Monday, December 31, 2018


Alabama and Clemson will face off yet again in the national championship after effortlessly humiliating the supposed third- and fourth-best teams in college football, and it sure seems like there is once again little point to a college football season with two teams leagues above all others.  But actually caring about college football's championship is a sucker's game for the rubes who care about playoff positioning determined in smoking rooms full of athletic directors and war criminals; the essence of the appeal of the sport is the roiling chaos just beneath the lofty heights of the Playoff and playing out in delightfully pointless bowl games that are all called the "Big Boy" Chad's Regional Trash Compactor Bowl That Used To Be The Chugg Energy Drink Bowl and next year will be the PotMom.Com Legal Weed Bowl.
Amazon says that this 10th anniversary 
bowl program is available for $21.00 plus $6.00 shipping

The point of the Playoff, with its fancy embossed lettering and tacky crystal football is that those games matter, but the 345 other bowls all know that in the cosmic sense, all human endeavors are pointless and you might as well watch two teams throw interceptions at each other in the Cheez It Bowl because one day the sun will explode.

Northwestern has made it to the Holiday Bowl, somehow.  This is a consolation prize, a bizarro Rose Bowl between the two teams that lost in their respective Conference Championship Games, a reminder that somehow the Northwestern Wildcats Who Lost to Akron somehow played against Ohio State in Indianapolis in some insane fever dream.  Even announcer Gus Johnson could not believe they were there, calling John Moten's touchdown for Wisconsin even though he was wearing purple and wearing a shirt that said (and this is a direct quote) "Northwestern."
No, Northwestern did not beat big, bad Ohio State and win the most improbable Big Ten Championship of the divisional era.  They played well enough, but ultimately their tactic of shutting down the run and letting the quarterback beat them was less effective against Dwayne Haskins than the various oaf-quarterbacks of the Big Ten West, and the game got away from them in the fourth.

In Week Three, Northwestern lost to Akron and all seemed lost.  One could do the dismal bowl math and try to figure out where the other five wins would need to come from to even qualify for a bowl game held on a patch of disused mattresses in the middle of a field somewhere.  Instead, they went 8-1 against the Big Ten and won the conference even as every single Numbers Analyst kept insisting they were shitty in one of the most dumb and fun football seasons imaginable and now I own a Big Ten West Champions T-shirt.


Northwestern's season will end with a bowl game in San Diego against Utah that is for some wretched reason being played on New Year's Eve to a nationally televised audience of people having the least amount of fun on New Year's Eve possible.  Given the timeslot and the gray meat and lukewarm potato football played by both of these teams, it would be far more interesting to replace the game with an endless stream of people at terrible New Year's parties trying to feign enthusiasm for the "big game" because they don't want to go into the other room and continue having conversations about how much various things cost.

Northwestern has played Utah twice, both times in Evanston.  They won in 1927, presumably by dazzling the Utes with a halftime show featuring music from the recently-released Jazz Singer.  Then in 1981, they lost 42-0 because it was a 1981 Northwestern game.  Utah's football team is apparently an unstoppable bowl juggernaut that just wins bowls.
Here's a 1927 season poster from Northwestern's 
likely depressing History of Northwestern Football exhibit

I am not going to lie to you and pretend that I have watched a single minute of Utah football this year or any other year or am watching film on them to break down how Northwestern will can beat them because I already know: it will be by shutting down their running game, daring their quarterback to have a meltdown, not getting penalties while the other team's fans slowly have an emotional meltdown because of Uncalled Holding, Isaiah Bowser battering people, and Clayton Thorson somehow magicking the exact one play that will give Northwestern exactly enough points to win.

The Wildcats have won their last two bowl games.  Until recently, bowl games had been another vexing and improbable part of the Lore of Northwestern Sports Incompetence as they kept collapsing in increasingly impossible ways; to anyone who says there is no point to winning bowl games, I would suggest rooting for a team that failed to qualify for one for 47 years, waited until they became ubiquitous enough to qualify for them almost every year, and still keep losing and losing and losing until finally pulling one out and see if your coach does not theatrically destroy a plush toy monkey.

And yet, this bowl game may be the most inconsequential bowl game Northwestern has ever played.  They already played their thirteenth game in Indianapolis for the entire Big Ten Championship. Does it matter if they triumph here or, by wriggling out of a festering Big Ten West, have they already proven their point?  

I can make one guarantee: this year has featured the most Northwestern football ever unleashed on this nation, the United States.


The best part of bowl games is the shameless grift by a mysterious coterie of Bowl Executives and marketing people who are all in charge of skimming millions of dollars from exhibition football games put on by athletes compensated with a Playstation and a digital watch.  The Washington Post has a wonderfully entertaining story about a man paid more than a million dollars a year whose only job is putting on the Outback Bowl that starts with this incredible, withering lede:
In the gated communities of waterfront mansions north of this city, not far from mansions belonging to the chief executive of the Tampa Bay Lightning and former NFL star turned broadcaster Ronde Barber, there’s one particularly impressive home, featuring a 600-bottle wine cellar, a wraparound shower with massage jets, and a sizeable pool with a waterfall and jacuzzi overlooking a lake. It belongs to Jim McVay, a sports executive who for the past 30 years has run the Outback Bowl, a second-tier college football postseason game featuring third-place teams.
But it's not a goofy make-work job for the man who invented the Bucs firing cannons after scoring touchdowns.  The man is working hard.  Every night, he has to hire James Brown's Cape Guy when he comes home from another backbreaking meeting in Rosemont.

 “It’s not a situation where he sits on his thumbs for three years,” [Outback Bowl board member Steve] Schember said. “He goes up to Chicago a lot [Big Ten headquarters] . . . he goes up the SEC offices . . . it’s an important job, maintaining those relationships.”

"People don’t understand the bowl world. It’s very unique,” [Outback Bowl spokesman Mike] Schulze said. “People are always going to say, ‘Gosh, I didn’t even know that was a job.’ But we all work hard. We’re here every single day.”
Here I would like to imagine the Outback Bowl Board and Outback Bowl staff sitting around a giant model of the Tampa football stadium with jewelers' eyes and then McVay says we're going to put the end zone here while everyone applauds and they all open up bottles of champaign and inhale powders made from the appendages of endangered animals.
My favorite waste of bowl money this year is the Maker's Wanted Bahama's Bowl.  This game, pitting Florida International against Toledo, was sponsored for $300,000 by Chicago suburb Elk Grove Village. I can't think of a funnier waste of taxpayer money than sponsoring a bowl game between FIU and Toldeo.  As a person who has been to a bowl game, the most horrifying and awkward part of the bowl game is when the Vice President of Bowl Sponsorship or whatever gets to give a little speech only this time it will be some Deputy Comptroller who hopefully has a honking Chicago accent representing an industrial park in the shadow of O'Hare talking about how much it means to the residents of the Village's Little Toledo neighborhood. 

Bowls fit into a bizarre entertainment landscape where unending television money props up weird spectacles that no one seems to want.  Television networks need football content so we have a proliferation of half-empty bowl games between listless teams pawing at each other or, occasionally, letting loose the sublime insanity that happens in college football.  These bowl games aren't stupid or pointless or unnecessary for the players or the fans, but their existence also seems on the same plane as a Nic Cage movie released exclusively on Hulu Plus for the benefit of someone who is either unaware of the quality of the Eastern European Nic Cage canon, actively seeking it out for some bizarre B-movie sense, or is on a startling combination of drugs.  

The lesser bowls, propped up by unpaid players, executive-level hamburgling, graft, chicanery, and wrapped in a chintzy layer of pomp that usually involves a halftime show involving the Original Bassist from 311 are not some bizarre college football sideshow-- in this way, more than the oxygen-sucking Playoff, they are the very embodiment of this , ridiculous sport.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Wheel Has Turned and the Cycle Continues Anew: The Bulls Have Hired a Bald Asshole

For some reason the Bulls, an already crummy team ravaged by every single player tearing the same knee ligament, decided to fire gormless PTA Dad Fred Hoiberg.  Hoiberg had little going for him as a head coach.  At the same time, he faced bizarre circumstances where he was put in charge of a roiling, conspiracy-prone Three Alphas team that had little time for his pajama party bonding sessions because they were headed by veterans more concerned with invading Silesia.  The next year, they tanked; Hoiberg also had a player just completely and utterly destroy another player's face and the organization decided that the guy crumpled on the floor deserved it.  And then, just when Lauri Markkanen returned from injury and the team could be poised to Space and Pace as prophesied many moons ago from Ames, John Paxson and Gar Forman burst into his rumpus room and fired him out of nowhere because it was time for them to bring in a Bald Asshole.
An extremely normal image that comes up when you google Jim Boylen

The Bulls have a pattern for coaches that rotates between ineffective Hair Guys and Bald Assholes.  They brought in Scott Skiles to scream at everyone about playing defense for several seasons until they had to stop players from assassinating him after practice.  His replacement was Vinny Del Negro, a man with a glorious mane and a confused look on his face.  Then they brought in the ur-Bald Asshole in Tom Thibodeau, a bizarre basketball monomaniac who spent all of his time sitting around in the same black track suit watching film and just vibrating with anger that somewhere a basketball player was not boxing out.  Thibodeau, with his manic floor-bellowing, his complete inability to take a single play off even during a grinding 82-game season, and his Sipowicz-but-less-put-together aesthetic, fell into an unending conflagration with the front office that went as far as to involve rumors that coaches turned on fans because they feared their offices were bugged.  It turns out that Derrick Rose's knee ligaments were the only things holding the fractious Bulls together.

Jim Boylen is a classic Bald Asshole. He wants to talk about Defense. And Fundamentals. They're going to do Suicides.  And he's going to scream at everyone until his throbbing skull glows red as a heating lamp over a 7-11 hotdog roller.  He has been the Bulls coach for less than a week and has nearly incited a mutiny.

It's not Jim Boylen's fault that he looks like a crooked prosecutor who "strongly denies" involvement in a boat license entrapment scheme, but he made no bones about his public image and immediately decided it would be the hardass vice principal from Back to the Future.

On Saturday, the hapless Bulls were utterly dismantled by the Celtics in their worst loss in the history of the team.  Boylen reacted with hockey substitutions and pulling starters presumably so he could scream at them in practice the next day.  The Bulls then started a group text about whether or not to even show up to practice because they did not want a pointy-headed doofus setting up dozens of desks so he could angrily clear everything off of them while yelling that they shouldn't have done the worst loss in the history of the team.  Now everyone is saying what they need to in order to prevent Boylen from looking like an even angrier, redder asshole than he already did.

What's next for Boylen? Will he stop a game in the middle and just leave?  Move into Jabari Parker's house so he can tell him to pick his knees up for godssake pick your GODDAMN KNEES UP?  Will he burst forth from Zach Lavine's chest while angrily tooting a whistle?

Is there a worse archetype in sports than the Bald Asshole coach, the guy who decides he's not gonna have any LOLLYGAGGING around here? Is there anything more absurd in the NBA, where multi-millionaire adults are really going to listen to some glistening sausage casing who looks like the alderman's brother-in-law who is somehow on the payroll?  And, this is a completely unrelated subject, but what are the odds that the Bulls have interim coaches named Jim Boylan and Jim Boylen and they are two different guys because honestly before Coach Tugboat came in there and started throwing things that simple fact broke my brain for several hours?

The answer to all of those questions is John Paxson.  Paxson loves this shit.  A guy who literally choked a coach and who has spent the past two decades in Chicago playing dumb macho headgames absolutely loves it when he opens the door and some guy who is already putting fist dents into a filing cabinet has prepared a rhyme about how every player is dogshit DOGSHIT.  Perhaps we can find a the biggest, baldest asshole humanly possible, just a smooth-headed maniac radiating spittle and sprouting auxiliary whistles, just a nine-foot colossus who is so angry that he must be wheeled around in a plexiglass box to prevent him from causing millions of dollars of property damage at all times to come in and yell at John Paxson two inches from his face while blasting on a whistle and punching the walls of his traveling prison-box and telling Paxson to stop running this basketball team like a goddamned opera.

Saturday, December 1, 2018


Northwestern football has them all doing the one thing they don't want to be doing and that is talking about Northwestern football for an extra week.  The Wildcats did this by remaining standing atop a Big Ten West where every team poisoned itself, by playing a brand of ugly, unwatchable football, and scoring very close to the minimum number of points needed to do so.  They are 8-4, lost every single non-conference game including one to a four-win Akron team that had literally never beaten a Big Ten Opponent, and sported a losing record at home.  SBNation calls them the "lowest-rated power five team to ever win a division championship."  Pat Fizgerald has been named Big Ten Coach of the Year; they are sixty minutes away from winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl.
I had no idea the Big Ten West Champion got a trophy until this year

 Every advanced metric seems to cry out that the 2018 Northwestern Wildcats suck.  And yet, nobody wants to see their team play them.  This is partly because Northwestern plays aesthetically revolting football loved by punters and the punters who love punters.  Northwestern has a great punter who has also been kicking field goals because it is his turn to score some points and at Northwestern, the punter is king.

The Wildcats were bound to break through to Indianapolis at some point, and this is the platonic ideal of a Northwestern team to do so-- reviled, appearing seemingly by default, irritating the hell out of everyone especially Big Ten West teams whose own vile and inept outfits managed to fall short.  This is what Northwestern football looks like under Pat Fitzgerald-- not the Randy Walker squads that used the then-novel spread offense to try to beat teams 61-55, but a brutal, grinding, defense and punts machine that has sprung fully formed from the meaty forearms of a neckroll linebacker.  Northwestern hangs in against great teams and they rarely blow anyone out.  In the last five years of Fitzball in which Northwestern has had arguably its strongest run of the modern era including multiple ten-win seasons and heretofore unthinkable bowl victories, the 'Cats have made almost every clutch play they've needed-- they are probably a few dozen minutes from going like 3-9 every year.

For a long time, opposing teams would react to losing to Northwestern like frustrated cartoon supervillains, shaking their fists and perplexed that their plans had once again gone awry.  It was mildly infuriating that teams could lose again and again to the Wildcats and their fans would be incredulous because Northwestern had been really bad in the 1970s and 80s.  How could people not fathom that Northwestern is sort of good?  They put up a spirited fight in the Sun Bowl.  But not this year.  Everyone is infuriated they lost to Northwestern because Northwestern punted 75 times and then a wide receiver teleported into the endzone or they fumbled and the ball bounced into a roll and hit the pole, and knocked the ball in the rub-a-dub tub, which hit the man into the pan, the trap is set, Northwestern ball.
Northwestern Offensive Coordinator Mick McCall draws up the 
"Win The Game" play

The metrics and pundits have no way to quantify exactly good enough, and the Wildcats in Big Ten play have made pretty much exactly every play they needed to at the right time.  Maybe it's luck, maybe it is a conference gerrymandered for Wisconsin watching as Wisconsin realizes only too late that Ryan Field is inexplicably a Badger Death Trap, and maybe it is because the Wildcats have some sort of bizarre intangible toughness that allows them to grind out games like this while causing the S&P+ computers to overheat and become sentient, eventually going on an endless wave of destruction.  All I know is that the Wildcats are in Indianapolis, the bumbling jabronis of the Big Ten West are not, and I would not write them off.

If hideous, unwatchable victories characterize this Northwestern season, then the 24-16 victory over a malingering Illinois team was their masterpiece.  The Wildcats bludgeoned the Illini with Isaiah Bowser; the Illini run defense seemed mainly to consist of reasoned argument.  But then, Fitzgerald took everyone out.  The 'Cats already played the game with no starting defensive backs, no top receiver, and without a key defensive playmaker.  Early in the third quarter, Fitz benched Bowser, and by the fourth had benched Clayton Thorson.  The offense basically decided to kneel for the rest of the game, and Illinois inched back with a great game from quarterback A.J. Bush.  Fitzgerald decided to win the Hat with one head tied behind his back.

And once again Mystical Northwestern Bullshit struck again.  Part of it came from Illinois just being a woeful and sorry football team that couldn't stop committing doofus penalties; the game ended on a first down granted from a personal foul.  Part of it came from Lovie Smith stoically electing to kick field goals instead of raining touchdown hellfire in order to try to salvage some dignity by seizing the Hat from the division champs.  Even me, a person who has written thousands of words about retaining the Hat, was screaming at Lovie for kicking a field goal inside the five, a luxury I could enjoy because the game had no bearing on Northwestern's conference championship position, and a loss would only give them a another truly hideous and embarrassing defeat to drag into Indianapolis and theoretically make them even more powerful.
Using archival photos of Lovie as the head coach of the 
Bears, this blog has expertly recreated what would happen 
if Lovie shaved his mustache and grew a Lincoln Beard, 
perhaps the most effective way for him to win his first Hat

I like Lovie Smith a lot.  He was a great Bears coach and always struck me as a beacon of calm in the manic football coaching world.  I have no idea why Illinois has played so poorly under him and, it pains me to say this, but Tim Beckman would have absolutely won that game.  He would have won that game, he would have gotten the Hat, and then he probably would have spontaneously combusted while screaming at his players all the way back to Champaign-Urbana only because he understood the power of the Hat and it drove him into madness.

The last time Northwestern and Ohio State met on a stage this big, ESPN's College Football Gameday came to Evanston.  Northwestern was 4-0, coming off its first bowl win in the NATO era, and seemingly poised for a big run in the Legends Division that I still can't believe that multiple people saw that and said that was an acceptable name for a division, sure we'll put it on merchandise and trophies and everything.  Instead, Ohio State eked out the win and Northwestern fell into an unfathomable death spiral where they managed a single win the rest of the season.  This meeting is projected to be more bleak.
He got the First Down

This game has Playoff Implications.  Because the college football playoff is decided by an unaccountable committee that selects playoff participants from secret chambers with ghastly rites and unthinkable augurs, Ohio State may still qualify.  There is no objective way to determine whether, for example, it is better to have Oklahoma's defense where they try to tackle people and then fly back on wires like in kung fu movies or to have gotten annihilated from the face of the Earth by Purdue.  The Playoff Committee deals in conjecture, in ratings and money, and just plain old bullshit.  But Ohio State will only make the Playoff if they beat Northwestern, and they have every incentive to try to run it up as much as possible.  Unfortunately for them, Northwestern football this season is an inflatable clown that keeps popping up.

Conventional wisdom says that the Buckeyes will run away with this one.  But they do not fully understand the force they are dealing with.  Northwestern's 2018 football team was not designed to get blown out, clobbered, or run out of Lucas Oil Stadium.  It makes no sense.  It defies all logic, reason, and empirical ranking systems, and only exists to profoundly annoy and fuck up college football.  Ohio State has the best quarterback in the Big Ten and a high-powered offense.  Northwestern has the ability to show up to the Rose Bowl and get asked what the fuck are you doing here before a 25-minute phone conversation clears things up and the Tournament of Roses people react with Marc Maron levels of incredulity.  There can be nothing less likely or more ridiculous than Northwestern pulling this one out.  Tell the Buckeyes the Wildcats will see them in Indianapolis, they will see them in hell, and they will see them in Overtime.