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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The most Northwestern season ended with the most fitting Northwestern bowl performance including 400 takeaways by the defense and a premature kneel down celebration in an effort to give a glimmer of hope for one last overtime game.