How Mike Kafka Gave Me Hope for Ohio State

By Jake on February 23, 2011 at 1:00p
    Cam Heyward making the universe sit down, shut up, and listen.

Before the polls, before the drunken debates, before the posturing, the pleading, and the pandering of coaches spurned, before everything and anything gets determined in College Football, the game must be played. This is obvious to the point of cliche. Yet still we always seem to spend the final weeks of the season and the months that follow bemoaning the unfairness of it all. As loudly as many BCS teams may shout about how they deserve a shot more than anyone else, the truth is that, barring multiple undefeated teams, had they taken care of their own house, had the games played out differently, they could have sat in place of Auburn or Oregon in control of their own destinies. In the chaotic, pitiless, cruel world of the BCS, teams still play the game. Naturally, at one point or another we all find ourselves gripped by the existential dread of injustice and confusion wrought by the BCS. We inevitably ask, why don’t we have a playoff? Is Wisconsin’s victory over Ohio State impressive enough to put them in the Sugar Bowl despite their loss to Michigan State? Who in the hell decided to let Greg Robinson coach a defense? Yet within this maelstrom of torment, we find the inspirational, enthralling, and sublime.

My favorite name in college football history is probably Mike Kafka. An unwitting master of irony, he battled against the truly Kafka-esque heights of the polls, byzantine regulations, and prevailing zeitgeist that embodies modern football. In 2008 he led Northwestern to a 9-3 regular season, capped by an overtime loss to a very good Missouri team. In 2009, after and 8-4 season he orchestrated the most prolific passing performance in bowl history in the most exciting bowl game I've ever seen, just falling short against an Auburn team one Cam Newton shy of a national title. He and his team fought against prevailing wisdom, and the little guy landed some blows on the edifice. This season, we saw three such teams crashing the gates: Utah, TCU, and Boise, with several more right behind. Likewise, our own Ohio State, seemingly faced with a generation's worth of wind against her sails, the Buckeyes made mockery of Arkansas' secondary on route to a Sugar bowl victory. Despite the myriad rules arrayed against them, whether the restrictive recruiting requirements, the tradition of losing, or the sheer lack of talent, teams persevered.

Even so, Northwestern lost. Boise, TCU, and Utah had the door slammed in their face when closest to their prize. Ohio State, Notre Dame, and many others still struggle against outsize expecations and assumptions of decline. They might have won most of their season. They may even have won their bowl game. Yet in the end they are who we thought they were; TCU is still the scrappy underdog fighting for respect and Ohio State is still the turgid giant, fat with tradition but lacking in muscle. . . Right?

They are who we think they are only so long as they preform that way. The same is true of Baylor, UConn, Ball State, Illinois, and every other team-we-know-is-crappy. In truth, existence precedes essence. Though Mike Kafka may have known jack about his eponymous predecessor, he and his teammates chose to define themselves rather than let the rest of the world do it for them. Boise State is in a position to play for national titles despite all of the institutional disadvantages they face. Ohio State ended their burden despite the roar of disdain that follows them. That is why I love college football. That, I think, is the bigger picture.  For every team getting screwed out of the Mythical National Championship game, there are a dozen others exceeding our expectations and writing their own piece of College Football history. The greatest moments in sports are often not those that fulfill our expecations, but those that confound them.

Deep beneath all of our tribal alliegances to Alma Mater and obsession with championships and records, we all root for the little guy. Mike Kafka never reached The Castle at the top of the hill, but I rooted for him the whole time he climbed. So long as I watch our team on the field I'll support a playoff, but the true majesty and joy of the game lies in the drama that unfolds on the field, not over the airwaves. Kafka wrote about the ways that the outside contrains our ability to define who we are, imposing essence on our existence. As absurd as it may seem, I find in college football, from my Buckeyes all of the way through to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, an act of rebellion against those constraints. In a way, the sport succeeds as much because of the absurdity and stupidity of the BCS as despite it.

Mike Kafka helped me to realize that it's not insane to be an optimist or to expect that Ohio State will win. Rather, true insanity would be to give in to the negativity surrounding the game, ignoring the game itself.


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Chris Lauderback's picture

hey everbody, I hear Homage is offering Buy One, Get One Free today...

Corey Carpenter's picture

Here is the link for the deal, it may only be today.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

I guess it was only buy one get one, not buy two get two etc.....

We need much more Basketball Buckeye stuff.  Not a lot out there.



Nick's picture

Surf Ohio, LOL. Shreddin' on the 'Tangy

Maestro's picture

Viva College Football!!!!!!

vacuuming sucks

Peter Pete Peterson's picture

Ya know, I look forward to autumn every year for one reason:the leaves falling. NOT!! College football is what I live for and Ohio State football in particular! I would love to see a championship tournament, but really, I know how my team did. I know in my mind who the best is. I just love the game, I just love my team! When it's all over, I'm spent! It was great! I look forward to next year, the NOL's, NFL Draft day, etc. But I just can't wait till next year!
This year however, I have the opportunity to go to the B1G Championship in Indianapolis!! I can't wait! This will help bridge the gap.

Peter "Pete" Peterson

"Recruiting is like shaving, if you don't do it everyday, you look like a bum!"  -Jim Tressel


Peter Pete Peterson's picture

Pardon me, I got distracted whilst I was writing. I meant Nat'l. Letters of Intent. I didn't mean that my team was always the best, just that I had my own opinion of who the best team was. Typing this on an iPod isn't the best way to do this.
My apologies.

Peter "Pete" Peterson

"Recruiting is like shaving, if you don't do it everyday, you look like a bum!"  -Jim Tressel


Chris Lauderback's picture

Damn, Wisconsin banked in a three at the buzzer to win at Michigan. The Badgers with just five turnovers but 36% shooting (27% on 3's) kept Michigan in it. This is just another example of why losing at Wisc and at Purdue is not a big deal. It's just that tough to win on the road.

Jake's picture

The 1-3-1 has been paying dividends for Michigan this year, not surprising considering how much college basketball depends on the 3-pointer now. Ironic they still lost, on a 3.

Chris Lauderback's picture

I think the uniqueness of the 1-3-1 can throw some teams off but Michigan's still just 6th in conference play at defending the three (36.8%).

Jake's picture

True, though I wonder how much that's a reflection of the 1-3-1 and how much a result of their weakness at guard defensively. Darius Morris is a damn good point, but he's not super defensively and he's left alone to defend the top of the arc.

nickma71's picture

A single elimination tournament does not decide who is the bes. A tournament will if it is a seven game series with reseeding after each round. And a long season is needed to weed out one game pretenders. Take Villanova for example. 10 losses and 1-2 against an interconfrence foe. Yet it is  claimed only one of those games count. Therefore, they are the best. *rolls eyes*

I like the BCS as an idea, just not the politicians that run it to put the SEC in the game.

ohiostfan01's picture

Nice to see Western Kentucky get name dropped.... 

Kurt's picture

Very interesting article. I remember those bowl game losses NW suffered, they could've and should've won both. NW is a huge overachiever, and they couldn't do it if they listened to the words of others.