If Northwestern had gotten blown out by Iowa…

This is the column I had prepared if Northwestern was blown out by Iowa. That did not happen, but I thought it was still worth reading.

Although he saw the vast meadows of the Valley of Mexico stretch into the horizon, he couldn’t feel that the world he inhabited was now younger. Not much younger for the mountains in the distance or the earth he trampled upon, but young enough for jet engines, the blogosphere, and Ryan Field to not exist.

Sometimes, the reality of the past breaks rank and shatters the spirit of the living. To stand in a room and reminisce, with tears sometimes flowing down our outward defenses, is the most common of these incidences. To find an old photograph and feel the weight of existence on our shoulders is another.

Time travel is the least common and most disruptive of these instances. The Neophyte was ripped back to the 1840s because the universe determined that the Neophyte had to suffer. There was nothing he had done to deserve this fate. He had gone to Northwestern University and was an avid sports fan. You could argue he’d suffered enough.

And yet here he was, lying in a grassy plain in the borough of Tlalpan, part of the Federal District of Mexico City. The Neophyte did not yet know the year, but it was 1847 and a United States Army under General Winfield Scott was approaching Mexico City from the east. The Mexican-American War was nearing its conclusion, but for the Neophyte, a Northwestern student with knowledge of basic high school Spanish, a quintessential gringo, staying behind the Mexican line would be challenging.

But the Neophyte had no idea where he was. He stood up in the field and searched for a dwelling of some kind to set a goal for himself. The last thing he remembered was heading to Northwestern’s football game against Iowa, but this place did not look like Iowa. He quickly found a small house. The house, made of wood and with no modern amenities to speak of, worried the Neophyte considerably. When he walked inside and saw the realities of 1847, he staggered around the room like a drunk offensive lineman. When he saw a Mexican flag in the corner of the room (a flag unchanged since 1821), he realized the bitter truth.

But without any knowledge of history, the Neophyte departed and wandered through the outskirts of Mexico City. After wandering for about 35 minutes, he spotted the remnants of the Mexican Army heading in flight after defeat in the Battle of Contreras. A force under Captain Robert E. Lee had made contact with the Mexican Army and the ensuing battle had gone poorly for the Mexicans. General Valencia’s men were in full retreat to San Angel and the district of Tlalpan.

But the Neophyte knew nothing of this. He knew nothing of the American landing at Veracruz, or the Battle of Buena Vista, or the flight of Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. He could barely remember sitting on a warm day during 10th grade history class, in which the details of the Mexican-American War appeared behind a gray background in a dismal Powerpoint slideshow. The teacher knew very little about the Mexican-American War himself. He had become a history teacher after leaving journalism at the age of 42. His passion was Roman history. He wanted to become a pilot. He wanted everything.


The Neophyte could only run to the main road in Tlalpan and try to find shelter in a war zone. He had not actually covered much distance since his dramatic removal from 2016, but he started to move now. He did not realize he was heading south.

The main road was also where the United States Army was arriving. The Commander of the unit was not a fan of deserters, and the presence of a clearly American man in dereliction of duty was an affront to his beliefs. The army had been difficult to control during the almost unchallenged march from Veracruz, and with the prize in sight, he wanted to maintain discipline as best he could. After the Battle of Churubusco, the Commander would assist in hanging 50 deserters and traitors at San Patricio. He was not amused by the debauched looting of the Americans or the dozens of men who deserted each day.

The Commander’s orders were to secure the road leading through Tlalpan to support Scott’s attempt to outflank the Mexican forces defending the capital. The Mexican forces had regrouped in the area but had failed to secure a viable defensive position. The Mexican Army would later retreat to Churubusco, but none of that mattered to the Neophyte. He was desperately searching for someone to help him, but the populace had fled or locked themselves at home. The reputation of pillaging and general war atrocities had preceded the arrival of the Commander.

The Neophyte ran straight into American forces. At least he saw the soldiers in time and raised his arms in surrender. There was nothing he could do. The Commander immediately branded him as a deserter. He decided that the best punishment would be summary execution.

As the Neophyte was personally led to the ground by the Commander personally, he asked for the name of his executioner. The Commander gladly told him. It was a name that wrenched the Neophyte back to the future, while he simultaneously realized it was a name that would soon be meaningless, a footnote to a footnote to a subscript of the terrible and glorious history of the United States, a country that owed so much of its “progress” to the forceful acquisition of the entirety of the “Lost States of Mexico”, a country that could fall back, at its core, to the blood of innocents shed by Hernan Cortez in this very city, the city of the Mexica.

And he realized that in under four years, Northwestern University would be founded and a sport named football would be invented before the end of the century, a sport that would give him nothing but the name that would take away everything, and that the founder of Northwestern University helped to murder about 150 unarmed civilians at Sand Creek, and that the descendants of those conquered peoples would create one of the first great college football powerhouses as part of a government plan to assimilate them into American culture. That was Carlisle, and the Neophyte remembered a man named Pop Warner introduced the overhead spiral throw and the play-action pass, and he realized that it would all evolve and transform and metastasize into a Northwestern football team that refused to properly do either of the things that Carlisle pioneered and that all of football really came down to a matter of timing.

The Neophyte had played Pop Warner football once.

As the Neophyte was pushed down onto the ground with the gun to his head, he uttered one last cry, one last fuck you to all the American imperialism that had paradoxically led him to this very position. He screamed the name of the Commander. He taunted him with the resignation to his own shocking demise. He said:

“Just do it! Fire, McCall!”

THE END.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *