Saturday, November 20, 2021

Somehow A Northwestern-Purdue Game is the Least Embarrassing Wrigley Field Sports Event in 2021

 At this point, I think it is fair to say that there is significant overlap between this blog and Northwestern’s football season in that the first question anyone would ask when encountering it is “why are they still doing this.”  The Wildcats are in a brutal tailspin where they lose in horrid and predictable ways on as they finish what could be their worst season in the twenty-first century; with only two games left and the hope of a bowl game evaporated, there is little hope of any turnaround.

The Wisconsin game unfolded along predictable lines: with the exception of a shocking early drive that ended with an endzone interception, the Wildcat offense did virtually nothing and the defense was overwhelmed by the Wisconsin running game.  The game was also marred by uncharacteristic penalties including the second consecutive week with a sideline interference penalty.  This week, Northwestern football hit a new low by succumbing to the dreaded Beckman Penalty, where a coach runs into an official on the sideline, named for the classic moment where Tim Beckman, in the middle of screaming about an interception, got completely leveled by a referee who then disdainfully dropped a flag on his prone body without even looking at him.  I don’t believe that the broadcast showed which Northwestern coach perpetrated the bump so I am choosing to believe that it happened because Pat Fitzgerald got so angry that he swelled to two to three times his normal girth and while he was spinning around with steam blasting from his nostrils he inadvertently smacked into a line judge.


Once again, Northwestern was left searching for answers at quarterback.  The Wildcats have vacillated among Hunter Johnson, Ryan Hillinski, and Andrew Marty.  I have not yet been able to determine who they will go to for the next game either because Pat Fitzgerald hilariously continues to guard his roster information like it is a Cold War nuclear submarine design or because the coaching staff genuinely doesn’t know.  One thing they have not tried is using two or possibly three quarterbacks at the same time, bamboozling the opposing defense by having quarterbacks hand off to each other, pass to each other, lateral to each other, or kick field goals.  Another use for a spare quarterback is to have one of them put on a Pudue uniform and attempt to enter the game as a linebacker to enact sabotage, which I guess is technically illegal under all sorts of NCAA by-laws but would be incredibly funny.

I just did a brief google search to see if anyone had actually tried this because it seems like something a guy named "Crankshaft" Harold Van Gruntte would have attempted in 1923 when the rules of college football involved things like "try not to get caught biting someone" but the only thing I found was the story of the Belgian league soccer player shown here showing up to his team's training ground wearing a rival team's jersey in order to force a transfer and then desperately pulling on the doors when no one would let him in, so if anyone out there has a verified story about an American football player at any level trying to sneak onto the field in an opponents' jersey in order to secretly do a shitty hold for a kicker please let me know.


The last time Northwestern played at Wrigley Field was all the way back in 2010 in the zenith of the Age of Zook.  That time, there was an issue with the facilities; one of the endzones backed up right into the brick wall in center field, and the NCAA decided at the last minute that it was potentially unsafe for football players to be turned into unsuccessful Kool Aid Men and declared that both teams would only be able to use one endzone, a delightfully stupid development that gave the entire game the type of ridiculous gloss required for a nationally televised Northwestern football game.

Northwestern celebrates a touchdown scored in the Forbidden Endzone after Brian Peters returned an interception during the 2010 game, as you can read about in my screenplay entitled Crossing the Line where a dogged NCAA investigator hunts down each of the players shown in this picture who had illegally crossed the line for five years after the play before confronting them on a dangerous skyscraper roof to tell them that they are suspended from playing in any more NCAA games even though they all have jobs

When Northwestern made its deal with the Cubs to hold more games at Wrigley (they were scheduled to play Wisconsin there last year before the pandemic), the Cubs said they had made changes to make the endzone further away from the wall allowing the Wildcats and their opponents to use up to two (2) endzones.  As Rodger Sherman points out, it sure doesn’t look like there is that much more space beyond the endzone, but I am sure an NCAA official showed up with a tape measure to determine how many inches a wall is from the back of the endzone before putting away his or her stamp that says Unyielding Hazardous Wall to Officially Safe.


In 2010, the game stood out as a delightful novelty featuring the first football game at Wrigley Field since the Bears departed in 1970.  Since then, the novelty of football games in other sports stadiums has worn off; the Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium began that winter, and since then bowl games have proliferated in ballparks; we’ve also seen a football game at Bristol Speedway and basketball games on aircraft carriers.  The novelty of a Wrigley game in 2021 is to watch Northwestern play football in a stadium even less suited for football than Ryan Field while hoping that Chicago area fans turn out to see football in the historic park where Frank Schwindel plays.  

There have been enough of these alternate venue games to know that, once the game starts, it pretty much looks like a football game.  The only way to restore the luster is to infuse the game with dumb baseball shtick.  For example, the teams should be allowed to keep quarterbacks in the bullpen so that Fitzgerald inevitably decides to make yet another mid-game quarterback change he can slowly stroll to the middle of the field wearing cleats and goofy satin jacket, take the football from the QB, and gesture for a relief quarterback while the organist plays a jaunty rendition of Head East’s rock classic “Never Been Any Reason.”  This can also be done with kickers. I also think that the quarterback should also be allowed to throw the ball out of bounds if he doesn’t like how the defense is lining up with no penalty other than the fans getting increasingly agitated and booing the shit out of him.


Pat Fitzgerald calling for a righty from the pen

I don’t have the heart to tell you that the oddsmakers for this game are once again forecasting doom for the Wildcats.  Purdue is good this year.  They’re are 6-4, with their only losses coming against tough ranked teams, and twice this year the unranked Boilers have summoned a Purdue Pete from whatever hell he slumbers in to rise from the bowels of the Earth and bring his hammer down on an undefeated, ranked team, smiting Iowa and tearing the heart out of Michigan State.  Wide receiver David Bell is unstoppable.  Northwestern’s best hope is that they have played so crappily that the entire Purdue team becomes deranged by dreams of defeating their suffering rival Indiana and plays the game in a bucket-crazed frenzy until it is too late and the Wildcats have scored more than one touchdown.  

In 2019, a dismal Northwestern team had a crummier Purdue team on the ropes.  Kyric McGowan ran 79 yards to score the first Northwestern touchdown in more than a calendar month, and Northwestern clung to a lead late until a barrage of maddening pass interference penalties allowed Purdue to kick a last-second field goal for the win.  At this point, I would take that, I'd enjoy a heartbreaking loss over another steamrolling that is over before the third quarter.

If anything, this game serves one extremely important function and that is giving us another week where do not have the think about Bret Bielema ordering a special tool called an embulbouser to widen the hole in the bottom of the Hat for the purpose of fitting it over his head.  It is too grim to contemplate.

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