because 45% of power in the Southeastern United
States is generated by people yelling at Paul
Finebaum," Long said

The issue of body clocks has obscured the week's more important clock revelation. The University of Illinois released the full Beckman Report. The report, available in full here, is more than 1,200 pages long. Under the heading "Team Culture and Environment," the Beckman Clock is revealed, an ominous Instrument of Intimidation that counts down to the Hat showdown between the Illini and "The Team Upstate."

Time is a hat circle

Here is the report's sixty-fifth footnote that might be my favorite thing ever written about Tim Beckman:
Some players complained that Coach Beckman’s requirement that injured players wear purple jerseys and placement of an anti-Northwestern sign in the athletic training room improperly communicated to players that being injured or seeking medical treatment was the equivalent of being a hated rival, at least to Coach Beckman. The vast majority of players, coaches, and sports medicine staff interviewed dismissed any such notions and reported no concern or even interest in either issue. Instead, witnesses interpreted these motivational tactics as meaningless.

Penn State faced numerous obstacles coming into Ryan Field. For one, they bravely transitioned from Eastern Time to Central Time. Then, they had to face the Wildcat defense. For most of the first half, Northwestern stymied the Nittany Lion attack. After an injury to Clayton Thorson, Justin Jackson took over, going for 186 yards on the day. Northwestern led 20-7 at the half, with at least one other scoring opportunity sailing past the uprights. But in the second half, Penn State came back. On one drive, the 'Cats got a stop only to give their opponents second life with consecutive roughing calls on a punter and a sliding quarterback. Then, wide receiver Geno Lewis picked up a fumbled reverse like an Australian Rules football player and heaved a perfect pass to his colleague in the endzone.

Jack Mitchell's missed extra point gave Penn State the slimmest lead in the fourth quarter. But when the defense stuffed Saquon Barkley and backup quarterback Zack Oliver managed to complete a long pass on third and the approximate distance between Evanston and Happy Valley, Mitchell got a chance to win the game. Jackson moved the ball effectively into range and Mitchell blasted one through the uprights for a thrilling comeback. Penn State got the ball back with nine seconds, in which they did nothing. This unfortunate turn of events stymied reporters' efforts to call it a walk-off kick because Jack Mitchell plays baseball and the Iron Law of Sports Announcing clearly states that if an athlete plays another sport, it is necessary to shoehorn that into broadcasts as much as humanly possible until viewers want to declare that they play a second sport of kumite fighting and are going to travel to the press box and pummel some godforsaken Joe Buck acolyte.

Sports announcers were probably responsible for Pro
Stars, a cartoon product where Michael Jordan, Bo
Jackson, and Wayne Gretzky used their sports skills to
defeat the forces of evil in lairs that, because of the
participation of Gretzky, always inexplicably contained
at least one large sheet of smooth ice

Clocks once again played a central role in the game. Penn State coach James Franklin deployed an avant-garde use of timeouts during the final minute, inexplicably allowing the 'Cats to run the clock down instead of allowing his offense about 30-40 seconds to get into field goal range on their final possession. Some Penn State fans took exception to his clock management and responded in the best way possible: by flying into an incoherent rage on the internet. Something about college football turns ordinary men and women into capricious space emperors, ready to cast out coaches, athletic directors, and anyone else involved in the football team into the space pits used for henchman and failed head coaches of as-yet-uninvented space sports.

The entire apparatus of a university is not safe from the wrath of football fans. Nebraska supporters, already reeling from a streak of improbably close losses including one at the hands of Northwestern, suffered the ultimate indignity of a loss to Purdue. Purdue fans spent the week confused, like they were henchmen who managed to kill Batman in the first 20 minutes of a movie and then had to figure out with the next two and a half hours. Nebraska's most unhinged fringe sent e-mails to the university chancellor. Every fanbase, including Northwestern I'm sure, has its epistolary football maniacs, but not every fanbase had their letters conveniently loaded onto the Worldwide Web so we can see internet comments brought into the Academy for the first time outside of a seminar entitled UNCALLED HOLDING PENALTIES: Discourses of Internet Football Commentary, this moderator is a joke and MUST BE FIRED IMMEDIATELY by the Department of Internet Football Semiotics.

Purdue faces Northwestern at Ryan Field on Saturday. The Boilermakers suffered a 48-14 shellacking at the hands of the Illini last week. Purdue fans have gone past pessimism and resignation to a rarefied football nihilism, staring stoically at another touchdown drive that means nothing. The Wildcats are heavy favorites in the game. At the same time, the appeal of college football is its unpredictability; it is a sport fueled by improbable upsets, jubilant goalpost-handling, and sour-faced upset victims staring despondently into the unknown. Purdue will rely on its strength: the Big Ten's greatest reserve of really scrappy-sounding quarterback names. Darrell Hazell will has benched Austin Appleby for freshman David Blough, both of whom train by having Purdue Pete burst through the walls in their lecture halls and chase them around campus on one of those old-timey railroad handcars. There are no guarantees in college football except that a Purdue win will result in a liveried footman delivering my angry scroll letter to Northwestern's president demanding he turn in his University President’s Sword.


College football is the story of desperate teams running into each other at the mercy of a callous clock. Teams can stop the clock, they can eat clock, they can kill the clock. In the end, only the clock decides when the game ends, unless the game ends on an insane series of laterals with zero time remaining and then there is no time, everyone is simply floating in an ether beyond the concept of time itself between the fourth quarter and infinity, inscrutable to even our most learned scientists, philosophers, and ACC video replay officials.

Our clocks are oblivion devices, counting down to our inevitable demise one picosecond at a time. There is no way to stop or reverse time; our regrets remain alive and the dinosaurs remain dead. Stanford can do nothing about its loss to Northwestern except complain about body clocks, James Franklin can't get those 30 seconds back, and the Beckman Clock is always counting down to the next Hat Game on the horizon.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Week 10: Playoff Picture

Well, the College Football Playoff Committee has come out of its walnut-lined antechambers and released  their rankings.  There's still a month left of college football action, and the rankings have essentially no meaning, yet here we are, in a world where college football playoff rankings have been released with the subtle dignity of an Imperial Durbar.

The Delhi Durbar of 1903, marking the ascension of Edward VII to the throne with an 
elephant and pith helmet party  

What is the best college football team in the country?  There are three polls that tell you.  The Associated Press poll ranks the top 25 teams in the country and is voted on by a panel of newspaper men selected on the quality of the old-timey reporter hat they wear in their newspaper column photographs.  The College Football Playoff poll is compiled by ten people involved in collegiate athletics, a former USA today reporter, a retired Air Force general with "3,261 flying hours," and a former Secretary of State whose expertise on the Soviet Union has given her unparalleled insight into the byzantine bureaucracy of bowl subdivision football. The Coach's Poll is not actually filled out by anyone and appears, fully formed, on the desk of a USA today sports editor every Sunday written on crumbling vellum and enclosed in a hollowed-out mastodon femur.


What is the best college football team in the country?  The best way to tell is through head-to-head competition.  Unfortunately, there are few opportunities to set up games directly between the best teams.  Instead, the preferred method is innuendo, insults, shaky applications of the transitive property, arguments about the strength of conferences that are not entirely but still sort of fueled by residual Civil War animus, and screaming at people.

What is the best college football team in the country?  The best way to tell is to take a playoff committee of randomly-selected bureaucrats and put them in a conference room where they change into tunics and headbands, take psychedelic drugs, and hallucinate football games that cannot happen.  "I see Alabama taking the lead against Clemson by turning themselves into a swarm of bees that move to the score of a pipe organ played by an octopus made of colors," one says.  "I see Notre Dame and Ohio State, wait I don't see them anymore now it's a really graphic depiction of the conception of a griffin with the roars and screeches and I can't look away," says another.  "Third and three and it's a dive play up the middle for a first down, great block by the right guard," says Barry Alvarez.

What is the best college football team in the country?  Fuck it, it's probably Alabama.  It's always Alabama.


We are still a month away from the end of college football season, and the Football Bowl Subdivision is a smoldering heap of fired coaches.  Two coaches have retired mid-season: Jerry Kill has left Minnesota because of health concerns; Steve Spurrier just threw up his arms, said fuck it, and immediately left South Carolina to shirtlessly drive dune buggies around golf courses and yell PLAYING THROUGH before showering unsuspecting foursomes with empties.  Al Golden was fired after angry Miami alumni demanded it through a series of airplane-borne banners in much the same way they buzzed an MLA convention to demand a new vice provost.  Maryland fired Randy Edsall, who spent weeks attempting to avoid detection by hanging out on the sidelines of Maryland football games. Former Illini coach and man who woke every morning to shake his fist in the direction of Evanston Tim Beckman lost his job shortly before the season.

The only thing college football fans enjoy more than winning is ousting a struggling coach.  For one, college football coaches have an enormous effect on programs from recruiting players to setting strategies, to gland-handing administrators and pretending to care about what some old cigar-chomping, ostrich boot-wearing, scowling, combed-over plutocrat has to say about running the option in an effort to convince him or her to donate millions of dollars for new facilities in the ludicrous college sports facilities arms race. 
College football coaches, millionaire tyrants on the practice field, whose visages are splashed 
across local papers and who leverage their fame into lucrative local commercials bereft of 
dignity, have their jobs depend on the largesse of a person with a name like "T. Boone Pickens."

When a program sputters into a futile, bowl-less wilderness or, for a big-time team, stops winning a national championship every year (the Unacceptable Valley, named for fans using the word UNACCEPTABLE on radio shows, message boards, and other places where otherwise rational human beings temporarily transform themselves into professional wrestlers), firing the coach cuts the head off the snake slowly squeezing the life out of the program. In addition, football or basketball coaches at public universities are, without exception, the highest paid public employees in each state, and demanding that they are fired for losing to a MAC team is the closest thing that Americans have to accountability for their public officials.


It's a battle of two-loss teams at Ryan Field as Penn State attempts to avenge last year's cruel bludgeoning at the hands of Northwestern.  The Wildcats won that game 29-6, the worst Nittany Lion home loss since the legendary 2001 Miami Hurricanes crushed them 33-7.  Northwestern's win over Penn State involved my favorite play of all time, the Manchurian Linemandidate, when a Penn State lineman blocked a teammate into oblivion allowing the Wildcat defense to swarm in and erased the running back from the face of the Earth.

The look of determination on number 72's face as he executes a textbook block against an 
enormous man whose only thought is "why are you blocking me, I'm your friend" makes this 
an all-time great Northwestern sports gif that does not involve Pat Fitzgerald contorting 
himself into a Jim Carrey The Mask face

Penn State James Franklin has never beaten Northwestern.  The 'Cats beat Vanderbilt twice in a row (though Franklin was only coach for the second game), and then the Commodores canceled a home-and-home series with the Mighty Wildcats of Northwestern because of scheduling concerns, a hollow excuse that Franklin and the athletic department used out of cowardice, the terrifying image of the Colter/Siemian monster rampaging through his nightmares.  In 2014, the very year the Commodores were scheduled to steam up to Evanston, Franklin jumped ship.  He took over Penn State.  Some might say that Franklin left a tough job at a Northwestern-like private school with little history of football success in the ridiculously tough SEC conference to run what had been one of the great programs in college football.  From a different angle, though, his strategy was clear.  Much like how Dutch monarch William of Orange married into British royalty and then used the resources of the British Empire against his arch-nemesis Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, James Franklin clearly accepted the Penn State job for one reason only: to one day ride into Evanston with a highly-touted quarterback and stout defense and finally do what the lowly Commodores could not and crush the Wildcats in their own stadium while checking Northwestern's claims on the Duchy of Savoy.

William and Louis's rivalry was marked by massive European wars, fierce mercantile trade 
policies, and an unceasing competition to build the largest and most elaborate Cape Swirling 
Rooms in their respective estates

Northwestern shrugged off its tough losses to Michigan and Iowa with a close win over a terrible Nebraska team.  They are coming off a desperately-needed bye week for an injury-riddled squad.  Cornerback Matthew Harris, who leads Northwestern in interceptions, for example, is expected to return after recovering from a broken face.  Nevertheless, the 'Cats face a tall order against one of the country's best defenses.  There is no doubt that the Wildcat defense can give Northwestern a chance to win, even against a superstar quarterback like the Nittany Lions' Christian Hackenberg.  They will stand little chance, though, if they spend the entire game attempting to stop him after a series of sputtering three-and-outs from the offense. Nebraska could not stop Clayton Thorson from gradually loping down the field, and that made the difference last game.  This week, Thorson has a chance to show he can move the ball through the air for a whole game and lead the 'Cats to another big upset in front of thousands of screaming tarp enthusiasts.  Or, Penn State lineman can heroically block each other at inopportune times enough for a Northwestern win.

The stakes between these two unexpectedly decent Big Ten teams are not particularly high.  Both teams would need an astounding confluence of events to propel them to the Lucrative Conference Championship Game.  The winner will probably enter the top 25 poll.  These teams, however, are mainly jockeying for bowl position, which will tend to be disregarded by bowl committees eager to throw in for the biggest Football Brand they can attract regardless of record, with bowl representatives stuck with Northwestern over a bigger school due to arcane bowl selection rules forced to impotently stand around in their bowl selection command centers and hurl pottery at their  butlers and footmen in fits of rage.  Most importantly, though, Northwestern is playing to frustrate the designs of James Franklin, who will be forced to once again retreat to his lavish traveling quarters and angrily stab daggers into maps.


After five weeks of excitement, Northwestern's pipe playoff dreams fell apart with two crushing losses.  One the one hand, it is disappointing that the Wildcats have fallen off the radar.  It is much more fun to beat Iowa and Michigan while Jim Harbaugh throws Daffy Duck tantrums on the sidelines than see those teams nonchalantly dispatch them.

A dramatic reconstruction of the Northwestern-Michigan game

On the other hand, it is liberating to escape the inscrutable machinations of the Playoff Committee, the next step in college football's arbitrary method of choosing a champion. Fans of teams with a legitimate claim wait on tenterhooks every week for the Committee to emerge and welcome that team to the Promised Land of lucrative playoff football or get cast out into the dustbin of the Holiday Bowl, and this goes on for a literal month before the rankings actually mean anything and no one has been able to explain why this happens other than the Playoff Committee enjoys issuing pronouncements.  

Meanwhile, Northwestern's season is far from over.  There are still four games remaining, and the 'Cats can still put together a memorable season.  They are going bowling.  They have an opportunity to force James Franklin to leave Evanston shaking his fist.  And, somewhere over the horizon, just visible if we squint, the Hat is out there, Chicago's Big Ten Rivalry Trophy to be seized within the city limits themselves and not just in Chicago's Big Ten El-Connected Suburb.  Welcome to big time college football, Bill Cubit.  Give us our damn hat and we'll be on our way.