Greetings friends! I’m here to wreck your second-favorite feature of the week by lading it with a litany of everyday sadnesses. Why? I assume you know why if you watched Nebraska “play” football last week, but yeah, it’s because my team’s very expensive fourth-year head coach just lost to an Illinois team playing its first game under a new coach.
It is not ideal.
So you shall suffer with me. It’s like that episode of Parks and Recreation where a heartbroken Chris Traeger is asked to DJ a Valentine’s Day dance, and in a true reflection of his emotions rather than the occasion, the result is a playlist that “sounds like the end of a movie about a monk who kills himself.”
This, then, if not an Oscar-bait score about a monk making a sad choice, is the written equivalent. Enjoy. Or don’t, whatever, everything is awful.
(Many thanks, as always, to WhiteSpeedReciever for the graphs!)
1. Ohio State - Monday Mornings
Highest: 1 Lowest: 9 First Place Votes: 10
In some ways, Monday Mornings are the ultimate bummer - largely stemming from both their inevitability and their frequency. The weekend, after seeming somehow to last mere hours, ushers in Monday, with all of its meetings, deadlines, annoying co-workers, and emails that multiply faster than rabbits in the wild. Sure, we should be happy to have a job, we tell ourselves, happy that the biggest disappointment of the young week is the sadness of a weekend being over. It’s a tough argument to win as you stare into the abyss of your coffee cup.
Ohio State sitting atop the conference is, likewise, a depressing inevitability to the rest of us. Maybe we should be happy that we’re not the Big XII getting railroaded by Texas and OU, that our biggest problem is the perennial powerhouse in Columbus and the maddening pretensions of a fanbase that certainly has nothing else to brag about.
But it doesn’t help much. Not really. Monday mornings suck, and so does the fact of OSU’s perpetual strength. Get your Garfield on, everyone else.
Historian note: President Garfield was also from Ohio. I’m not sure what his feelings were about Mondays, but he died of a gunshot wound on a Monday, so I’m going to guess that he also would not be a fan.
2. Indiana - Adulthood Not Having Scholastic Book Fairs
High: 2 Low: 5
Time was, children, when kids actually read instead of playing Minecraft on fancy tablets and such (that’s right, I’m 84 years old). For one magical week each year, your school would sprout a bookstore in the library or the lobby or maybe a corner of the cafeteria. It had your Goosebumps, your Babysitters’ Club, your Stinky Cheese Man. Posters! Pencils! Stickers! Something about it was just really damn exciting. The rest of the year, you got the Scholastic book order, a pint-sized Kirkus printed on tissue paper, flogging the latest entries in 100+ book series and a lot of Jerry Spinelli. Like magic, your books would appear only weeks after mailing in your tissue paper slip and your parents’ money.
You may (correctly) point out that adults in 2021 don’t need a Scholastic book fair because 1) we can drive to actual bookstores and order from anywhere on the internet; and 2) we don’t read anymore either, preferring to fill our days doomscrolling on our phones. You’re probably right. But I still think it’s a bummer that there isn’t a comparable high as an adult to the pleasure of magically-appearing books paid for by someone else.
I got so lost in that memory I almost forgot to write about Indiana. Like book fairs, Indiana football has long seemed to be something from another era, with their quaint candystripes and general futility. But 2021 seems to be a new age, and we’ve got a new Indiana. Does this make them Minecraft in this analogy? Perhaps, but I’m not yet sold on them as a new entertainment juggernaut - let’s call them a $.95 super special for now.
3. Wisconsin - That Spinach in your Crisper that You Optimistically Bought Awhile Ago That’s Starting to Liquify
High: 2 Low: 13
Ok, to address the obvious - I know there is no way your average Badger fan has ever bought spinach. Let it go. But, I’m going to side with the Badgers on this one - spinach brings nothing to the party, except sadness, failed diet plans, and a weird smell in your crisper drawer. (Ok, and Vitamins C & K, iron, folic acid, calcium, and fiber.) We’ve all been in this situation though - the good intentions of the produce aisle don’t always stand up to the siren song of cheese ravioli and Oreos once you get home.
Likewise, Wisconsin seems to have a great deal of potential and optimism at this early date in the season. There is little to hinder them in the West, what with Minnesota failing thus far to make the leap to division winner, and Iowa generally being too busy watching Nebraska flail to ever get around to clinching the division for themselves. Will Wisconsin be able to turn all of their good intentions into a real, lasting, lifestyle change and get to a place where they can challenge the Buckeyes?
4. Iowa - Getting Your Period On Vacation
High: 3 Low: 7
That’s right. I said “period” on a football blog. Let’s all take a moment and bask in a moment of sportswriting pioneering. If Nebraska football gets much worse this season, I’m doing a Power Poll of menstrual products and burning this blog to the ground once and for all.
Now then - for those of you who don’t have periods, let me tell you something about them. They know. They know when you’re going on vacation. They know when you’re going on a date you’re excited about. They know when you’re going to run a half marathon. They know when you’re on a romantic weekend away. Somehow, they always know—and they like to change their schedule to thoroughly f*ck things up for you. I can’t actually prove this with science, but I dId My OwN rEsEaRcH and can assure you that it is a scientific fact(™) that THEY (the periods) don’t want you to know.
Periods on vacation are very definitely a sad thing. While I’d never credit Kirk Ferentz with the same kind of omniscience that I would a period, it’s been proven that encounters with either one can really ruin your day.
5. Penn State - Being Alive for a Full Fashion Cycle
High: 2 Low: 10
I’ll never forget how I felt a couple of years ago stepping into Target and seeing the exact outfit I wore to a dance in 1997 hanging on the racks. The boot-cut khakis. The ribbed sweater with stripes. Nearby, crushed velvet. In the hair section, SCRUNCHIES. I remembered each and every one of these items with startling clarity, as well as their very definite fall from fashion. Was I… old???
Reader, I was. And I still am. You probably are too. (Would you like to test yourself? I teach college, and not one of my students has a personal memory of 9/11. If this stunned you, congratulations, you are also old.) Although Boomers are still blaming people my age for killing department stores and Applebee’s, there’s a whole new generation of institution-wreckers running around now, and very weirdly, they are wearing the clothing of my childhood and teen years, apparently un-ironically.
There are good things about this, I guess. I’m alive, and all of that. But man, it hurts to be confronted with your own looming mortality through a ribbed turtleneck sweater and a chunky heel. Penn State has been hurt worse in recent memory - for example, starting off last season by losing the first five games of the truncated season, including, improbably, to Nebraska - but towards the end, they picked themselves back up and got on with their lives. Famously immune to the whims of fashion in their own wardrobes, can PSU prove themselves equally imperturbable on the field of play as well?
6. Illinois - Rain on Your Wedding Day
High: 1 Low: 13 First Place Votes: 5
Is this a bummer? For many brides and grooms, it would be, particularly if they’d planned on an outdoor or beach venue. For guests, it definitely would be if asked to watch a vow exchange exposed to the elements—after all, they’re not warmed by the love and romance of the occasion in quite the same way as the happy couple. Nevertheless, there’s always a chance of rain, and certainly more than one couple has shared their special day with a bit more precipitation than they’d hoped. (Shoutout to MNW, who is definitely going to remind you that he got like two feet of snow on his wedding day.)
The good news is that at least you’re getting to marry your beloved, no matter what the weather, right? For the well-adjusted couple, it’s nothing more than a minor bummer—some efforts have been made to spin a rainy wedding day as good luck. Illinois has had more than its share of bad luck and unsuccessful relationships in recent years, so perhaps they’re ready to look at any circumstance this season as potentially lucky. That said, just like the weather on a wedding day doesn’t ultimately tell us much about an individual couple’s chances for wedded bliss, beating Nebraska is also likely to be just as meaningless for determining the 2021 Illini’s chances for Berted bliss. But life has a funny, funny way of helping you out.
7. Minnesota - Good Advice That You Just Didn’t Take
High: 4 Low: 10
Given that gif, I could certainly make this particular entry about some glaring recent examples of good advice not taken. It would fit perfectly! But I won’t do that. I won’t. I’ve already mentioned menstruation in this article. I must pace my dangerous statements.
Minnesota, and specifically PJ Fleck, has ignored advice time and time again: “Quit making up silly slogans, you’re head of a football team, not the marketing department of a kayak company!” “Peej, maybe you should switch to decaf, you’re literally vibrating!” “Running with great intensity down the sideline during the game will not make you a cool kid, and will probably only make you sore the next morning!” PJ has never been one to listen to “the haters” and this has played out to moderate success at Minnesota.
So what’s the good advice that Minnesota just didn’t take? Well, after going an astonishing and perhaps mildly flukey 11-2 during the 2019 season, Gopher fans were warned to not crown themselves a new dynasty quite yet. It was a grand season, but only one season, after all. Some heeded this advice, some did not… but a 3-4 season in 2020 was likely a disappointment to all. With hopes firmly in check after the chastening, Gopher fans are waiting to see if 2019 or 2020 was the true aberration. Who would have thought, it figures?
8. Michigan - Ten Thousand Spoons When All You Need is a Knife
High: 6 Low: 13
I’ll level with you - I’ve never actually been in a position to assess firsthand how sad it is to have ten thousand spoons when the job really calls for a knife. But I think we can all use our imaginations and recognize that it would, indeed, be quite a bummer. There’s more to it though, than a simple case of the tool not meeting the moment. Ten thousand spoons is a fuckton of spoons. Other immediate problems are spawned with their appearance - where on earth did 10,000 spoons come from? Who brought these 10,000 spoons here and why do they hate me enough to invest in this much flatware and flatware transport? And where am I possibly going to store 10,000 spoons?
These are all challenging questions, but not quite as challenging as the questions facing Michigan and Jim Harbaugh. After finding out that the tools they had on hand in 2020 were only enough to take out Minnesota and Rutgers (after THREE OTs, may we never forget), the only person whose seat is hotter than Jim’s right now is Scott Frost’s. Typically, Michigan is always just missing one more piece (usually the next great quarterback) and Harbaugh has found himself more than once with 10,000 boos and all he has is a Speight. If Michigan doesn’t have significant on-field success this season, it’s likely that Michigan will finally dispense with the ultimate Michigan Man. It’s a little too ironic, don’t you think?
9. Northwestern - How Tom Hanks Somehow Produced Chet Hanks
High: 6 Low: 14 Last Place Votes: 1
In these divisive times, there is precious little that most Americans can agree upon - perhaps only one thing. And that thing is that we really like Tom Hanks. His persona is as wholesome as it gets, and many of his movie characters have become instantly iconic: Forrest Gump, the guy in a relationship with a volleyball, Sheriff Woody, the guy in Big or maybe Philadelphia, it’s hard to tell. The man wrote a book about his typewriter collection, for goodness’ sake.
He also produced Chet Hanks. Chet, who prefers to go by the name “Chet Hanx” or “Chet Haze” is an… “actor and rapper,” but only in the loosest definitions of those things. He sadly has struggled with substance addictions, and has been involved in some allegedly violent relationships. His 2021 hasn’t been too hot, first drawing controversy for posting a video called “White Boy Summer” that had some Third Reich-ish font choices, and more recently for rejecting the Covid-19 vaccine, concluding that the disease was “the motherfucking flu. Get over it, okay?” Dr. Chet made these pronouncements in spite of his own parents becoming some of the first Americans to contract Covid in the early days of 2020.
So why is the sadness of Chet assigned to Northwestern? Because remarkably, Chet was once a student at this fine institution. In fact, he even created this masterpiece entitled “White and Purple” in honor of Northwestern:
Actually, he may have plagiarized it, but excused this because “he (the original creator) didn’t get as much popularity as me.” You can be mad about that, but rap is a tough game, y’all. Anyway, his music is filling a lot of needs in the world, according to that same interview. His Valentine’s Day mixtape drop was “a gift for the girls. And also the rap game in general. And for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” (This linked interview was conducted at a Whole Foods [for the street cred] and you should definitely read it.)
Anyway, I don’t know anything about Northwestern’s prospects this season, but now I know a lot about Chet Han(x)ks. And now, you do too.
10. Michigan State - Topanga Giving Up Yale to go to a Local State School with Her High School Boyfriend
High: 7 Low: 13
Here’s your second solidly Millennial reference in this list, for which I am not at all sorry. The utterly stupid scenario depicted above comes from the classic show Boy Meets World, a show which centers around the main character, Cory Matthews, not having to make hard choices like supporting his girlfriend when she gets into Yale. He pouts enough about her impending acceptance to one of the top universities in the world long enough that she decides to give up this amazing opportunity, propose to him at their high school graduation, and attend the nearby state school (“Pennbrook”) with him and all of their closest friends and teachers so that Cory never once has to stretch beyond his comfort zone and meet the titular world.
I have nothing but love for state schools. Really. As a product of both the University of Nebraska AND an Ivy, I realize that good educations can be had in both settings, and that the Ivy League is not a perfect place that guarantees limitless success. But Cory’s lack of support, and Topanga’s acquiescence to his childish whining both completely suck. Don’t clip your wings like that when you’re 18, yo! I hope it rained on their wedding day, because they are for sure going to need the luck.
I now realize that this entry has become more of a short treatise on my frustrations with the messaging aimed at teenage girls. But the theme of this Power Poll is “sad things,” and damn if that messaging isn’t often sad AF. You aren’t here for brief forays into feminism though, so here it is: last season, Michigan State won two games, canceled two games, and lost the rest of them. It was a lackluster debut for hot young coach Mel Tucker, who moved from Boulder, CO to East Lansing, MI in what feels like a very Yale-to-Pennbrook move, at least insofar as relative coolness of locales is concerned. Can Mel Tucker salvage his fledgling marriage and still find a way to fulfill his dreams of Big Ten glory on the gridiron? Or is he destined to look back longingly at the future he might have had in the Flatirons?
11. Purdue - “I’m So Blue” by Big Bird
High: 7 Low: 12
In 1985, Sesame Street went Hollywood with their first feature film called Follow That Bird. (Directed by Ken Kwapis, of The Office fame.) Pairing this with The Neverending Story (#13) makes a strong case that the people creating children’s movies in the 1980s perhaps took Orwell a bit too much to heart, in that they seemed bent on recreating a dystopian society in the mid-80s. If you doubt me, watch the clip above and try not to feel the sadness in your bones, you monster. Anyway, Follow That Bird centered around a kidnapping plot which resulted in Big Bird being held hostage by a circus run by two conmen subtly named “The Sleaze Brothers,” shoved into a cage, painted blue, and then forced to sing sad songs for the entertainment of the masses while being ironically marketed as “the Bluebird of Happiness.” At one point, a child watching this melancholy performance asks if Big Bird is real, to which her fellow child replies “He must be real, he’s crying.” Good lord, Ken Kwapis and Children’s Television Workshop.
I should note that the kidnapping and sleazy circus take place in rural Indiana.
Jeff Brohm is not a Sleaze Brother, but after being hailed as The Next Big Thing and raising Purdue from utter futility, his results the last two seasons have been disappointing. In 2020, he didn’t help himself by hiring someone who might actually be a Sleaze brother to run the defense - Bob Diaco has somehow kept getting hired, in spite of each of his last four stops lasting only a year apiece. Diaco’s defense didn’t work well (as any Husker fan could have told you to expect), and Purdue ended the season with an inglorious four-game skid. Brohm didn’t waste any more time with Diaco, cutting him loose after the season, but Purdue is still looking for a way to get back to Bowl Game Street.
12. Maryland - Artax and the Swamp of Sadness in Neverending Story
High: 4 Low: 14 Last Place Votes: 1
This just may be the saddest thing on the list, and thus there’s a strong argument to be made that it should belong to our ignominious last-place finisher. But, them’s the breaks, and Maryland is pretty damn sad in its own right.
The Neverending Story, in spite of its name, ends after a mere 94 minutes, and is a film from 1984 that deals with a mythical quest and some very heavy themes—the antagonist in this film is a being called “The Nothing” that “symbolizes lost hopes and dreams.” Oof. This ain’t no Disney film, and in fact, it’s German in origin, which actually explains a lot. The film is notable for causing generational trauma in younger Gen Xers, specifically from the scene in which the film’s young hero, Atreyu, tries to pull his beloved horse, Artax, out of the Swamp of Sadness.
He fails. The horse drowns in his own despair. A child holding the head of his beloved pet and telling him “You’re my friend. I love you!” as it sinks to its death creates the kind of emotional devastation that James Cameron only dreamed of when Rose snapped Jack off of her raft and into the North Atlantic. It’s basically impossible to have hope in anything for at least a day after you watch the scene.
Maryland football, of late, has created a similar feeling in the hearts of Maryland fans. You don’t really want to watch what’s happening, you know you’ll regret it if you do, and should you overcome these misgivings to take a peek, you’ll find your ability to get through the rest of the day sorely tested.
If you're a glutton for punishment-- and you might be, if you're a Maryland football fan-- consider getting this planter as a constant reminder of your despair.
13. Rutgers - Sarah McLachlan Abandoned Pet Commercials
High: 9 Low: 13
Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay
There’s always some reason
To feel not good enough
And it’s hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
Oh a beautiful release
Memories seep from my veins
Let me be empty
Oh and weightless and maybe
I’ll find some peace tonight
In the arms of the angel
I firmly believe that if you can watch a Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercial, as photo after photo of abused, sad cats and dogs floats across your screen to the strains of “Angel,” and not feel absolutely devastated to the core of your being, you are a robot. The ASPCA knows this too, and that’s why they keep running these year after year, in spite of the trail of emotional carnage they leave in their wake.
Rutgers, it must be said, has also left a trail of emotional carnage in their wake over the past half decade. The images of near-empty stadiums, zeros on scoreboards, and the near-bankruptcy of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse due to Rutgers’ unyielding futility are seared on every Big Ten fan’s brain. Once, our benevolent blog even tried to hold an adoption event for the longsuffering Chris Ash:
Alas, there would be no arms of an angel for Chris Ash (currently, he’s coaching with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and from the looks of Florida at the moment, coaching Rutgers might actually be the preferable situation). But for Rutgers fans, their angel came in a familiar figure: Greg Schiano. Could he rescue Rutgers and give them their second chance? Boosters made some small donations, and Schiano returned to Piscataway. So far, his adoption of the misused Scarlet Knights appears promising - after consigning Michigan State to ignominy for becoming Rutgers’ first Big Ten victim in forever, Rutgers won three games in 2020 - which is more than several teams above them on this poll, I’d like to point out.
Will Schiano be the long-awaited second chance? The break that will make it ok? Time will tell as we see what Rutgers brings to the field this season.
14. Nebraska - Hiring Scott Frost for Mega Millions to Bring Your Team Back to Competitiveness Because He is a Nebraska Man and then Having Him Win Like Three Games a Year, Maybe
High: 12 Low: 14 Last Place Votes: 13
Yeah. It's pretty sad.
What is the saddest thing on this list?
This poll is closed
Chet Hanx :(
Topanga’s Bad Decision
Imprisoning Big Bird
Artax and the Swamp of Sadness
Sarah McLachlan and the Saddest Animals
Scott Frost :(