Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Decadent, Inferior Wild Cat

We're in the middle of Bowl Season as dozens of fans trek out to a series of impossible and ridiculous locations to watch their teams battle the dregs of the Sun Belt under the watchful eye of sponsors like Dr. Lawnmangle's 50% Louder Mowing Equipment, American Ninja Knife and Nunchuk Expo '98, and the United States Armed Forces and Northwestern will be joining them soon.  They've been chosen through the arcane and nonsensical bowl selection procedure to play in Nashville's Music City Bowl against Kentucky for the greatest prize of them all: the Cardboard Football Trophy.

The Music City Bowl trophy was doodled by a bowl committee executive 
on the back of a grocery bag and then taken to the Extremely Literal Bowl 
Trophies and Stonehenge Prop Company

Anyone covering this game has already noted the most exciting part of this matchup: Northwestern and Kentucky have the same mascot, the Wildcat.  Kentucky even got their nickname the same way, according to their Wikipedia page, when a group of students decided they had fought like Wildcats (for Northwestern, it was a Chicago Tribune headline).  This origin has raised questions about how common it was to witness or fall victim to wildcat attacks in the early twentieth century, as college students could hardly walk three feet without one of them springing upon them and gnawing at their spats while they futiley whack at them with walking sticks while yelling things like "I say back off, you vile vermin, with your claws and teeth and line-backing."

Another Wildcat team, Kansas State, defeated UCLA in the Cactus Bowl 
with the help of their mascot, a prop from the Lars Van Trier film "Antichrist"

Kentucky's Wikipedia page claims that the school has three mascots: Blue, a live bobcat who lives in a state preserve; The Wildcat, an anthropomorphic wildcat like Northwestern's Willie; and Scratch, a "more child-friendly version of the Wildcat" who "wears his hat backwards, drinks Mountain Dew, and loves to party," a description so perfectly ridiculous that I am halfway convinced it was conjured up by a cackling Louisville fan with Wikipedia editing privileges.

The Wildcat and Scratch, whom I would describe 
as Divorced Poochie

The most insightful thing anyone can say about this matchup is that the game will be played with NCAA regulation rules.  Kentucky has a worse record, worse advanced stats, and are underdogs by more than a touchdown.  Northwestern won nine games with the help of three overtime victories, which have turned the fanbase into an overtime cult donning robes and headgears while staring vacantly at the scoreboard as the timer goes to zero.  

The Northwestern Wildcats are looking for a ten-win season, an unprecedented consecutive bowl win, and an opportunity for Justin Jackson to make mincemeat of an opponent for the last time.  Kentucky has an excellent running back that will try to test Northwestern's impossible rush defense.  But there are no guarantees in bowl season.  The game will be in a cold, wind-whipped, and half-empty stadium between two teams listlessly vying for a shitty trophy sponsored by a mortgage company between two teams who have not played since the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.  In other words, it is the apotheosis of the unnecessary, packaged, nonsensical Shitty Bowl Experience, and I hope that the bowl brings in the Wildcat sound effect for both teams and just leaves it on after every play, an endless Wildcat yowl echoing through the streets of Nashville and on every television tuned to ESPN2.


I spent the past week coughing, turning my nose into a craggy, kleenex-ravaged scab, and immobile on a couch watching the BBC adaptations of Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People and falling asleep to incoherent cough syrup-fueled fever dreams about Soviet agents and Cold War mustaches.

The BBC adaptations are slow and talky and set in dingy hotels, bars, and conference rooms, especially when compared with the 2011 version whose dinginess and 70s beige was achieved through extravagant expense.  The 2011 film rests on bravura acting from an all-star cast and interlocking flashbacks, but the film suffers from the impossibility of compressing Le Carré's sprawling narrative to feature length and renders it nearly incoherent.  The 2011 movie is also pitched higher-- there's more yelling, more nerves, more tears, even from Tom Hardy's tough-guy Ricky Tarr who talks like a more or less normal person because Hardy had not yet developed the power in the movie industry to demand that he use the insane Bane voice that Tom Hardy now uses more or less constantly.

My favorite part of the trailor for Hardy's double-role 
crime opus Legend is when you hear Hardy's voice in the 
trailer and you think oh that's a normal person voice 
before he appears as a twin brother immediately starts 

The BBC's versions of Smiley are better though because they have Alec Guiness.  Guiness's Smiley resembles Gary Oldman's Oscar-nominated version-- both are old, tired, melancholy, and angry at being pushed out of the Circus at the hands of rivals that Smiley considers lesser and at the fact that 65% percent of their encounters involve someone referencing his wife's affair.  The Guiness Smiley, though is a revelation in that those feelings become tamped down into a man with a singular purpose that cannot be deterred from his investigation even when that investigation involves his own life.

Guiness as Smiley from the BBC series with Terence Rigby as Roy Bland.  
Bland doesn't have a huge part in either the series or the film (he's 
played by Ciarán Hinds, Julius Caesar in HBO's Rome in the movie) although 
I much prefer the BBC's version because his schtick is constantly puffing 
on cigarettes and then falling into coughing fits and being made almost 
entire of muttonchop

The power of George Smiley is that there is nothing extraordinary about him-- peering out through his thick glasses, he blends easily into the background.  Yet, Guiness's Smiley possesses an extraordinary unshakable resolve.  He's introduced getting dragooned into a dinner and drinking session with a hapless old gossip and for what appears to hours, Smiley remains a stone.  He offers nothing, refuses to attack old colleagues, and deflects questions, his words always precise and polite while his tone and the pauses that Guiness puts in to weight certain words radiate contempt; his Smiley talks at all times like he assumes a transcript of all of his conversations is being prepared for Moscow Center.  This opening scene both sets up the rest of the series (the gossip is also there to fill in the audience on all of the goings-on at the Circus from my favorite expository device, a person spending a long time saying hey do you remember all of these things that happened to you) and establishes everything you need to know about Smiley as the rest of the series unfolds as a piece of office gossip with dire geopolitical implications.  

Smiley spends the rest of the film talking to old friends, colleagues, and enemies about the events that had led to his downfall and, even as people praise him, tell him he has been done wrong, yell at him, cry, and threaten, he never ever reacts, hammering away at his questions like a sculptor turning a block of granite into a statue of himself, staring at them.
The BBC Series also features spies looking extremely spy-like, from Ian 
Bannen's Prideaux modeling 1979's most fashionable Espionage 
Turtleneck to Guiness's Smiley dressed at all times like an East Berlin walk signal

The more I think about Guiness's Smiley, and please remember that I have done so while literally in the thrall of numerous antihistamines and fever reducers, is that he is played as a monster that we all root for because he is the main character.  Guiness's Smiley sits, stone-faced and unmoved, as he manipulates everyone around him to unearth the mole.  He cajoles, threatens, and plies people with alcohol, always at the emotional center of a story about betrayal and camaraderie but unable or unwilling to register anything emotionally, always keeping everyone at arm's length.  Yes, the search for the mole has grave Cold War implications and the lives of hundreds of British informants and agents scattered around the world.  And yes, Smiley has been the victim of a literal communist plot.  But Smiley's main motivation seems to be revenge and power, not as an end in itself like for his rival Percy Alleline, but because he does not trust anyone else to do the job properly-- even though it's a job that Smiley himself comes to question by the end of Smiley's People.

Le Carré, especially in the Smiley books, sought to demystify spies.  His British operatives are not martini-soaked, gadget-mongering James Bonds but dreary Oxbridge functionaries obsessed with office politics and consumed with their own affairs.  That was the MI6 he knew before he was exposed by the famous double-agent Kim Philby (there's a strange documentary currently on Netflix about Philby called The Spy Who Went Into the Cold that features a guy pointing an iphone camera at a dilapidated building in Beirut and saying that is where Philby sat around and drank).  Smiley's heroics come from his unshakable competence in the face of a sclerotic organization that no longer values it.  Guiness brilliantly conveys Le Carré's ambivalence about the use of this organization by stripping his performance of almost anything to latch onto-- it is only at the end when Smiley cracks for an instant and allows his feelings about his personal betrayal to show.  "Poor George. Life is such a puzzle to you," his wife Ann tells him.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


The Chicago Bulls, a collection of castoffs, incompetents, and basketball players recruited from postapocalyptic mutant wastelands, have won six games in a row.  They are undefeated since the return of Niko Mirotic, that maddening Montenegrin pump fake maestro who was sidelined for the opening months of the season because Bobby Portis did the exact thing that it always looks like Bobby Portis is about to do.  They are winning because Kris Dunn has become a viable NBA player after a disastrous rookie season, because scrap-heap bench find David Nwaba has quickly become a Bulls folk hero through his defense and his thunderous dunks, and because Fred Hoiberg appears to actually run some sort of an offense sometimes.  In a season where the Bulls had managed to win three entire games while spending most of their time on the court running into stanchions and suffering crises of confidence wrought by jaunty, canned organ music, this should be a minor miracle.  Instead, it is a goddamn disaster.

The NBA bloggerati have spent the past decade sifting through the Great NBA Tanking Question in the three modes of NBA blogging: analysis of where draft position means relative to success Per Synergy Sports, describing Sam Hinkie as a Reflection on Late Capitalism, and performative JR Smith fandom by quoting tweets.  There is no doubt that any rational person can see that the Bulls as presently constructed have no chance at winning anything and their best chance at a championship is to gather up lottery ping pong balls and hope that one of the numerous strapping teens available at the top can be good enough to convince actual good players to join the Bulls, but it is equally true that the Bulls play on bleak winter Tuesdays and is it so much to ask that them somehow beating NBA teams because Niko Mirotic is dominating everyone and then flexing and beard screaming except when he's in the general radius of Portis, whom he sort of gingerly avoids not be fucking poisoned by draft talk?

Of course the Bulls' win streak is not sustainable, but that's what makes it miraculous.  Of course they aren't going to keep barely beating other crap teams and of course Nikola Mirotic isn't some bizarre talisman who will rally them to the Eastern Conference playoffs although let's be honest it would be incredibly funny if he did. 

The Bulls are a listing team run by delusional incompetents and phrenology textbook cover models.  They are bad and confounding and the only joy we've gotten from the Bulls recently has been their occasional refusal to go away and keep inflicting themselves upon basketball fans.  This is now their identity.  Forget about Jordan and Pippen; the Bulls should be represented by their greatest achievement of the twenty-first century, a forgettable playoff series victory led by a vomiting Nate Robinson.  Of course the Bulls should lose as many games as possible, but let me ask you what is more entertaining-- watching Gar Forman's lizard eyes staring hungrily at lottery balls as the remnants of his weirdo Fifth Element hair undulate against his scabrous scalp so he can draft a prospect who will immediately become felled by nineteenth-century illness that was thought to be eradicated or to watch Robin Lopez completely humiliate a team filled with NBA players who can't figure out why they're down by five to a team that features Denzel Valentine forever driving in the lane like he is trying to find his footing across a river on slippery rocks?  Do you want to watch Fred Hoiberg attempt to develop a raw, superathletic wing into a competent NBA player or watch David Nwaba dive across four rows of seats on a Wednesday night against the Suns? 

These Bulls were built by maniacs and for the past six games we have had the pleasure of living in their fever dreams: a world where Kris Dunn hits pullup jumpers after spending a season throwing basketballs at the hoop like he's trying to knock someone into a dunk tank, a world where Fred Hoiberg's team actually does pace and space and where somehow Shot Doctor Hoiberg has taught Dunn how to shoot after unleashing the brickiest basketball team on the NBA for the past several seasons, a world where draft picks pan out and Mirotic looks like the star he was in Europe and Markkanen looks like an offensive force, and Bobby Portis does things on the basketball court other than look like he is bursting into rooms in the Overlook Hotel, that somehow this slapdash, improvised, panic-traded version of the Bulls makes sense instead of sinking to the bottom of the NBA standings for years and years while Paxson and Forman pretend they have their own version of the Process.

Yes, this win streak is bad for the Bulls' draft, especially in this year's hyped draft and with lottery reform coming next year to make it slightly harder for a team like them to secure a top pick by being profoundly shitty.  Everyone knows that.  Fine.  But what kind of insane, ludicrous sport are we watching when it is literally bad for the team to rally behind a man who has been resurrected after having his face broken by his own teammate who is still on the team and they sometimes fist bump each other have we talked about how completely odd this is when for me watching a team as dumb and weird as the 2017-18 Bulls somehow pull off a seemingly-impossible win streak is the entire point of watching sports? 

Friday, December 8, 2017



There was nothing at stake beyond the Hat in this game.  Northwestern had already locked up a mid-tier bowl, cemented its best winning streak in decades with a preposterous series of overtime wins literally unprecedented in the history of the sport, and the Fighting Illini had spent the season laying in a ditch and getting poked.  The game had originally been planned for Soldier Field, but had been moved back to Memorial Stadium after a hilarious debacle of low attendance and Interim Coaching; now the game took place in front of an equally woeful smattering of brave Illinois fans who had come out to see the team collectively thumbs up and sink into an orange morass of melted steel.  This series of events is exactly like the decline of the Hanseatic League.

"The Hatman Cometh,"

The Wildcats have many reasons to be favored. But it's now or never for the Illini, who hope to avoid their second winless Big Ten season since 2012. The last time Illinois beat Northwestern was 2014, when the current seniors were freshmen. There should be added motivation to capture the Land of Lincoln Trophy. Can the Illini catch the Wildcats looking forward to a bowl game?

Shannon Ryan, "Saturday's Matchup, Prediction: Northwestern at Illinois," Chicago Tribune

Line: Northwestern by 16 1/2

Lance Gravedigger's Guide for Northwestern Football Bettors and Other Maniacs

Guys I'm at the game and I think there are legitimately 45 people here.

Stilltalkinboutthechief, Comment on "Gamethread: Northwestern vs. Illinois" at

It was the lady refilling a tray of mini-hamburger buns in the press box who informed me that stadium staff had been told to expect a crowd of less than 10,000 — far punier than the announced crowd of about 30,000. I took her word for it. There was no need for a specific confirmation to see there was no one here.

Steve Greenberg, "Northwestern crushes Illinois 42-7 in a setting with no, um, rival," Chicago Sun-Times 

I've spent the afternoon in a fine purple Lincoln get-up rousing the purple horde and antagonizing our Intrastate Rival with some fine oratory from ol' Honest Abe, my friends, and the few Illinois fans are cowed and concerned #HATHATHAT


guy dressed as a Purple Lincoln tripped over his enormous, draping coat and fell into a tray of cotton candy and he's trying desperately to pick it out of his fake beard.

Stilltalkinboutthechief, op. cit.


There was the sound again, that thin roar.  Not much of a crowd.  Looked like the gray concrete stands, cracks of orange, smattering of purple, couple of Ditkas.  

bill cubit

It was all on the line, though. One win, two wins, no wins, I would say listen up, men.  Men.  This isn't fly fishing.  This isn't high tea with the Cultural Attache of Azerbaijan.  This isn't middle school social dance where they teach you the fox trot instead of the 2 legit 2 quit dance.  This is football, gentlemen.  That's the kind of thing you would hear from Ron Zook.

ron zook

I checked to see and they still had the Hat.  Still the trophy.

bill cubit

Hats. Trophies.  Trinkets.  For me, it's about looking them straight in the eye and telling them, gentlemen you know what you did out there.  Hold that feeling.  Wear it.  Carry it with you when you leave here, in your greatest triumphs of designing skyscrapers and piloting hydrofoils or at your lowest moments of being abandoned by your love at the top of Aconagua and having to silently make your way down the mountain alone carrying nothing but your supplies and your perforated heart with you and I say, do you really need a cooper hat?

ron zook

I always thought the hat was kind of sharp.

bill cubit

It's mounted on a base.  I really wanted to wear that hat.

ron zook

There's a hollowed out area there where you could stick it on your head.  You didn't know that?

bill cubit

Ah, hell.

ron zook


And yet, hapless, beleaguered, and starting a true freshman quarterback in the place of Chayce Crouch and Literally Jeff George Jr., the Illini managed to stop Northwestern and take a 7-0 lead; it was as if the vast football cosmos had decided that if the Wildcats were going to do the win an impossible three overtime games in a row to preserve a ridiculous win streak and look great against Purdue and Minnesota dance , they would have to pay the losing to the most wretched vintage of the Illini in a god-forsaken away game and watch as the Hat transfixes the entire state and ushers in an Illinois football reniassance piper, this is a single sentence., op. cit.
TOUCHDOWN! some teens are playing keep-away with the lincoln guy's hat, he's calling them ignorant dough-faces and one of them is telling him that he's using the insult anachronistically.

Stilltalkingaboutthechief, op. cit.

As I mentioned before, this type of shameful display is the type of thing you would expect from Pat Fitzgerald, who, I shouldn't even have to mention, had spent the beginning of this season cavorting around in short pants.

Fanofcats95, "Game Thread," forums


The sun had already started setting.  4:30 tops this time of year, in Champaign-Urbana.  Probably still playing after Thanksgiving, those turkey and gravy leftovers still sloshing around in the linemen's bellies, maybe putting on a little paper pilgrim hat that their baby cousin made before coming back here to put a hat on a guy and drive 'em into the field turf.

bill cubit

We were stuck watching as they gave up the lead, completely unable to do anything about it.  The first few years, I tried.  Tried to grab a linebacker and give 'em a butt slap.  Tried jump into a huddle and say listen up, how you respond today is not just about lines of scrimmage and yardage.  Gentlemen, it's about how you respond when you're in trouble, when you're down, when you're laid off and offered a buyout with a kind of crappy severance package because the online crane and heavy equipment online rental startup couldn't handle the recession and you've got to get back out there on the road and you're about three weeks from having to park the car in the White Hen lot down the street to throw off the repo guy.  Nothing.  No one saw me.  No one heard me.  Hands went right through the butts.  Tried to rip off my shirt and just kept having more shirts.

ron zook

Spent a long time ripping shirts.

bill cubit

It was because they were weak.  And soft.

tim beckman

Ah shit.

ron zook


I remember the smell of the workshop.

tim beckman

Oh jumping junipers.

bull cubit

Yes, that smell, my friends.  The smell of freshly-sawed wood, wood glue, the smell of steel and sparks and ash from the stove in the corner.  Grandad hammering away with the records on his old phonograph of that man reading the bonesaw catalog.  Grandad took me on a walk and we hit that clearing, the sun straining through the branches around us.  It was like a stadium, I thought.  Like the one over at the school on Friday nights, all lit up with bark grandstands a few curious squirrels cheering us on and that's when Grandad turned to me and said Timbus (it was a family name), Timbus take a look around you at this clearing right here in the woods.  I want you to ask yourself if there's ever been a better spot that the good Lord could have made if he was making one of those pretty paintings like in your Grandmother's book, just look around and imagine a more perfect spot for a bear to come out of absolutely nowhere and maul the absolute shit out of us.

That night, he showed me The Book.  It must've taken him years, lonely years sitting in his old chair by the window, sipping on that rotgut that Mr. Millman used to slip him even though he wasn't supposed to, drawing up detailed plans for a suit to repel a bear attack.  But he was getting older and gaunter and more tired and he said to me Timbus there is one thing I want from you in this life and that is for us to build this suit and when you're big enough we're gonna put it on you.  And then I want you to fight a bear.

tim beckman

Oh gravy, the bear suit.

bill cubit

Grandad wouldn't let me use the power tools, but sometimes I'd fetch wood and sometimes he'd measure my skull, and much of the time he had me sitting in the corner practicing my headbutts against a bear head that he took from the lodge one night because he said those sons of bitches owed him money.

You know, we moved away and I didn't see Grandad much and I got bigger and into football.  But every once in awhile I'd hear from him-- a card on my birthday, maybe a quick trip (never more than a night) around Christmas time, a flip book of a person in armor just socking a bear in the jaw.  I sort of indulged him, I didn't think he'd ever finish it.  Then one night, a truck pulls up in front of the dorm and a guy brings by a giant crate and tells me he believes in me and vanishes.  Shit, fellas.  Shit.

Dad told me Grandad was sick, and I have no idea how he managed to finish the thing, the will it took to even polish it up and stencil URSA DANGER onto it while he coughing and shaking, but I couldn't just ignore it.  Couldn't.  There was a note written in a brittle, fading hand that said "Promise me."  So I tried.  Spent the whole summer driving around, suit in the trunk, looking for bears.

tim beckman

I told him to get to the part about the circus.

ron zook

Why on Earth would you do something like that?

bill cubit

Gotta be honest, I kind of like the part about the circus.

ron zook

Long and short of it, fellas: couldn't find a bear.  Not on any land where I wouldn't immediately be searched and questioned.  So we were all drinking one night and I told my buddy Dewey about the whole thing and he said, Timmy ya gotta fight that bear.  I'm gonna help you.  Your problem is that you're trying to go to the bear.  Why not make the bear come to you?

Ya know, I thought it would be tricky to find a bear circus desperate and on the brink of financial ruin, but let me tell you fellas: that's pretty much all of them.  And we found one and pooled some cash that I made running a football camp where I clobbered 12-year-olds with one of those American Gladiator jousting q-tips and Dewey got from selling gray market iguanas and he came back he told me with a bona fide circus bear, probably pissed off and ferocious.  So I went out there and I put the thing on for the first time-- I just couldn't bring myself to do it before and it took ages, there were diagrams and strap mechanisms and epaulets that were just for show, and I threw that sucker on and hit the claw deployment button and prepared to kick some bear ass Beckman-style, and I saw what Dewey had done.  It was a cub, tiny, shaking. I couldn't hit that little guy.  I have no idea if it even knew how to fight a regular man, let alone a man with spring-loaded foot-talons and pneumatic karate chops.  Dewey you asshole, I told him.  He was laughing his ass off in the corner, snapping pictures.  I wouldn't fight that bear unless it at least had a helmet and maybe some shoulder pads.  Dewey, you shifty lizard fuck.

I drove hours in silence.  I was going to do it.  I was going to lie and tell the old man I beat the heck out of a bear, that it tried to slash and claw and maul me, but Grandad the neck guard held perfectly and I was able to snare the big ol' bastard with the wrist net, would've been the easiest thing.  But I just couldn't.  I looked at him, wasting away in that sad bed, and I told him.  Look, we found a bear.  But he was small, and he needed at the very least some kneepads and a mouthguard, and Grandad just lay there, blank and shrinking.  Christ, Timbus, he said.  Christ.

I drove out of there and threw the suit into Lake Erie.  Every day, I tell myself he would have eventually understood that deep within him he'd want to make a bear an anti-human suit. I have to.  I have to.

tim beckman

And that's why you always had walk-ons running windsprints in papier-mache wildcat heads while you threw cans of fancy feast at them?

bill cubit

Did you know there was a hollowed out recess in the hat trophy where you could stick your head?

ron zook

You're shitting me.

tim beckman


It didn't take long for Northwestern to take its first lead following the turnover on downs as Thorson threw a 53-yard pass to Bennett Skrowronek on the first play of the drive to put the Wildcats at the Illini's five-yard line. A jet-sweep handoff to Jelani Roberts on the ensuing play went for six and put Northwestern in front, 14-7. It was the second touchdown of Roberts' career.

"Wildcats Earn Seventh-Straight Win, Keep Land of Lincoln Trophy"

The Wildcats scored on a Joe Gaziano strip that defensive end Samdup Miller recovered and ran in from 3 yards out for a 21-7 third-quarter lead. Linebacker Paddy Fisher's interception led to Jeremy Larkin's 4-yard touchdown run for a 35-7 edge in the fourth quarter.

Shannon Ryan, "Northwestern wins seventh in a row with 42-7 drubbing of Illinois," Chicago Tribune

this is fucking miserable, the lincoln guy found a stephen douglas guy in his section; they're doing debates at each other, and the security guy told me that he'd have to throw me out if i whipped some polish sausages at them, but he said believe me, buddy. i know

Stilltalkingaboutthechief, op. cit.

Meanwhile, the Danish forces of Queen Margaret battled a gang of ruthless privateers known as the Victual Brothers who kept running the blockade. They later evolved into a group of other raiders called the Likedeelers whose most important legacy is the creation of this stupendous Wikipedia Sentence: "Their most famous leader was Captain Klaus Störtebeker, who first appears in the record as a Victual Brother around 1394.[7] The Low German word Störtebeker means "Down the beakerful". He allegedly got his name because he could swallow four litres of beer without taking the beaker from his mouth.", op. cit.

What no one realizes is that I have concealed copper spray paint on my person and i'm sanding my hat.



We found quickly that we could pass through and somehow stay inside of people.  Inhabit them.  But not really compel them to do anything.  Like tracking down Paul Kowalcyzk and hitting him with a pool noodle.

bill cubit

That's not quite true.

ron zook

You could nudge them.  Coax them.  Maybe draw their attention to something just out of view.

bill cubit

You could coach 'em up.  Get in there and really focus and let that vendor know in his mind that for a split second that he might want to select not the popcorn nearest his hand, but the next one to his left.  Gentlemen, I would sort of radiate out of my being into this person, you can think about the obvious popcorn but I say we surprise 'em, we call an audible on this one, just you and me right here, looking at the guy dressed like purple lincoln.

ron zook

Yeah, you got him to pick the other popcorn.

bill cubit

I immediately managed to inhabit a guy who was going to chest bump just to feel it.

ron zook

We weren't sure how Beckman figured it out.

bill cubit

Next thing we know Beckman's floating through a scrum and he's sort of melting straight into the big kid's nostrils and he's talking about the flag.

ron zook

Couldn't make anyone do anything they didn't want to do, it's a Hat Game and you've got to do flag stuff.

tim beckman

We tried to stop it, tried to float through the other nostril.  Whole time I'm yelling Son, you're on television, this isn't the XFL, you don't have a nickname like Dale Unsportsmanlike on the back of your jersey.  This is football.  You go for the ball.  You go for the ball.  Well not really yelling, sort of emanating into a corner on the horizon of the consciousness.  

ron zook

It was too late.  The kid grabbed the flag and just underhanded it right into the ref's face.  Guy flew backwards like he was a kung fu henchman. Beckman cackled.  First time I ever heard that guy laugh.  Usually it was all yelling and bear anecdotes.

bill cubit

God damn I always wanted to do that.

tim beckman

Of course you wanted to do it, I had to be held back from chop blocking a line judge in '97.

ron zook

I wanted to stab a ref with a dial-a-down.

bill cubit

Let's see if I can get someone to knee a Wildcat in the scrotum.

tim beckman


"This doesn't happen by accident," Fitzgerald said. "There were a lot of people taking shots at (our players) There were a lot of people taking shots at our program, taking shots at the coaching staff.
"I thought (our players) answered that by shutting the noise off and doing the only thing you can in those circumstances: Go to work. The Chicago work ethic. Roll your sleeves up and go to work. That's what they did and that's why we're Chicago's Big Ten team."

Shannon Ryan, op. cit.

Chicago's Big Ten Team

A billboard on I-94

Illinois. Our State. Our Team.

Short-lived billboard on I-94

And so, after a rampage over a reeling Illinois team, Northwestern collected its ninth victory and bowl berth.  The Hat returns safely to Evanston in a Hat Transport Vehicle.  An improbable season where Northwestern was all of about a minute of overtime away from barely scarping a berth in the Disused Robocop Set Dressing Bowl sees them going to Nashville against a squad of Pretender Wildcats.

Northwestern found itself at the center of minor bowl intrigue.  As Ohio State fans raged about the Playoff and the impossible and arbitrary selection system did its job of consistently riling up at least one particularly annoying fanbase, the Outback Bowl committed crimes.  They selected Michigan over Michigan State and Northwestern despite the Wolverines' inferior record and head-to-head loss to the Spartans.  Apparently there was some sort of arcane rule that would prevent the 'Cats from appearing in the Outback Bowl because Northwestern players are still being peeled from the Raymond James Stadium from a New Years' Bowl game only two years ago that seems impossibly distant, when Tennessee under Butch Jones was thought to be an ascendant young team and not a collection of flop-sweating bureaucrats desperately mailing out job offers and self-addressed-stamped envelopes to football coaches and television personalities.  The Holiday Bowl selected Michigan State despite their head-to-head loss against Northwestern due to their stronger Football Brand.

Here is where I am going to admit that any rage about Bowl Game Hierarchies on the part of this blog is disingenuous because I don't really care what game they go to, but raging about slights is a large part of the fun of following this insane sport that is literally governed by committees of weirdo bureaucrats and committees just picking things.  College football takes a chaotic sport and supports the entire thing with an impossible infrastructure built from a century of going from a few side-whiskered hooligans literally stomping each other to death to an unwieldy and inexplicable billion dollar entertainment complex.  Of course there's a loose hierarchy of prestige around the 40 more or less interchangeable bowl games that, on the margins, disappear and reappear with the regularity of pun-named headshops on a main shopping street near a college campus.  But the decisions of these bowl committees make sense only when you consider them as a money-making apparatus; wherever there is a mid-December bowl game played in front of fifty people, there is some guy in a tophat skimming money somewhere, someone making money off of merchandise that looks dated and ridiculous exactly 12 minutes after the game ends, someone somewhere making off with a truck of stadium nachos destined for the black market.  

Bowl prestige is ridiculous, funny, and fits perfectly with college football, which is run completely on grievances.  So yes, Northwestern probably could have gone to a slightly more prestigious bowl, but they have 80 fans and no National Brand, so they will go to Nashville to play their SEC mascot doppelgangers as a reward for this bizarre season of overtime fist-clutching.  They will try to hoist their second bowl trophy in a row and fourth all time, and they will send out a remarkably successful group of graduating players including Justin Jackson, an all-time great while letting Pat Fitzgerald complain about Bowl Position for an entire month., op. cit.


The lights juddered and turned off.  The spectators filed out leaving a trail of soda cups and anguish.  And as the last of the security, vendors, stat-men, and mascot wranglers all left, a pale, unearthly light began to light up the stadium brighter and brighter invisible except to us, standing on the fifty yardline.  

bill cubit

It was only then that we could really see each other as more than just murky forms and abstract blobs.  Cubit, face contorted into a grotesque yowl, his heart perforated by daggers.

ron zook

Zook, squinting quizzically, his limbs frozen into a waterski ready position.

Beckman dragging himself across the ground, holes where his hamstrings had once been, and covered in tattoos depicting his enemies the University of Illinois Board of Regents, the 2012-14 Northwestern Wildcats, the clerk who had kicked him out of home depot when he lost patience waiting for someone to help him grab a lawnmower bag from the top shelf and took a ladder himself before he fell sending a palette of lawn care accessories crashing to the floor and rolls of duct tape rolling through the toilet aisle, tripping other customers who unleashed a rain of plungers and rakes, ad signs that say "caution: venomous reptiles."

bill cubit

I told them, Gentlemen, the light had arrived.  And sure enough, we were starting to dissolve, to fade.  I had no idea what our purpose was.  Before, it was always clear.  To get the ball.  To control field position.  To get off the field on third and short.  And off the field to make sure that the guys were growing, preparing to take what they'd learned about getting the ball and figuring out how to take it to the boardroom, to their families, to writing and directing a one-man show that sure, maybe a lot of people aren't coming to, but it wasn't really about the audience, it was about getting it off their chest and moving quickly through the impression of their dad and their eighth-grade science teacher who told them they wouldn't be shit and wouldn't he like to see them now, not specifically in that moment, in a dank basement performing for a chagrined grandmother, but you know, in the larger sense, they've got families and jobs now, is the sort of thing that I would break down the players with after practice.

But here, I don't know exactly what the point is.  There's no score.  There's no winning.  There's showing up for this exact game somewhere in Champaign-Urbana, in Evanston, in a baseball stadium or neutral site only with the two other souls, with no idea why we're flung together or what we're supposed to accomplish with nothing in between.  Just an endless cycle of fading in and out, an endless cycle of Northwestern and Illinois football games.  Gentlemen, I said.  Gentlemen, we might not know each other or like each other, but here we are and it's been an honor...

ron zook

He faded out.  It wasn't gentle.  Not awful either, just a bizarre sensation of sort of loosening but all over. 

bill cubit

It's kind of like taking off eight layers of bear armor, except your entire being.

tim beckman

I asked him if he thought this was all just some interim state, something that happened to everyone-- professors sent as whatever we are over to academic conferences, insurance adjusters sent to floods and mudslides, plumbers appearing whenever they pull out one of those hundred-ton municipal sewer grease balls?

bill cubit

I had an answer for him.  A good one too.  But he had already begun to fade and soon I would too.  But I'd tell him that we were here to win the Hat.  That's the concrete goal.  That's what unites us.  That's why we're at the Hat game.  I believed that the Hat, wrested from that jowly crewcut, grayer than I remember, would absorb us and let us finally rest.  The Hat, glowing, pulsating.  That was why.  But we couldn't do it.  We watched them get bowled over and touchdowned.  There had to be football at the root and the goal had to be winning the football game; you win the game and you win whatever the hell this is and we'd be stuck here until we figured out how.  I had to believe that because anything else, manifesting, as it were, forever at an Illinois-Northwestern football game with no purpose and no escape was otherwise too bleak to 

tim beckman