Friday, October 27, 2017


Whatever it is Northwestern and Iowa do, it is not playing football.  It would be more accurate to say that the Big Ten continuously allows them to commit football against each other, the Greater Chicagoland Metropolitan Area, and whatever bar happened to have their TV permanently stuck on ESPN2 after Lenny hit the TV with his pool cue again while demonstrating his Steven Seagal barfight techniques and that son-of-a-bitch never paid for it he didn't. 

Last Saturday, a howling wind from the south led both offenses to perform like they were Napoleonic generals terrified to cross the end zones and move too far from their supplies of gatorade and butt towels.  The game was marked by stymied drives, heroic stands, astonishing punts, and appalling acts of football cowardice; with 90 seconds to go and two timeouts Pat Fitzgerald ran out the clock to play for overtime, unwilling to trust his team to proceed into the gale.  It ended up working out because Justin Jackson is dropping smoke bombs and reappearing ten yards away whenever some jabroni tries to tackle him and because an Iowa player dropped a wide-open fourth-down conversion so egregiously that it appears that Brett Walsh (Northwestern #10) actually goes into a full-on Iowa Fan Surrender Cobra because he can't believe what has happened.

Behind every ugly win is a great defensive performance, and the Wildcat defense has quietly become a wall.  Iowa's plan was to once again unleash Akrum Wadley to run through the tracks he dug into the Ryan Field last time he played there.  This time, Northwestern linebackers smashed through the Hawkeye defensive line and brought him down repeatedly.  This time, on fourth and inches late in the game, the Hawkeyes, surely confused by the ferocious home crowd of nearly four dozen Northwestern fans, moved offside and had to settle for a field goal.

In some ways, the loser of this game was the sport of football as two teams more or less shouted at each other for three hours before agreeing to go home in a perfect display of stereotypical Big Ten 11AM anti-football.  But, in a more accurate way, Iowa lost this game, the indomitable Wildcat triumphed once again and greatly improved its odds of making the Old Macbeth's Industrial Iron Shards bowl or even the Repurposed Magic the Gathering Server Dark Internet Cryptocurrency Bowl.


Iowa fans would never say they have a rivalry with Northwestern.  It is unseemly.  Only one man has ever sunk low enough to court Northwestern as a rival, and he is now in jail.  Yet, Northwestern has been a hilarious thorn in the side of the Iowa Hawkeyes for more than a decade.  Pat Fitzgerald is 7-5 against Iowa with the Hawkeyes favored in nearly all of those games; the average Northwestern victory has been by just about a touchdown.  Over and over, Iowa rigged their boulders, built their rockets, donned their elaborate ACME Bat-Man's Outfit, and then run into a tunnel painted on the side of a cliff after watching Pat Fitzgerald disappear into it in defiance of all known laws of physics and the AP Polls and it is incredibly funny.

Northwestern and Iowa appear to be locked in the same cycle of infuriating losses to one another, grandiose punting exhibitions, and you and me we're not so different monologues because they have the most entrenched, unchanging leadership in the Big Ten.  Ferentz, who has been coaching at Iowa so long that traces of Feretnz molecules from the Big Bang have been found in Iowa City soil, has entrenched his position by appointing his son as offensive coordinator, sending a clear message to any rogue Iowa coordinators who would scheme to depose him or slip reptile poisons into his cream of wheat that a Ferentz will remain on the throne.  Pat Fitzgerald has gone from the young, fistpumping boy coach to a beefy, gray-templed J. Jonah Jameson.
I'm very proud of our young men for going out there this week and 
executing and also for not letting that wall-climbing FREAK run amok 
around this city leaving web residue all over the buildings for us, the 
taxpayers, to have to CLEAN UP that FLUID or the DEBRIS from the 
time he got into a fight with a guy dressed like a HUMAN RHINOCEROS go cats

While neither head coach seems to be going anywhere, frustrated fans have turned on the most obvious targets: offensive coordinators.  Iowa fans have been frustrated with Brian Ferentz because if Iowa's offense stagnates then it appears his key value is the ability to pass as a Kirk Ferentz impersonator from a distance when the elder Ferentz is otherwise indisposed.  Northwestern fans (on the internet at least) remain irritated with Mick McCall, who, in the insane business of goatee guys named Skip and Bobby replacing each other every year, has remained in charge of Northwestern's offense and will stay there until he dies and is entombed in Pat Fitzgerald's pyramid so Fitz can have someone call ill-advised speed options in the afterlife.

College football fans love to complain about coordinators and assistant coaches.  In many ways, it makes sense-- teams without flashy recruiting rankings routinely shock better teams with better schemes.  And in many ways it is far more palatable that college football fans' deranged ire is focused on the people actually getting paid.  At the same time, the sense of coordinators and coaches as maestros singlehandedly responsible for magicking their teams points or turnovers can stray into the realm of the ludicrous.  Football is an insane, complicated game based on violence-diagrams ruled by the bounce of an oblong ball and even the greatest football brain genius cannot account for one single slip or mistake or a guy falling down on his ankle weird which means the athletic training staff should probably be fired because they should be preventing injuries, say the maniacs in the stands who are screaming at these behemoths to run into each other for our amusement and maybe it is possible that everyone is not a holy shit he called that inside handoff again.


Last year, Michigan State and Northwestern seemed primed for a miserable punt-off.  Instead, we were treated to an insane shootout with Austin Carr rampaging through the secondary and Michigan State bringing in a backup quarterback who just kept bombing the ball down the field. Solomon Vault fielded a weird bounce on the kickoff and ran 95 yards.  A Northwestern team that couldn't get more than seven against Illinois State scored more points than any opponent in Michigan State history.  So it might be prudent to not predict this to be a miserable, cold, low-scoring shitfest.  At the same time, man does this game look like it is going to be a miserable, cold, low-scoring shitfest.

Michigan State appears to be back after last year's nightmare season.  They are 6-1 with their only loss to an unthinkably resurgent Notre Dame team that should have been stopped by the government, they had a trademark ridiculous win against Michigan in a monsoon, and they come into Ryan Field ranked sixteenth in the country.  Yet, Michigan State has not been blowing people out.  Their four Big Ten wins have been by a combined 19 points.  Their approach seems have been to assemble some bludgeonous defenders and occasionally deign to move the ball towards the endzone only when it becomes necessary to score more points than their opponent.  They play like football has some bizarre new Price is Right rule where you can't go over one touchdown more than the opponent.

Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke hopes to impress 
with his offseason tunneling out of Spartan Stadium regimen after this safety

Northwestern seems to want to play the same way.  A resurgent defense has frustrated opponent running games.  The offense will give the Spartans a heavy dose of Justin Jackson and a plan to inch towards their goal line.  Neither team seems that interested in doing much on offense other than not allowing the other team to have the ball.  But maybe the script will flip and in a chilly, windy, possibly rainy Ryan Field, the two teams will throw caution to the wind and ball to hand and not get a one-point lead then spend three plays building an increasingly cozy mud den on their own twenty-five for 120 seconds before punting it to the other team who will get busy passing around trowels and flagons of warm tea.  

Michigan State is very good.  They're ranked, they'll be supported by an invasion of green men and women, and they'll provide the greatest test for the Wildcats yet.  But, the both teams' love of hideous garbage football and the weather conditions mean that this could be anyone's game, that Northwestern could pull the home upset and vault itself back from middling obscurity to slightly less middling obscurity.


I'm reading Robert Hughes's Barcelona, his 1992 tome about the history of art and architecture of Barcelona.  Hughes, an author and art critic whose books on Australia and Rome I've reviewed here in the past was a dyspeptic flamethrower who had never met an early 1990s post-modern building he had not wanted to jackhammer.  He specialized in long histories (both this book and Rome go back to the Roman period) while causally tossing out withering asides about any artist he does not like, which is most of them.  

I do not often like to do this, but I should be upfront and say that I have not finished Barcelona.  This is always a foolish thing to do when writing about a book but especially with Hughes, where there is danger on every unread page-- his book on Rome, for example, ends with a wild, maniacal assertion that Italians cannot be trusted to preserve their art history because they watch soccer on TV, for example, and there is no guessing what sorts of insane early 90s fire takes on Spanish government lurk in upcoming chapters.  The reason for posting this is an excuse to include this passage, not only for him casually name-dropping Dalí, but putting this information into my life and now yours.

Further reports on Barcelona as they develop.

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