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.
THE PLAY IS THE THING
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.
THE CHICAGO CUBS ARE MY DOOMSDAY CULT
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.