Saturday, October 23, 2021

Northwestern Triumphs in Perverse Game Broadcast From Mars

Years of cable market-cobbling and conference-mongering got us here: an 11AM game between Rutgers and Northwestern in front of 85 people that featured 16 punts and two missed field goals that transformed an otherwise fine autumn day into a grim football puntscape.

The Big Ten Network seemed to understand what they were serving up to the twisted maniacs choosing to tune into this game and gave us a chaotic broadcast fit for the criminally insane. My DVR recorded the entire game as a series of digital fits and starts, with the picture and sound cutting out every few minutes, occasionally leaving me to piece together what had happened. I assumed this was a recording issue, but one person, at least, told me that this is how the game went out live, as a herky jerky Paul Verhoeven broadcast from a base on a distant planet that was seconds away from being blown up. They also unleashed Matt Millen, the reigning Prince of Midwestern Shit Football to explain to viewers which of the football players they were watching were Football Players in a manner best described as mustachedly. It was awful, stupid, and glorious, and exactly what we deserved.
BTN releases a broadcast where Millen and J Leman scream the word
“Football” at each other in an otherwise bare room until they are too exhausted to continue

Last week’s post was full of foreboding about a potential loss to Rutgers after a dispiriting shellacking at the hands of Nebraska, but fortunately Rutgers football managed to assume the general shape of Rutgers football. There may be a time in the near future when Rutgers manages to right itself and the Scarlet Knights become respectably mediocre and boring, but right now they can be counted on put on a top hat and fall down a manhole or get chased down the stairs by a piano that is somehow falling in a pattern that plays a Hungarian Rhapsody in perfect rhythm on its way down, or somehow dodge a thrown pie, smirk, and then immediately having the World’s Largest Pie fall off its display and engulf it. As Jeff Goldblum might ah hem her haw about them: Rutgers finds a way.

At least for one week, Northwestern managed to shore up its maligned run defense against a conference opponent, stymieing the Rutgers attack on the ground. Adetomiwa Adebawore lived in the Rutgers backfield. On offense, Northwestern’s receivers flashed the big play ability they’ve been hinting at all season, including a juggling sideline catch by Stephon Robinson that is one of the best catches I’ve seen from a Wildcat in quite some time and a Malik Washington touchdown where a Rutgers tackler seemed to fly away from him like a weightless CGI protagonist in one of those superhero movies that all end with people being flung into buildings for 35 minutes to no apparent effect.

But you turned on the game to watch a Rutgers/Northwestern game, so you also got Pat Fitzgerald dialing up one of the most ludicrous fake punt plays I’ve ever seen where the punter received the ball and was told to just run into the line of scrimmage like he was going over the top at Gallipoli. We also witnessed a near-disastrous Northwestern flea flicker run in a way where Wildcats appeared to be throwing the football the wrong way down the field in exactly the same way that Big Daddy says "there's a saying down on the ol' bayou-- BLEH" then throws Ralph Wiggum at Skinner and Chief Wiggum before leaping out the window to gradually get away.

And there was a Rutgers coach who managed to get hit with the Beckman Penalty for getting in an official’s way on the sidelines. I was crushed it was not Schiano himself.  This was my first taste of Schiano as a Northwestern opponent and he lived up to the billing as a Dour Football Dipshit, even by Big Ten standards. He spent the game seething on the sidelines, occasionally hopping up and down and grinding his teeth when Rutgers hit with yet another penalty. He spent the week leading up to Rutgers’ game against Michigan State in a snit alleging that Spartans coach Mel Tucker stole his “keep chopping” slogan, one of the funniest demonstrations of a warped football-brained cosmology that apparently assumes that the phrase “keep chopping” conjures up some sort of magical football acumen that one associates with Greg Schiano that differs from every other extraordinarily stupid motivational slogan used by every football team on every level.
P.J. Fleck needed a legal settlement to use Row the Boat at 
Minnesota, but since then he has come up with a foolproof 
way to prevent other coaches from stealing his slogans by 
making acronyms so clumsy and hare-brained that no one else 
can even comprehend them

The central question for Northwestern is whether they have turned a corner defensively or whether they have encountered an inept and moribund Big Ten team and are due to get shoved around again. Fortunately, they can ease back into the schedule with oh no.


I have no idea what arcane contract language has forced Fox’s to televise a Northwestern football game to the entire country but surely there is a lawyer somewhere that can find an obscure provision that will allow Gus Johnson to pull a lever and put on a Sun Belt game or three and a half hours of that strongman competition where they wear a Volkswagen like a vest and stagger around for awhile. Despite Northwestern’s comfortable win over Rutgers, the Wolverines are heavily favored; the only way that gambling sites could get a respectable amount of action on Northwestern was to ask the most degenerate bettors whether Northwestern could finish within 23.5 points of Michigan and the only way Northwestern stands a chance is to turn the game into an unwatchable festival of garbage so obscenely riddled with punts, turnovers, and penalties that it causes college football to be banned from public airwaves.

Michigan fans want to be seen as underdogs because they get their asses destroyed by Ohio State every year but the fact of the matter is that outside of that they tend to be a pretty good team, and this dual identity of being the schoolyard bullies who get to cosplay as Charlie Brown for one weekend a year is something I believe to be kind of annoying. I understand life is more difficult in the Big Ten East, and Northwestern has gotten to take its medicine from the Buckeyes in the glitz and glamor of Indianapolis, but the ‘Cats have never beaten Michigan under Jim Harbaugh or even the maligned Brady Hoke. They haven’t won since 2008, against a 3-9 Michigan team in the death throes of the Rich Rodriguez era, so I am not particularly sympathetic to angst about whether Harbaugh can win The Big Game or whatever they call it or if they got bonked around in the Outback Bowl. Not my problem.

Unfortunately, this year Michigan is extremely good. They’re undefeated and currently ranked #6 in the country (below a one-loss Ohio State in the AP Poll, naturally) and rolling. Unlike Rutgers, they do not have several converted defensive lineman and maybe one or two husky guys from the cafeteria attempting to play offensive line, they have two excellent running backs to test Northwestern's maligned rush defense, and depending on your beliefs about Michigan State, they are the toughest team Northwestern has faced this season. It can be a very long afternoon in Ann Arbor.

Michigan football fans, from what I have seen from reading about them because the program is so ubiquitous in college football media, seem to me to have become somewhat fatalistic and are bracing at all times for a shocking heartbreak. This year, that could come from an also-unbeaten Michigan State team that features just below Ohio State on the ability to cause Michigan fans tsuris, or from a perceived lesser team that could humiliate the Wolverines in this, their year of destiny. I would very much like that team to be the Northwestern Wildcats, a team that has come back from even more shocking lows than these early season buttkickings to Big Ten competence but has been atrocious enough in the early season that a win against Michigan would be genuinely funny.

Imagine, for example, Jim Harbaugh, that dean of sideline histrionics, getting so angry that he throws his cap-- in fact he is wearing a giant stack of hats like the children’s book Caps For Sale-- and he is throwing each and every one of them onto the field in disgust because of a dubious Neutral Zone Infraction that gives Northwestern a fresh set of downs which is enough time for Hilinski to hit Stephon Robinson with a bomb in the endzone as time expires and 100,000 stunned Michigan fans reenact the expression that the audience has to the play in The Producers and the outcome leaves Pat Fitzgerald needing to get experimental fist surgery after pumping too hard so he spends the rest of his career coaching with an iron claw that he uses to angrily point at referees while making dying goldfish faces when they call unjust holding penalties. That would surely be more entertaining than a desultory Michigan win.

Despite Northwestern's struggles, I still believe they have it in them to harness their power and absolutely wreck a team's season.  It probably will not be Michigan this weekend, but I hope the apex of the season is not convincing Rutgers fans that their team still stinks.


As the NBA started its first normal-length regular season with fans in attendance, there was one piece of basketball new on everyone’s mind: USA basketball has chosen a coach for its regional qualifying tournament for the FIBA World Cup. That coach is Jim Boylen.

For the past year, I have sarcastically suggested Jim Boylen for every sports-related job opening I could think of, including a very stupid twitter bit that only I think is funny where I change my name to NBA Coaching Insider and jump into the replies to any big account tweeting about coach searches to weigh in that My Sources have told me that the front office has only one name in mind, and it’s Jim Boylen (I believed I had the most success doing this with Philadelphia because Sixers fans’ exposure to years of Process Discourse have made them the most deranged sports fans on the internet. Still though I want us all to participate in a thought experiment where Jim Boylen was the coach of the 76ers right now and attempting to heal that team by chasing after Ben Simmons and angrily tooting his whistle). This was self-evidently a joke because Jim Boylen could not possibly be in charge of anything after his disastrous run as the Bulls coach. I don’t want to talk out of school here, but he came across as a real boob. I can’t imagine any team wanting a round bald man who loves ineffectively screaming at accomplished professional athletes and then asking reporters if they have seen the movie where Whoopi Goldberg is a police officer who teams up with a Tyrannosaurus.

One of the strangest bits of Boylen lore is when Zach LaVine 
went on Zach Lowe's podcast and told him that Jim Boylen 
referred to him as a "Cephalapoid" which is the alien that Will Smith 
chases down in the beginning of Men in Black, an absolutely stunning 
revelation of how deep Boylen went into Men in Black Lore in order to 
make a profoundly stupid point

The United States does not send its NBA Superstars to the FIBA Americas qualifying tournament, but they will send an unheralded melange of G-Leaguers and NCAA Tournament Guys. Readers of this blog might remember the last time the USA was in this tournament because Wildcat basketball legend Reggie Hearn hit some buzzer beaters and was named USA Men's Basketball Player of the Year. That team was coached by professional Grumpy Announcer Jeff Van Gundy and now it is in the hands of professional Bald Asshole Jim Boylen.

I love international basketball, and I enjoy rooting for Team USA, but at the same time it would be extremely funny if the United States did not get to play in the World Cup because Jim Boylen decided to have a bunch of two-a-days hours before tipoff of every game and then told the media that he was losing games but winning the Toughness Battle and that his strategy was based on the time Jean-Claude Van Damme got that crotch powder thrown in his eyes by Chong Li in Bloodsport. Or if every American player defected to the Cuban national team because Boylen insisted on making them listen to a poem he wrote called “The Winner’s Edge.”

Sports exist as a bizarre sort of projection of a nation onto the rest of the world. In that case, maybe there is no better representative of the United States in 2021 than Jim Boylen.


Unknown said...

Great article! Love the Caps for Sale surrealist observation for Harbaugh. Had me snort laughing. Mgoblog fans send their appreciation.

Unknown said...

Gallipoli! Yes! Excellent as always.