Category Archives: Let's Play Pepper

In the Cold Rain of West Lafayette, the Cream Rises to the Top

(AP Photo/The Journal & Courier, Brent Drinkut)

(AP Photo/The Journal & Courier, Brent Drinkut)

That seems like a fitting headline, right? At least, in the sense that the cream was rising to the top of fans’ hot chocolates as they suffered through one of the sloppier games that will be played in the Big Ten this season.

I made the trek to West Lafayette early this morning with Fish, Woldy and Whitehead. Our spirits were high, even though the overall consensus among us was that Northwestern would probably lose.

Tension started to build a bit as we hit traffic on I-65, as we were called derogatory terms in a West Lafayette Arby’s, and as we arrived at the stadium right after kickoff, only to see Northwestern’s own Arby fumble on the first snap of the game.

Things got ugly quickly, and our jokes about the team’s poor performance soon turned into silent stares into a cold mist falling upon Ross Ade Stadium.

Northwestern couldn’t tackle. Northwestern couldn’t score from the one yard line. Northwestern couldn’t compete with a team most consider a bottom feeder in the Big Ten this year.

The situation was so gloomy that Fish, the driver on the trip, took out his keys and asked if we wanted to leave two minutes before halftime, just seconds after the ‘Cats failed to convert on a 4th-and-goal from the 1. It seemed like game over, and pneumonia hardly seemed like a reward for obstinate loyalty.

But then something happened to Purdue, something inexplicable, something that defied football logic, and something that could, while seemingly unlikely, change the course of Northwestern’s season.

The Boilermakers lost the ability to hold on to the football. First it was an interception immediately following the turnover on downs. The ‘Cats cashed in with a touchdown. 21-10.

Then a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. A field goal for Northwestern. 21-13.

Then another fumble on the first snap of Purdue’s next series. Another NU field goal. 21-16. The above events all happened in the last two minutes of the first half, with Northwestern having zero timeouts in its pocket.

It was a comical change of momentum during a game Northwestern had no business hanging around in. If there’s one sound I love when my team is playing on the road, it’s the sound of a fan base booing its team off the field. That was happening at Ross-Ade Stadium.

The second half was a mix of rain, cold, wind, miserableness, happiness, frustration, anxiety and torture. The Wildcat defense hung tough for the entire half while the offense took its time in scoring the go-ahead touchdown. And what would a Northwestern win be without a chance for the opposing team to win in the last minute? Purdue had four chances from inside the NU 10-yard line to win the game and could not.

The elation we experienced from the win was matched only by the relief of avoiding a miserable drive home after another stomach-punch loss.

The feeling of going on a road trip to watch your school play football or basketball, in a hostile environment, and win, is like no other. To sit with other fans who made the same trip, to ride the emotional roller coaster of a college football or basketball game, and to finally win makes the long drives and fast food all worth it.

To sing the fight song with the football team as a disappointed home crowd shuffles out provides the college fan a feeling of superiority that, at least to a Northwestern fan, occurs far too infrequently.

Because of that, even if the win is ugly, even if the team is down 21-3 in the first half, even if it took five fumbles and a last minute drive to take the lead, and even if a crushing defeat was in the form of a pass just inches too high, winning on the road is a cause for celebration. For an afternoon, all the problems of the young season disappeared. All the debate of bowl or no bowl took a back seat to the revelry of a dramatic win.

I’ll savor this one, for sure. I can only stave off reality for so long.


Seeking Your Thoughts on Michael Vick


It seems like everyone has an opinion on the Philadelphia Eagles signing Michael Vick. The news has transcended the sports world and is making its way around dinner tables, subway trains and places of business, even among those who wouldn’t have been able to pick Vick out of a lineup before the dogfighting scandal broke.

I have my own opinion on the matter, but before I divulge, I want to hear from the loyal Between the Headset readers. What are your thoughts on the Eagles signing Vick, both from a P.R. standpoint and a football standpoint?

Should every team have passed on Vick, or are teams going to regret leaving him alone?

Leave a comment below, and I will respond to the best ones with my own thoughts.

Things That Happen When Your Baseball Team is Bad, Part 2

ALCS Indians Fans Baseball

Reader Murray points us to another example of a team whose roster has been raided as a result of losing: the Cleveland Indians.

Here is their lineup in Game 1 of the 2007 ALCS vs. the Boston Red Sox

Here is their lineup last night vs. the L.A. Angels

Also consider the starting rotations for the Indians in ’07 and today, after the Indians traded away Cliff Lee:

2007- C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Paul Byrd, Jeff Westbrook, Cliff Lee

2009:  Carl Pavano, David Huff, Fausto Carmona, Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey

There is also still talk that Victor Martinez may be traded before tomorrow’s deadline. What is so shocking about the demise of the Indians, as opposed to that of the Pittsburgh Pirates, is that two years ago, the Indians looked like a team that could compete for the A.L. Pennant for the next 5-10 years. Now, they look like the Kansas City Royals.

It is pretty remarkable how quickly things changed, so much so that GM Mark Shapiro essentially decided to blow up the team and start over. This must be very disheartening for Cleveland fans, who have to root for the Browns and also watched the Cavs choke in this year’s playoffs.

Things that Happen When Your Baseball Team is Bad

pirates bad

1. They trade away their best players

2. They get shut out in 10 innings after getting 7 scoreless from their starter

3. Fans lose hope…again

4. They trot out a lineup like this, after starting the season with a lineup like this.

(Hat tip to Frank Bauch for pointing this out)

My Morning with the Old Timers


Some quick thoughts from my day spent as a member of the working media at the new Yankee Stadium…

-The old-timer who received the most attention today may have been Tom Watson, but on the other side of the pond, a group of former baseball greats were reliving their glory days. Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Ken Griffey Sr., Doc Gooden, Joe Pepitone, Mike Mussina and many more former Yankees were on hand for Old Timers’ Day to chat and then play an actual game before the real Yankees took the field to play the Detroit Tigers. I was lucky enough to have access to be on the field while the former players were taking BP and chatting with the media.

Listening to these players took about the game was incredible. For some reason, former baseball players always tell the best stories, though I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s just the nature of the game of baseball, where individual pitches and at-bats can become instantly legendary. Or maybe it’s because the season is so long and there are so many games, which in turn gives players a lot more story fodder. Whatever the case, it was remarkable to listen to some of these players recount stories of their on-field triumphs from decades ago. Standing next to Yogi Berra on the field before the game is something I will not forget anytime soon.

-The new Yankee stadium is awesome. Very big and very nice while still maintaining the Yankee Stadium feel. I do have two major complaints, however. The first is the ridiculous dimensions of the ballpark, which look even sillier in person. It appears the walls aren’t the only problem, but they are definitely playing a factor. The wall seems close enough to reach out and touch down the lines. I would not at all be surprised if this comes back to bite the Yankees at some point. Pitchers just aren’t going to want to pitch there if they know their ERA will inflate pitching at home.

My second complaint is directed at the staff working at Yankee Stadium: Please realize that you are working at a baseball game, where people come to have fun and pay lots of money to attend and be entertained. You are not working at a maximum security prison. Just because your shirt says “staff” does not mean you are a military general. So stop acting that way. If you agree to stop being so uptight all of the time, I’ll agree to stop trying to sneak into the really expensive seats (just kidding).

-The Yankees have very good food for the media. An $11 buffet that included food from every food group and health range, from parfaits to fried chicken and everything in between. There was even an omelette station. Awesome.


-I really like Joe Girardi, and not just because he’s a Northwestern alum. He’s very personable and good with the media. He seems to hold his own with the ready-to-attack press in the Big Apple, and is doing a pretty good job this season managing 25 Yankee uniforms filled with stacks of money.


– If you don’t have to drive to Yankee stadium, don’t. We had to drive (had TV equipment) and it took forever to get out of the parking garage. The subway is cheap, easy, and is right next to the stadium. Use it so that the media can get home in less than two hours.

-As much as I dislike the Yankees, their fans are great while at the stadium (and generally obnoxious at all other times). They know when to clap, actually stand up and make noise, and come up with clever chants. This is in stark comparison to Met fans who turn on their team after the first base hit and whose most clever chant is “Yankees suck.” I hope one day the Orioles can pack Camden Yards like the Yanks pack their ballpark.

-Baseball is the greatest sport in the world.