Friday, December 8, 2017

ILLINOIS/NORTHWESTERN RECAP


I.

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," Bringyourchampionstheyreourmeat.blogspot.com

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 AvoisTheNois.com

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

@Arch_Hatton

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.


II.

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

III.

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.

Bringyourchampionstheyreourmeat.blogspot.com, 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," IncessantWildcatNoise.com forums


IV.

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


IV.

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

V.

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" Nusports.com

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."

Bringyourchampionstheyreourmeat.blogspot.com, op. cit.

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

@ArchHatton 


 VI.

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


VII.

"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.

Bringyourchampionstheyreourmeat.blogpost.com, op. cit.


VIII.

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

3 comments:

Michael Squier said...

Each new post = a new apotheosis.
/said this particular life-long Michigan fan, from Detroit, who religiously reads a blog which details Northwestern Football and Basketball, covers Chicago Sports writ large, and provides unparalleled (if dubious) insight into historical slap-matches, art-rivalries, and noteworthy flatulence.

BYCTOM said...

I appreciate the kind words. Thanks for reading.

Joe Daly said...

Hey! I appreciate your post even more than I appreciate Beckman tripping the ref on the sidelines! And that's a lot BTW. Keep up the good work.

On a side note, can you please research and report back to the class who will win first:

A. BYCTOM wins Pulitzer for Best Damn Historical/Hysterical Sports Blogging.
B. BYCTOM wins Nobel for uniting the country against the ILL-INI in a well-written diatribe
C. IL stealing back the HAT from the correctly purpled Cats. Beckman will be discovered to be at the bottom of it all.