Laying 1989 to rest

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I was saddened to learn of the death of Francis Peay, the head football coach at Northwestern when I went there back in the late 1980s. He was 69 years old, meaning he was about as old as I am now back when he was coaching the Wildcats. And so it goes.

Northwestern was at the end of an awful run of football teams in the late 80s. In 1989, when I was a senior, the team lost all 11 games they played. After one of the losses at the end of the year, after the team had apparently quit on their coach, a sportswriter for our student paper, the Daily Northwestern, wrote a column that said as follows:

Rules of courtesy say that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Fine.” And what followed was the entire column length in white space. It looked strange, but it made the point about how frustrating it was to be the laughingstock of the Big Ten (back when it really had ten teams).

But I’m sure that he was trying his best, even if the results weren’t what we wanted. Coach Peay (pronounced “PAY”) was replaced by Gary Barnett in 1992, and things have improved markedly since then. They had to, really, because it had fallen so far by then.

That sportswriter couldn’t say anything nice about the football team back in 1989, but I’ll say something nice about Francis Peay. Coaching a football team–even a bad one–can’t be an easy thing, and the fact that he had a chance to do it in the first place is quite a feather in his cap.

Time marches on, and the marshmallow fights that we had in the student section during those games, in order to divert our attention from the bad things happening on the field, are now a thing of the past. But they are moments in time, all the same, and Coach Peay deserves credit for doing a difficult job in a difficult place. May he rest in peace.

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Gonna wait now

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Northwestern now has two weeks to prepare for their game against Ohio State on October 5. While the Buckeyes have to deal with a should-be-undefeated Wisconsin team next weekend, Northwestern will have the week off to chop wood and climb mountaintops (metaphorically speaking). The planets are aligned for Northwestern on this one.

It looks to me that this is going to be the Big Ten’s game of the year. Has that ever been said of a game played in Evanston before? Not in my lifetime, at least.

And Northwestern has to win this game, if they want to take the next step forward in the world of college football. No moral victories, no coulda-woulda-shoulda, just putting more points on the board than the other team does. If that should happen, they’ll be no way of avoiding coach Fitzgerald and his team for the rest of this season, and for the forseeable future as well.

There’s no reason to think that this can’t happen. Yes, Ohio State put an unfathomable beatdown on an overmatched opponent today. But they can be beat, just like any other team can be. This is going to be Northwestern’s training montage over the next two weeks, a la Rocky Balboa in the Russian winter. If they can then hang with the Ivan Drago of the Big Ten, it will be a fascinating game to watch.

Go Cats!

How the game is played

I’ve said, time and again, that football is not my game. And yet I continue writing about it, at least when it comes to the Northwestern Wildcats. But I have earned the right to celebrate their success, too, because I never actually thought I would see any. And yet here it is. Thanks. Pat Fitzgerald, for making it happen.

The game goes like this: Northwestern is ranked #16 in one poll, and #17 in another. Their names don’t really matter much, at least not to me. There are 15 (or 16, depending on the poll) teams that I will be watching this weekend. I hope that every last one of them will lose, but I know that won’t happen. One or two of them might, and that’s good enough at this point.

Until Northwestern loses a game, they’ll climb in the rankings ahead of the teams that lose this weekend. They won’t pass whoever loses the Alabama-Texas A&M game, because those teams are in the top 10 and NU isn’t there yet. But every team ranked from about 9 through 15 (or 16, depending on the poll) is subject to being passed, if Northwestern wins. And as I write this, UCLA appears to be on the road to defeat. Go Cornhuskers!

This process will continue again until Northwestern loses a game. So it’s a matter of win on the field, and watch your ranking rise as a result. Until (and maybe unless?) they lose a game. but we;ll worry about that when (or if?) it happens.

Until then,

Go Cats!

The world has turned

Trust

Mine wasn’t the first undergraduate class to experience a winless football season at Northwestern, when they went 0-11 during my senior year of 1989. The team was also winless in 1978, 1980, and 1981, and just missed it in 1977 and 1979, as well. The late 1970s and early 1980s seem to be the true dark ages for Northwestern football.

In fact, the very first game I went to as a freshman, in the fall of 1986, was a victory over Army. This won’t be so bad, I thought to myself. But eventually, it did become that bad. The last game that I witnessed on campus was a 63-14 loss to Illinois in 1989, which put the finishing touches on the type of season that Northwestern will hopefully never see again.

So when the team starts out this year at 2-0, and has a ranking in the 16-17 range of the weekly polls, it feels pretty good. I always have been, and always will be, proud of my alma mater for reasons that have nothing to do with football. But having been on the other end of the spectrum before, I intend to enjoy this season–and all the other seasons that Pat Fitzgerald is around–as thoroughly as I can.

Go Cats!

I saw him play once

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Peyton Manning’s passing performance last night was one for the ages. On the biggest stage of all–at least in the regular season–he delivered in grand style, throwing for an NFL-record seven touchdowns. Say whatever you want to about Tom Brady, but he never has, and never will, thrown for that many scores in a game. And if anyone can throw for eight, my money’s on Peyton Manning.

Manning is one of those ultra elite players that you want to tell others about seeing him play. Michael Jordan is in that category, certainly, and I saw him play on a couple of occasions. I can’t think of any baseball players in that category today, but names like Ruth and Mantle and Nolan Ryan do come to mind. I’m sure that anyone who watched Pele play soccer feels the same way about him. There are some names that, if you associate yourself with them in any small way whatsoever, it makes you feel better about yourself as a fan. And so it is with Peyton Manning.

I learned early on just how good Peyton Manning is. It was the 1997 Citrus Bowl, played on New Years Day in Orlando, Florida. He led the Tennessee Volunteers at the time, and on that day he threw for three touchdowns in the first half, and four for the game. He threw for over 400 yards, and had no interceptions. It was great to be a part of the bowl game scene–and I haven’t been to one since then–but the outcome was not what I wanted, as my Northwestern Wildcats lost, 48-28.

But what I remember most happened when the game was over. Manning at that time had a year of college eligibility left, and the NFL was certainly calling him. But the fans of the Tennessee Vols made a very pointed case for him to return to campus in the fall, instead of heading to the NFL. And Manning did exactly that, passing up the instant fame and riches that would have been his in the NFL. His team lost that year, and did not win the national championship, but another year as the king of the Tennessee campus probably wasn’t a bad thing, at all.

All these years later, Peyton Manning has the NFL at his feet. There’s a greatness in him that won’t be seen again for a very long time. And I’m happy to say that, for a couple of hours in the Florida sun, I got to see that greatness on display.

Purple Pride, win or lose

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Image from Flickriver.com

Last night I went to see my daughter in Romeo and Juliet. She’s an amazingly talented kid, and I marveled at her and the others in the cast. In just a few weeks, they’ve come together from all different places and brought this story to life. We give teenagers a bad rap sometimes, but knowing there are kids like this out there, who are willing to put their time and their energies into pulling this off–and without being paid to do it–leaves me very hopeful for the future.

As I was getting ready to attend opening night last night, I pulled on a purple Northwestern sweatshirt. I’ve always been proud of my alma mater, because it’s one of the best universities on the entire planet. Everybody says that about their own school, of course, but there’s evidence to support this, too. When people hear about colleges and universities, they usually associate the schools with their football team. Or maybe their basketball team. But the assumption–unless you’re MIT or an IVY League school–is that you’re only as good as your football team. Or maybe the school only exists to provide another college football team to the world. Neither of these is the truth, of course.

I didn’t put on my Northwestern sweatshirt to represent the football team, either. I’m genuinely proud of where I went to school, as everyone should be proud of the school they attended, wherever and whatever it is. Education is a sign of achievement, and if you’ve reached a level where a school grants you a degree or a diploma, go ahead and tell the world about it.

The football team was miserable when I was on campus in the late 1980s. When I was a senior, in the fall of 1989, they didn’t win a single game. So to see them resurrect the football program, under the masterful leadership of Pat Fitzgerald, has been gratifying to see. They’ve finally won a bowl game, even, and this fall should be one like I never thought I’d see.

I can’t wait to see what happens on October 5, when the B1G (or the Big Ten, for an old-timer like me) sees its game of the year played in Evanston when Ohio State comes calling. But win or lose, I’ll still wear the purple proudly. I’d much rather win, of course, but nobody wins all the time in life. Thank goodness nobody loses all the time, either.

Purple Reign

NCAA Football: Illinois at Northwestern

In anticipation of this year’s Super Bowl in New Orleans, Rolling Stone put together a list of the Top Halftime shows from years gone by. The top show, at least in my opinion, was Prince’s turn at Super Bowl XLI in Miami. In case you’ve blocked it out over what happened to the Bears on that day, here’s a quick recap:

Fireworks and pyrotechnics; two fine-looking dancing women; jaw-dropping guitar work; a marching band; some shadowy images of Prince’s, should we say, unique guitar; and a hypnotic, show-stopping finale; all against the backdrop of a healthy rainstorm.

In short, Purple Rain was performed in the purple rain. How does it get better than that?

Since watching this performance again online, Purple Rain has been stuck inside my head for nearly a week. And it was against this mental soundtrack that Northwestern University and the Chicago Cubs announced a partnership that will significantly raise the profile of both parties in the years ahead. It certainly points toward some very good things in the near future..

Northwestern could never build a 75,000 seat football stadium on Chicago’s North Shore. The neighbors wouldn’t stand for it, and the Wildcats’ fan base, as supportive as it is, sometimes struggles to fill up the 50,000 seats of Ryan Field. But who needs to do that, now that the Cats have access to iconic Wrigley Field?

And don’t think that this recruiting tool is going to go unused, either. What high school prospect–when faced with making the biggest decision of his young life–won’t jump at the chance to step onto the field at Clark and Addison? And who among us wouldn’t do the same thing, if we had that chance?

This arrangement, along with with the new sports facility being planned along the lakefront on Northwestern’s campus, is a sure sign that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald isn’t going anywhere. That’s going to be another huge advantage Northwestern will have in recruiting during the years ahead.

When Notre Dame gets back to work next summer–seeking to quickly get to Manti Who?–they will be dogged by questions about Brian Kelly’s future. He’s already interviewed with an NFL team, after steadily rising through the coaching ranks in college. It’s naïve to think that he’ll be at Notre Dame long term. From watching how the annual Gary Barnett Soap Opera played out in the late 1990s, I can confidently say that one or two years of that will be more than enough for anyone in South Bend.

Bret Bielema, who seemed to be Wisconsin’s coach for the foreseeable future, has flown the coop in Madison for the greener pastures of the SEC. Urban Meyer, who will have National Championship pressures for however long he’ll be at Ohio State, is something of a coaching nomad, himself.

And then there’s Coach Fitz. You may recall how he first put Northwestern’s football program back on the map, as a player back in the 1990s. As an alumnus, and a tireless ambassador for the school and the program that he has built, he has the unwavering support of the University, the Athletic Department, and the student body. There’s no chance of him leaving anytime soon, and that stability means everything for teenagers who don’t want the rug pulled out from under them. That’s exactly what happens, whenever a head coach moves on to someplace else.

It’s taken several years, and many disappointments, but things are now falling into place very quickly for Northwestern football. With a bowl victory, a loaded team coming back in the Fall, a respected head coach, a new training facility on the drawing board, and an arrangement to play in Wrigley Field in the future, a golden age of Wildcat football seems to be just a few months away. It could even end up as a Purple reign.

The Cats and the Cubs

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I’ve been a Cubs fan since the mid 1970s, and graduated from Northwestern at the dawn of the 1990s. I  would go so far as to say that my interest in sports begins and ends with those two teams. So today’s announcement that Northwestern athletics will play some of their home games in football, baseball, lacrosse, and who knows what else in Wrigley Field during the coming few years is great news for me.

The Cubs and Northwestern are both breaking new ground here, with a partnership that hasn’t been tried by anyone else before. They’re each blazing a trail, and if it succeeds–make that when it succeeds–others will be looking to do the same thing. It’s an exciting time to have allegiances on both sides of this arrangement. May it lead to bigger and better things all the way around.

Ain’t no particular sign I’m more compatible with

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Driving around town this afternoon, I heard Prince’s Kiss on the radio. And I thought about how his halftime show in Miami is–and will probably always be–the standard against which all other halftime shows will be measured, at least as far as I’m concerned. It was Purple Rain, played in the rain. Amazing isn’t a strong enough word for it. May I live long enough to see a better one.

Drinking, from XXI to XLIV

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It’s Super Bowl Sunday today, and once again I have no interest in the game or who wins it. The NFL hasn’t mattered to me in twenty years and yet, with the Super Bowl being the event that it is, I wouldn’t dare miss it, either.

From the first Super Bowl of my college years, back in 1987, the game was an excuse to get together with friends and drink lots of beer. It was the building block around which all else depended.

Is the game on? Check

Do I have beer? Check

And then it went on from there.The wings, pizza, chips and anything and everything else at any Super Bowl parties I ever attended were just extras. The beer was what always mattered most to me.

And so it went, for decades of my life. I remember the last Super Bowl where I drank, Super Bowl XLIV where Drew Brees beat Peyton Manning (and whatever teams they each played for). I drank like a fish, for hours on end. It was nothing out of the ordinary, for what is a Super Bowl if not a premise for an overdone tailgating party? But for the first time in my life, I took note of what it said about life, and the way I had been living it.

I didn’t have an epiphany the next day, where I renounced all my ways and then didn’t touch the stuff ever again. That finally did happen, closer to the end of 2010. So today, using the Super Bowl’s preferred notation, will make III Super Bowls where Diet Coke is the strongest thing I’ll avail myself of. The first one was a challenge, but by now I probably won’t even give it a second thought.

I’m not a sermonizing dry drunk. Any grown-up (which wasn’t yet me back when Super Bowl XXI was played) has the right to put this into their body if they want to. There’s certainly no room for me to suggest otherwise. There are also risks involved, since too many people die from alcohol abuse and drunk driving and fights that can break out where one or both parties have consumed more than a sensible amount. But my experience–earned over the course of XXIV (and that’s 24) Super Bowls–is that the only sensible amount–at least for me–is none at all.

The radio is enough

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The BCS title game is about to kick off in Miami, and I’m hoping for a competitive game. But the truth is, I won’t be watching it. My cable package doesn’t include ESPN, so I can’t watch it at home. I would feel strange nursing a Diet Coke in a bar, since I’ve committed myself to not drinking any more. So here I am in the car, listening to the game on the radio.

Times change, and people change, too. So TV and beers are out, and radio and writing for my blog are in. It should have happened a decade ago, but better late than not at all.

Here’s to a game worth writing about tomorrow.

UPDATE: It’s 21-0 Alabama right now, and things aren’t looking too good for Notre Dame. So what does the picture have to do with anything? Nothing, really, but it was the coolest thing that I could find on my cellphone as I was typing this out. That counts for something, doesn’t it?

UPDATE 2: Final score was 42-14 Alabama. Not too many saw that coming, I’m sure. Notre Dame is getting pummeled on Twitter, too. Funniest tweet may have come from @KateUpton, who said this: “It’s okay Notre Dame this happened to the Jets every week.” Ouch!

Notre Dame had an amazing season and deserves credit for being a far better team than most people thought. I’m sure that’s cold comfort this evening, though.

The preseason polls were only half right

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The BCS doesn’t release their rankings until a few weeks into the college football season, and this year’s title game is exactly why they are right to do this. Since we don’t have any preseason BCS polls to look at, let’s look at another poll, from the Associated Press, instead.

The AP preseason top 25 poll was released before a single play had been run. Their findings were pure speculation. If you want to call them educated guesses, that’s fine, but there was nothing to actually back these guesses up with.

Alabama was ranked #2 in the AP preseason poll, which means that the people who vote in the AP polls got Alabama exactly right. They are one of the two best college football teams, and are playing to decide if they’re the best team of all. Hats off to the AP for calling that part.

But the supposed experts, to use a football analogy, fumbled the ball badly with the second half of the 1 vs. 2 matchup. Notre Dame, Alabama’s opponent for the football trophy that gets awarded after the game is decided, was nowhere to be found in the preseason AP  poll. To be fair, they were the first team left off the list, and a few educated guessers saw some potential in Notre Dame this season. But most of them missed it.

A 50% guess rate, which is what the AP had in their preseason poll, isn’t so great. In fact, it’s a great argument for why there shouldn’t be any preseason polls to begin with. It gives people who eat and breathe college football something to argue about back in August, I suppose, but this year’s results show that it’s generally just a waste of time and effort.

So hats off to the BCS, which I’m generally not fond of, for having the good sense to hold off until a few games have been played before trying to rank these teams against one another.

And the AP’s preseason #1 team? This is probably too sweet for Notre Dame fans, but it was USC. To remove the Trojans from the title game picture, and replace them with the Fighting Irish instead, must feel like quite a victory already for Notre Dame’s fans. But it would pale in comparison to a win on Monday night, which is why they play these games in the first place.

’13 seems lucky so far

Victory

Northwestern won its first bowl game of my lifetime today, in a rather convincing fashion. They beat Mississippi State 34-20 in the Gator Bowl (I’m not using the corporate sponsor’s name here) to get the new year off to a winning start. The monkey has been sent away, the streak has been broken, and any other appropriate metaphors are no longer relevant.

Those who think 13 is unlucky–and I have professed myself to be one of them, in a different context–should talk to Northwestern fans tonight, because thirteen’s just fine with us right now.

So now it’s onward to bigger and better things in the fall. Most of the main players are coming back next year, especially on offense, so why not think that the Big Ten championship and a BCS bowl berth are possible? At this moment, anything and everything seems reasonable to me.

Go Cats!

We’re halfway there

It’s halftime in the Gator Bowl, and Northwestern’s in the lead 13-10. A pick six in the first minute of the game got things going, and three interceptions on defense were a big help. An offensive touchdown would have been nice, but holding the Bulldogs to a field goal inside the red zone is the difference in the game right now. But they clearly have the momentum, so I am fairly concerned. And I’m not a fan of the cowbells, at all.

After the way NU gave away three games in the fourth quarter this year, the fun won’t start until the fourth quarter begins. Let’s hope that they learned something from those games, and they close it out this time.

In the meantime, I’ll just pretend that Bon Jovi was singing about the Wildcats. Go Cats!

What would I do without coffee?

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Not much to say here, just an observation as I enjoy the first of many, many cups I will have this year.

Looking forward to the Northwestern game, even if I don’t have the cable package to watch the game. I guess radio and Twitter will just have to do it for me, instead.

Happy 2013 to anyone who reads this.

Lovie’s nine-year tenure

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The Chicago Bears missed the playoffs this year, and they reacted the same way that several other NFL franchises did today: they fired their head coach. The bright line between success and failure seems to be making the playoffs, and I suppose that’s fair enough. It’s a binary thing: you either made it to the playoffs and had a successful season, or you didn’t, and now it’s time to hit the bricks and let someone else have a go at it instead.

I’ve said repeatedly that I’m not a Bears fan, but this kind of a move, in a football town like Chicago is, will suck up all the attention, sportswise and even newswise, until further notice. Not that I’m going to partake in any of it, I just wanted to point that out before retiring for the evening.

I hope New year’s eve is happy and safe for anyone and everyone who reads this.

A harbinger of success

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This morning, I pulled out my old Northwestern car flag and attached it to the window of my car for the drive into work. It’s New Year’s eve, and since NU has a game tomorrow morning against Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl, I wanted to display some Wildcat pride on the streets of Chicago.

I’ve had the flag for probably fifteen years, meaning that it’s been flown many times before. It’s known some good times over the years, but during bowl season there’s been only disappointment. Maybe that will change this year, I thought to myself as I drove toward the Kennedy Expressway and the suburban office where I work.

Traffic was light, as might be expected on New Year’s Eve day. As I pulled onto the highway, things were looking great. That is, until I heard the noise.

There was a loud slap against the roof of the car, followed by silence. The familiar ruffling sound of the flag as it hit the roof of my car was gone. I knew what the problem was but, since I was already on the highway, I couldn’t really do anything about it. And so I drove on, until I stopped at an oasis to check.

Just as I had suspected, the plastic rings that had attached the car flag to the pole were no match for wind that was created by driving onto the highway. The rings had snapped, and the flag went off to its resting place, somewhere near the on-ramp to the highway.

At first I was bummed out, and not because I had been driving with what resembled a Festivus pole on my car. No, I had had that flag for many, many years, and it was a link to days from the past that I’ll never see again.

But what were those days, exactly? Usually a good performance by the Wildcats during the regular season, punctuated by disappointment at the end of the season, either by losing a bowl game, or by not playing in one at all. Perhaps, rather than being a bad thing,  the loss of my flag is a sign of good things to come tomorrow morning. We’ll all find out soon enough.

UPDATE: The loss of the flag was indeed a good sign, as Northwestern beat Mississippi State 34-20, to capture its first bowl win in a very long time. Expectations for this team in the fall will be very high, indeed.

Rooting for the enemy

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I live in Chicago, but don’t care enough about the NFL to consider myself a Bears fan. The Bears win, the Bears lose, and it’s all pretty much the same to me. But I’m certainly in the minority in these parts. Many people are emotionally invested in the Bears, and for the next three hours they will do something that will be exceedingly uncomfortable: root for Green Bay.

Yes, the Packers. The team from that little town up north, that is by far the smallest town in the NFL. Never mind that it’s a Wisconsin team as much as anything else. Illinois generally looks down on its neighbor to the north, and the ill will is returned in kind (like we don’t know what a FIB is). This mutual contempt for each other is the fuel that makes the oldest rivalry in the NFL go. And if Bears fans want to extend their season into next weekend, they have no other choice. It’s a long enough offeason already, so why add another week to it?

Go put on something in the lemon-lime colors that the Packers wear, or practice doing that belt thing that Aaron Rogers does. Embrace it, Bears fans, and just hope that it’s successful in the end. Because you’ll hate yourselves for doing it if the Packers lose.

We’re Number One

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As somebody who graduated from what felt like Football High, it was a dramatic change to attend Northwestern in the late 1980s. The football team was terrible, so much so that we would literally throw marshmallows at each other during home games, in order to distract ourselves from what was transpiring on the field. And lots of people would snicker when I told them where I went to school. Never mind that it was a top flight academic school, then and now. The football team sucked and, in some people’s minds, that was more important.

But who’s laughing now? Not only is the Northwestern football program among the top ones in the country on the field, but it’s ranked at the very top where it matters most: in the classroom. Colleges and universities are academic endeavors first, and sports programs second (at best). So to read that Northwestern bests all other schools in areas that matter like graduation rates, it’s enormously heartening.

The best thing about this news is that no other school was even close. I will repeat that: Northwestern came out on top, comfortably ahead of every other school ranked in the Top 25 in the polls.  So while the Wildcats won’t be playing in a BCS bowl game this year, they now have a recruiting chip that no other school can match, at least for the players and their families who give a fig about education. And that’s very gratifying for everyone affiliated with Northwestern.

Go Cats!

My first meme

Walter

Internet memes are a new take on an old idea. Start with an instantly recognizable image (an icon, if you want to use that term) and add text that makes it funny or interesting in some way. The old “Kilroy was here” would be an example. If you drew Kilroy’s gaze with his nose hanging over the fence and added “(Your name) was here” to it, that’s a bit like generating a meme. It’s a new twist on something that’s already there.

So I went to memegenerator.net and went to work on behalf of the Northwestern football program. They’re playing in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day in Jacksonville, Florida, against Mississippi State. It will be the first in a day-long stream of bowl games with Big Ten teams involved, and Northern Illinois thrown in for some added local interest. I’ll have to put my anti-TV bias aside on that day.

There are many characters that can be used as templates: There’s Morpheus from the Matrix movies, Annoying Facebook Girl, Bad Luck Brian, Success Kid, and more than I can describe here. But the one that interested me the most was Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski. If you haven’t seen the movie before–and I sure hope you have–Walter is a messed-up Vietnam veteran, who seems given to scary outbursts and erratic behavior. He’s the anti-Dude in a lot of ways.

There’s a scene set in a bowling alley, and….well, just watch for yourself. So the meme for Walter is “Am I the only one around here…..” and there are many examples, some of them funnier than others. I tied my Angry Walter into the Wildcats’ lack of success in bowl games in, oh, my entire lifetime.

My result is shown above, and I doubt it will be the last meme I ever make. It’s a silly yet creative exercise, which means it’s exactly the sort of thing I would enjoy doing, at least until it gets old. And I’m sure that won’t take too long, either.

Sorry, Pappy!

Fitz

As much as anything else, this post is written to get the above picture of Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald out onto the web. It was on the cover of a pocket schedule that I picked up at a game at Ryan Field earlier this season.

The purple and white shading is a cool effect, but the look on Coach’s face says it all. This guy is a football coach who is–and will continue to be–the face of the program. I’m looking forward to many years of success in the future.

Wherever the bowl game ends up being in a few weeks, a victory would be the 50th of his career. This would break a tie with Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf, who coached at NU back in the 1930s and 1940s before leaving for Cal. And the only college football coach who ever lost a bowl game to Northwestern is…..Pappy Waldorf, in the 1949 Rose Bowl. You can’t make this stuff up.

Just in case a desire to finally get the bowl game monkey off of their backs wasn’t enough, Wildcat players have the added incentive of helping to put their coach into the university’s record books before the season ends. Every bit of motivation helps.

Link to a piece on ChicagoSideSports

It’s all over but the bowl game now. The college football season was exciting, but ultimately disappointing for me as an alumus of Northwestern University. Not one, not two, but three games got away from the Wildcats, and that’s why there’s no game to look forward to this weekend. That’s why this feels more like 1996–the year that I went to see the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on new year’s day–than like 1995, when a top five ranking was a possibility.

I sometimes deal with disappointments by writing about them. Here’s a link to the ChicagoSide piece. Enjoy it if you can. I like the artwork, though.

Eight wins and disappointment

The world certainly has turned for Northwestern football. I bore witness to exactly eight wins in the entire four years that I was on campus, from 1986 through 1989. There were four wins in my freshman year, and four in the following three years.

We threw marshmallows at each other in the stands during football games to keep our minds off what was happening on the field.

Every victory at home, no matter who the opponent was, was grounds for running onto the field and tearing down the goal posts.

My senior year, 1989, was so bad that the final two games were lost by a combined score of 169-28. Talk about ending with a whimper.

But things have turned around since then, beginning with 1995 and stretching into the foreseeable future. Coach-for-life Pat Fitzgerald has pointed out, correctly, that everyone under the age of 40 only knows Northwestern as a winner. And that’s a change for the better, as far as I can see.

But today’s win against Michigan State marked the eighth win on the season. I should be thrilled at the progress that’s been made over the past 20 years, right?

Well, not so fast. Each of the three games that Northwestern has lost this year was as a result of a fourth quarter meltdown. Double-digit leads were surrendered against Penn State in Happy Valley, against Nebraska in Evanston, and–most shockingly of all–against Michigan just last weekend. If even two of those three games were won, Northwestern is 10-1 and making plans to play in the Big Ten’s first championship game this year. So an 8-3 record could be as much as 11-0 instead. It’s very hard to see this season as anything other than a disappointment, when viewed through that lens.

But it is what it is. Illinois comes in next week, and while I hope the game is competitive, I would be shocked if it actually was. Then comes the ritual of accepting a bowl invitation, travelling to wherever the game will be, and then losing the game. I won’t ever take being in a bowl game for granted (how could I, when the dark days of the late 80s are considered?), but you play the games to win, after all. That’s really the only way to redeem what has been an agonizing eight-win season. And I really did just type that. Wow.

Boston to the rescue, once again

I’m absolutely sick about the way Northwestern gave away today’s game against Michigan. There’s no silver lining in this loss. None at all. The game was a must-win that they did not win. The only thing left for this season is to wait for whatever mid-level bowl game the Wildcats are invited to, and hope that they can break a rather painful losing streak. Even beating Illinois two weeks from now doesn’t seem like it means too much right now.

It’s as if the DJ at the radio station I was listening to on the way home this afternoon knew what I needed. Boston’s Don’t Look Back came on the radio, and I’ve written about that song before in this space. It cheered me up, as it always has before. I realized that nobody died, and I wasn’t hit by Hurricane Sandy, and Barack Obama still won a few nights ago, and the outcome of a football game doesn’t make my life any better, win or lose. And at least Northwestern’s games are meaningful now. I well remember when this was not the case.

So now I’m looking ahead, and counting the things that are still good in my life, and recognizing that writing on this blog definitely helps in this regard. Who needs football, anyway?

Big house, Big game

I’m not much of a football fan, but baseball has finished up its season, and I don’t care much for basketball, so it looks like football will have to do. And when I say “football” I really mean college football, because the NFL  isn’t too exciting for me, either.

I’ve never been to a game in Michigan Stadium, which is known far and wide as “the Big House.” I have walked around it, once at night when I found myself in Ann Arbor on business a few years back. Seeing the Big House just seemed like the thing to do at the time. And it certainly does seem big from the outside. It would have to be, if 100,000 people and more can all squeeze their way in to watch a game.

Northwestern is going to the big House tomorrow, hoping to chart a course for a 10-win season. 10 wins in the same season would be amazing, but it only happens with a win tomorrow. With an extra week to prepare for Michigan, I’m hoping that the Wildcats will have some new tricks up their sleeve when the game kicks of at 11 AM tomorrow. It should be a fun one to watch.

Go Cats!