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Week 11 Big Ten Power Poll: Last Lines

The end is nigh, and beautifully phrased.

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As we approach the end of the season, it seems appropriate to turn our minds to thoughts of finality and conclusion. I’ve always been AWFUL at conclusions. To wit, I turned in drafts of every chapter of my dissertation to my advisor with a half-assed concluding paragraph and hoped that he wouldn’t notice that the chapter just sort of... stopped. (Most regrettably from where I stood, he always noticed.)

Others struggle with finishing well too—Nebraska football, like this Nebraska fan, apparently favors the abrupt stop as well, simply ceasing play without any beautifying or unifying final flourish to the season. It is inelegant, to say the least. So I have the highest respect for those who are able to add the perfect final flourish to their work—a final tidy summation of what came before it, delivered with éclat, poignance, memorability, and occasionally humor. So today’s power poll honors (or dishonors, as the case may be) those excellent authors who stuck the landing. And also James Joyce.

(Author’s note for the bookish among you, which, I happily learned on my Pride and Prejudice poll, number many: No, I haven’t read all of these books. No, I am not preserving the context and meaning of the quotes or characters mentioned therein in every case. Yes, I realize that the point of The Great Gatsby was not about unrealistically nostalgic Nebraskans.)

Ohio State (#1)

"God's in his heaven, all’s right with the world,' whispered Anne softly."—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Anne Shirley, stunned, stares mouth agape at the scoreboard in Iowa City on November 4, 2017.

Well, that didn’t take long. One week after being mildly punished for getting stomped by Iowa, Ohio State is back on top, although Iowa did nothing to make that loss look any better. But, OSU turned in a highly convincing and bloodthirsty performance against Michigan State, the Big Ten is really bad, and a lot of us really hate Wisconsin, so here they are, back at the top of this sad, sad Power Poll. We can all be annoyed by OSU’s consistent good-to-great status...but there’s also something reassuringly normal about it in these troubled times. For OSU fans, it’s downright comforting—like Anne Shirley, they can drift to sleep knowing that “God’s in his heaven, OSU is atop the Power Poll throne, and all’s right with the world.”

Wisconsin (#2)

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” –George Orwell, Animal Farm

Imagine being undefeated and still second fiddle to a 2-loss team. #equality

I admit that I chose this joke as a mean thing to say to Wisconsin, because their fans eat a lot of cheese and brats and beer. Whatever, I’m salty because my team is terrible, and once again, Wisconsin is skating through the West with the greatest of ease, on their way to another 10-win season, and fie on them!

However, there is another Animal Farm quotation, and though it doesn’t come from the end of the book, it has more real meaning for Wisconsin fans: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” True of animals on Manor Farm, and also true of undefeated teams, amirite?

Penn State (#3)

“He now has more patients than the devil himself could handle; the authorities treat him with deference and public opinion supports him. He has just been awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor.”—Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

Emma Bovary, dressed in blue and white, about to attend a Penn State football game in order to allay the boredom of life in a provincial town in central Pennsylvania.

The quotation above (obviously if you are a fan of pronouns) does not refer to the titular Emma Bovary, but to her husband’s chief medical rival. By the end of the novel, both Bovarys have met sad fates, but Monsieur Homais remains, unrivaled, as the town’s leading medical practitioner. Is he practicing medicine without a license and thus might rightly be called a bit of a fraud? Yes indeed. Did he orchestrate publicity stunts like making his underlings shake hands with the opposition in order to win public favor? Why yes he did. Does public opinion still support him after two straight losses? Yes... for now. We’ll see if the Cross of the Legion of Honor is forthcoming if he finishes any lower than 2nd in the B1G East.

Michigan (#4)

“We shall never be again as we were!” –Henry James, The Wings of the Dove

Born in a different century, I think it possible that Jim Harbaugh might have been a fine milliner. He seems to have the flamboyance and passion for absurdity that certain eras of women’s hats demanded. “Harbaugh’s Hats.” I like it.

This lament, following the posing of a seemingly impossible choice, is left deliberately cryptic in the novel. However, as it applies to Michigan, the meaning is less obscure. Three years into the Greatest Michigan Man Experiment, the devoted Wolverine legions who were once so sure that this was their ticket back to greatness are starting to have their doubts. 8-2 is no terrible fate (at least, from where this writer is sitting), but the losses have been ones that have mattered; ones that were necessary to allay the doubts. The next two weeks loom enormous, and Michigan has a shot to revive the fanbases hopes for the return of glory—but if things go awry in one or both weeks, Wolverine fans may have to continue to grapple with the possibility that they will never be again what they were.

Northwestern (#5)

…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. –James Joyce, Ulysses

What even is this? It’s gobbledygook. I chose it for Northwestern because I knew I needed to pick something literary and pretentious, and Ulysses is famed for being both of those things. If you ever meet someone who says that they liked this book, there’s like a 67% chance (real stat) they went to Northwestern. Anyway, aside from the easy joke about pretension, this complete nonsense block of text works in other ways for Northwestern. We’re not really sure how good they are—they’ve won five in a row, but some of those victories have been very close against bad teams. On the other hand, some have been against debatably good teams. So, we don’t really know. Like Ulysses though, odds are good you’re mostly crappy.

Michigan State (#6)

“I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all...tomorrow is another day!”—Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind

Channeling her inner Mark Dantonio, Scarlett scowls as she resolves to eat her breakfast.

It seems strange to refer to a team that just got blasted 48-3 as unsinkable, but in spite of last week, that still feels like the right word for the Spartans. Nearly left for dead after a 3-9 season last year, MSU enjoyed a tidy resurgence this season, until they ran into a very mad Ohio State team. But like the redoubtable heroine of Gone With the Wind who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals, you’d be foolish to count out MSU, even in the most dire circumstances. Dantonio (usually) has a way of getting things back on track, and even if it involves dressing his team in uniforms made from the drawing room curtains or visiting his smuggler boyfriend in jail to try to get money... you know what? Turns out this analogy has some very real limitations. Just like the 2017 Spartans.

Iowa (#7)

“Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.” –William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair

“A Novel Without a Hero.” Yeah, that’s Iowa.

Whew! Was ever a play more abruptly played out than that of the Iowa Hawkeyes? A mere week after blasting OSU in the upset of the season and scoring 55 points in the effort, Iowa outdid even its most Iowa performances, scoring zero offensive points, going 0/13 on third downs, and gaining a mere 66 yards of offense. A week was spent speculating what had happened to allow Iowa to perform offensively against OSU, and theories were rampant: a mad gambit to detract attention from Ferentz the Younger’s potty mouth? A planetary alignment with heretofore unknown effects? An alien abduction of Kirk? The last now seems the most likely, and after his journey aboard the mothership and return to Earth, Kirk has quickly gotten his house back in order.

Minnesota (#8)

"I ran with the wind blowing in my face, and a smile as wide as the valley of Panjsher on my lips. I ran."—Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Thank goodness they didn’t have kites, or who knows what could have happened.

Boy howdy, did Minnesota ever run. Presumably smiling widely the whole time, the Gophers ran all over Nebraska to the tune of 409 rushing yards. In fact, they ran so effectively that reliable reports indicate that PJ Fleck is seriously considering changing his catchphrase from “Row the Boat” to “Run the Ball.” Those close to him have cautioned him to slow his roll, er, run, er rowing, or whatever, because Nebraska seems to be a very bad team, and changing the direction of a personal and program brand on the basis of beating that collapsing star is too precipitate, but Peej gonna Peej.

Purdue (#9)

"But that is the beginning of a new story - the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended."—Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

The crime, of course, is Purdue Pete. Repent, ye Boilermakers!

When the season started, we expected Purdue to be terrible. When the exceeded expectations wildly by merely being in the lower half of mediocre, we were all very impressed, and for the most part, happy for Purdue. But then they did some Purdue things, like lose to Nebraska and...Rutgers, the latter of which is a morally unforgivable action, no matter how you try to justify it. So, it seems the regeneration and transformation for Purdue is going to be a slow one. But there is reason for hope, and perhaps, the story of 404-File Not Found is, in fact, ended.

Rutgers (#10)

“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.” Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”—Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Fun fact: Hemingway was believed to have planned a sequel to this great work called “The Giant Also Stirs,” a title hinted at in this cover art.

“Isn’t it pretty to think so?” is one of the greatest closing lines of all time, and one of my esteemed co-“writers” thought it too nice for Rutgers on that basis. I disagree, because Rutgers fans, as we have learned, are the kings and queens of pretty thinking. They are always so close to greatness, they tell us. They will laugh with mirth one day as we all rend our garments because Rutgers has won the Big Ten. The dreams, the possibilities... they are many. So much could happen if everything about the world were completely different than it is. Isn’t it pretty to think so?

Indiana (#11)

“This is not the scene I dreamed of. Like much else nowadays I leave it feeling stupid, like a man who lost his way long ago but presses on along a road that may lead nowhere.” –J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians

Pictured: An Indiana Fan’s Hopes and Dreams in landscape form

If you ask our Indiana “writer” CandystripesforBreakfast, he’d say that “may” lead to nowhere is far too optimistic, but then, the guy has had a rough season. Indiana fans have given their heart to the Hoosiers time after time, as they flirt with greatness and pull tantalizingly close to big upset after big upset. It is a scene to dream of. Unfortunately, it never, ever happens, and when the bubble inevitably, disappointingly, and heartbreakingly bursts, Indiana fans feel stupid for ever having believed. Happily, Illinois saved Indiana fans from total despair, ensuring that they will continue to plunge along a road that may well lead to nowhere, or at least only to a game against Rutgers.

Nebraska (#12)

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I know the green light represents the orgastic future year by year receding before us, but you know what? As a teardrop, that’s pretty apt this season too.

I had a lot of fun coming up with possibilities for Nebraska this week. The close of Crime and Punishment had a strong claim, and “She was seventy-five and she was going to make some changes in her life,” from Johnathan Franzen’s The Corrections both made strong plays, but in the end, it had to be Gatsby.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been struck by the similarities between Jay Gatsby and Nebraska fans. Just like Gatsby, they’re consumed by a single, incorruptible dream. Rather than possessing Daisy Buchanan and proceeding as if her marriage and intervening life had never happened, Husker fans dream of recapturing national prominence, and pretending that several coaches and decades of intervening life had never happened. Little do they know that their dream “was already behind (them), somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.” And so, when doubters posit that perhaps Nebraska will never be great again, that you cannot repeat the past... the response is an incredulous “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” Perhaps, one fine morning—

Maryland (#13)

“In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel.” –Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie

This reminds me...too bad Maryland didn’t get to play Purdue. Wouldn’t have been a gimme, but would have gone better than playing Wisconsin.

It feels wrong to give this consummate tale of the urbanizing Midwest to Maryland, of all places, but the quote fits. Down to their... 6th?-string QB? (seriously, does anyone know where they’re at on this right now?) the longing for a real quarterback and an injury-free season seems impossibly remote. Dreiser, that ever-optimistic Midwestern soul (and Indiana grad—coincidence?) is here to tell you, Maryland fans, that this isn’t going to happen for you. Enjoy your unfulfilled desires.

Illinois (#14)

“It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.” –Toni Morrison, Sula

If ever a line from a novel encapsulated the Illinois football experience in 2017... this is that line.

Poll

What is the best last line of any book?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    "He loved Big Brother."
    (78 votes)
  • 58%
    Something else I’m going to vociferously advocate for in the comments
    (110 votes)
188 votes total Vote Now