Friday, October 18, 2019

Nebraska and Northwestern are in a Codependent Emotional Death Spiral

Someone has decided that every year Northwestern and Nebraska have to slog at each other for four hours before one group of fans has its insides explode. I don’t know what sort of strange alchemy allows this-- perhaps there is some sort of football cosmology that says there can only be one NU team and so the two are fated to destroy each other emotionally for all time, perhaps there is some sort of chortling football demon involved, or perhaps it is because both teams are both Sort of OKish, but I don’t think that anyone realized when the Corn Huskers joined the Big Ten that they would spend the next decade more or less locked into a devastating Spider-Man pointing meme with Northwestern, and I admit that if I didn’t just watch a walk-on backup safety kick a game-winning field goal in the dying seconds and run a bulldozer over the Wildcats’ season, I would admit that this particular turn of events for Nebraska is incredibly funny.

Northwestern had won the last two contests both, as the team prefers, in overtime. Nebraska won this one with a backbreaking interception, an inexplicably gorgeous throw from a backup quarterback, and said field goal. Nebraska loves to win this game with a backup quarterback. Their most ridiculous win in this mutant rivalry to date remains a hail mary engineered by Ron Kellogg III, such an improbable and heart-breaking finish that I will remember the name Ron Kellogg III to my dying day and I admit I did not even watch that game because I was gambling on jai-alai.

The feeling when Ron Kellogg III hits a hail mary and you miss the Trifecta

The Wildcats started the game with a new quarterback but continued to struggle on offense. It is a hoary cliche for internet football idiots like me to sarcastically joke about the team establishing the run when they are having the same success doing so that Wile E. Coyote has traditionally had in entering a tunnel painted onto the side of a mountain. It is clear that the coaching staff has them devotedly running the ball only because it is not currently legal in football to burrow into the defensive line, wait several weeks, and then burst out of them in a disgusting shower of flesh and football jersey material for a two-yard gain.

The Nebraska loss has dropped Northwestern to 1-4 in a game they could have won. Northwestern’s defense appears vicious enough to strike fear in the hearts of the Big Ten West’s meatiest and least ham-handed quarterbacks.  It is impossible to say that Northwestern will not right the ship and find their way to a gnarled moth-eaten bowl game as is their birthright in the Fitzgerald era but it seems like the mythical sixth win and berth in the Col. R. Humpted Bilious Official U.S. Army Surplus Iron Claw For Meat Preparation Bowl continues to fade away like a mirage in the distance.
Meat Claws are a real product. It is unknown whether the United States 
government keeps a list of Known Meat Claw Injuries

And now big, bad Ohio State, the Crimson Scourge, comes steaming into Ryan Field on an insane and unnecessary Friday night game with its fans poised to take over the stadium for a game none of them have any interest in watching.  The Buckeyes are favorites.  The gambling point spread is obscene.  The game has been removed from the FS1 channel and banished to Big Ten Network to ensure it is viewed only by those steeled for hardcore Big Ten Content.  

I have suggested that this year's Northwestern team at 1-4 is in a good position for an upset.  Nobody is watching Northwestern football this season unless they have been arrested for effectively passing and put into a Clockwork Orange device, and so no one understands that the Wildcats' defense is excellent.  The hope has been that the entire enterprise of Northwestern football under Pat Fitzgerald has become so nonsensical and random that the Buckeyes will enter some sort of chaos state where what happens becomes an operatic farce and they are dragged to overtime and eventually madness.  I have submitted this to many gambling preview websites but they have all turned it down. 


If there is one thing that the baseball playoffs have given fans this season it is the startling revelation that Fernando Rodney is here and still pitching.  Rodney, the crooked-hat closer for the Tigers and eventually pretty much every team in Major League Baseball is still popping up in middle relief in his seventeenth year in the majors at the age of 42.  In his first appearance, he gave up a walkoff single to the Twins' Christian Guzman scoring Corey Koskie with Bobby Kielty and A.J. Pierzynski on base, and now he is in the World Series pitching for a team that at the time did not exist. 

An impossibly young Rodney before the Cap Tilt, 
before the Arrow, before the All Star appearances and 
Inexplicable Receipt of Downballot MVP Votes when 
he was striking out various Jose Valentins and Brians Broussard

There is a meditative element to players like Rodney who have been around forever, had prominent moments, and then more or less vanished to anonymous middle relief roles for years at a time, resurfacing from every once in a while startle fans who had no idea he was still in the league.  There's a component of this that I believe runs parallel to the idea of aging especially in the distorted Logan's Run world of professional sports. There is also a weird way that sports figures like Rodney hover around the game like bizarre specters-- at the point where even if you hadn't heard from him in a few years and you expect that he has retired to a life of appearances on extremely local sports radio or eerily stilted commercials for car and truck dealerships, he reappears on a mound in a burst of startled and delighted confusion. But the reason why Rodney is more compelling than all of the other journeyman middle relievers with a shockingly extended run or brief resurrection from the Long Island Ducks or whatever is because he is still shooting the arrow on people.

Fernando Rodney has a signature move, and that is relatively unique for baseball.  Major League baseball polices the expression and movement of players with the severe gruffness of the meanest Soviet ballet instructors, and Rodney has continued to mime shooting the arrow on people for years because he does not seem to care if a purple-necked manager named "Duff" or "Spud" screams at a reporter about him Respecting the Game and also Hat Angle Disgruntlement.  The best thing about Rodney is that he has continued to shoot the arrow even as his role has changed-- he began using this gesture to celebrate saves (this somehow started in 2012 with the Rays in his tenth year in the big leagues), but now shoots the arrow more or less in any situation where he has pitched without allowing 15 runs.  In the 2015 NLDS pitching for the Cubs, he came on in the seventh, recorded two outs and put a man on first, and when Joe Maddon came to take him out he strode to the foul line and shot an arrow to the crowd to the general amazement and understated disgust of the commentators, a job sort of done-ish.  It is one of my favorite things that has ever happened in a Cubs playoff game.

The next year, Rodney saved two games for an absolutely putrid Padres team against the Cubs in both ends of a double header.  I do not know if he had ever arrowed a team twice in the same day before, but I was not even mad.

One of the precarious things about having a signature celebration is that at any point, an opposing player can take it and perform it themselves.  Sometimes when this happens the player gets mad.  Here's an article from 2019 about former Charger Shawne Merriman still fuming about the time the New England Patriots sarcastically performed his "Lights Out" dance in 2006.  Merriman would also pen a long article about how the "inverted sack-celebration discourse used by the Patriots had been recontextualized as a mocking burlesque" in The Wagged Finger: A Journal of Sports Celebrations.  This has also happens to Fernando Rodney.  Here from 2014 is a video that someone in Major League Baseball has uploaded with the incredible title "Albert Pujols and Mike Trout get PAYBACK for Fernando Rodney's early bow and arrow celebration."

Fernando Rodney is still doing this.  He is not exactly a high-leverage reliever for the Nationals, not even in their benighted, shambling bullpen.  But he is there.  When it was time to get some mop-up innings in an NLCS Game 3 where the Nationals had thrown the Cardinals into an enormous toilet, Rodney was there. It was 8-1 in the eighth.  He got three outs.  The invisible arrow arced into the October air.


No, thanks.

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