Saturday, September 25, 2021

Well This Doesn't Bode Well

 It looks like it may be another one of Those Seasons.  Northwestern followed a Big Ten West winning season in 2018 with a three-win campaign in 2019, and the 2020 season seems to be headed toward that same disastrous conclusion.  Pat Fitzgerald has once again unveiled the 2019 Menagerie of Quarterbacks, and what seemed like a position set in stone even after the Michigan State loss now appears to once again be in flux.  More worryingly, the defense that has carried Northwestern through the Pat Fitzgerald era seems to be struggling against Power 5 opponents, with running backs carving their way through the defensive line and receivers slicing their way through the Wildcats’ vaunted secondary.  Fitzgerald is used to punting and trying to advance the ball through one of those party games where you pass it down the field using only your neck but I am not sure he will be able to handle watching his beloved linebackers get pancaked into the depths of the Earth every week.

Pat Fitzgerald looks like he is about to be attacked by a terminator robot in this picture
At 1-2, Northwestern is not out of anything yet, although the Big Ten does not appear to be as delightfully chaotic as last year’s deranged Pandemic Season.  Still, even if things continue to go south for the Wildcats, we can take comfort only in the looming showdown with Illinois under Bret Bielema and the possibility of the greatest football game ever played hopefully with cameras on the coaches the whole time so we can watch Fitzgerald and Bielema bellowing at each other until one of them suffers a serious neck vein injury and needs to be airlifted to a clinic for the Severely Pissed Off.  

I had wanted to put a picture of Bielema yelling here but what I found was 
this headline and I think we can all agree that this is better

This week, BYCTOM has brought back special correspondent Karl Ove Knausgaard to go analyze this matchup.  Knausgaard, the brooding Norwegian author of the six-part My Struggle series of autofiction about being a brooding Norwegian author and the forthcoming The Morning Star, shares his thoughts on college football.
I told my agent a thousand times that I would not under any circumstances write about American football.  Every day I am assailed with e-mails from American editors saying Karl Ove how about you write a feature story for our magazine about the Los Angeles Rams and I tell them I cannot because it is absurd.  I do not know anything about football, I have no interest in it, the visceral violence is appalling, the beer-soaked facepaint atmosphere is ridiculous, and frankly the concept of a Los Angeles Ram is insane to me.  Several times a day, I log onto my e-mail account and I tell them I will not write about the Jacksonville Jaguars even if you are telling me that they are an avatar of futility and meaninglessness and try and tempt me by saying that I bet it reminds me of my friend Geir knowing that I know several dozen Geirs and it is likely that one of their lives resonates in some way with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Ultimately, what they get you with is the money.  I am not too proud to admit it.  One thing that nobody tells you when you become an international literary sensation is that your expenses soon outpace your own earnings no matter how many conventions you do where thousands of people watch panelists chuckle-talk at each other and then ask you what you meant when you spent 237 pages writing about having a tedious and embarrassing parent-teacher conference because your daughter had been hogging all of the glitter and then running into the teacher in the supermarket and having to make awkward small talk after he took an hour implying that she was not learning about glitter sharing at home before spending the rest of the afternoon ruminating on the concept of Masculinity.  There are payments due on rustic brooding sheds and fresh divorces and lawsuits from angry family members.  So at some point I simply had run out of ways to say no to a prestigious American publication when all I had to do was watch a football game.  
I had no idea there was so much football.  I assumed I would be writing about the National Football League, the one with the Super Bowl and the Los Angeles Rams but I was shocked when the editor insisted that I write about college football, which I did not know existed.  This is football played in universities by university students-- not normal university students who spent their time listening to Roxy Music and desperately navigating the politics of the student literary magazine, but hulking young men who play on national television every week.  The editor explained to me that these university games on the biggest level were played in thundering stadiums of 100,000 people with pyrotechnics and bands and sometimes live animals in cages with unruly mobs of drunken students howling and sometimes taking to the streets to burn couches.  But then I was told I would be watching a game that was not like that at all and would be played between two middling programs in front of a sparse crowd for almost no stakes.  The e-mail explained that this is also an important college football experience, and to understand the game as most fans enjoy it, as a revel in the pointlessness of it all housed in “a simulacrum of college football pomp.”  I wanted to kick this person in the throat but had never met him before and I had taken his money.  I had never been so humiliated by an editor that actually used the word “simulacrum.”

An American television with cable has thousands of channels and seemingly dozens of college football games on at any time.  I could, for example, watch Mississippi State versus Memphis or Georgia Southern vs. Arkansas or even Wyoming vs. something called “Ball State” but my game would not appear.  I logged on the web.  Eventually I learned that the game I wanted to see was on something called ACC Network, which I did not have.  The ACC Network website gave me a list of cable companies but mine was not listed.  They told me to call my cable provider, so I did.  I waited for minutes while getting blasted with hold music and a robot reassuringly telling me my call was important to me while I seethed.  I have never experienced anything as bleak as being told that there was nothing I could do in order to get access to the ACC Network.  

My friend Geir had told me there were certain websites out of Eastern Europe where I could illegally watch this game.  I did not know where to find these websites.  I entered “Duke Northwestern Bulgarian??” into my web browser but nothing useful came up and I also did not want to risk getting a computer virus and wiping out my work.  I had been asked to write a guest issue of the Spider-Man comic for a series pairing comic book characters with international literary sensations for an experimental Marvel imprint and had a freestanding essay on Hitler and the nature of evil that was going to be delivered by the Rhinoceros that I had not yet backed up onto floppy disk.

“I am sorry, but I do not have ACC network and cannot watch this game,” I wrote to the editor, hoping that would be enough to get me out of this, but he simply wrote back “sounds great!” It was like trying to argue with quicksand.  When I was 15 years old my friend Trond took us out on his brother’s boat.  The boat was not much.  It was a rickety rowboat with peeling paint and when the three of us got on with the stash of beer we managed to hoard throughout the summer by carefully grabbing one can at a time wherever we could find one. The boat could barely float, but we felt like kings.  Trond was not supposed to take the boat.  His brother had told him that if he touched his boat while he was away on a monthlong expedition with his beekeeping friends he would lock him in the barn with the apiary and spray him with illegal pheromones that agitated the bees that he had ordered from the back of a catalog if he was lucky, but that did not stop us at all.  The sun washed over us on the lake and the beer was so cold and before long we were singing and taking turns diving off the boat when Gunnar said that we should go to the pier where there were probably some girls and try to get them on the boat with us.  Trond was worried because the only way through was a narrow, rocky passage but our oars were already digging into the lake.  It seems so obvious where this was heading now but at the time, it simply did not occur to me that anything could go wrong.  After all of the subterfuge to get the beer and the boat that we had to clandestinely carry hundreds of meters from the house and even the cooler that I had spirited away from my father, all of that worrying and sneaking and preparation had paid off, and I was enveloped in a drunken happiness.  We didn’t even see the first rock.  It should have been impossible, on such calm water and at such low speed for this to happen, but the boat was already riding low because of all the weight and then we rammed right into it.  Gunnar and I had no idea what we were doing so while Trond frantically tried to tell us which way to paddle, we got confused and went the opposite way and managed to get the boat wedged between rocks; when Gunnar panicked and tried rocking the boat between the rocks to free it we heard the first crack.  “Gunnar you fucking idiot!” Trond yelled but it was too late.  The boat was taking on water.  I futilely tried bailing it out with beer cans but we had to jump out and made our way to the shore ro watch it sink.  Gunnar was talking a mile a minute about salvaging it, and I paced back and forth saying “oh fuck. Oh shit.” to myself and Trond just stared, clinging to a single oar.  It took us nearly an hour to walk back to his house, not because it was far but because we did not want to get there and we were soaked and miserable.  I had lost a shoe in the lake and cut my foot on a sharp pebble.  I didn’t see much of Trond the rest of the summer.  We were not very close to begin with and the only thing we really had in common was Depeche Mode and the boat scheme, and every time I saw him I was overcome with disgust and guilt.  That was now the same feeling I had when I opened my web browser to track what was going on with the Duke and Northwestern football game that I could not see or write about.  Duke was winning by 21 points already, and I had no idea what that meant but it probably was not very good.  One of the players for Duke was named “Jake Bobo.”  

I tried watching one of the other games that was on but frankly it was indecipherable and meaningless.  Every time I thought I had figured out what was going on they would call some sort of penalty and undo it. It was maddening and I understood why everyone was drunk all of the time.  I thought about getting drunk but I had to go to a children’s birthday party later on and glower at all of the adults.   I explained all of this to my editor and he said he would “punch it up.”  I could not imagine anything worse.


The Wildcats have a chance to get things right again against another struggling team when Ohio comes to town.  The Bobcats are winless this season, including a close loss to FCS Duqesne.  This is Ohio’s fist season after Frank Solich retired and led the team to respectability, including a victory in the Potato Bowl.  Solich left as the winningest coach in MAC history after getting run out of Nebraska so they could hire various charlatans and maniacs.

The biggest question for Northwestern is who will play at quarterback after the Wildcats went through three last week and whether another game against a lackluster opponent will allow the defense to cohere after a strong performance against Indiana State did not carry over to the Duke until the second half during Northwestern’s comeback.  A loss here would be devastating.

Northwestern will have to get right quickly before beginning Big Ten play with upcoming games against Rutgers and Nebraska.  Nebraska has become a laughingstock, and the ‘Cats have never lost to Rutgers even as that program has improved under Rutgers savior Greg Schiano.  What is on the line is far more important than berths in bowl games or Big Ten Championship games, but the ability to laugh at Nebraska and Rutgers, the most important prize in Northwestern football other than the Hat Trophy. 

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