Friday, November 12, 2021

The Wretched Agony of Watching Northwestern Games When You Can Just Google the Score


If you, like me, consume most of your football via DVR, there comes a time when you are watching your team slowly lose in a game that appears to have been projectile vomited by Matt Millen onto the Big Ten Network and now you need to make the decision whether to keep watching or to google “northwestern football” and see the final score. Most of the time this is a prudent decision, such as deciding to pull the ripcord sometime in the dreary third quarter of the Minnesota game and realizing that somehow the Gophers put up another 21 horrendous points. Sometimes doing this means missing out on an improbable comeback, the upsetting price for being able to fast forward through a coach’s challenge and at least 35 minutes of commercials for boner pills and extra large men’s pants by giving in to the overwhelmingly temptation to just know what happens.

The DVR was made for this Iowa-Northwestern game, a contest that seemed on paper like one that should have been banned from television altogether featuring two offenses that are doing everything short of pulling out their phones and killing time before punts. Iowa’s passing offense was so atrocious to begin with that it seemed like their major receiving target was the ground. They went 2-14 on third down. Northwestern, on its third quarterback, continued to run aground on offense, adding three interceptions to the mix. The teams combined for fifteen punts. Play stopped, mercifully, for a protest. Pat Fitzgerald got flagged for doing a Charlton Heston You Maniacs gesture on the sideline where his dramatic momentum carried him onto the field. I believe that if Fitz is going to get flagged, his entire head should blast off of his neck like a space shuttle and then at the post-game press conference Fitzgerald should be forced to sheepishly hold his head like the Washington Irving horseman and say things like “That can't happen. I am a passionate person but I'm also a disciplined person, so I can't lose my cool, I can't have my head flying off my shoulders and spinning into the air before it comes to rest on top of a gatorade bucket and everyone is freaking out and screaming oh my god his head.”

"It was the right call and obviously I can't have my head bursting off my shoulders and the referee tweeting his whistle saying hey fella go get your head, so I'm disappointed in myself first."

There was no more satisfying feeling in the world than fast forwarding through a lot of that, the football equivalent of watching three people ineffectively try to move a sedan through a snow covered alley for three hours while Matt Millen screams from an open window about how the the sleet is really doing a great job at being slippery and how that’s his kind of ice.

But skipping through a dreadful game before succumbing to the temptation to look at the final score robbed me of hoping that when the Wildcats scored their late touchdown they would have a chance to come back and win. Football games are long and tedious, but that just means that there is more time for tension to build and excitement and anxiety and a recording gives me access to an immediate Fuck It button that allows me to instantly skip to the end even knowing that I will be extremely annoyed if it turns out the game results in a comeback.  Yet something strange happens while watching it after looking up the final; there is still a part of me insane enough to believe that somehow they will manage to pull it out even though my phone has given me empirical proof that the comeback is in vain (in this case, Northwestern's attempt at a game-winning drive ended on an interception on the first play that happened so quickly that it was almost vaudevillian).

On Monday night, well into the third quarter with the Bears down 20-3 against the Steelers and it getting dangerously close bedtime, I decided to hit the Fuck It button and discovered that I had ruined a ludicrous Bears comeback with Justin Fields turning into a star, a series of truly unfathomable penalties including one on a Bears player I have never heard of who looks like one of the twin henchmen in the second Matrix movie got flagged for a “the fuck you looking at” penalty and Matt Nagy ending the game on one of the most pointless and doomed field goals ever attempted in the history of football. At at one point on the final drive I had shifted from doing the constant mental math of trying to figure out how the score got from what I was seeing to what my phone was telling me to actually believing that the Bears were going to win.

Nagy's camouflage makes him look like a haunted officer who has been deranged into doing weird kicker shit. On a related note, NFL Coaches' increasingly elaborate army cosplay has gotten so ridiculous that I desperately want to see Nagy coaching from the sidelines in a full ghillie suit with only his visor peeking out of his fake shrubbery.  He wouldn't even have to cover his mouth with a play sheet.

Every person who knows anything about football thinks Northwestern is going to be utterly destroyed by Wisconsin up at Camp Randall. The Badgers seemed to have caught their stride in the Big Ten and are ready to start thrashing teams like Northwestern to try to retake their usual throne atop the Big Ten West. The fact that they have one of the top defenses in the country does not worry me at all. Northwestern’s offense has been crawling so ineffectively that it is almost impossible to imagine that a team can stop them worse than they have already been stopped in virtually all of their Big Ten games already and what can Wisconsin do: sack the quarterback? Intercept passes? Violently lineback at them? Make them punt?  Northwestern's offense was born punting.  

(bane voice)

What Northwestern has, at this point, is absolutely nothing to lose, a running back that can jet for a touchdown, one of the best wide receivers I have seen in a Northwestern uniform, and a history of annoying Wisconsin and Wisconsin fans although usually that happens at Ryan Field in front of an overwhelmingly red crowd in one of the funniest and least-explicable exercises of home field advantage. A Northwestern win here would be a titanic upset, one that could send the reeling Big Ten West into further chaos. The Wildcats’ best chance to win would involve somehow scoring on a fumble and then having the referees immediately call the game because an extremely wealthy person with a private railcar and one of those fancy old-timey phones has bribed them. But I hope the game is close and excruciating, even in a possible Northwestern loss because it is supposed to be crappy out and I will probably watch this game live, unable to skip toward the final score.


A certain species of blogger and now, unfortunately, podcaster has taken over how people read about the NBA on the internet that obsesses over contracts and the salary cap and ASSETS and these green-visored, punctilious numbers-mongers have blasted the Bulls for spending too much money on the DeMar DeRozan contract so it is incredibly satisfying to have watched the Bulls shove every single one of them into a toilet during this early phase of the NBA season. After watching the Bulls try to perform a version of the famed 76ers Process except in a way done by stupid people with oddly-shaped heads, the new front office headed by Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley shaped their offseason with a new philosophy proclaiming that draft picks are bullshit, ASSETS are bullshit, and the only things that are real are Buckets.

Every single player picked by Gar Forman and John Paxson is gone except for Zach LaVine and Coby White, who is injured and has not played this season. In its place is a new team that actually tries to score points. The Bulls for the past several years were made from a collection of generic replacement parts from thinly disguised Amazon house brands, and in retrospect it was absolutely insane watching a a team depending on Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple where the only person who could reliably pass the ball was a grizzled Thaddeus Young. The Bulls traded both Sato and Temple to the Pelicans and then they played this year and the Bulls absolutely blew them off the court because those dudes who did absolutely nothing wrong in a Bulls uniform kind of stink. Now they have Lonzo Ball feeding LaVine on fast breaks, Alex Caruso flying around stealing the ball from people, and Nikola Vucevic, who fills the primal need that Midwestern sports fans have to root for a guy with an "OOO" sound in his name.

The player who has been a revelation for me has been DeRozan. DeRozan exists as a relic in 2021, a guy who does not really shoot threes and has the maddening arsenal of fadeaway jumpers and post moves that every shooting guard copied from Michael Jordan and then did only moderately effectively for the next 20 years which resulted in the NBA turning into the basketball equivalent of skateboarding teenagers unsuccessfully trying to do kickflips in a Jewel parking lot for 48 minutes. But DeRozan is not some clumsy oaf, but an artist who has mastered a technique that is no longer in fashion. DeRozan has been fine in lineups with the starters, but what I love is when Billy Donovan puts him back in with the second unit that is made entirely of hustling energy guys and then lets DeRozan barbecue the opponents’ backups with his unstoppable arsenal of midrange pullup jumpers from the early 2000s; it is as beguiling as watching Scott Stapp win over the crowd of drunken Lollapalooza teenagers there to see [tk naming a musical act that I’ve vaguely heard of that I think teenagers in 2021 like in a way that will not be utterly mortifying] by hummmer dunger darging them into a fistpumping reverie except it is not aesthetically repulsive.

The Bulls have been good and fun to watch, but they are also a triumphant repudiation of every sort of garbage tanking strategy that NBA fans suffer through because someone with an MBA made a powerpoint. They assembled the best team they could while jettisoning every player they did not want and by scattering draft picks like a Dickensian count throwing coins off his carriage. Instead of waiting to see if one of the charming but ultimately disappointing teenagers drafted in the dregs of the lottery somehow turns into a superstar, I can watch someone who already knows how to play in the NBA play basketball. The smarmy counter to all of this enthusiasm is to point out that these Bulls will not likely win a title and will be eviscerated in a playoff season against one of the superstars they were too cowardly to tank for. But it is very difficult for me to care about this. For years, the Bulls were run by a deranged cabal that seemed more interested in proving some strange point than actually winning games that germinated in the bizarre roiling feuds from their Thibodeau-era heyday and reached its apotheosis with every single thing that Jim Boylen said and did in his brief and ludicrous tenure. The Bulls are not just good again, but they are normal. How refreshing.

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