Friday, September 30, 2016


For the second consecutive week, Northwestern ended up in a 24-13 game because of a missed extra point.  This time, though, Nebraska came out on top by taking over in the second half and Northwestern plummeted to 1-3 with a brutal Big Ten schedule looming.

The Wildcats got another strong game from Austin Carr, but the injury-riddled defense still struggled against tenure-track professor Tommy Armstrong, who has been the Huskers' quarterback for seven years.  The best play for Northwestern's defense was the goal-line fumble as Nebraska players repeatedly had touchdowns turn into touchbacks.  The fumble in the endzone, which may well have cost Northwestern the game against Western Michigan, is college football's most ludicrously punitive play.  The only thing more damaging would be for a goal-line fumble to result in the guards from Legends of the Hidden Temple appearing and escorting the offending player out of the game unless he can provide them with a pendant won from answering multiple choice questions about previous events in the football game.

The NCAA has not yet adopted this rule because there are so few places for a guard to jump 
out: the guy fumbles in the endzone and hey nobody look behind the goalpost, oh there he is
(unless they start disguising guards as members of the chain gang or the mascot or maybe 
even the endzone grass itself, wait a minute this is actually a fantastic idea, let's call it 
Legends and Leaders of the Hidden Temple)

Northwestern fans in the stands were once again treated to the deafening cacophony of thousands of invading Nebraska fans, which made the stakes higher.  The Wildcats have never defeated Nebraska in Evanston; both victories have come on the road, where a small guerrilla detachment of Northwestern fans managed to disrupt the Nebraska offense by constantly mentioning to every single human being they encounter how few of them there are at the stadium in the tradition of the attendance reports trumpeted by literally every single Nebraska fan who has ever come to Evanston.

We get it

The schedule does not get any easier from here as Northwestern deals with the representatives of the Big Ten title game on the road in consecutive weeks.


Two Big Ten Teams have fallen to FCS opponents in the same season twice, according to five minutes of research I just did.  To no one's surprise, both involved Northwestern.  In 2006, the Wildcats were demolished by Chip Kelly's New Hampshire team that I assume was stocked with future NFL hall-of-famers while Indiana lost to Southern Illinois.  Much to the disappointment of the then-nascent Big Ten Network, the teams did not meet during the season, although I think they should have been allowed to have a quasi-bowl game on a closed-off section of the 80/94 Corridor.  This year, Northwestern and Iowa will meet at Kinnick Field after Iowa lost to FCS juggernaut North Dakota State, which does nothing but win championships and beat FBS teams and Northwestern lost to Illinois State which is also an FCS team and therefore both losses are exactly the same.

The Hawkeyes not the world-devouring force from last year where they destroyed the Big Ten West, nearly won the conference title, and got destroyed in the Rose Bowl by a Stanford team unleashed by a complete lack of Body Clock issues.  They followed their loss to NDSU with an uninspiring 14-7 victory over Rutgers. 

Still, Iowa can afford to worry about style points when they are 3-1 and facing a struggling version of a team they mangled last year on the road.  They will be heavily favored, and Northwestern will have to find another gear that they've lacked all season to pull off the upset.  On the other hand, the Wildcats have played poorly enough that an improbable victory would cause Iowa City to collapse into a paroxysm of complaints about uncalled holding penalties, a grand Pynchonian conspiracy of holding calls dating back to a medieval society of holders called Societatis Capto who have melted into American society, becoming government officials and heads of companies who hide their secret veneration of holding in the texts of plays and radio shows and psychedelic rock music and the entire art of football refereeing, which on this Saturday and only this Saturday, results in a free for all of uncalled holding penalties and you can tell all of this is going on when all of the officials have names like Oblong Whistlelung, Steak Ligament, and Flesh Harbaugh.

Uncalled holding depicted on the 
Bayeux Tapestry


In The World That Never Was, Alex Butterworth tries to unravel the multifarious strands of revolutionary philosophies, internecine revolutionary fighting, terror cells, secret police organizations, and agents-provacateurs across Europe from the rise of the Paris Commune to the First World War.  It's an ambitious book, not least because a lot of the activity he describes comes from criminal conspiracies and secret police operations with no desire to create official records and so riven with double-dealing on both sides that it is impressive that he, and other historians of the period, have been able to piece together any sort of narrative.

At times, the book, which spans decades and countries and oft-competing revolutionary ideologies can get a bit muddled.  It can be difficult to keep track of the writers, agents, counter-agents, and government officials, even with the endless, intimidating "dramatis personae" glossary of people at the beginning of the book.  Butterworth, though, sticks with a half-dozen or so major characters who keep cropping up and anchor the rest of the events around their shifting perspectives and allegiances.  There's a lot this book tells us about the emergence of modern terrorism and the state police surveillance apparatus that grew to combat it and how all of these things get mixed into the historical record when it suits states to distort it.  But this is a profoundly dumb blog about college football, and I'm going to focus on inept aristocratic counterintelligence organizations and sword duel entrapment plots.

Russia's Holy Brotherhood formed in the wake of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. The members of the organization styled themselves as a secret counterintelligence unit to counter the radical groups that had planned the deadly attack on Alexander and other officials. It also featured some masonic and secret society undertones, presumably because its members wanted cool robes. Butterworth describes them differently, as a small and bumbling unit of Yacht Club aristocrats and characterized their plots as "illegal and reality little more than than the superannuated adolescent fantasies of men who should have known better."  The plots included dispatching femmes fatales to marry and then murder enemies and publishing fake radical newspapers that urged readers to acts so transparently preposterous (exploding cattle, for example) that no one took them seriously.  

Alexander II had survived numerous bombing attempts by the People's 
Will before they hurled explosives at his carriage and killed him in 1881  

The greatest plot that the Holy Brotherhood concocted targeted the venerable Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin and French provocateur Henri Rochefort.  The Brotherhood planned to hire expert swordsmen to provoke the two men into duels and then slice them to ribbons with their suddenly revealed sword-fighting skills.  Kropotkin heard about the plot and leaked it to journalists. The plan made a bit more sense with Rochefort, whose wild-eyed duel-mongering keeps popping up throughout the book.  As Butterfield describes it, it is hard to see where he got the time for his work of running incendiary newspapers, fleeing the New Caledonia prison colony, and exchanging his radical ideals for anti-Semitic authoritarianism when he was constantly swordfighting at people. A former Communard, angered by Rochefort's ideological shift, glove-slaps him in a carriage. Rochefort is accused of post-duel extracurricular stabbing.  Rochefort goes to Belgium specifically to duel people because Britain and France had banned the practice and apparently he used the sand dunes outside Ostend as his personal swordfight thunderdome.

I'm just trying to imagine how this plan would go: The swordfighter walks 
up to the target and pokes him with his cane or throws some wine on him 
or tells him his writing is florid and ungrammatical and then they start 
glove-slapping and several days later they meet up on a Belgian sand dune, 
with the target not having researched the man who has insulted him even 
though he knows there are legions of ostensible swordfight experts waiting 
to skewer him and then they get surrounded by seconds and weirdo 
swordfight enthusiasts guys and they throw off their overcoats and their 
spats and all of a sudden the swordfight guy is doing all sorts of fancy swinging-
the- sword-around moves and Rochefort or Kropotkin thinks to himself oh shit 
they've got me this time: it's a sword guy

The Holy Brotherhood occupies a tiny slice of the actual sinister plotting in Russia's Okhrana and other secret police organizations in Europe.  Butterworth describes how agents infiltrating organizations at times put into motion and sometimes carried out bombings and murders just to worm deeper into organizations.  By the end of the nineteenth century, the line between crimes perpetuated by revolutionary organizations and police organizations ostensibly against them had blurred considerably.    


The Wildcats have their work cut out for them against Iowa on Saturday.  Perhaps the defense can find some of its 2015 form in time to slow an Iowa rushing attack.  Maybe Thorson and Carr can continue to add some life to Northwestern's passing attack.  Perhaps Northwestern has been holding back this entire time, like a hypothetical nineteenth-century swordsman only trying to provoke the Hawkeyes into a duel and then revealing themselves as expert football men and then it will be too late for Iowa, stunned by a fancy passing attack and ferocious defense and dozens of impossible field goals.  Even a struggling Northwestern team is due for a ridiculous upset every season.  Unless they're saving it for Ohio State.


Purple Flag on Saturday said...

The exploding cattle gambit (swings tip of index finger past nose).
Got it.
(Stretch, flex arms up over shoulders and yawn-speak) load up on the 'Cats tomorrow.

Michael T. “Billy” Squier said...

Once again. Pure gold.

Michael T. “Billy” Squier said...

Also, was looking the sword-duel-gambit was working for a bit there.

Michael T. “Billy” Squier said...

Kirk Ferentz thinks to himself oh shit they've got me this time: it's Trae Williams