Friday, November 29, 2019

Watch Me Make This Hat Disappear

Even as we speak, the Hat Caravan is heading down I-57 from Big Ten Headquarters with the Hat Courier handcuffed to the Hat Trophy in a briefcase that is also shaped like a Hat.

Let's get things out of the way: Northwestern lost the Minnesota game.  It was not particularly close.  At one point it was 21-2, which is the most 2019 Northwestern score possible.  The Wildcats did find a spark with new quarterback Andrew "Kundun I Liked It" Marty and rallied to score several touchdowns, but P.J. Fleck's Backronyms of the Damned headed on their collision course for the Western Division Axe Championship.  There is no Big Ten Championship Game.  There is no bowl game.  All that stands between the Northwestern Wildcats and football oblivion is the coveted Hat.

The two points Northwestern scored in the second quarter came from a Joe Gaziano sack, which set the all-time school record.  Gaziano has been a rare bright spot for the team this year, an all-time Northwestern great and the leader of a unit that so often spent 45 minutes on the field after a Northwestern drive resembled the Grandpa Simpson entering the burlesque show gif.

Northwestern has dominated the Hat Game since the Tim Beckman apotheosis of 2014.  In that game, probably the football game I am most obsessed with, Northwestern and Illinois were both 5-6 and playing for a berth in the Heart of Dallas Bowl located in the creepy, rotting carcass of the old Cotton Bowl.  Tim Beckman, a maniac, had reached the height of his powers by winning more than one Big Ten game.  Neither team had a starting quarterback.  Beckman won, but did not make it to 2014 before being fired for egregious player abuse, which in college football is like firing Jim Varney for excessive mugging.

Now the tables have turned an ascendant Illinois team is hoping to finish off a Northwestern team in the throes of its worst season this century.  Even though this represents another storied chapter in America's Second Greatest Hat-Based Football Rivalry, I can't be too upset about Illinois's season.  Anyone who has been foolish enough to root for the Chicago Bears for the last decade has an appreciation for Lovie Smith, and Illinois fans deserve to have a team that upsets Wisconsin and goes to a Bowl Game.  

But Illinois really should have won the Hat last year.  A.J. Bush played really well, and Illinois repeatedly had opportunities to take the lead against a Northwestern team that was saving all of its ammo for the Big Ten Championship game.  Smith, though,  seemed to lose his mind and become obsessed with futile field goal attempts.  Even as Northwestern's starters left the field one by one and Pt Fitzgerald tried to kneel out the entire second half, Smith would not allow his team to go for broke to the amazement of Illinois fans in the stadium and me, who thought it would be funny for Northwestern to play in the Big Ten Championship game with seven wins and a loss to last year's Illinois team.  Maybe Fitzgerald will react in a different way by falling into a crazed Hat-based fugue state, and Northwestern will burst out some reverse flea flickers or fake punts or plays where they throw down a smoke grenade and suddenly there's two guys wearing number 7 and they're both taunting people to try to salvage at least something from an otherwise miserable season.


Everyone knows about the beginning of the Last Boy Scout, which begins with a pitch-perfect 1990s Monday Night Football opening parody called Friday Night Is For Football that the Big Ten should immediately use. Then the film begins the famous scene where a ball carrier pulls a gun out of his pants and blasts away at would-be tacklers.  This might be the least insane thing that happens in this movie, and I am incredibly disappointed that no one is pouring enormous amounts of money into profoundly stupid action movies like this anymore; the only way we would see a Last Boy Scout in 2019 is if it was called Last Boy Scout: Awakenings and part of a dreary Extended Universe where everyone needs to get emotionally invested in Bruce Willis's dumb Stock Bruce Willis Character Is Sort Of Divorced arc instead of enjoying people shooting a car once and having it explode.

The Last Boy Scout is a football movie.  There is the iconic what if football players shot each other scene, which should be immediately remade so they can tortuously add terrible cameos like Stephen A. Smith screaming "if it were me I would have DISARMED the player, I would have ROLLED TACTICALLY, SKIP" and Troy Aikman saying "uh uh uh the uh wide receiver absolutely not, you ju-- can't just cannot shoot someone with a gun in this situation, Joe." There is Damon Wayans's character, a washed-up quarterback who partners with Bruce Willis to go after the villain, who is essentially Jerry Jones.  There is a final scene in a football stadium where Wayans somehow tackles a ball carrier by riding a horse over him and then throws a football with a hand that he has just been shot through at the exact right moment to knock a sniper's bullet out of the air meant for a corrupt senator played by Eddie Harris from Major League.  

The entire film takes place in one of those universes where they can't get the rights to NFL teams so they invent a fake NFL that always ends up looking ridiculous-- the XFL really should exist only as a consistent fake football league that you can sell to movies and television shows instead of doing things like drafting Matt McGloin and blocking Josh Johnson from playing for the Detroit Lions, forcing them to activate David "That Name Again Is Mister" Blough.

The XFL is going great

The film is a relic of 1990s football discourse-- pro football is still roiling from the scandalous cocaine-soaked Cowboys heyday.  The evil team owner explains to Bruce Willis, after emerging from a pool and having his henchman played by classic villainous character actor Taylor Negron threaten Willis with a knife because Bruce Willis (who I should mention is a disgraced former secret service agent who was repeatedly shot protecting the president) had killed another henchman by hitting him in the nose really hard which I think is supposed to drive bones into the brain according to 1990s Action Movie Physiology, that the only way forward for football is to legalize gambling because people are too scandalized by football players to root for them otherwise.  This takes place at a time where the largest football scandals involved people getting angry about football players making money instead of the NFL conspiring to cover up the fact that the sport does horrific damage to players' brains; the NFL had not yet decided to turn itself into an organization where Roger Goodell goes on television to solemnly announce another Investigation.

I watched The Last Boy Scout because it is on a streaming service that is being increasingly cannibalized by competitors to leave more and more dreck on its servers.  The streaming revolution has turned into a suite of hollowed out Content Deserts, with a few legitimately good things to watch propped up by a pile of obscure detritus.  One of the things they have been investing in recently has been largely forgettable big budget 90s action movies.  Action movies now seem to either be infinite-budget franchise tentpole movies or forgettable microbudget movies based on someone paying Nicolas Cage to spend a few weeks in Bulgaria.

It is comforting to know that  every time you watch Cage in a direct to streaming 
movie called like The Serpent's Punch, he is just doing this bullshit the entire time

The Last Boy Scout exists as a piece with Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday, which came out two years later.  Both imbue their fake football leagues with the violent psychosis of 1990s football, a time when ESPN would glorify players with ham-sized neckrolls trying to turn each other's heads into rock-em-sock-em robots, and a time when the movie in pro sports and football especially had swelled into unfathomable riches.  Any Given Sunday made the point with stylized, visceral football scenes and Al Pacino bugging his eyes out and screaming at people; The Last Boy Scout mainly used it as a framing device for Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans to drive a car over a cliff pursued by a henchman whose car lands into a pool and then explodes and has Willis shoot everyone inside for good measure only for the main henchman to somehow sneak out of there and kidnap his daughter before leaving to set up a sniper's nest in stadium lights.

The obscene violence at the core of football still exists although in more hushed tones.  The money around football has only become more ridiculous.  But the NFL has gotten more buttoned up and obsessed with changing the narrative around the sport since the wild 1990s by taking itself more and more seriously.  The Last Boy Scout in 2019 would definitely provoke an NFL Investigation; it would involve a grim-looking commissioner announcing an Onfield Horse Protocol.        

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