Saturday, November 6, 2021

Northwestern Enters its Werner Herzog Documentary Phase

Last week, this blog had suggested that Northwestern had improved its defensive woes enough to stick close enough to Big Ten West team and then spent sixty minutes getting thrown in a trash compactor by Minnesota, and it is becoming very clear that a miraculous turnaround or even a very funny upset may not be in the cards for the guys in purple.  The parallels to the 2019 debacle season are pervasive involving a quarterback carousel and a series of embarrassingly crushing conference losses.

In 2019, at least, fans got a convenient scapegoat in Mick McCall, who his critics would argue did not know how to design and implement a functioning passing game or to get ESPN to refer to him by his correct name.  But now McCall's replacement Mike Bajakian is falling into the same trap; the only difference is the quarterback he is using as the bridge from Hunter Johnson to Andrew Marty.  Bajakian, however, seems to be avoiding criticism because fans seem to be angrier at Jim O'Neil, the new defensive coordinator who has been unable to scheme around the graduation of several critical players and is watching his unit get carved up week after week by teams sick of punting.  And Pat Fitzgerald has remained rather muted on all of this when at the very least we deserve a ridiculous jeremiad against cell phones or him trying to pretend he doesn't know what tik tok is even though his job is to recruit and interact with young people who are essentially living extensions of the internet at all times-- I bet Pat Fitzgerald is also extremely online except in a weird and disturbing way that none of us can fathom like he is going on the dark web and looking at banned linebacking videos from 1977.

Pat Fitzgerald looks at pictures of illegal neck rolls

It is not particularly fun to write about Northwestern football right now.  The most compelling question is to diagnose what is going wrong or to engage with the most important principle of college football writing and demand that the coordinators get fired or even kidnapped by brigands.  The team's losses are not even particularly interesting-- previous lousy seasons involved Northwestern getting its heart broken on weird plays and sudden collapses where there are all sorts of interesting turning points, but in most losses this year the Wildcats have gotten so comprehensively defeated from the very beginning of the game that the most pressing strategic question involves whether to play the entire fourth quarter. 

Northwestern plays Iowa at home tonight under the lights in one of the most depressing evening games I can remember.  There was a time just a few weeks ago when Iowa looked unbeatable with an impregnable defense and an offense managing to do just enough to win, they were undefeated and nationally ranked, and then they crashed into Purdue and got bludgeoned by Wisconsin, and now here they are ready to take that out on a reeling Wildcats team that does not look particularly interested in stopping anyone.  

The one thing Northwestern has going for it is a delightfully cruel anti-Iowa mojo where the Wildcats have been able to endlessly frustrate the Ferentz family for more than a decade.  Unfortunately, I do not see the conditions as being ripe for an upset as the Hawkeyes have feasted on blowing out Northwestern in down years.  Neither one of these teams is interested in presenting a watchable football game.  The Northwestern and Iowa ethos is to strain the excitement out of football, refuse to turn it over, attempt passes where the ball ends up on the sidelines, and tediously run into defensive tackles until somebody asks them politely to stop.  This game will either be a boring Iowa rampage where the Iowa offense finds an opponent that will let it work or it will be a game where both teams combine for less than 500 yards of offense and the coaches end up jutting out their jaws while ordering out the punt teams.  Usually, the Big Ten likes to have marquee matchups in the evenings, but this game is occurring under the cover of darkness.  I am already giddy at how disgusting this game can be.  I have talked myself into a Wildcat upset that causes a temporary internet outage across the state of Iowa from people complaining about uncalled holding penalties. 


Anyone following the National Football League had a bit of a day on Friday when Aaron Rodgers went on the Tank Top Punter's podcast after entering the league's Covid-19 protocol.  Earlier in the season, Rodgers had told a reporter that he was "immunized" from the disease, but after coming down with the covid, he revealed that he was actually playing a clever mind game because when he said "immunized" instead of referring to a vaccine like any normal person would assume, he had actually underwent a mysterious and still-unexplained homeopathic therapy that did not immunize him from anything while he appeared to be following many of the rules the league had put into place vaccinated players.  

Rodgers, appearing in a beanie with a piece of paper for his talking points and speaking in a bizarre drawl, then unleashed one of the funniest statements that has ever come out of a football player: "I realize I’m in the crosshairs of the woke mob right now. So, before my final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket, I think I would like to set the record straight on so many of the blatant lies that are out there about myself."

This entire spectacle appears to be airing on a show only available in the Biff Tannen Universe

This is a spectacularly overwrought denunciation of his critics, one that immediately put me in mind of a 2011 Newt Gingrich press release that began "The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding. Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world."  Rodgers would then outline his treatment plan he got in consultation with cagefighting podcast host Joe Rogan who has become a font of bizarre medical information developed on bodybuilding messageboards and is now somehow one of the most influential media figures in the country.  He claimed he submitted a 500-page report to the NFL that would prove that his alternative healing methods were as effective as a vaccine that I would like to read.  He has done his own research,  He began a sentence with "as the great MLK once said."  It was a sublime performance.

But the thing that stands out to me from this statement more than anything is how directly Rodgers's freethinking mantra came ripped straight out of the internet; the buzzwords from that sentence would be completely unrecognizable three years ago and now they have become the mantra of every famous person who has faced sustained criticism to the point of tedium.  

I think there is a tendency for media people to ascribe every sort of weird trend to the internet not least because the vocation of someone in media, as far as I can tell, involves spending all of their time on the internet.  There has always been misinformation, powerful crackpots, and maniacs surrounding any issue that one cares to look for.  The thing that to me is interesting about the proliferation of the internet and social media is the fact that giving a sort of broadcast license to millions of people whose musings would have been limited to their own social circles a few decades ago has in my not led to all sorts of interesting and strange ideas but flattened everything into homogenized ideas and turns of phrase.  

To me, at least, it seems that the way people have talked online has gone from a secret vocabulary of words you would use to flame other users on a message board based on mods for Diablo II that you probably didn't want anyone to know about to a lingo that has penetrated the online sphere and moved into how people speak in general.  Maybe it is just me and the places I find myself, but it is rare that I overhear a conversation among young people that is not about online spaces or inflected with language people use specifically online that was clearly not how people spoke five years ago.  I'm not claiming to be immune.  Hell, if you were insane enough you could go back far into this blog and discover based on certain phrases when I started using twitter.  

One of the great disappointments of the Aaron Rodgers interview was how rote it all was.  You would hope that a celebrity who has claimed to do all of his own research to support his unorthodox and unfounded medical views would at least manifest in something new and interesting.  Rodgers could squint at the podcast doofuses and, for example, smugly explain that they have never heard of Galenic Humours while explaining how he balances them by using an app and a device that goes into all of his openings.  Unfortunately, Rodgers came across with the exact same anti-vaccination rhetoric that one might see in a twitter reply by DavePatriot2897874.  Rodgers had the opportunity spew previously unheard of deranged medical theories, ones that would blow our mind and maybe even allow him start his own conspiracy-based cult, but, like his performances in NFC championship games, he has come up short.

It is unlikely after all of this furor that Rodgers will suffer any ill-effects from this.  He is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and he will not be meaningfully punished by the league for lying because the NFL's "protocols" are a meaningless cover-our-ass policy for an issue the league does not care about nor will his rhetoric stop teams from clamoring for his services if he decides to become a free agent, and even if he is no longer appearing in 35 insurance commercials in every game, he will be free to spend the offseason getting the opportunity to go on podcasts with millions of listeners to monotonously explain how no one is letting him speak.  Instead, I think it is fine to cackle at Rodgers getting caught in an extremely stupid lie and then going on what appears to me to be an oaf-based lifestyle podcast to wildly explain how he had put together an enormous medical report with no training while appearing on Jeopardy and on vacations while turgidly denouncing his critics as a mob who want to destroy him while he could have gotten all of this out of his system by anonymously talking about some mods for Diablo II. 


Summer 2020 

He wipes off sweat from the fields surrounding Halas Hall, the humidity gathering under his summer weight executive vest and gathering into his armpits and at the contours of his mask.  The court traditionally moves to its summer home in Bourbonnais, but chose to stay at Halas Hall to shelter from the coughing plague.  The precautions they have taken has also kept him, Ryan Pace, from keeping tabs on his coach and assistants though his teams monitor their communications for any attacks on ownership or overtures to the NFC North.

He is taken to the owner's office where George McCaskey is being fitted into his finest gameday Ditka sweater.  The angry spring had taken a toll.  George's eyes droop with heavy baggage.  His mustache, once a resplendent mustache that was the pride of the Greater Chicagoland Metropolitan Area is drooping, gray, and sparse.  

"I have heard they are writing rude poems about him again." 

They are.  His assistants carefully monitor the radio waves to understand what sorts of rhymes and insults might radiate from 670 The Score, particularly from an odious caller named Stan from Glen Ellyn who is allowed daily attacks on the quarterback.  "Trubinsky" they call him.  Yesterday, this Stan from Glen Ellyn suggested that they should scale back the playbook to flashcards allowing Mitch to pick whether he was looking at the color of the Bears' or their opponents' jerseys.  What George does not know is that it is worse than that, that this Stan had also called George a "living potato" and demanded that he sell the team and move to Canada along with "that Trestman jagoff," and he does not want to mention it or else George will fly into a purpling rage that will take his entire afternoon while he is still trying to scour the waiver wire for castoffs to invite to camp.

"They are running out of extraneous consonants to throw in there," he says.  George should only know what they say about him, Ryan Pace, on the radio but that, too, is not something George needs to know about.

"And how is our coach this afternoon?"

"I am told he is delighted at new concepts he is installing in the passing game," he says.

He has no idea what the coach, whom he and his assistants have been referring to as "Call-Me-Naygee" could be up to with his passing game, but he needed to find something this year.  The beleaguered coach had not yet found him a Franchise Quarterback and George was growing impatient.

He remembers the look on John Fox's face, the sour old bastard, when he fired him.  Those radio stations were useful then with his aids and assistants calling up as Jimbos from Mayfair and Big Eddies from Grayslake lambasting Fox's archaic style of play and making sure this chatter and newspaper columns laden with Sources Close to Halas Hall found their way to the owner's box.  But Nagy had reneged on his promise.  Nagy had sworn to revamp the offense but, when they won, the Bears had done so the same way they always had and time was running out.  

"Perhaps we need to think about whether the roster is the right one in place for this system," George said while leafing through Dick Butkus's Linebacking Recipes. He had brought in Nick Foles, a champion and the coach's favorite.  Mitch, who seemed to blissfully ignore the increasing calls for his head, was starting to look haunted.  The songs about Foles were as ubiquitous as they were bawdy, emphasizing a different part of the body than the anthems blaring from the streets about the earlier quarterback Mike Glennon whose prodigious neck inspired some of the callers' greatest soliloquies. 

"Mitch has looked sharp out there, I think Foles will really push him," he said.  Mitch has not looked sharp.  He has never looked sharp.  It was an a disastrous miscalculation, and he had spend the last two years scrambling to recover from it.  He had already decided that, barring some sort of miracle, he would push Mitch out and find someone else at the end of the season, but George had not fully turned on him yet and still looked at the young quarterback like a son.  But George also knew that every season without a franchise quarterback put him in peril and it was also dangerous for his coach and for the executive who could not bring one."

He turned on the radio in his office.  It was Stan from Glen Ellyn, and he was calling for his head.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brian sent me. This blog is a revelation. As a semi-Illinois fan, I am hoping the commentary leading up to the game is your Guernica. If you need a coauthor to offer opposite viewpoints, let me know.