Manti Bizarro Mania & Chip Kelly’s Departure & How It Connects to Tonight’s ‘Cats-Illini Game
I’m using the Manti Te’o story to start off today, simply so that you know that I’m not living in some dark cave, immune to non-NU related stories. I think Mike Greenberg of ESPN Radio captured my sentiments pretty darn closely. Greenberg, as well as seemingly every other media member on the planet, spent much of last night and today trying to bring reason to this improbable story involving a hoax of a girlfriend. Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick’s over-the-top PR play last night, pledging full and unwavering support for Manti and the fact that he was an innocent victim in all of this, just struck me. The fact this is coming out now, a full month after he first learned of it and the obvious gap in time between the timeline of when Te’o told ND administrators (December 26), the national title game (Jan 7) and when the AD came out with the story (yesterday) as his hand was forced by Deadspin.com which broke the story, completely outmanning sports media heavyweights, including ESPN, which doused the flames of this story all season long. I’m in Greenie’s camp as the court of public opinion is already ringing the bell of BS pretty loudly. There are a ton of things that don’t make sense, which lead you to believe this story will very likely take several more turns and thus, I’m holding out on full judgment of the story until that happens. However, my knee-jerk, Malcolm Gladwell “Blink”-like reaction was “I’m not buying it” as it relates to Manti’s statement and Notre Dame’s fist pounding woe is Manti and woe is us spin. However, the fact that Swarbrick came out so strongly, so emphatically after articulating a no stone unturned investigation led me to question it all. Would ND really put their brand so at risk if they knew there were more skeletons in the closet? Or, is it a back “our guy” now when all the facts aren’t on the table to show support and know that you’ll recant should/when things change?
The Notre Dame haters clubs are convening as we speak in hopes that perhaps it does come back to bite them. I’d love for this to truly be Manti being the innocent victim, for otherwise it will continue to fuel my cynicism on all most all feel good stories these days. This story is big enough to swallow the Chicago Bears’ hiring of a new head coach, which I thought was impossible (more on the NU connections to the new coaching staff in a later post)
If this turns out to somehow implicate Te’o AND Notre Dame, the ND Haters will likely be assembling a recent historical timeline that would be rather sickening. It includes a couple of milestones that simply make your skin crawl including the death of the student football video coordinator, Declan Sullivan who fell from the scissor lift on a 60 mph day at practice and an alleged sexual assualt of a football player which played a role in Lizzy Seeberg’s suicide. I hope for college football’s sake, this turns out to be just what Swarbrick said, because anything other than that, even a hint of Notre Dame covering anything up would show us that we still haven’t learned from the tragedy at Penn State. I’ll weigh in when the story unfolds as this thing is just starting to unwind. In the meantime, kudos to Deadspin for breaking this story. Tommy Craggs, the editor of Deadspin is a diehard Illini fan and graduated from there, but also has a master’s degree from Northwestern (Medill). And there in lies an opportunity for a segue.
Craggs will be rooting for the#23 Illini (14-4) tonight in their match-up with Northwestern at 7:15 pm ct on BTN. Amazingly, both teams are tied in the conference (1-3) and you’ve got to believe the Illini will be ready tonight as they’re coming off an embarassing blowout loss at Wisconsin and John Groce has been none too pleased by talking about the fact they need to “man up”. I’m not going to lie, I’m fearful we may get blownout like we did against Iowa. Now, let’s try and tie this in to Chip Kelly.This one might be a stretch, but Chip Kelly’s departure from Oregon to take the Eagles head coaching job in the NFL shines a light on this fan’s mental approach to Northwestern football vs Northwestern basketball.
Let me start by getting a few caveats out there. First, any mention of Northwestern basketball in a blog post is eliciting strong responses to the “Carmody must go” vs “shut up you knuckleheads and assess after the season” debates that seem to be getting circular and tiresome already. Second, as far as players on the team go, I fully support them and will be cheering heartily for them tonight against a desperate Illini team that went from top ten to alongside NU in the B1G standings at 1-3 in just a matter of days. Please don’t misinterpret the below post to be a slam on any indivi duals. I love the heart of Sobo, the fire of Hearn and am really ready to rip out a post entitled “Let Demps Free!”
However, with the news that Chip Kelly has left Oregon to take the Philadelphia Eagles head coaching post, I’d be remiss to not use the timeliness of that move to tie in to the Northwestern fan mentality. OK, perhaps it is just THIS fan, but nonetheless, I’m doing my best Russell Crowe in Beautiful Mind to try and connect the dots.
I’m ecstatic about Kelly’s departure. Despite the fact that Alabama looked like an NFL team against Notre Dame in their national championship romp, I’m not afraid to admit there was/is only one team in the nation I fear the Wildcats playing – Oregon. Yes, that’s right. As a Wildcats football fan I’m confident enough in our program that on any given day we could beat anyone, except maybe Oregon and Alabama. And, I really only fear getting blownout by Oregon. The eradication of that mental state – the fear that we could get blown out is completely gone from my frame of mind. It will happen at some point, and it has happenned as recently as 2010 when Wisconsin handed Fitz his biggest point differential loss in his coaching tenure. Sure, it was post-Persa injury and all, but I think somewhere in that 2010 season I lost the fear of getting blownout. That’s a pretty big deal for Wildcat Nation. I didn’t fear the South Carolina match-up. I thought we would lose if we played Georgia, but I thought it would’ve been a game, much like Nebraska made it a game for three quarters. However, when I saw the “other” purple-clad Wildcats, Kansas State, draw Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, I empathized with my good buddy and diehard K-State fan (I’ve converted him to get NU to be his #2). There is just something about that offense and Kelly’s take-no-prisoners attitude that I admire. Two point conversions in the first minute of a game. Zero tendency to go in to play not-to-lose mentality. You have to admit, when Oregon is on, you want to watch to see what type of car crash you might get to rubberneck, meaning, will they put up 100 on Washington State kind of thing.
When it comes to NU basketball, we don’t have that yet. I still fear blowouts. Well, let me modify that statement. Last year, when Shurna was healthy, was the first time I felt that every single game we had a chance to win. I didn’t fear blowout losses last year. Not at all. Not at road games in Michigan and Indiana and definitely not at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Now, with Cobb and Crawford out and this team seemingly having a soft factor to it, I am going in to games like tonight hoping to keep it close. The fear is there.
‘Cats football fans are no stranger to Chip Kelly. He took his UNH offense (he was then a coordinator) and handed NU a lopsided loss at Ryan Field in 2006. It’s the only FCS game we’ve played that hasn’t been a lopsided blowout win and it was soul-crushing at the time, especially since my youngest sister is a UNH alum. As Northwestern fans, we now have BCS game aspirations and inevitably it comes down to match-ups. If you start with the primary goal of winning the B1G and knowing there is a good chance you’ll be in the Rose Bowl, then there is a pretty good chance the team with the funky uniforms will be the opponent. That scared me, until now. Good riddance Chip Kelly. It’s the happiest I’ve been about a coaching departure since Jim Harbaugh went to the NFL. And now, there are exactly zero teams that I fear playing in football.
Again, this isn’t some arrogant take that we won’t get blownout as it will happen. I said it all season long that I’d love to have seen NU play #1-ranked Notre Dame this year. Pitt took them to overtime. Purdue had them in a tight game. Sure, they beat everyone they played including quality wins over Stanford (albeit controversial), Michigan and Oklahoma, but c’mon, I know you’re with me on this one. Now, on the hardwood, just one year away from that fantastic feeling of knowing that we’d be in every game, I’m nearing rock bottom wondering which game we’ll actually be in. Once we can get the basketball program to that level from a fan’s perspective, then I’ll know we’ve arrived. It’s that competitive level Fitz has achieved and it takes year after year of proving success on the field for it to happen. So, I’ll be watching tonight, rooting hard for the ‘Cats, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t fearing the blowout.
There are all kinds of tidbits going on related to NU including more bowl game awards, NU ties to NFL coaching and some challenges from Evanston residents trying to muck up NU’s on campus expansion plans. We’ll get to those, but I’m going to be spacing them out a bit.