Friday, October 6, 2017

The Gauntlet

Northwestern held the lead at halftime.  They came into a hostile and raucous Camp Randall as heavy underdogs and managed to keep Wisconsin's offense and Alex Hornibrook in check mainly because the Wisconsin Badgers all agreed to replace their hands with the robotic grasping claws from the pick-a-prize carnival game and could barely manage to hold onto the football for more than a few plays at a time.  The Badgers' opening kickoff rolled into Northwestern hands and the Badgers fell on several more fumbles.

Wisconsin's ball security was affected by each player going back into
time and accidentally preventing their parents from falling in love at
the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance 

Unfortunately for Northwestern the turnovers and defensive stops only led to a few points.  Time after time, Northwestern faced a third-and-one and Wisconsin's defense clamored through the line to tackle Justin Jackson and force a punt.  In the second half, the Badgers made an adjustment to the Tecmo Bowl Called Play defense that left Clayton Thorson scrambling for his life so profoundly that he leaped between graphical planes and appeared in one of the approximately 35 cut-ins that showed Hornibrook playing catch with someone named Brock Huard that ended when Hornibrook chopped off his head with a sword and absorbed his left-handed quarterbacking powers through a lightning storm while a barely visible speck of Thorson hoofed it across the field in the background hoping to avoid any Wisconsin tacklers who had also transcended time and space.

James Franklin has never beaten Northwestern.  He lost as coach at Vanderbilt, and then struck the 'Cats from their schedule in a minor bureaucratic move that readers of this blog may be familiar with because I have put far more thought and energy into disparaging him for this than any other human being on the face of the earth for literally years.  I have suggested that Franklin had ducked Northwestern in order to qualify for a bowl game and that he moved to Penn State to marshal their resources against the Wildcats much like how William of Orange assumed the British crown in order to have a better chance of defeating his arch-nemesis Louis XIV; according to the person who edits his Wikipedia page, "Louis described William as 'my mortal enemy' and saw him as an obnoxious warmonger."

This time Franklin has with him the most terrifying player in college football.  We thought that had been the case with quarterback Christian Hackenberg, but Hackenberg turned out to be a bizarre case of people anointing him as an NFL quarterback after his Freshman year, watching him repeatedly throw the ball to defenders and patches of otherwise undisturbed turf, and continuing to rate him as a professional quarterback because the Football People once decided he was one until he managed to, through the sheer force of inertia, make it into the New York Jets' Quarterback Purgatory where he backs up at least one McCown Brother although spiritually he might be backing up all McCown Brothers past, present, and future.
A McCown in action 

I have no idea how a team is supposed to stop Saquon Barkley, a sentient monster truck who is somehow allowed to play college football.  One way may be to rig the field with traps like the end of Predator, where Barkley breaks free and crosses the fifty after knocking over dozens of Northwestern players and spectators before leaping over pits, log traps, and Northwestern's safeties who have coated themselves in grass and are screaming I AM HERE, JUKE ME NOW.  It may also be possible to form a complex Defensive Alliance among Big Ten West teams by offering to annex five yards of Ryan Field to Iowa in order have their linebackers secure it.  Or, Northwestern could do what they did the last time Barkley played at Ryan Field and stuff him on the very last play of the game while James Franklin refuses to call timeouts because he left them all at Vanderbilt.


The Cubs are in the playoffs for the first time in a century without the goat, without the curse, and without a cackling Joe Buck bursting forth from a grave to deliver solemn Vincent Price Thriller monologues about how many people have died watching the Cubs fail to win the World Series.  The Cubs are in the playoffs as a baseball team and not the wretched personification of failure.

Last year, the Cubs had been designed to foment baseball anxiety.  They led baseball in everything, won 103 games, and earned a trip to baseball's playoffs that exist only to eliminate the regular season's best team.  They survived a tour of baseball's mystical bullshit, first against a team whose fans have come to believe in numerology, then against a team that shut them out repeatedly, and finally in a World Series that seemed designed specifically to induce emotional breakdowns from both teams' catastrophist fanbases.  This year, the Cubs meandered their way through a crappy division and have sort of popped up in the playoffs again.

The World Series was supposed to have exorcised the playoff demons and silenced Cubs fans' overrwrought and irritating pessimism and obnoxious public displays of baseball woe, but habits die hard, and it is very difficult for me to watch the Cubs in the playoffs without immediately looking for the most humiliating and awful way they could lose.  Last year, for example, I was sure that Cubs castoff pitcher Jeff Samardzija would shut them out in the playoffs because ex-Cubs always came back to haunt them and then he gave up a home run to a relief pitcher.

This season, the obvious Cub hobgoblin is Dusty Baker.  Baker is older now, a little more stooped and Piniellabellied, and suffering from Kirk Hinrich Sports Accessory Syndrome where he is slowly being overtaken by wristbands.  A lot of Cubs fans blame Baker for the tens of thousands of arm and shoulder injuries that slowly engulfed Mark Prior and Kerry Wood and the subsequent collapse of the Cubs, although Baker could not possibly be responsible for the dozens of times Prior collided with baserunners, got struck with comebackers, fell into open manholes, and had vivid dreams about demons slashing his shoulder capsules with claw-fingers and then woke up and collapsed during a towel drill the next day while some surreal dreamland Anti-Prior gained shoulder capsules until his shoulders were nothing but capsules that turned into wings as he flies around knocking out other dream people's teeth and taking their pants before public speeches.  Baker and the Nationals have a tremendous pitching staff and a fearsome lineup, and it is possible that Baker will have his day celebrating at Wrigley Field.  This time, it will be because his team played better and not because he has been reborn as an avatar of Ironic Cub Destruction.

Cubs Perennial September Call-Up 
Augie Ojeda, picked up by the Diamondbacks, 
became another Avatar of Ironic Cub 
Destruction and batted like .450 against 
them the in the 2007 NLDS while his eyes 
glowed an unearthly red light after exposure 
to anti-Cub artifacts secretly buried in the 
Wrigley visitors' locker room by a heretofore 
unknown Cubs curse mystic  

We now live in a world where the Cubs will be playing in a series against a fanbase worried about its own nonsensical set of curses and inexplicable playoff failures.  The Nationals have yet to get out of the Division Series with their loaded roster, and the Cubs will try to continue that streak in an attempt to one day cultivate a group of fans as performatively sad-sacked as those who root for the Cubs.
Now famous, the World Series Cubs can be found on 
local commercials

The world is, for now, free from having to hear about Cubs fans rhapsodizing about how they will never win and from announcers throwing up pictures of old-timey cars on broadcasts and the Litany of Cubs playoff failures and the people saying "black cat" in profoundly Chicago accents, and the harrowing footage of Steve Bartman escaping Wrigley Field while 20,000 people simultaneously menace him with beer bottles.  Humanity now faces something perhaps more dangerous: confident Cubs fans who travel en masse across the Midwest, waving W flags and honking Go Cubs Go at otherwise innocent bystanders. 

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