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.

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