Saturday, October 20, 2018


Northwestern's brilliant 99-yard drive down seven with two minutes to go and no timeouts to tie the game looked fantastic on the stilted play-by-play slowly loading onto my phone and on the anguished face of the Nebraska fan in my train car scowling his phone like it opened to the website that suggested he must try Malort.  I was on the train watching the ambiguous Clayton Thorson text updates because I had left the game when Nebraska was up by ten with less than ten minutes left.  The weather was perfect.  I did not have to change into a tuxedo for a Function with the Arch Duke.  I left because it looked like Northwestern was going to lose the game and I didn't want to listen to Nebraska fans celebrating, doing their creepy sing-song "Go Big Red" chant in the exact cadence as Sloth yelling "HEY YOU GUYS" in the Goonies all the way to the Howard stop, so I left and helplessly watched as Northwestern put up one of their greatest if not dumbest comebacks they've had in awhile on the way to yet another overtime victory because I'm an idiotic sports oaf.

I am very sorry for this

Leaving a game early because of Sports Anguish triggers bizarre conflicting emotions: of course I wanted the Wildcats to win in precisely the type of agonizing comeback and requisite Northwestern overtime that they specialize in so they have a chance to qualify for the Camouflage Pants and Ninja Knife Expo '97 Bowl.  But there's also a small part of me that was rooting for them to fall predictably short, to justify my ridiculous decision to rage-quit a live sporting event because evidently it is far more satisfying for me to be right than happy.

Almost every game Northwestern plays at home against a Big Ten team is a road game, and it is profoundly embarrassing to admit that this annoys me.  The other fans have done nothing wrong other than wear a different color shirt and yell different letters and the only thing I want is for them to go home vanquished and disappointed.  It is like when a professional wrestler gets so irritated and anguished by hearing his opponents' entrance music that he stares out of the ring in bug-eyed incredulity except it is real and I can't believe I actually do this.

The fact that I missed a ludicrous Northwestern comeback is annoying; the fact that it was against Nebraska is depressing.  Northwestern has never beaten Nebraska at home.  In fact, only two games have ever been won by the home team in this series and both under insane circumstances-- last week's insane Northwestern comeback in Evanston and the other a hail mary by a Nebraska backup backup backup quarterback in Lincoln.  Every year, Nebraska fans flood Ryan Field and even though this happens for every single major team that comes here, the Nebraska fans still find this novel and exciting and worthy of the same amount of discussion that one would find at a meeting of the Congressional Committee on Mileage.  This year, Nebraska had yet to win a single game and the fans still piled in ready to finally celebrate a win and figured not inaccurately that Evanston was a decent place to get it.

The Nebraska fans around me saw their team finally hire the messianic alumnus coach, the hottest lower-tier coach in the country who had played for the Huskers and knew about running the dang option and then the team just fucking cratered into an 0-5 oblivion.We can all admit that it is extremely funny. But given these circumstances, Nebraska fans, seeing their team finally winning, finally, maybe turning it around, were jubilant and over the moon and I sat there seething like that picture of Jack White at the Cubs game who looks like he been confused his whole life about what baseball was and finally saw it in action.
Jack White discovers he had been led to believe that the 
sport of baseball involved lathes and elaborate bat-crafting 
phases and about 84 percent less spitting

This is the darkness inherent in sports fandom.  It is an effect for me that is far more visceral in person than on television or on a flickering illegal stream that doubtlessly infected my old computer with thousands of undetectable viruses that have sent my number munchers high scores to the seediest corners of the Dark Web. It is the appalling and disgusting revelation that once again some sickos and deviants have come to my section with the perverse desire to root for the team they prefer against the Northwestern Wildcats who WON the GODDAMN MUSIC CITY BOWL WHAT ELSE DO THEY HAVE TO DO that triggers some horrifying dinosaur-brained impulse to say that I want them to be quiet, I want them to leave, I want them to go home utterly crushed and forced to look their loved ones in the eye and admit they are kind of sad their team didn't win the game.

The flip side to Ryan Field being filled at all times with opposing fans is that it rarely occurs to them that they could ever lose and on the occasions when they do it is incredibly satisfying.  Their teams only lose to the Wildcats for two reasons: one of the coordinators is incompetent and needs to be fired and Uncalled Holding Penalties. A small sample of the most unhinged Michigan State fans I can find on the internet demanded that their offensive coordinator should be fired after every loss to the Wildcats-- by the third one, I believe they demanded that they fire him, rehire him, and then fire him again while ordinary citizens jeered him with menacing karate poses.  One of the funniest things to see if you are a complete idiot and enjoy watching people be angry about football online is to read fans grouse about how wily ol' Fitz has fooled them again with an offensive gameplan while simultaneously reading Northwestern fans demanding that Wildcats' offensive coordinator be fired and then symbolically chopped in half by a distressingly incompetent magician.

This is why the most distressing thing I've read this week is that Northwestern is favored by 21 points going into today's game against Rutgers.  Rutgers, playing a brand of football so wretched that it appears they have somehow transported players from the mythical first football game to the twenty-first century completely unable to discern the rules of modern football and also distracted by television, indoor plumbing, Instagram, and the relative unpopularity of mustaches.  Rutgers fans have succumbed to the saddest fate in the Big Ten: a belief that their team could actually lose to Northwestern.  In fact, they seem resigned to a drubbing from the Wildcats.
Rutgers players practice for Northwestern by lining up in 
their signature formation The Nineteenth-Century Conflagration

There are myriad reasons why Northwestern should win comfortably.  But there are also the Iron Laws of Northwestern Football which clearly state that that the goal of any game above all is to enter that sacred realm of Overtime. 


Staniel said...

The flip side to Ryan Field being filled at all times with opposing fans is that it rarely occurs to them that they could ever lose and on the occasions when they do it is incredibly satisfying.

And this . . . this is why I'm dragging my whole family ~2,000 miles to Evanston to watch a game next Saturday that we are 99.9% certain to lose. But then, the lottery ticket odds of gratification, that... that if they paid off would be very, very satisfying. That scenario would make me very happy.

Let us hope that the game's refs are as astute, accurate, and handsome as they were several years ago when they single-handedly won the Wisconsin game for us.

Daniel O'Neil said...

And, indeed, they nearly DID go into overtime. Good lord this team