Thursday, July 12, 2012

Big Ten Mascots: The Untold Story

Yesterday, the mascots of the Big Ten joined the now well-entrenched craze consisting of making college football fans laugh/cringe via optical terror, also known as "singing and dancing to awful music." This craze has been birthed and propagated at places like Georgia, Missouri, Notre Dame, and Texas A&M (although, to be fair, the Aggies spared us their musical stylings in favor of complete obsequiousness). I'm afraid that there is nothing that can be done about this except to hope that a bunch of Michigan students don't make an awkward rap video centered around doing the "Hoke Walk" or something.

After breathing a sigh of relief at the fact that Michigan, yes, still does not have a mascot, I noticed two noteworthy absences: Northwestern's Willie the Wildcat and Purdue Pete. Why?, I thought. What could possibly be the reasons for such a noble and principled stand, particularly when nobility and principle have gone by the wayside in this age of increasingly NFL-ized college football? Luckily, I was able to secure an completely fabricated interview with these conscientious objectors. This is their story.

I met with Willie the Wildcat and Purdue Pete at a famous Chicago restaurant--let's call it, for the sake of this piece, "Giordano's"--relatively close to the conference's Chicago HQ. At Willie's request, we sat in a secluded corner booth so as not to be seen. He vehemently claimed that the comestibles served at this establishment were, in his esteemed mind, "glorified lasagna" and "peasant food", and thus he did not feel comfortable being seen at such a disreputable place.

We sat down, and after the mascots ordered refreshments--a $3,289 bottle of wine for Willie, a pitcher of diesel fuel for Pete--I opened my laptop and hit play. Willie and Pete were both visibly nervous.

The video began, and I asked them the question that everybody wanted to ask: why? Why this stand, in particular? Why now?

Why, you ask? WHY? Need it be expressed with the spoken word? Need it be dignified, validated?

Pete looked on in stoic silence.

Let us begin with the obvious: a Big Ten man does not carry useless specie on his person. It is undignified. The jingling noise which accompanies it is redolent of the common dandy. Alas, what are we to expect of one who shamelessly gallivants around, bearing his brutish muscularity in such a manner? It is thus no wonder that the influence of the noble Athenian culture far outlasted that of their Spartan rivals in the annals of history. I, myself, maintain not one line of credit: the oppression of weighted pockets is not unlike that of the weighted conscience. Of course, let it be known that I am not wanting for capital. Only when it is absolutely necessary to do so will I seize upon the treasures of my inheritance lofty estate. Until then, my finances shall be accounted for by persons other than myself. Somebody must account for our collective lack of dignity, and who better than I, Willie the Wildcat, to carry out this mission.

[Pete looks on. He clutches the handle of his hammer, his knuckles growing increasingly white with the mounting force of his grip.]

I dare say I may swoon. Did you know that this fellow is not even a member of the AAU? And yet, this libertine is now one of us. It is no coincidence that we were able to prevail in their own den of iniquity this past season: the moral high ground is the most effective of gridiron stratagems. What the Wildcats lack in athleticism and guru-approved recruiting classes, they more than make up for with moral fortitude and a comprehensive knowledge of Shakespeare's canon.

[Pete looked on, still silent. He thought to himself, his expression one of constant resignation: If only they could see what was good in me...]

This is where the ideological struggle rears its ugly head in its basest form. Why does he hide? There is no need for deception in this conference, this collection of brothers that do precisely as they say they will do. When we said that we would not pursue the option of home games at campus sites--here, Willie paused for dramatic effect--we did exactly that! When it is first down, we do not pass! Oh, you say that you're down by three touchdowns? Well, too bad. Perhaps you should've exercised some basic foresight. Ah, well, my apologies. I've gotten regrettably flustered. Nevertheless, the simple fact that a Wisconsin Man, of all people, has resorted to the evils of deception--appearing here, then appearing there without so much as a warning!--reveals the seedy depths which we are so painfully exploring now. These are troubling times, and this is why we, the noble mascots of Purdue and Northwestern, must make this stand.

[Pete remembered Tiller, and Brees, and basketball on grass, and smiled surreptitiously for a nostalgic, fleeting moment: Willie didn't have to know. He didn't have to know everything.]

Why is he up there?! He should not be up there! This is insanity.

I'm of a mind to set my diploma ablaze right here and now in a conflagration that would make Mrs. O'Leary herself blush. Praytell, explain to me the very basis of AAU membership if we cannot even outsource such menial drudgery! Of course, I'm sure there weren't veritable legions of Eagles fans begging to do the job in exchange for Geno's gift certificate, but no, oh no. This is what we've come to. I've stared into the abyss, and all I see are afternoons frittered away at the expense of a thorough reading of Kant's Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven (which, consequently, doubles as a prescient and capable retelling of Northwestern's 1995 football campaign). I see that I am again diverting my attention from the crux of the matter.

[All of this weighed on Pete like the stones on Giles Corey's chest, only Pete did not understand this reference because the liberal arts were, of course, for dummies. The diesel fuel burned at first but went down smooth afterwards...just like it always did. Just like it always did.]

Ah, a faint light in the darkness! At the very least the noble concept of "having a personal driver" is within our Spartan friend's ken. He must be of Gerouisian stock, indeed, a descendant of those Spartan elders of yore. Still, this is only a Pyrrhic victory. [Willie looked away for a moment, contemplating if any of this, these shadowy athletic associations, were worth it. He pulled out his Blackberry and scrolled down his contact list to "University of Chicago Phoenix", vacillating. I wonder how he has been doing, Willie thought before thinking better of it. He put his phone away, understanding that the time for that had long since passed.]

Oh come on! What do they even see in this common ruffian of the Plains? For Fitzgerald's sake, does he have 24 Northwestern degrees like I do? A well-managed 401K and stock options? Does he? He has a cowboy hat...A COWBOY HAT. Pete, will you not utter a word in the face of this crimes against our honor?

Pete, somber, looked at Willie, then at me. 

What you say in so many words, I say in few. In fact, none at all. I am an engineer. [Pete stood up calmly, with a resolve that had seemingly crescendoed throughout the course of the interview. He wielded his hammer over his shoulder, waited a moment to reckon the optimal point of contact, and brought it violently crashing down on my laptop. The horrific music came to an end, sending shards of silicon and pieces of keyboard here and there. Willie looked on, in shock.]

That...was...why, that was transcendent! That was sublime! That was, was--[Willie made a move to embrace Pete in brotherly friendship, only to be swiftly rebuffed.]

Get yourself together, William. There's a reason why we chose not to submit to--he pointed with the hammer in the general direction of the wreckage on the table--that. Goodbye.

Pete left without saying another word, grabbing pieces of lasagna pizza off of random tables on his way out, leaving Willie and I to clean up the physical and ideological wreckage that he had left.
And so, you see, these mascots, despite their adorable theatrics and happy-go-lucky exterior, are actually creatures of conscience. They think and feel just like we do. They struggle and want and emote, just like we do. They want to be objects of you enjoyment, and, yet, they don't want to be objects of your enjoyment.

It is a cautionary tale, to be sure. Push mascots too far, and they will belie their cheerful exterior in order to take a stand, a stand that may shock you, the unprepared fan ignorant of the mascot's plight. This time, it was the cold, efficient engineer from Purdue lashing out at the indignity of it all. Next time, it could be...

Let us hope it never comes to that.

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