Friday, September 8, 2017

Northwestern and Duke Face Off Again, I Guess

Football returned to Ryan Field in a fanfare of bands, pyrotechnics, parachutists, and the one red firework they shoot off when they get to the rocket's red glare part of the anthem that always looks like it's going to hit one of the parachutists in a grisly act of errant patriotism. Then the Northwestern Wildcats went out there heavily favored against Nevada and won a football game to a concerned, grim-faced crowd.

Northwestern fends off the Wolf Pack

Nevada frustrated the Wildcats all afternoon.  They took a lead into halftime and the game remained tense until Northwestern sniffed out the last remnants of a Nevada comeback by smothering the quarterback on a fourth-and-one.  The Wildcats won, but had issues up front on both sides and continued to hemorrhage defensive backs.  Marcus McShepard and Brian Bullock both left the game, and the team announced that Keith Watkins will miss the whole season again. Northwestern remained determined to stick with its vague, hockeyish injury reports in the tradition of coaches waging asymmetrical information wars.  Last week, for example, John Harbaugh and Jim McElwain engaged in a ridiculous, petty battle about naming the actual players on their football teams, with Harbaugh suggesting that he might send buses full of dummy players that have never played football before to stand around in terror in kickoff formation before the actual Michigan players who have been living in Arlington Stadium for months building a subterranean tunnel society would burst from the ground, dragging the Gators into a hollowed out cavern because Harbuagh believed his team had the advantage closer to the Earth's Core.

Harbaugh and McElwain continue their mind games, 
with McElwain refusing to look at Harbaugh and 
Harbaugh using a fake hand so that Florida can't use the 
contours of his palm print to divine any information about 
defensive formations

There is no such thing as a disappointing win at Northwestern.  The Committee will not be looking for style points, betting lines, or body clocks when they select the participants for the DoubleWide Extra Large Men's Pant Bowl.  Northwestern's preseason hopes did not instantaneously evaporate like last year in a slow motion football bouncing off a goalpost in a cacophony of FCS cackling.  Northwestern won.  In a sport where wins and losses often turn on a kick here, a pick there, or a quarterback attempting to run for a two-point conversion instead but then opting for a two-cheek conversion when he falls upon his butt, there is no reason not to hoard every win.  Let the pollsters and the committees and the BCS computers that are still in a basement threatening each other with modem noises worry about all of that.  The Northwestern Wildcats are undefeated.


Duke is probably the closest thing to a non-conference rival the Wildcats can muster.  The teams have played eighteen times since  1985, with the woeful 1980s Northwestern teams supplying an easy W for Steve Spurrier and Northwestern grabbing crucial, Royal George Gout Balm Bowl-qualifying wins over a nominal power five opponent this century.  Despite the frequency of play and the schools similar enough to provoke the narcissism of small differences that fuels college football hatred, the teams have not really built up a decent amount of enmity.  Perhaps it is because the teams remain preoccupied by their own conference rivalries. Perhaps it is because both schools await the appearance of a heroic Beckman figure to inexplicably to come out of the mist with clocks and signs of the team's logo with a slash through it.  Most likely, it is because the entire sports energy of Duke University involves bracing themselves against the endless onslaught of people despising the basketball team more or less continuously for decades, for standing in ad-hoc tent cities to get tickets to an ACC game in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and for working on a serum to make sure Coach K's face does not freeze like that.

Northwestern and Duke football don't have much a rivalry because Duke fans don't seem to care much about their football team and Northwestern fans know deep down that the conditions are ripe for any lasting sports success to provoke to type of ire felt by Duke basketball.  Northwestern got a small taste of it last year; their foray into the NCAA tournament sparked in some quarters an almost immediate backlash, not least because of a homeopathic amount of Dukery in the basketball team.  

Duke will not inspire parade floats, memes, or shrieking mania at Wallace Wade stadium this Saturday.  What it will do, though, is determine the course Northwestern's season.  The Wildcats have ambitions to compete at the top of the Big Ten West this season.  A win at Duke and then in an inexplicable night game against Bowling Green will have them at 3-0 heading into games against Big Ten colossi Wisconsin and Penn State.  A win against either of those teams could set the Wildcats up for another run.  A loss at Duke probably means the 'Cats should settle in for another season heroically scrapping their way to bowl contention and clinging to the Hat, the glorious default position of twenty-first-century Northwestern football.


We all thought we could sleep safely at night from the malcontents that have now turned baseball from a bucolic national pastime into a terrifying den of cybercrimes ever since the Cardinals guy got caught for doing elite hacks like remembering that the password was Eckstein123.  But every day baseball's cybercriminals are jacking themselves into mainframes, banging on keyboards, and yelling I'M IN, which is exactly what all of the crusty old sports columnists who are wearing a men's hat in their photos taken in 1987 tried to warn us all about when they got really irate about spreadsheets.

This week, the New York Yankees accused the Boston Red Sox of stealing their signs by wearing a post-human cyber-watch device.  It remains unclear exactly how they processed the signals, but studies show that the most likely thing that happened is that Red Sox manager John Farrell immediately saw the entire field exactly like how we all assumed computers would see things in the 1980s, and he used the gridlines and blocky text to decode the Yankees' complex baseball stratagems.  The Red Sox  countered with allegations that the Yankees had developed nanobots capable of living within Red Sox players and coaches for the entire season, transmitting all of their biometric data to a supercomputer that could determine what pitch they would throw before they even threw it, before the pitcher and catcher and pitching coach had met on the mound and talked gravely into their mitts about Pitch Selection.  As we speak, every major league team has interns talking to sophisticated AI programs that can at any moment turn sentient and develop opinions on bat flips.

This is what baseball looks like now 

Baseball players have been cheating from time immemorial.  Baseball's cybercheating is easily the best kind because it riles up the sport's stodgerati who have spent more than a century imbuing a goofy spitting sport with all sorts of bogus moral frippery so hoary that they probably use the word "manful" and perpetuating the myth of fake baseball player "Mickey Mantle," who was originally drawn on a cocktail napkin by Bob Costas in 1987. Decades from now, our crusty baseball columnists will look back with nostalgia at how the Red Sox used a smart watch with the sort of rogueish √©lan that we associate with baseball teams that used binoculars or electric boxes or staged elaborate train robberies as a distraction to steal crucial early baseball information technology such as tobacco covered notebooks that said an opposing player probably had a wicked curved-ball based on the way his brow ridges demonstrated a most unsavory propensity towards deceit and guile and also we heard he has a mustache. 


There are a million articles now on the internet on the grim, foreboding death march of the NFL. It is difficult to tell how much of that is the columnist's solipsism or if the decline of the NFL also fits with larger trends in sports- and television-watching habits and has nothing to do with the league itself.  It is overwhelmingly tempting to point to issues with the NFL, though, because the NFL is the most insane sports league on the planet.  There’s a case to be made that all professional sports resemble a corporate retreats department accidentally showered with billions of dollars; the NFL is the only league that wants to subsume the entire sport into the corporation itself with its dress codes and constant injection of staid legalism and the way everyone involved with it speaks in an incomprehensible business-violence jargon. The league is controlled by 32 men who all demand to be referred to as “Mister” with all of them yelling at everyone at all times that they were sent here by Mitch and Murray.  The NFL is the only sports league in the world that is constantly investigating.

The NFL is rife with problems: the sobering reality of the damage the sport causes to players and the sickening way the league has tried to cover it up, the unending, replay-ridden games, the attacks on anything fun or expressive to the point where a league document has, without further explanation, specifically banned "incredible hulk," and alliance with the absolute dumbest shit imaginable at all times.  All of this has been the problem with the NFL forever.  The major issue now is that your team is almost certainly dogshit because there are like eight guys in the world capable of playing quarterback and without one of them the team you like descends into a stark exhibition of Bortleism.

A solemn Goodell steps to the podium, for another 
press conference about the latest NFL imbroglio. 
"You may not incredible hulk," he says.  "No questions." 

The Bears engineered a ridiculous quarterback controversy by spending a princely sum on shitty backup quarterback Mike Glennon and then, without informing him, traded up in the draft to select Mitch Trubisky as the Quarterback of the Future. Glennon already had a tough road in Chicago; Glennon is the apotheosis of shitty backup quarterbacking not only because he is stiff, inaccurate, and saddled with a remainder pile receiving corps but also because he looks like a gangly doofus. It is not Mike Glennon’s fault that he was put in this situation, paid an enormous and unfathomable sum of money and then more or less instantaneously replaced by someone who has not lurched around the NFL for several years ineffectively, nor is it his fault that he looks to me like the long-necked monster from the little-seen movie Big Man Japan about a guy whose duty it is to step into an enormous set of underpants and get shocked into turning into a giant superhero tasked with battling a bunch of grotesque monsters attacking Tokyo.

Glennon did not help his cause by entering the preseason and immediately performing a Medley of Historical Bears Quarterbacking while Trubisky looked great.  All season long, Glennon and dead-end coach John Fox will hear a nonstop nasal bray about playing that Trubinsky kid (Trubinsky is his Chicago Sports Talk Radio Caller Name, it's in his football contract) every time Glennon comes in and does the type of football fuckup that everyone expects from Mike Glennon.  No one is happier than Chicago's sports columnists, a cottage industry with a job description that is literally complaining about the Bears' quarterback; this has kept them employed long past the existence of newspapers.  At some point Trubisky will get his chance, whether from pressure or from Glennon accidentally wrapping himself around the field goal pole.  Who knows if Trubisky represents an actual Bears quarterback or if he will be, like the dozens of and dozens of men before him swept into the giant dustbin of Bears quarterbacks.  My prediction is that he will be great, amazing for one season before football is immediately and probably rightly banned and we all go around ashamed we ever watched it and him, that Trumbinskly Kid, maybe could have gone to the Super Bowl, if we all didn't immediately decide to stop watching a horrifying bacchanalia of violence designed to sell trucks.


Finally, here is your college football internet posting hype video for 2017.

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