Well, it’s Week One in the Big Ten. The conference will soon have 16 teams—two of them from California. And Nebraska and Northwestern just played a season opener. In Ireland.
So it’s not quite business-as-usual here in college football’s most storied conference, but the game is evolving, so we are told, and what this means is there isn’t anything the Powers That Be won’t do for money.
Still, this—innovation, let’s call it—means that we’re being treated to the spectacle of football in Ireland. Football football, not soccer football. What Ireland has done to deserve NU-NU inflicted upon their verdant land I know not, but it can’t have been pretty. For those living in Nebraska, this has meant a year’s worth of commercials advertising tickets for this game over irishmusic.mp4 as a man with a leprechaun accent* implores Husker fans to follow their very bad team across the pond. I’m not sure how Northwestern advertised it, probably with complimentary Irish caviar or something.
I feel for the Husker fans who make the journey—but, after all, if you’re going to watch your team lose, there are worse ways to follow it up than with by being able to go visit someplace as beautiful as Ireland. (BRT Note: I’m in Scotland right now, and saw a pair of Huskers in Edinburgh earlier this week, and a friend of mine in Belfast grabbed a pic with a pair of Huskers there—so at least... four... made the trip.) Plus, Ireland is a drinking-friendly culture, meaning that if you pre- and post-game correctly, you may not even remember watching Nebraska’s tried-and-trued game plan of “fuck around and find out.”
Anyway, in honor of this latest episode of College Football’s “Grab! That! Cash!,” this week’s Power Poll pays homage to the Emerald Isle as we compare your football team to a Thing That is Irish. How do our writers think your team stacks up to start the season? Who gets the ignominy of being James Joyce? Read on, and find out! (Thanks to WhiteSpeedReceiver for making our beautiful graphs!)
*I know what I said, and I meant it. Calling it Irish is an insult—he sounds like the Lucky Charms cartoon.
#1 - Ohio State: James Joyce
First Place Votes: 10 High: 1 Low: 3 Last Week: 1
Well, that wasn’t much of a cliffhanger, was it? Ohio State is, of course, James Joyce. Considered “One of the Literary Greats” because of tradition; Joyceheads (I don’t know what Joyce fans are actually called, as I choose not to associate with them, but I think Joyceheads is good, and insultingly lowbrow), have parlayed this reputation into an unquestionable greatness. But really… is Joyce really that great?
Let’s go to the tape. This is the ending of Ulysses, considered Joyce’s greatest work, and by some particularly deranged individuals, the greatest book ever written:
the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where 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.
Pardon my French, but what in the everloving f*ck is that? The ramblings of a diseased mind is the only explanation. This is not innate greatness, it is a legacy of privilege that has led to actual privilege– in Joyce’s case, being posthumously considered a great writer, even though Ulysses is less coherent and understandable than a Gen Zer’s school essay.
Furthermore, scroll back up and just look at the guy. This is a guy who, if you meet him, is going to insist that you talk–- no, that you listen to HIM talk–- about philosophy, the more obscure, the better. His head is so far up his own butt with self-importance that he’ll not even notice that you’re there, until you try to run screaming into that good night and deprive him of an audience.
In spite of much of OSU’s fanbase not having the foggiest idea who James Joyce is (this is actually their best quality, come to think of it), the overlaps between a writer who parlayed reputation into privilege and who drips with self-absorption and hubris are too obvious to ignore.
#2 - Michigan: Riverdance
FPV: 1 H: 1 L: 6 LW: 2
If you were around in the mid-90s, chances are good that you remember Riverdance. The show and its spin-offs featured Irish dancing in large ensembles, offering lively music and hypnotizing synchronicity. The show made an international superstar of lead male dancer Michael Flatley (fun fact, Flatley was born in Michigan), and while I was reading up for this incredibly well-researched piece, I learned on Wikipedia that his feet were insured for $57.6 million and that he holds a world record for tap dancing 35 times per second, which I can literally not even imagine.
Riverdance became a global phenomenon and pop cultural byword. It was fun to watch! The glitz! The glamour! The tabloid stories (Flatley was a notorious womanizer after he became famous, often had sex three times a night, and had his own dedicated sex couch in the VIP section of Dublin nightclub Lillie’s Bordello)!
But of course, the good times couldn’t last. Flatley departed the production after less than a year due to disputes over royalties and creative control. While he went on to have continued success dancing, and Riverdance also continued (and continues) to be performed, that initial magic was never quite replicated.
Michigan, of course, comes out every year preparing to dazzle. The pieces for a star-studded spectacular are always there, the crowd oh-so-ready to be entertained. Very, very, rarely, they’ll take this potential and turn it into a surprise smash hit–most notably, in 2021 when they finally defeated Ohio State for the first time in a decade (surprisingly handily too). They rolled into the Big Ten Championship and eviscerated Iowa – by a score of 42-3, which is a lot to not very much at all. This gave Michigan the conference championship, and their first-ever appearance in the college football playoff. It also gave their fans a bit too much confidence. Like the halcyon days of Riverdance ‘96, Michigan’s run couldn’t last, and they fell (very) short to Georgia, mustering a final eight (yes) points in the last five minutes to stagger into double-digits.
I don’t know what this year holds for Michigan, nor do I care very much, but I did like remembering that that Harbaugh went for two when he was down 31 points with less than five minutes remaining.
#3 - Michigan State: Shamrocks
H: 2 L: 8 LW: 4
Let’s address the obvious–yes, I picked this for Sparty because they’re both green. I’m sorry. These things take forever to write, and as mentioned, I’m currently overseas supervising a student group, so I am very tired and very short of time. Plus, not everything on this list is going to inspire me to flights of written eloquence like my hatred of James Joyce. He fuels me.
Nevertheless, aside from the obvious, Sparty and the Shamrocks (EXCELLENT 1950s band name) have a few more similarities, the biggest of which is that the history of the shamrock is full of legend and drama. Legend states that St. Patrick used a shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity when he was christianizing Ireland round about 431. This is almost certainly not true, but beginning in the 17th century, the link between St. Patrick and the shamrock really gained steam, and soon became more broadly viewed as a symbol of Ireland. In this symbolic capacity, the shamrock began to really piss off the English, who have had a bit of a tendency to get antsy whenever people they view in a proprietary light demonstrate anything resembling a national identity that isn’t British. However, Queen Victoria eventually leaned into the “wearing o’ the green” (see above) as a way to try to butter up the Irish and keep them supportive of the Boer War.
While nothing about Michigan State is taught in a Sunday school, they did have their share of blessings or luck last year. With a bizarre and improbable win over Nebraska after gaining negative offensive yardage during the second half, to defeating Michigan and getting a nice bowl win over Pitt, fortune certainly seems to be favoring those wearing the green.
#4 - Penn State: Ireland in Eurovision
H: 2 L: 8 LW: 3
You guys know what Eurovision is, right? Thanks to a recent Will Ferrell movie in which he plays someone we’re supposed to believe is 30-something at most, more Americans are familiar with the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual event that receives extensive press and viewership in Europe. Musical acts representing their country compete for glory, and some of the entries are pretty weird/creative. Some of the contestants go on to become superstars: Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988 (in spite of being Canadian, but whatevs), and ABBA won for Sweden in 1974. Riverdance was a not a contestant, but was an act featured during a break, and that propelled that show to superstardom (see Michigan at #2).
Historically, Ireland has shown well at Eurovision. They’ve appeared 55 times since debuting in 1965, and have won seven times—the most of any country. They also pulled off a “threepeat,” which no other nation has ever done. However, much of this glory is in the past, as the 90s were really their heyday (1992-1994 was the threepeat).
Like Ireland, Penn State has a long and storied tradition, and a history of going all the way. But also like Ireland in Eurovision, much of this glory is in the past, and while they’re not bad, per say, in the present era, they’re mostly an also-ran.
#5 - Wisconsin: Potatoes
H: 3 L: 13 LW: 7
Somehow, Wisconsin jumped two spaces this week as a result of the NU-NU shitshow. Alrighty then.
Continuing on with my theme of being super obvious, I’ve given Wisconsin the potatoes on this list. Potatoes are big, lumpy, white, and starchy–just like most Wisconsinites. The comparison is so perfect, I could just leave it there.
But I won’t. Just as potatoes have become inextricably linked with the tragic 19th century history of Ireland, Wisconsin has become inextricably linked with the Big Ten in its expansion phase. Potatoes, as a meal, are not nutritional powerhouses, but they still fed and supported an entire island for the century leading up to the catastrophic blight of the 1840s, and that’s a pretty significant contribution by a single crop. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin generally dominated and supported the entire Big Ten West, usually fending off random efforts at relevance from Northwestern (who can only support a charge every other year or so) and Iowa (who reliably stumbles at the finish line and sends Wisconsin to Indianapolis.)
In Irish history, the potato’s run of dominance ended in tragedy and death, as blight decimated the non-diversified agricultural landscape. The Great Hunger killed more than a million Irish people in half a decade, and prompted two million to immigrate over a span of ten years, causing demographic and economic devastation. Wisconsin’s run of dominance appears to also be in danger, though thankfully such an event will not precipitate tragedy and death–indeed, for those within the Quadrangle, it’s a positive development. But both the Great Hunger and the Great Loss to Minnesota offer an important lesson–over-reliance on one crop, or over-reliance on not passing the ball, is a recipe for eventual catastrophe.
#6 - Minnesota: Titanic
H: 4 L: 11 LW: 5
Again, yes, I’m being obvious. Boats, frigid temps, sinking?, Peej. This is how this poll is going this time around. Titanic, as you may have heard, was a big “unsinkable” boat built in Belfast from 1909-1911. You may also have heard that it, improbably, sank.
Titanic’s spectacular failure gave the world several notable things: more lifeboats on cruises, greater general knowledge about the bottom-heavy features of icebergs, and the most random scene during a Britney Spears bridge. Likewise, while not living up entirely to Peej’s promises, the 2021 Gophers did give the world a few things: a hilarious loss to Bowling Green, a weird 14-6 loss to Illinois, and beating Wisconsin for no good reason.
Fleck’s Gophers haven’t been as visually stunning as the record-setting Titanic was when it set sail in 1912, but on the bright side, they also haven’t been as spectacularly catastrophic. But PJ may have to get the Gophers to more than the Guaranteed Rate Bowl if he wants to avoid threats of being put out to sea.
#7 - Illinois: Boxty
FPV: 4 (????????) H: 1 L: 11 LW: 11
“Boxty on the griddle; boxty on the pan. If you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get a man!”
As traditional Irish foods go, a boxty is about as old-school as it gets, and yet, it’s not a universally known Irish food for most Americans. Made of grated raw potato and flour, a boxty is a potato pancake. Originally, these would have been served with relatively little adornment, but modern presentations turn the boxty into either a sweet treat or a hearty meal, depending on what accompanies the boxty. So now, making a tasty boxty in order to snag a man is significantly more difficult, one assumes.
Like a boxty, Illinois is relatively uninspiring to look at, and its ingredients are fairly minimal. To really make something out of Illinois, there will need to be quite a lot of creative ingredients added by Chef Bret to to “elevate” (as food people like to say) the Illini.
#8 - Iowa: Guinness
Last Place Votes: 1 H: 4 L: 14 LW: 6
I don’t love that I have to give Iowa a non-terrible thing, but sometimes, that’s the way this biz goes. That’s especially true because, annoyingly, Iowa football is not terrible (although they did lose two spots in a week during which they did not play). But that also doesn’t mean they’re as great as their partisans seem to think. Lest you forget, Iowa’s early success in 2021 prompted an outpouring of Iowegian idiocy so great that it fell to this fine site to publish a handbook for dealing with Asinorum Stultus Hawkalis. Happily, nature corrected itself/Iowa had to play someone from outside of the Big Ten West, and the Hawkeyes were hilariously rocked by 39 points in the conference championship game. They lost their bowl game too.
Guinness also isn’t terrible, but people lose their minds over it more than they should. This is especially true of American tourists in Ireland (yes, probably many of whom are currently wearing red and indulging in the behavior I’m about to describe.) They go from pub to pub, declaring themselves to be “Irish,” mispronouncing sláinte (“Hey Barb! Slant-ye! It means cheers!”), and becoming self-professed experts on which pubs’ taps give the purest Guinness taste. They’re having a nice time, and that’s lovely for them, but the whole effect is incredibly cringe-worthy.
#9 - Purdue: Irish Wolfhound
H: 6 L: 10 LW: 8
Here’s another thing that doesn’t suck - dogs are pretty cool, and Irish Wolfhounds are cooler than most. These Very Good Boys and Girls are most famed for their size, which is certainly impressive - full grown, Irish Wolfhounds are nearly a yard tall at their shoulders, and purebred males have a minimum height of 120 lbs. Even cooler than its impressive physical appearance, the Irish Wolfhound is also an exceptionally intelligent breed - they tend to be extremely friendly with their people, and have a winning independence, since they were bred to work at a distance from humans while hunting.
Purdue is not quite as cool as all of that, but Purdue grads do have a reputation as an intelligent breed, and while I cannot personally confirm this, rumor has it that their male graduates are often distinctively hairy (neckbeard joke). When the occasion demands, they are also quite capable of hunting independently, and have been known to take down an impressive foe on their own.
The only drawback to an Irish Wolfhound is that of many other big, beautiful dogs–they simply are not around long enough. The lifespan of these beautiful dogs is only around seven years. Purdue football similarly falters much sooner than its fans could wish–resulting in seasons that are decent, but not great.
#10 - Northwestern: Snakes
FPV: 1 H: 1 L: 14 LPV: 1 LW: 14
Have we ever had a week where we’ve had a team get both first and last place votes? Probably so, the writers here are pretty bad.
Anyway, we thought Northwestern was going to be bad too, because last year they were—how to put this kindly?—execrable. But as we all know, Northwestern has a way of being “good” every other year, or at least just good enough to keep Pat Fitzgerald gainfully employed and Boomering it up along the sidelines. The Wildcats appear to be on schedule once again this season.
Why have I chosen snakes as an Irish Thing? Legendarily, St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland (but not really though), and there are no longer snakes in the Emerald Isle. It’s true that there are no snakes there, but the truth is that there probably never were. But the thing with snakes is that you can never quite let your guard down—just when you think your garden is safe, boom! You find out snakes can climb tomato plants. And just when you think you’re safe from Northwestern because they really cannot be any worse—boom! You find they can climb onto a plane, fly across the Atlantic, and score 31 points.
#11– Maryland: Leprechauns
H: 4 L: 12 LW: 10
You know leprechauns, right? By some measures, leprechauns may be the most visible/stereotypical part of Ireland to many Americans. From breakfast cereal to greeting cards to the logo of a certain hated private school in northern Indiana, leprechauns take up an outsized place in the popular American imagination, especially considering that they don’t really exist.
The traditional idea of a leprechaun is also a little different than the peppy little guy on a permanent quest for a marshmallow breakfast cereal. Wikipedia (nothing but the best for you guys) says that a leprechaun “is classed by some as a type of solitary fairy.” I love that this implies a fairy classification system. Leprechauns have a couple of main hobbies, such as cobbling shoes and pulling practical jokes. This sounds weirdly like Maryland, as they also have an interest in… fashion, and have been known to punk the likes of Texas for S&Gs. Leprechauns are thought to keep their shenanigans to the generally harmless realm, and don’t commit actual harm toward humans– much like Maryland’s performances are typically mildly amusing at most, without really making any major waves for the conference’s elite.
#12 - Indiana: Soda Bread
H: 10 L: 13 LW: 13
I don’t really know anything about Indiana, except that two years ago, things seemed to be turning around, and then last year, things turned around again, and now Indiana is hapless and hopeless again. Just as committed to losing as Nebraska, they lacked the dramatic flair of the Huskers in 2021, and just went out and lost in rather uninspiring and boring ways. They were, to put it bluntly, just plain bad.
Soda bread isn’t necessarily bad, but it is “just plain.” That’s kind of the whole point of it, actually. Soda breads feature a quick rise that does not require yeast, resulting in much less labor and time than yeasted breads. Like many traditional Irish foods, this one has seen a resurgence of late, featuring in hip cafes and combined with innovative ingredients. It’s also popular with many home bakers today because of its short preparation time.
Indiana seems unlikely to make a resurgence and become the cause célèbre of Big Ten fandom again, although you never know. Instead, Indiana will likely leave fans hoping that they can spend as little time as possible investing in their fandom so that the whole painful ordeal can be over sooner.
#12 - Rutgers: Lapsed Catholics
H: 10 L: 14 LPV: 3 LW: 12
If you know even a little bit about Ireland, chances are you know that at one point it was, shall we say, INCREDIBLY THOROUGHLY COMPLETELY ZEALOUSLY Catholic. Like just behind Vatican City in Catholicness. It… really isn’t anymore. At least, not really. In 2016, 78% of the Irish population identified as Catholic, and it’s easily the largest Christian denomination in the country. However, that 78% represents a 6% decrease from five years earlier, and the lowest-ever percentage recorded on a census. Furthermore, while the Irish may still largely identify as Catholic, fewer and fewer of them actively participate in the Church. Thirty-six percent of Irish adults attend a weekly religious service (of any faith), although 55% pray once a week. (While these are not particularly high numbers of religious observance, they still trounce most of Europe, where the numbers for these two categories are 12.8% and 30%, respectively.)
Rutgers football, like the Catholic Church in Ireland, once saw itself as holding a special place in the world–it is, after all, The Birthplace. But since its move to the Big Ten in 2014, it’s become more of a punchline than a powerhouse, just like the Church in Ireland. Its days of total influence seem far in the past, and unlikely to return. But unlike the many nominal Catholics of Ireland, few Rutgers fans are still willing to publicly identify with their faith.
#14 - Nebraska: Americans who Visit Ireland and Tell People There That They’re Irish Because Their Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Who Immigrated in 1845 was Irish
H: 7 L: 14 LPV: 11 LW: 9
Well, well, well... if it isn’t the Huskers, wasting zero time in underperforming, torpedoing expectations, and generally embarrassing themselves. I was lucky enough to not watch the latest embarrassment dressed in red, but it looks like we’re doing a defense-optional scheme this year? Cool, cool. That always goes well!
Anyway, if you’re ever lucky enough to visit Ireland (and I hope you are!), it’s possible you’ll see more Americans than Irish people. It’s easy to spot us–the white tennis shoes, cargo shorts, baseball caps, sports-team gear, etc. And even if an American passes the visual assimilation test, you’ll quickly learn that the major distinctiveness to our accent is our volume. It won’t be long before you overhear an American telling anyone who will listen just how “Irish” he or she is because of some mid-nineteenth century immigration action. Double points if you spot one crowing about this and then later discover that they’re a right-wing, anti-immigrant doofus who apparently doesn’t realize that they’re living in America and free to be a moron because some dirt-poor ancestor of theirs—wait for it—immigrated to the United States.
Europeans find this identification based on the nationality of someone we are many generations removed from meeting very odd, and I get that. But I also get the appeal of trying to understand and feel connected to something older than your immediate family and to have a sense of ancestral place–and many Americans, for various reasons (enslavement, immigration, displacement), aren’t able to do that in the same way as, say, English people who have lived in England always and been descended from 1500 years worth of other English people. THAT SAID… You aren’t Irish, Bruce and Nancy. You’re from North Platte. You are of Irish descent, but you’re not an Irish person. Settle down.
Anyway, I assume the parallels to Nebraska as a football program are pretty obvious - winning a National Championship a quarter of a century ago does not a “powerhouse program” make, any more than inheriting a name like “O’Brien” makes you “basically Irish.”
Ireland? Didja? Wouldja?
This poll is closed
Yes! I loved it.
I went, but was underwhelmed.
I haven’t yet, but it’s on my list!
I don’t really like traveling, and now that I have this Power Poll, I don’t need to go experience Ireland for myself.