Greetings friends, for what I’m sure is going to be a festive holiday season for us all, thanks to our fellow Americans’ inability to follow basic public health measures! I’m actually having Thanksgiving “with” my family this afternoon. We’re going to have it outside. In late November. It started as just a dessert thing, since no one wants to be outside that long, but my mother has insisted on bringing ham, so I guess now it’s… sandwiches and dessert? And whatever beer is in my garage refrigerator? I don’t know. This hodgepodge of whatever and half-assery seems perfectly on brand for this crapfest of a year.
But here’s Thanksgiving’s dirty little secret… it’s actually a pretty crap holiday, even in a non-2020 year. That’s right, I said it. And I stand by it. Mashed potatoes are great, I’ll grant you, and are what saves it from being at the absolute bottom of the holiday pile. But it’s got plenty of downsides, and I’m here to remind you what they are. And just like Thanksgiving, the Big Ten has plenty of downsides this year too. (Seriously, you try ranking these teams after about the top four or so.)
So if your holiday plans have been curtailed by that mofo Covid, here’s your reminder that a 10-minute Facetime Thanksgiving might actually be a blessing in disguise. (If you prefer a happier look at the holiday, check out our Power Poll from two years ago, when we ranked Thanksgiving foods. Go ahead and have a good laugh at who is in that #1 spot.)
(H/T to WhiteSpeedReceiver for the graphs, and to Stew, Boilerman, and MCClapyohandz for helping me brainstorm terrible things about Thanksgiving.)
Ohio State (#1) - The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
First Place Votes: 9 High: 1 Low: 3 Last Week: 1
Oh sure. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a classic. It’s been around since 1924, and has featured giant balloons since 1928, although they’ve gotten significantly less cool over the years. To wit: 1928’s parade featured a balloon called “Carnivorous Fish,” 1930 had something called “Boob McNutt,” and 1937 had “Morton the Nantucket Sea Monster.” Meanwhile 2020’s parade features… a Boss Baby balloon. But like many classics, both Ohio State and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade’s predictability has made them go a bit stale. Hardcore fans still love them, but for the casual viewer, the magic isn’t really there.
Another similarity is that both tOSU and tMTDP are really only entertaining when disaster strikes. Who among us reached their zenith of love for tOSU when they were punked by Purdue a few years ago? That’s right! All of us! Likewise, some of the most memorable tMTDP moments are when things go horribly awry. The best example of this is the 1997 Death of Barney incident, where strong crosswinds drove the purple dinosaur into a streetlamp, tearing a gash in his side and causing him to deflate onto the street, where New York’s Finest finished him off with knives. This is all far better than pumpkin pie in my opinion, and has the benefit of being just as traditional— in 1931, a Felix the Cat balloon became ensnared in power lines and burst into flames.
Stay away from the wires, tOSU.
Northwestern (#2) - Hand Washing the Nice Dishes
FPV: 1 H: 1 L: 3 LW: 4
You should see this coming, but you never do. Before the meal, all you can see is the beautifully laid tablescape with mini pumpkins and the fine china. During the meal, all you can see is mashed potatoes and gravy. And after dinner... well, the mashed potatoes and gravy are front-and-center then too, but now it’s because you’re trying to scrub them off every one of those delicate, beautiful plates while everyone else falls asleep watching bad NFL in the living room.
We also probably should have seen Northwestern coming this year too, but none of us really did. They stayed true to form of alternating a truly dreadful season with a surprisingly great one, and so they were due in 2020.
Though for a bunch of nerds, you’d think they’d have found a way to have a good season in a year where the season was more than two months long. Then again, we all have our blind spots - next year, we’ll all get out the good china again, instead of using paper plates like sensible people.
Indiana (#3) - Dry Turkey
H: 2 L: 4 LW: 3
Do you know what the most over-rated holiday meat is? (Insert your own R-rated Valentine’s Day joke here) It’s turkey. I think it gained its starring role because it looks good, but the appeal doesn’t really hold up to closer scrutiny. Most of it is dry, vaguely disappointing, and really only tastes good because you’ve mixed it in with the mashed potatoes and gravy occupying your plate—which, let’s be honest, covers a multitude of sins.
Indiana often runs the same risk as turkey—it passes early eye tests, only to ultimately come up short. But this season, the Hoosiers seem to have a bit more substance than your average turkey breast, even hanging pretty close with the Big Ten classics. Then again, their star turn may only appear so bright because the rest of the Big Ten looks collectively like Jello-with-carrots this year. Nevertheless, enjoy your star turn as the big bird, Indiana!
Wisconsin (#4) - Coming Up With “Things You Are Thankful For” in 2020
H: 2 L: 6 LW: 2
It’s a timeless tradition - before everyone can dig into their mashed potatoes and assorted side dishes underneath Aunt Brenda’s script GATHER sign on the wall, you all must demonstrate that you understand the True Meaning of the Holiday(™) by telling your family what you are thankful for. Easy enough, usually. But in 2020? I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but this year has been… excrementitious. A list of sincere thanks might be a bit hard to come by for a lot of people.
Also hard to come by? Examples of Wisconsin playing football this season. They’ve appeared in a few games, but have had just as many canceled because of that intrepid year-ruiner, Covid.
Iowa (#5) - Conspiracy Theorist Relatives
H: 4 L: 5 LW: 6
They’re loud. They’re proud. They’re impervious to reason. They’re Iowa fans. And if you were going to Thanksgiving dinner this year, you’d probably wind up talking to their Thanksgiving equivalent, the Conspiracy Theorist Relative. Why? Because in 2020, Americans abandoned facts, reason, and logic at a truly impressive pace, and chances are good your family has one. A conspiracy theorist relative, I mean, not an Iowa fan. Although for a tragic number of families, their gatherings may contain BOTH. #thoughtsandprayers
There isn’t really a lot you can do if your lot is to get stuck talking to a member of either of these groups. You’re going to face strident assertions of superiority. You’re going to get told to Do YoUr OwN rEsEaRcH, they can totally show you a YouTube video about how Scott Frost is using 5G to track Iowa fans instead of bothering to coach his own football team. Because where they go one, they go all, and where they go is usually Nebraska Twitter.
Maryland (#6) - Orange, Yellow, and Brown as Your “Festive Colors”
H: 5 L: 8 LW: 7
Alright, alright. I might be getting a little picky on poor Thanksgiving here. After all, it is unique among holidays in staying true to the season and building an entire decor scheme off of it. But the counterpoint: it prominently features brown. As a decor color! Look, I’m a 30-something woman and so I love being a fall-festive cozy b as much as the next 30-something woman, but the colors are lame.
Perhaps I’m looking at this wrong. Instead of featuring red like half of the other holidays/Big Ten teams, Thanksgiving is doing its own thing, occupying a totally unique niche on the color spectrum. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, allowing the holiday to stake a small but noticeable chromatic stand while staving off the behemoth, Christmas and its vivid green and red.
Likewise, it ostensibly sucks that Maryland didn’t get to play green Michigan State, and more to the point, red Ohio State... but especially in the case of OSU, perhaps the cancellation was really a blessing in disguise.
Purdue (#7) - Poor Spacing Relative to Christmas in the Holiday Calendar
H: 6 L: 9 LW: 5
Thanksgiving’s timing in America is lunacy. This is a hill that I will die on. If I were President, I like to think there would be lots of meaningful changes I’d push for, like tax-free period products, health care reforms, and making sending unsolicited dick pics a felony. But the very first change I’d make is to move Thanksgiving to October, like our sensible Canadian neighbors.
It doesn’t benefit Thanksgiving to be this close to Christmas. As this year has proven, as everyone has thrown rules out the window and increasingly put up their Christmas trees and lights early, we all just want to get to Christmas. No one’s response to 2020’s stresses was “Wow, I just can’t wait to bust out my brown decor early.” No. We went for the tinsel, y’all. We could be sad about how Thanksgiving gets overshadowed by Christmas, or we could move it to a time where it actually has an opportunity to reach its holiday potential, like mid-October.
Much like Thanksgiving, Purdue was denied a chance to shine last week, thanks to world’s most egregiously awful officiating call. This unfortunate “penalty” was not Purdue’s fault, but that doesn’t mean we have to think it was a good idea, any more than we have to think shoving two major holidays together in less than a month is a good idea.
Minnesota (#8) - Big Box Stores Forcing Employees to Work on Thanksgiving Day Now Because 3am on Black Friday Wasn’t Inhumane Enough
H: 7 L: 9 LW: 10
I find Black Friday pretty disgusting on a number of levels, but mostly because of the naked greed and disrespect that it seems to elicit in so many. I also don’t understand the appeal of getting up before the crack of dawn to go fight massive crowds of Karens who are trying to get discount TVs. I would, in fact, rather watch 2020 Nebraska play 2020 Iowa than do that, so you see my abhorrence for the custom.
But the really shitty part of this is that in the retail arms race over the years, the starting time for this debacle has rolled back from 6 am... to 3 am... to midnight... to 6 pm on Thanksgiving! That is absolute BULLSHIT. It was mean enough to make poorly paid retail employees deal with the raging Karens drunk on sale ads and cranberry sauce at 3 am, but now they don’t even get to enjoy a full day of holiday rest? No. No, I don’t think so.
In protest, I urge you to not buy from stores who do this to their employees during this holiday season. In fact, this is the BEST year to pledge to buy your gifts from locally owned businesses. Most of them have had a really rough year thanks to Covid and desperately need robust holiday business to make it to 2021. You know who is going to make it to 2021 just fine? Amazon. Target. They don’t need your money, so spend it wisely! Also, most local businesses let their employees have Thanksgiving off... so let’s do Small Business Saturday, shall we?
This doesn’t have a lot to do with Minnesota, I just feel very strongly about it—yet there is one connection. After defeating Purdue with an absolute gift of a wretched call that bailed him out from some seriously stupid playcalling of his own, PJ Fleck had the gall to crow about how much adversity his team had been through. And that, like forcing employees to work on Thanksgiving, completely sucks.
Michigan (#9) - “SO! Are You Dating Anyone Yet???”
H: 7 L: 11 LW: 12
If Hallmark movies are anything like real life, I know a few things: 1) townspeople absolutely love a Christmas festival; 2) there is surprisingly big money to be made in candy cane manufacturing; and 3) it ain’t a real holiday until a Boomer shames the sadly single lead about his or her marital state. NO ONE can be expected to consume mashed potatoes happily until the entire extended family knows why the poor lead is still single, and whether it is because she is too picky or too hung up on her ex (these are the only two real options.)
Apparently this happens in some real families too. It also is starting to happen in Michigan’s fanbase, because it’s starting to look like maybe they... haven’t found The One in Jim Harbaugh? He sure was perfect on paper, but six years into this relationship, everyone is starting to wonder if he’ll even be around long enough to get the Seven Year Itch. Barely beating Rutgers does not a soul mate make in Ann Arbor.
Illinois (#10) - Getting Hit Up for an MLM By Your Cousin’s Wife
H: 9 L: 12 LW: 9
“HEEEEEEEEEEEYYYYYYYYYY!!!! It is SOOO good to see you!!!! Ohmygod, I can’t believe it’s been a YEAR! Have you lost weight? You look SOOOOOO GOOD. Are you using anything on your face? Ohmygod, I’ve been using SkinCentulaTicity and Jason even says I look like twelve years younger! Can you imagine!? I’d be like 13 hahahah. Can I show you a sample?”
Meghan didn’t even let you get your coat off before assaulting you with the sales pitch, praising her AMAZING COMPANY for letting her work from home while Braxlynn and Cannyn are still little, and pretending that you are long-lost BFFS. It is a lot. It is unwelcome. And yet, you are powerless. You even consider buying a $60 tube of something that probably isn’t FDA-approved in the hopes that she’ll flutter away to bother your Aunt Brenda for awhile instead.
While I don’t know that Illinois attempted to convince Nebraska that essential oils could cure LITERALLY ANYTHING before pulverizing them, they sure came at the Huskers with all the force of Meghan on a Venti Triple Espresso in pursuit of a sales goal.
Illinois, it turns out, is the ultimate #BOSSBABE
Rutgers (#11) - Pretending Pumpkin Pie is Anything Special
H: 10 L: 11 LW: 11
You know what’s madness? Mixing squash with some sugar and spice, baking it for awhile, and calling it dessert. The texture is weird, the taste is meh, and people act like having to smother it with whipped cream to make it enticing is a feature instead of a bug. I’d rather have more mashed potatoes.
Anyway, that’s where we’re at with Rutgers. They’ve demonstrated basic competence (kind of, almost) as a football team and we still have three more teams on this list yet to go. They’ve made a nice little name for themselves this season and good for them. But they still are probably little more than slightly sweetened squash in a crust.
Michigan State (#12) - Outdated Career Advice
Last Place Votes: 2 H: 8 L: 14 LW: 13
“Still looking for a steady job, huh? You know, when I got out of college my friend Bill found a job just by introducing himself to the receptionist, and now he’s the Vice President there and has a house in Cozumel! Just walk in with your resume, they’ll love you!”
Cool story Uncle Darryl, but it isn’t 1968 and that definitely doesn’t happen anymore. You also came of age when you could pay off your college education by working over the summers and could buy a house with seven nickles and a button, so I am also not interested in hearing how with a bit more personal responsibility I could have a house and several kids right now if I really wanted to.
Uncle Darryl doesn’t understand the reality of playing the game of life right now, and Michigan State doesn’t understand the reality of playing the game of football right now. It’s no longer 1968, but it’s also no longer 2015.
Nebraska (#13) - Sitting at the Kids’ Table
H: 10 L: 13 LW: 8
Probably more of a movie occurrence than a real-life event, this remains the gold standard method for shaming adults who have “failed” to marry—exiling them away from the “real” grownups, and shunting them to the thankless task of supervising other people’s children. Although this treatment is largely fictional, it’s ubiquitous enough that when you see it in film or television, you know EXACTLY what the implications are.
In some ways, this isn’t exactly Nebraska’s situation —since joining the Big Ten, they’ve never truly managed to earn a spot at the grown-up table, though many of their fans firmly believe they should be sitting there. So they haven’t really been “exiled” as much as unable to escape the kids’ table. But particulars aside, getting punked by Illinois to the extent that they did may mean that they’re listening to Braxlynn tell stories about her swim lessons with Bryleigh and Brixtyn for the next decade.
Penn State (#14) - You Know, Like, The Origins of It
LPV: 8 H: 13 L: 14 LW: 14
The familiar story of The First Thanksgiving that became codified for many Americans in the 20th century was an intentional crafting of a story of contact that was a lot less simple and a lot more tragic than the Pilgrim crafts you did in elementary school might have you believe. The Pilgrims were not the first European colonists in North America, of course, and already Native tribes knew enough to know that contact with white settlers was, at best, a risky business. Additionally, many Native tribes already had started to see the catastrophic effects of European diseases on a completely non-immune population. Therefore, the famed alliance between Natives and Pilgrims, though it did exist temporarily, was a far more fraught and complex consideration for local Natives than typically portrayed.
Of course, it ended up being a short-lived alliance because white settlers quickly grew more numerous, and began to be much more aggressive in taking land in the region, which kicked off centuries of bloody conflicts in the United States, whose ultimate legacy was one of tragedy, betrayal, and mistreatment for Native Americans. It’s not the kind of thing you really want to center a holiday around. As the US continues to (in some quarters) attempt to reckon with its bloody past, it’s not the kind of story that can just be ignored.
A LOT less tragic, but also hard to ignore for different and much more trifling reasons is the fact that Penn State hasn’t won a single game this year. Perhaps it’s time we re-center our giving of thanks around that, instead of the problematic historical myths of our youth.
Happy Thanksgiving! In spite of my grumpiness in this Power Poll, we really are thankful for all of you who have stuck with us in this very weird sports year, and appreciate your readership. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!