Thursday, August 30, 2018

This Blog has been around for Ten Years Good Grief Also It Is College Football Season

College football has a lot of things going for it: exciting finishes, field-storming upsets, a general air of ruckus that surrounds it, but the greatest contribution that college football makes to the sporting landscape is as a source of unhinged online jeremiads.

College football offers a great backdrop for writing because it is impossible and insane.  There's the serious articles about the various ways that college football remains profoundly fucked up and morally  indefensible-- an elaborate system of inflicting brain traumas on unpaid teenagers that is somehow simultaneously a lawless free-for-all where institutions hide grievous and even unthinkable crimes and an impossibly intricate parallel justice system where players are monitored at all times for accepting a five dollar milk shake with an enforcement branch dedicated to investigating the unauthorized sale of game-worn pants.  The entire thing is something out of Kafka.

The sport breeds colorful characters at all levels because it has evolved to turn itself into a network of unquestioned fiefdoms under the two types of people who absolutely should not be in charge of anything: college football coaches and people who give shitloads of money to college football programs so they can be Football Big Shots. 

At the same time, college football remains just about the most ineptly organized sport possible.  Its sheer enormity and the sport's inherent violence means that it is nearly impossible to crown an actual champion through head-to-head play.  Instead, the NCAA has outsourced its championship crowning process to a succession of various polls, forumlae, Piggly Wiggly Championships, and, in its current version, a shady committee of bureaucrats.  The college football championship is not so much a contest of football but a contest of discourse and innuendo.  Why wouldn't college football have blogs when the only way to decide who gets whatever hideous trophy they've come up with this time is a bascially blogging writ large.

College football is America's most rhetorical sport.  It runs almost entirely on what fans like to call "tradition," a code word for a collection of ancient grievances, accusations of cheating within the NCAA's arcane rules, regional insults, and the narcissism of small difference among local rivals.  Wins and losses are determined equally on the field of play and through post-game litigation on the internet, TV shows where square-knotted Football Guys talk about Strength of Schedule and What The Playoff Committee is Looking For, and insane radio shows where callers can dismiss entire records as the product of an inferior conference by screaming at the tops of their lungs.  The whole thing is sport through a hazy Foucauldian lens.  Also everyone is drunk all of the time.

This blog started ten years ago as part of a large and unruly network of blogs that monomaniacs created to scream into an electronic void.  Internet sports discussions in the earlier 2000s largely coalesced around message boards of various quality that produced everything from reports from dubious insiders to a network of profoundly unfunny pun names for rivals, but the vast majority of content usually involved like five people constantly complaining about various message board injustices perpetuated against them by the Mods.  The blog represented a step beyond that, where a person could write all they wanted without fear of getting censure or getting called an asshole with the tradeoff being that nearly no one would ever read your shit.

Nowadays, when we have all somehow sewn ourselves into the internet like so many Lawnmowered-Men and scarcely express a thought that is not Online, it is hard to imagine what blogs meant even ten years ago.  A person could type out his or her thoughts, throw them on a webpage for free, and people could actually see them.  For me, the blog was not an innovation in distribution that freed me from having to pass out a hastily-xeroxed Northwestern 'zine outside of Ryan Field, but a way to write while bypassing a single person who could stop me from publishing it and also tell me that whatever I was doing was so profoundly awful and embarrassing that I should never write anything and I should bury myself in the nearest desert.  The freedom that blogs granted for me was not the freedom from rejection or ridicule but from ever having to justify anything-- there is no way that any other person with a platform would ever allow me to write about Northwestern football and also Tour de France mustaches or nineteenth-century biopiracy, or football game recaps written as P.G. Wodehouse stories for an audience of several dozen people for ten years.  They would be right; this entire enterprise is almost unbearably ridiculous, but it remains astounding to me that anyone reads this at all.

The brief flourishing of small sports blogs seems to have passed for several reasons.  One is that blogs have become consolidated and professionalized, with several fan sites morphing into full-on operations with sources and credentials.  The other is that social media allows everyone to spray their unhinged opinions all over the internet without a care in the world.  People are ready to make their grievances about various coordinators known all over facebook; should a person, for some unfathomable reason, need to call a teenager who has chosen to attend a different school a TRADER, a sufficiently deranged person can simply tweet it directly to him or the nearest convenient family member instead of blogging it to thirteen equally disturbed persons.

One of the strangest things that has happened to the internet over the past couple of decades has been how internet posting has moved from a shady, almost underground activity to ubiquity.  For me, at least, internet posting had always been a weird netherworld where you anonymously write incredibly dumb shit centered on whatever weird obsessions you kept from polite society.  That does not mean it was better; the early internet I saw was often cruel, insensitive, and concerned almost entirely with the scenario what if Mr. T ate your balls. But I don't think I've ever been able to wrap my head around the fact that everyone is online with their real names.  This blog is not anonymous because I'm under any delusion that anyone actually cares about who I am but because the entire enterprise of blogging about Northwestern sports and whatever baroque nonsense that actually makes up the vast majority of these posts is profoundly embarrassing in every context except being a giant goofball online.     


After a decade, blogging about a single team can become repetitive and tedious.  The team wins, the team loses, the team goes to a shitty bowl game or the team goes to a shittier bowl game.  The same people fade in and out.  Northwestern will play Wisconsin every year and you could probably swap out the names of the coach and running back and get the same preview that consists of "sure looks like these big guys are gonna sit on 'em."  I've written several hundred words about P.J. Fleck and I don't know if there are any more depths to plumb from rowing the boat.

The exception is Tim Beckman, who burned in like a comet and immediately became the lodestar of this blog.  If you ever find yourself compulsively blogging about an undistinguished football team, you can only pray for a Beck Man to show up on the doorstop.  Beckman coached football as a type of performance art, a hamhanded sendup of everything a college football coach is supposed to do without any veneer of competence.  Teams have rivals, so Beckman immediately began courting one with Northwestern although anyone who had followed college football for the past century could explain that the only way to approach Northwestern football was through polite condescension.  But instead, he made the speeches and posters and paraphernalia.  He really put up a No Northwestern sign in the locker room.  He really made a Countdown Clock.  The man had props. And although it really bummed me out at the time, in retrospect I can't think of a more narratively satisfying football game than Illinois beating Northwestern for the final Big Ten bowl berth in a game where no team had a starting quarterback.

Beckman seemed to approach coaching like the proverbial resident of Plato's cave-- he saw a vague shadows of things that a football coach should do, footballcoachically.  I believe, with no real insight into Beckman Mindset beyond turning him into a cartoon character for my own amusement for several years, that this was the essence of Beckman's downfall-- a hazy understanding that coaches should be tough, and a sort of cack-handed attempt to act that way that by denying that human beings could injure their hamstrings.  Or maybe he was just a violent oaf who didn't win enough games to get away with it.  Either way, I can't stop writing about Beckman even though he has not coached football for years because the most interesting thing that Lovie Smith has done is grow a tremendous Sean Connery beard.  As recently as several months ago, this blog featured him in a long, fantastical story that involves him reluctantly attempting to fight a bear in a homemade bear fighting suit.


Northwestern opens the season tonight inexplicably against Purdue on national television.  This is the strangest scheduling development I can think of.  Not only do they open against a Big Ten team, but Northwestern and Purdue are about to play a football game in full view of the public instead of tucked away on Big Ten Network regional coverage at 11:00 AM in Week 9 overshadowed by almost any other sporting contest including international soccer, one of those darts games where the darts guys are lowered into a raucous arena by drunken British people who have spent the afternoon seizing strangers by the lapel and screaming DARTS at them through bloodshot eyes, an instagram video of a dog on a basketball court.

Both teams are coming off successful seasons.  Purdue, steaming into a bowl game under hotshot coach Jeff Broehm, Northwestern riding an impossible overtime win streak that stretched the fabric of space-time into a ten-win season.  For Northwestern the biggest question remains whether quarterback Clayton Thorson will play.  Thorson, injured in a heroic trick play during the Music City Bowl that led to my favorite bizarre sports article where a columnist demanded to know why people didn't compare it to Nick Foles's Super Bowl catch, seems ready to return.

Pat Fitzgerald, though, remains cagey, refusing to name a starter, and torturing beat reporters with his signature riddles and rhymes.  Fitzgerald loves using vague, hockey-style injury reports; ask him about his starting quarterback and he will produce an episode of the new Twin Peaks.

Pat Fitzgerald answers a question about his starting quarterback for tonight's game

I don't fault Fitzgerald for keeping things vague.  After all, injury reports exist mainly to serve such degenerates as gamblers, talk radio hosts, and bloggers.  But the reason he does it, as part of a football coach's ludicrous fetish for military-style secrecy in the service of Literally Northwestern Football comes across as ridiculous.

What will the Mighty Wildcats look like this season?  I have no idea.  I'm not going to pretend to analyze them position by position or know how they stack up against the West; this is a futile task even for football experts much less for a team that lost to an FCS team and won a bowl game in the same season.  This blog has in the past been written based off of Dave Eanet radio broadcasts, boxscores, and, one season, from another continent exposing my computer to all sorts of exotic Michaelangelo Viruses in order to watch a stuttering stream of the Outback Bowl. 

This blog exists as an infinitesimal part of the great College Football Internet Yelling ecosystem.  There are now dozens of sources that will give you actual news and analysis about Northwestern football or Cubs playoff anxiety or even the incredibly popular pastime of being mad at the Bulls, online.  This thing, here, at blogspot dot com is a discomfiting anachronism.  I have no idea what I'm even doing here or why I've decided that the world needs ten years worth of half-informed 10,000 word screeds about the Schmalkaldic League or nearly 100 fake columns parodying extremely specific types of online sportswriting that makes sense to me alone.  But the season has begun, the scoreboard will soon be blasting its AC/DC, and the fist claws are coming out of a long hibernation to menace the thousands upon thousands of fans from good grief have you seen the home schedule this season.  There is only one thing a poster can do in this situation.


Susan Held said...

Someday I hope that college football and also professional football end but this blog endures.

Daniel O'Neil said...

And yet, sir you are a national treasure. Don't ever stop.

Staniel said...

BYCTOM, don't scare me like that again. I thought this was your swan song for an uncomfortable amount of time. To paraphrase Mark Twain: “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good BYCTOM is barely enough.”

BYCTOM said...

Thank you all for the kind words and thank you for reading this blog.