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.      

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