Friday, October 28, 2016


After two weeks, Northwestern looked doomed to a miserable season of weekly clobberings by even the Big Ten's most abysmal teams.  Now,  they're 4-2 and sitting in second place in the Big Ten West, their offense has looked at times unstoppable, and they are in a sound position to make a bowl game; none of this seemed possible when an Illinois State field goal bonked off the goalpost, that Northwestern would knock off the admittedly reeling participants in last year's Lucrative Conference Championship Game in simultaneous weeks and spend 30 minutes rampaging against Indiana in a maniacal offensive spree.

The first half of the game, Northwestern mangled the Hoosiers.  Clayton Thorson threw over them unchecked.  Austin Carr, who leads the Big Ten in every meaningful receiving category, scooted around the defense.  The offensive line flattened the defense for Justin Jackson to run over them, and the Wildcats raced out to a 24-3 halftime lead.

After halftime, though, Indiana's defense reappeared.  They shut out Northwestern and the Wildcats spent the entire time desperately clinging to a shrinking lead.  Hoosier linemen who spent the first half driven into the turf now walled off Jackson's running lines; defensive backs flummoxed by the receivers now found themselves in better positions.

As Indiana narrowed the gap, the Wildcats defense managed to stop them on numerous fourth downs and with turnovers.  Montre Hardage ripped a ball from a Hoosier receiver.  Kyle Queiro, with one hand encased in a protective club, leaped up and made a one-handed interception that might be the single greatest individual defensive play I've ever seen from a Northwestern player with a club hand, claw hand, or hook hand that he uses to spear interceptions and appear suddenly in the back seat of cars.

Who knows what shifted in halftime to make Northwestern's offense go from an unstoppable touchdown machine to a broken-down touchdown machine heaving exhaust and barfing oil at its own 35-yard-line in the second half.  But Northwestern will need its best offensive performance to keep the pressure on the looming ogre of the Big Ten this weekend.


Northwestern has bullied its last three Big Ten opponents, but now they have to go face big, bad Ohio State in the Horseshoe.  The last time these two teams met was during a primetime ESPN Gameday showdown in Evanston, as the ranked Wildcats faced off against the Buckeyes in a Football Apocalypse.  That did not end well.  Northwestern stayed in the game, but lost even though Kain Colter got that first down and I have been passing out hastily-xeroxed literature about it at Ryan Field weekly ever since to spread awareness of the vast refereeing conspiracy that meets by flickering torchlight, an ancient order that has been denying crucial first downs to generations of Colters.  After that game, the Wildcats spiraled into a ludicrous string of misfortunes that all blend together in a montage of ill-timed interceptions, overtimes, hail marys, and footballs adversely bouncing into a sea of opponent arms as the Wildcats plummeted from undefeated and ranked into a melancholy bowl-bereft winter.

Now, Ohio State is coming off its first loss of the season, a shocking upset at the hands of Penn State. There are two ways this can affect the Buckeyes.  It is possible that Penn State, and a Wisconsin team that had taken them to overtime the week before, have shown some weaknesses in what appeared to be an unstoppable juggernaut on the way to the playoff.  On the other hand, the loss may have refocused the team and whipped them into a football frenzy, with the entire organization from the Athletic Director to the coaching staff to the towel-wrangling student managers unwilling to contemplate anything other than defeating Northwestern and slipping into Jon Gruden's Disease where they are unable to express anything without slipping into a bizarre football argot.

                        THREE Z IF YOU SEE THEM IN ZONE COVERAGE.
GROCERY CLERK: Sir, the question was is this your signature

Northwestern has not beaten Ohio State since 2004.  They have not beaten Ohio State in Columbus since 1971 because their plan has disappeared. 

Last known image of the man entrusted with Northwestern's 
plans to win football games in Columbus

The Buckeyes will be heavy favorites in this game.  Northwestern still remains inconsistent and still relies on young defensive backs learning on the fly.  Ohio State still remains a national championship contender while Northwestern fans will be delighted with a berth in the A1 Refurbished Ball Bearing Bowl, and the Buckeyes' roster is filled with Mr. Footballs and All-Americans and future NFL stars. But this is college football where the inevitable occasionally yields to the jubilantly improbable.


The Bulls season is on the horizon after a complete rebuild of the team.  Gar Forman and John Paxson built the team using the vaunted Guys You've Heard Of blueprint to bring in a hobbling Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, whose basketball career has devolved into something like the TV show Kung Fu except he wanders the Earth seeking assists and moves on after he's alienated everyone on the team.  It should be remarkably entertaining because it has been designed for disaster perfectly, like the first part of the monster movie.

A million basketblogging Goldblums simultaneously uh um huh hey
the Three Alphas problem and next thing you know, Hoiberg is running for 
his life through a United Center kitchen and complaining about minutes 
and touches

Rondo nicknamed himself, Wade, and Bulls star Jimmy Butler the Three Alphas, and I can't think of a better nickname for the inevitable way this team will collapse upon itself.  It's poetic.  It's a Greek Tragedy.  There hasn't been a better nickname-as-mechanism for destruction since some jabroni swingman would call himself the Jordan Stopper and then get violently dunked upon and tongue-wagged and probably forced to endure some other heretofore unknown form of insane Jordan vengeance like him hiring a team of evil psychologists to disguise themselves as sports therapists and convince the erstwhile Jordan Stopper to unearth some memory of a childhood fear like of clowns or bats or clown-bats and then break into his house as a clown-bat and then use that moment of terror to hustle him at some exotic, illegal except in international waters gambling game.

Jordan Stopper Gerald Wilkins was last seen 
cleaned out on a cruise ship in a complex card game 
called Purser's Rummy

The team's strong-willed personalities combined with a coach who seems like he calls people a "grumpy gus" are not the only problems with the Bulls.  Their style of play remains completely and utterly mystifying.  While the NBA's successful teams trend towards utilizing space and shooting, the Bulls have three ball-dominant guards who like to slash to the basket or, in the case of Rondo, refuse to shoot without a resolution from the UN Security Council.  The Bulls plan to play retrograde anti-basketball, where their best hope to stop the other team will be to so aesthetically offend them that they walk off the court in a fit of disbelief, like the likely exaggerated stories of people storming out of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées at the premier of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.  The Bulls doubled down on this philosophy by trading Tony Snell for Michael Carter-Williams, a long-limbed brick artist.  The Bulls' best shooter will be Doug McDermott, who defends as if he has just been dropped in a Running Man situation and has no idea that Professor Sub Zero is coming after him with a sharpened hockey stick.

(I wrote this all before the Bulls rode an insanely hot-shooting Wade 
against the Boston Celtics and Wade uncorked the meanest non-Garnett 
mug anyone in the NBA has seen and now I'm all in on the Three Alphas)

The Bulls' top players are talented enough to make the playoffs in the abysmal Eastern Conference.  Even if they remain relatively cohesive, even if they aren't sniping at each other through bloggers aligned with each Alphas' camp, even if Fred Hoiberg hasn't been driven back to Iowa into the welcoming arms of seed magnate boosters, even if Rondo hasn't become so toxic that he is being introduced at the United Center in one of those Hannibal Lecter masks, the future of the Bulls is uncertain.  They have a few promising young players, several not particularly promising young players and Butler under contract for the next four years.  The Bulls are not set up to win anything in the near future, but the Three Alphas era should give us some memorably hideous basketball and intrigue from the reliably dysfunctional front office to entertain us through the entire miserable winter.


It's a weekend of upsets as Northwestern attempts to change the season from delightful surprise to shocking West contender.  There's been a lot of work by sports analysts to take the guesswork out of sports as analytics has moved from the basement to million-dollar front offices.  But unpredictability remains the bedrock of sports-- I'm sure every stat in the universe has Northwestern getting drawn and quartered by the Buckeyes, but who knows? Maybe they can pull off a ridiculous upset.  It's not the only improbable Chicago sports scenario.  Maybe the Three Alphas can get past their bizarre, retrograde basketball stylings and fight through the front office meddling to become a factor in the East.  And maybe the Cubs can somehow pull off an upset against the larger forces of the universe and win a World Series how am I typing this sentence.      

Friday, October 21, 2016

Week 8: Polked Them

Last week, this website's comprehensive football analytics department crunched the numbers and decided this game would be a low-scoring contest governed by the old slogan "Who Punts Wins."  Instead, the 'Cats and Spartans got into an old-fashioned touchdown hootenanny, with Northwestern putting literally more points on Michigan State at home than any other team in history, continuing last game's offensive explosion and sending the reeling Spartans' season into a potentially bowlless death spiral.

The game started sourly with the Spartans' freshman quarterback leading them to a quick score. Then, they capitalized on a quick interception to throw Northwestern in a 14-0.  But the Wildcats clawed back as Michigan State defenders could not tackle Justin Jackson, and the defense asserted itself, most notably when Joe Gaziano and Brian Lawerke painstakingly recreated this stirring Samuel L. Jackson monologue scene.

The second half then was, to use a technical football term, completely bonkers.  Northwestern's offense, led by Jackson, Clayton Thorson, and emerging star receiver Austin Carr, rampaged through the Spartan defense.  Senior quarterback Tyler O'Connor came back into the game and immediately sparked his offense with the Dread Rex Grossman playbook of hucking it up to R.J, Shelton.  This worked twice-- once when a well-positioned Godwin Igwebuike inadvertently tipped it to him and another time when Shelton outraced Northwestern's coverage.  The Spartans cut the lead to two and then immediately gave up a kickoff return touchdown a zig-zagging Solomon Vault.

Michigan State never got closer.  Thorson sealed the game with a fourth-down touchdown pass to Carr, Northwestern held on for their third win, and Big Ten Network technicians powered Matt Millen down and loaded him on the truck for his next appearance where he'll be booted up and ready to explain that in football, you've got to protect the quarterback, right here, on this third down


Fifty-four forty or fight, the popular American saber-rattling slogan to claim a large chunk of the Pacific Northwest, is most associated with the James K. Polk's presidential campaign.  Though Polk never saw a piece of North American territory that he personally did not want to claim by personally bayoneting people, the slogan itself dates from after his campaign.  Polk used different slogans such as "He Will Not Die Almost Instantaneously" and "Let's Annex Texas, They Probably Won't Secede Within 20 Years."

Polk invented a new strategy of hiring speakers to go up to 
people on the street, talking about what Henry Clay says 
he's for, then screaming WOM and thrusting this picture 
into their face

While doing rigorous, scholarly research for this predictable on-brand section, I did come across a bizarre aside in Wikipedia.  Whoever edited the article on the Oregon Boundary Dispute felt it was vital to include this information: "Relations were improved when the officers organised a ball at Vancouver on 3 February 1846, later theatrical performances by the ship's crew, including Love in a Village and The Mock Doctor, along with picnics."

Here is how a Wikipedia editor describes The Mock Doctor: "The Mock Doctor: or The Dumb Lady Cur'd was the replacement for The Covent-Garden Tragedy as the companion play to The Old Debauchees."

The play, written by Henry Fielding in 1732 and based on Molière's The Doctor In Spite of Himself, involves a feuding couple where the wife gets revenge on her husband through the oldest trick in English literature-- convincing some footmen that he is a world-class doctor.

The famous beating a man until he admits he's a doctor scene, full text available here

The play involves, as far as I can tell, the main character relishing his quackery and prescribing herbs and bloodlettings and songs and getting involved with a patient's lover who is disguised as an apothecary.  If we've learned anything from the Mock Doctor is that the main qualifications in eighteenth-century medicine involve farcical lovers' schemes and elaborate marital revenge plots.


Indiana is good at football.  For the past few seasons, Kevin Wilson's team has resembled the old run and gun Wildcats from the Randy Walker era that scored and gave up a million points in games that often came down to the last possession.  That's no surprise, since Wilson played a key role on those Northwestern teams.  This season, the Hoosiers' offense has fallen off a bit after losing quarterback Nate Sudfeld, and running back Jordan Howard has been cursed to join a profoundly putrid Bears team.  Their defense, however has compensated, led by a stingy pass defense that will test Thorson and Carr and made the Hoosiers a tough out for anyone in the Big Ten.

It is impossible to predict this game because Northwestern remains one of the most confounding teams in football.  There's no shame in losing to an excellent Western Michigan team, but the results of the season so far look like they can only be explained by Pat Fitzgerald acquiring a monkey's paw. The Wildcats could not move the ball and all of a sudden they are setting records against last year's participants in the Big Ten Championship game.  They could not rush the passer and now Ifeadi Odenigbo has been terrorizing quarterbacks with six sacks in the last two games. The secondary remains young and ravaged by injury; the 'Cats may be forced to put the anthropomorphic barbecue sauce bottle from the Wild Wings race in at corner this Saturday.


Playoff baseball is exhilarating, exciting, and nerve-racking.  It is also a spectacle of televisual endurance as games stretch past the four-hour mark and drive everyone involved insane.  Every few minutes, the game pauses for approximately 17 minutes of uninterrupted commercials.  We all know the demographics of baseball favor an older audience; this alone cannot explain why, based on commercials alone, the average baseball consumer is kept alive solely by a complex cocktail of prescription medicines for unnamed diseases except for the infinite varieties of boner medicines, which allow the patients to enjoy outdoor dirty bathtubbing should the other medications effectively tamp down on the poxes, boneitises and mummy curses that afflict all baseball watchers.

The Cubs have been playing on Fox Sports and have therefore unleashed Joe Buck upon a cowering populace.  The previous few years have seen a distressing rise in Actually, Joe Buck Is Good thinkpieces.  But then here we are in a pivotal Game Five and Jon Lester's on the mound and Joe Buck is here to tell us Lester has a Shermaneque refusal to throw to bases.  This is an important strategic note.  And then we hear about it again.  And another Dodger gets on and they cut to the Jon Lester Lead Cam and they're doing cutaway interviews with every guy who's been on base against Lester this season ("wow, I can't believe he didn't throw to first," says Hernan Perez) and Tim McCarver parachutes into the stadium with a telegram that says "Jon Lester STOP Not Throw to First STOP Not A Lot Of People Know That, Joe STOP" and Fox has hired a singer to go to commercials singing "WILL HE THROW DOWN TO FIRST? WILL HE THROW DOWN TO FIRST? WILL HE THROW IT TO FIRST DON'T THINK HE WILL" and I know this is a production problem and not a Joe Buck problem but Buck's the ringmaster here steering this great, dumb narrative ship and you know he's going to show up at Game Six in full-on Bartman mode knowing he is shielded from crowd-thrown offal by Fox's elite retinue of aggressive football robots.

Jon Lester yelling at first base instead if throwing to it, which, this is an interesting baseball 
factoid here, he doesn't do

Fox also has a requisite studio show for former ballplayers to go on television and regurgitate nonsensical sports platitudes at people.  The Fox panel is distinguished mainly by the inclusion of genial baseball goblin Pete Rose and Alex Rodriguez.  Rodriguez spent years as a pariah even before the steroid allegations-- I suspect it was because he came up in an era where hat-wearing columnists still dominated the baseball discourse and demanded that he conduct himself as a bland baseball automaton instead of leaning into the fact that he is a profoundly weird person.  If Rodriguez came up now, he'd be free to post all of his centaur paintings to social media that show himself, A-Rod, reared up gloriously on hind legs taking a breaking ball out of the zone instead of going around for nearly two decades coming across as an uncanny valley robot that can only repeat the phrase I AM A NORMAL PERSON.   It turns out that A-Rod's shimmering cyberhuman routine translates perfectly to television, where he can showcase his baseball monomania and remain unfazed by Pete Rose floating in and out of frame or pretending he has a hand growing out of his stomach by thrusting an arm through his shirt while yelling "this is my baseball arm, Frank."  This whole set up is exactly as dumb as every sports pre- and post-game panel show and considerably less excruciating then the ads for the show where a blow-dried Skip Bayless tries to pretend that yelling a bunch of dumb shit about sports works as gladiatorial combat.

what the fuck is this


Northwestern's season went from looking like a thirteen-week exercise in football depression to a gloriously insane explosion of touchdowns.  They put themselves squarely back into bowl contention. Who knows whether we'll see a grinding punt-fest or a track meet on Saturday.  But no one is overlooking the Wildcats anymore, that is, unless they all disguise themselves as eighteenth-century apothecaries in an elaborate plan from their revitalized coaching staff.  The Chicago Cubs are one win away from the pennant.  Nothing in the universe makes any sense.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Week 7: On Sports Bullshit

The Wildcats return with an extra week to luxuriate in their upset over Iowa and try to carry the momentum toward a bowl berth.  For that, they'll need six wins or five wins and a desperate hope that the exponential increase in shitty bowl games outpaces the number of 6-6 teams and they triumphantly ride into the Famous Potato Bowl. 

No team should be ashamed of taking a five-win Bowl Berth nor 
participating in any sub-NIT basketball tournaments or any other 
postseason tournament so bereft of prestige that it serves as the undercard 
to a mutton busting tournament to get spectators excited about seeing 
children whaled upon by rampaging sheep  

Northwestern hopes to bring the quarterback pressure and offensive spark from the Iowa game to bear on a reeling Michigan State team.  The Spartans have lost three in a row, including last week's 31-14 mauling at the hands of BYU.  They come off a Big Ten championship season, but now stand at 2-3 and have yet to play Big Ten bullies Michigan and Ohio State.  A do-or-die game against a potentially feisty Northwestern team is not what Michigan State fans signed up for this season.  They too are down in the muck fighting for their bowl lives.

The Spartans' troubles this season have matched Northwestern's.  They have trouble moving the ball. Their defensive line has had trouble getting to the quarterback, much like Northwestern until Ifeadi Odenigbo wreaked havoc against Iowa.  Unlike Northwestern, they have become mired in a quarterback controversy, while the 'Cats are coming off of Thorson's best game.  Michigan State fans, as far as I can tell from a brief foray around the internet, have reached a terrifying state of Big Ten depression where they actually believe it is possible to lose to Northwestern in a sanctioned football game.

Faces of the Big Ten

This game has all the makings of a classic Big Ten punt-fest that deteriorates into punting on every down: pooch punts, rugby-style punts, fake punts that turn out to be actual punts, fake field goals turning into punts, flea-flicker punts that involve Hunter Niswander split wide and blasting the ball into the coffin corner after three or four reverses while delighted fans of both teams sing their punt songs into the crisp October air.  

On the one hand, Michigan State has great players from last year's championship team floating around, most notably Malik McDowell.  They desperately need this game to staunch the entire program to be engulfed in panic and they should have a robust homecoming crowd because Big Ten teams only bought Northwestern-related homecoming decorations in the 1970s and state legislatures have been unwilling to release funds to decorate against another opponent.  On the other hand, this is a knock-down drag-out fight for the right to desperately try to fend off Purdue for a slot at the Seasonal Mall Merchandise Store Discount Gorilla Mask Bowl.  Michigan States's players were brought in for Big Ten championships, but this is what Northwestern was built for.


There are ways rational and normal people enjoy the baseball playoffs by analyzing matchups and numbers and getting angry at relief pitchers and there are ways that Cubs catastrophists prepare for the postseason which is to cast oracle bones and devine the most devastating mode of disappointment.  One would think that the Cubs had defied the most ardent depressives by steamrolling through the regular season and handing the Giants an 0-2 hole, but the shamans of baseball misery all knew that this is where San Francisco reforms from a liquid puddle and reassembles into a baseball terminator.

Anything can happen in baseball games, especially in playoff games between very good teams in tiny sample sizes.  Every team that wins the World Series has its share of walkoffs, bloops, and craziness blown up in the mythology of what that old poet Dane Cook reminded us is October.  Most people can accept this.  Yet in baseball there is a split between the even-keeled baseball analysts who know the wisdom gleaned from their carefully sorted VORPs can erode in the playoffs and those who treat the playoffs like a Baseball Fortean Society, and the San Francisco Giants have been their mascot.

The main reason for the Giants' success is their extremely good players: all-everything catcher Buster Posey, twitchy human Q-tip Hunter Pence, and the unflappable lefty Madison Bumgarner who practically willed them to victory in 2014.  Even-Year Bullshit, however, doesn't come from superstars but from incredibly unlikely players like Cody Ross and Travis Ishikawa who hit memorable home runs and then immediately vanished into the baseball ether as if they never existed.  This year, the Giants had Conor Gillaspie, a player who spent several seasons on the White Sox as a science experiment to determine what baseball would be like if you tried to hit with a tennis racket and then in the playoffs emerged from the Bay like a baseball Godzilla to swat baseballs around the park like the ineffective military hardware that governments continually use to attack it despite decades of peer-reviewed Godzilla science that conclusively demonstrates their impotence against Godzillas, Moth Men, alien spaceships, and Kings Kong.

Illustration from "General, Enough With the Tanks," 
Journal of Convincing People About Space Lasers
v. 25 n. 6, p. 2234.

When the Cubs suffered a requisite bullpen meltdown in a potentially clinching Game 3 at the hands of Gillaspie (his inhuman, irradiated cries echoing through the park as he spit crushed BART cars from his cheeks), the Even Year narrative gained steam.  The Cubs went into a potentially series-clinching game up 2-1 against a team that led against them for something like two innings the whole series and yet it seemed like the Giants would reach for their playoff magic and somehow generate obscure baseball players with sub-.600 OPSes to send the game back to Wrigley Field under a palpable cloud of baseball neurosis.

That nearly happened.  The odds of coming back from a three-run deficit in the ninth inning are astronomical.  And, though the Cubs are a great baseball team and the Giants sport a historically bad bullpen, the series seemed twisted towards them.  Then the Cubs rallied and the Giants sent up pitcher after pitcher to fail to get them out in an assembly line of baseball incompetence.  Then the bullshit mojo pendulum swung and suddenly it was the Cubs benefiting from uncharacteristic errors and putting together a historic rally and winning the series in defiance of every narrative of superstition and omen that the baseball's most strident mumbo-jumboists could throw at them.

What remains is baseball.  The Cubs still have a series against a very good Dodgers team that has the best pitcher on the face of the Earth.  It is very possible that the Cubs get steamrolled or lose in a ludicrous series of events that involves birds or blimp interference or a Jon Lester throwing error that knocks out a bullpen catcher and sparks a massive brawl with sunflower seed buckets and gatorade canisters fashioned into makeshift barricades. 

All of these wagon wheels and muskets are still in use by the grounds 
crew at Historic Wrigley Field

But the defeat of Even Year Bullshit has, for me, at least, held the goofy baseball fatalism in check. The Cubs are as good as anyone and seem like they'll be contenders for awhile.  And should they fall apart this year in a particularly heartbreaking way, then we can all manufacture the Curse of Rich Hill and sell merchandise to the type of people who buy goat masks and L flags.


Few Northwestern fans would have guessed the looming road showdown with Michigan State would seem to be a more winnable game than a home test against the suddenly impassible Indiana defense or that the Spartans would be desperate to fight off Northwestern.  Perhaps Michigan State will find its form and take out a season's worth of frustrations against the Wildcats.  Or maybe Northwestern can strike early and suck the air out of Spartan Stadium as the fans tighten up in anticipation of more disappointment.  If they need some discouragement, I have some portents, curses, and general Sports Hokum that I'm not using anymore. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

WEEK 6: The Vandals of Homecoming

Last season, Iowa and Northwestern had tremendous seasons.  Then, they both got utterly demolished in bowl games-- Northwestern by a budding Tennessee power and Iowa by a Stanford team drawing on weeks of uninterrupted access to the source of its strength, Pacific Standard Time.  Both of their 2016 seasons have been disappointing and involved gruesome home losses to FCS teams.  Still, Iowa fans felt confident about their Homecoming showdown against the Northwestern after winning three in a row, the last two in hideous blowouts.

Northwestern plays so many Homecoming road games that they have started traveling to 
opponents in a parade float

Instead, Northwestern held on for a demoralizing 38-31 win over the Hawkeyes.  Ifeadi Odenigbo beat C.J. Beathard hard, sacking the Iowa quarterback four times, occasionally using a helpless lineman as a battering ram to more effectively knock him over.  Justin Jackson ran for 171 yards, including a 58-yard breakaway.  And Clayton Thorson had a tremendous game, running for one touchdown and finding emerging star receiver Austin Carr for three through the air.

Thorson downloads football data into his brain, not only preparing for Iowa but also for a 
lucrative career as a futuristic data courier able to match wits with the Yakuza Cyber Dolphin

This year's version of Iowa has played like a shadow of last year's undefeated Rose Bowl juggernaut.  At the same time, Northwestern managed to win its first road game, deploy a functioning offense, and sow uncertainty and disappointment in an Iowa fanbase inaugurating a new contract for Kirk Ferentz that will last until the end of his life and then allow him to remain on the Kinnick sidelines stuffed like a Jeremy Bentham autoicon for generations.


Last week's post explored the possibility of an upset triggering cries of uncalled holding penalties that would resonate throughout Johnson County, and the game became weighted with referee controversy. The crowd became so angry at ludicrous refereeing decisions at one point that they hurled a chorus of abuse at the officials. A few miscreants pelted the field with refuse.  This situation is not new.  Last year, a series of sound decisions from learned referees that kept erasing Wisconsin touchdowns led to some rowdy Badgers to hastily assemble snowballs in a gruesome reenactment of the Godfather tollbooth scene against their own cheerleaders.

Their complaint stemmed from a sequence where Odenigbo appeared to grab Beathard's facemask on a sack and drew no penalty.  The Hawkeyes punted and, on the ensuing drive, an Iowa player got flagged for a facemask against Justin Jackson and then got an additional fifteen yards for reciting Rule 9 Article 8 of the Official NCAA Football Rules of the Game at the referee.  Ferentz was left with no recourse except to stage a play for the referees featuring egregious missed facemask penalties and hope that the ensuing guilt drives them to madness, allowing him to unmask their villainy to the world and maybe get a break on a pass interference penalty sometime.

PLAYER KING: Out, out, thou zebra, Fortune! All you refs,
In general synod 'take away his flags;
Break all the spokes and fellies from the facemask,
And bowl the round ball down the hill of heaven,
As low as to the fiends!'
LORD DELANY: This is too long

I have no idea why Northwestern has benefited from postmodern touchdown catch rules or facemask indifference, but we can all assume it is part of a vast Big Ten conspiracy to promote Northwestern football at the expense of its larger and more well-known opponents because that possibility is incredibly funny to me.


Well, it’s finally here. The Chicago Cubs lived up to their threat of dominating 162 games of regular season baseball, becoming the best Cubs team any of us will likely see in our lives, and entering the playoffs as World Series favorites. May whatever god you believe in have mercy on us all.

The baseball playoffs constrict the game's leisurely pace into a maddening, stressful crucible.  They are coin flips-- thrilling, exciting, unpredictable, incredible for a team that unexpectedly blunders into them, and seemingly designed to drive to madness the fans of the game's best team whose chance to end a century-straddling championship drought are roughly the same as ending up on the wrong side of Russian roulette.

Baseball, like all sports and entertainments, remains entirely ancillary to our life, but for me the times when the Chicago Cubs manage to scrape their way into the playoff grinder become stressful because they are the only sports team whose every success is shrouded in the morbid certainty of death.

The Cubs cannot make the playoffs without that grim reaper Joe Buck appearing on our televisions with his phalanx of satanic goat heads, reminding us that the Cubs have seen generations of fans stretching back to times before widespread motorcars back through two world wars and peak mustache ubiquity to their graves and they are coming for you.  This is not a surprise since Buck himself revealed that his own obsession with youth and aging led him to nearly losing his voice from repeated visits to the Monkey's Paw Hair Plug Clinic.

Autumn, when Joe Buck appears to remind you that you will die

I have often said after 2008, when another loaded Cubs team failed to win a single playoff game, that I had accepted that I will never see the Cubs win a World Series in my lifetime. But I clearly don't believe that fully, because if I did, I would not have spent this entire season dreading the playoffs which have a very good chance of once again dashing whatever faint hope I pretend not to have.  This is not a normal person sports relationship.  My relationship to the Cubs is less like sports fandom than fealty to a doomsday cult, whose certainty in the end of everything only reinforces the desire to see it happen. 

Maddon promises that, after the baseball demons come and reveal that playing the right way 
actually means that they devour continents and send them to their digestive systems, which 
are portals to far-away galaxies, the believers will travel the galaxies in this interstellar vehicle 
that only looks like a crappy airbrushed van right now, in these pre-demon times

None of us have any idea whether the Cubs can live up to the expectations they've stoked this season. Not even the irritating numerologists in San Francisco, whose faith in even-numbered years forms a bizarre counter to Cubs fan fatalism, can tell us the outcome. And the outcome is meaningless-- the only real-life difference between a Cubs win and loss this playoff season is probably a few million dollars of Wrigleyville property damage. The Cubs will play baseball whether I ignore them or spend the next several days in a flinch, waiting for whatever Mendoza-line castoff the Giants find on the scrapheap to hit multiple game-winning home runs.

It doesn't matter whether the Cubs win.  There is, as far as I know, no theology that promises some sort of afterlife reward for those of us who had talked ourselves into Ryan Theriot or own Rod Beck merchandise. The Cubs' championship drought has nothing to do with mysticism or curses or the incredible bad luck of a shell-shocked headphone guy who got to listen to Pat Hughes and Ron Santo do play-by-play of an insane, bloodthirsty mob that threaten to thrash him over baseball, but with the team's decades of incompetence. The sun rose on October 15, 1908 and it continued to rise after the Cubs' few and spectacular baseball-related fuckups throughout the ensuing century.  The season's ending in elation, despair, or relief from victimized baseball fans tired of hearing about the Cubs will quickly fade.      

But, if you were to ask me personally, I think it would be cool, if they won.