The year is 2014. After 13 weeks of play, the Big Ten conference is in dire straits. It is the only Power 5 conference to have been closed out of the inaugural College Football Playoff, and football fans all across the midwest (and, inexplicably, New Jersey and Maryland) are spittin' mad.
The scene opens onto a dark basement lit by a single overhead bulb that swings ominously. The location is unknown, though it is alluded to that this particular basement is in the new Heart of the B1G, Washington D.C. Sitting around a folding card table are the fourteen men who are tasked with coaching each week in this clumsy behemoth of a conference.
James Franklin, Penn State: Gentlemen, as you are no doubt aware, we've been left out of this year's playoff. This is a real black eye for football all across our proud conference. I've convened this meeting to discuss our options. The future, I need not tell you, does not look bright.
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: What are you talking about? We've been recruiting the pants off of every conference other than the SEC. We perpetually have one of the strongest incoming classes in the country. As long as we keep developing players, we've got a heck of a chance next year.
A loud sucking noise is heard. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern head coach, sits just outside the lone bulb's harsh glow, eating paste. Other coaches shuffle uncomfortably at the interruption.
Fitzgerald: Easy for you to say! Look at us! (brief sip of paste) People wouldn't even know Northwestern had a football team if we hadn't started the whole unionization thing. I mean, we lost our first two games this season to Cal and Northern Illinois. I can't...I can't keep living like this. (sobs)
Kevin Wilson, Indiana: I'm with Pat. Well, not with him on the paste thing. But I have to agree that we're in shambles. Despite yesterday, my team gave up 45 points to Bowling Green, in case you've forgotten. Heck, I bet most of you don't even know my name.
Franklin: Don't be ridiculous, Kenneth.
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: Well, Franklin, what do you propose? You called this meeting, I'd like to hear some ideas get tossed out there.
Franklin: I'd hate to monopolize the meeting just because I called it to order. I'll open the floor to suggestions at this time.
Assorted murmuring fills the room. Words like "cornfed," "tradition," and "blocking porn" can be overheard as the coaches whisper among themselves. Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell surreptitiously steals a scoop of paste from Fitzgerald. Michigan's Brady Hoke sends a crack spiderwebbing through the table by pounding a ham-like fist on it. Finally, a voice rises above the rest. It is a commanding voice, but one to inspire confidence in the message it conveys. It belongs to one Urban Meyer, steward of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Meyer: I believe I have a plan. Look, like Mark said, we've got a heck of a lot of talent between our teams. I know we haven't always shared that talent equally (furious nodding from Nebraska's Bo Pelini). We've got a lot of history to build on, and a deep pool of players that we can make use of. And it's more clear to me than ever that the task of fixing the conference must fall to us--Lord knows that not every school in this conference has a capable AD they can ask for help. (Franklin gives a throaty cheer; Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood bursts into tears)
Ferentz: Spit it out, Urban. What's the plan?
Meyer: I lied, there is no plan. I'm just going to go out and make the rest of you look bad every Saturday until they decide Ohio is far enough south to get into the SEC.
Screams and shouts rend the air. Minnesota's Jerry Kill pulls his legs up and begins to rock back and forth with a glassy stare. Illinois' Tim Beckman weeps. Meyer raises his hands for silence.
Meyer: Oh, I got you guys good. Totally kidding. Here's the plan.
The room falls to a hush.
Meyer: We steal the College Football Playoff trophy. (gasps, assorted "no!"s) Yes, we steal it. Not us, personally. I think we can all agree that we're not the men for that job. (Hoke murmurs his assent.) But on our rosters we have the personnel to make this happen. Now, I don't want just any guys for this heist. They need to bring something to to the table. A set of skills, a particular talent or two that will help us take the trophy.
Beckman: Plus they should have kickass names!
Meyer: Obviously. Now, to maximize our ability to fly under the radar while attempting to take a trophy, we'll need to look like an average B1G football team. (All laugh.) That means we need to compile a roster of men for the heist who match the composition of an actual football team. We should probably throw some backups in there, too, in case one or two of our guys gets hurt. Now, I've compiled a dossier on every member of each of your teams--
Pelini: A dossy-what?
Meyer: (sighs) A dossier. I know what your players are like, what they eat, where and with whom they sleep. It's all in here. (pulls out a thick binder stuffed full of paper) Let's take a look. In a few hours' time, we should have our heist team figured out. Remember...we want kickass names.
The fourteen put their heads together around the table. Papers are shuffled, passed, shuffled again. Someone pulls out a case of Steel Reserve, and the cans are quickly drained and disposed of. Maryland's Randy Edsall is repeatedly told that he cannot, under any circumstances, submit his list of names to the NCAA for review.
Long, sweaty hours pass. Flood accuses Wisconsin's Gary Andersen of farting, to which Andersen replies that whoever smelt it dealt it. Hoke and Dantonio argue briefly, which results in Hoke attempting to "noogie" his opponent. Finally, from the haze emerges a final golden sheet of paper. One filled with twenty-two names in bold and a handful of others in italics. Plus, on the back has been quickly scribbled another list of names--players who under no circumstances will be allowed anywhere near the operation. This reporter, through a combination of skillful investigation and a willingness to ply Division I football coaches with malt liquor, has obtained that list. Here it stands, transcribed from its original format (which included some scribbles in crayon).
The 2014 All-B1G Heist Team: Offense
Quarterback: MAN BERG, Illinois
Alternates: ZANDER DIAMONT and NATE BOUDREAU, Indiana
Not coming under any circumstances: D.J. CROOK, Penn State
Notes: Man Berg sounds like a scrapped Arnold Schwarzenegger character. He's in. Did you see The Expendables? That movie rocked. D.J. Crook just sounds way too obvious, and we want a little more subtlety in our heist. Zander Diamont and Nate Boudreau sound like two guys who run an underground craps table in New Orleans--could come in handy in a tight spot.
Running Back: JUSTICE HAYES, Michigan
Alternates: D.J. KNOX, Purdue; EZEKIEL ELLIOTT, Ohio State
Not coming under any circumstances: JEFFIE JOHNSON, Ohio State
Notes: A little known fact is that Samuel L. Jackson is scheduled to play a tired-of-this-s*** con named Justice Hayes in an as-yet-untitled 2016 crime film. The one from UM will be perfect. D.J. Knox sounds like an emcee from Harry Potter's world, and we're all about that. Ezekiel Elliott? Full of biblical wrath and fury. We could use that. And, look, we're absolutely getting squealed on to the NCAA by a guy named Jeffie. We're not letting him anywhere near this heist.
Wide Receivers: JAZZ PEAVY, Wisconsin; ANDREW STONE, Iowa; KATO MITCHELL, Ohio State
Alternates: MALIK TURNER, Illinois; VANCE MATTHEWS, Rutgers
Not coming under any circumstances: JACK WANGLER and FREDDY CANTEEN, Michigan
Notes: If Jazz Peavy isn't the smoothest S.O.B. in this heist crew we've gone horribly wrong somewhere. Andrew Stone evokes just the stolid attitude we're looking for, and Kato Mitchell promises to bring an element of kung fu fighting that we've been sorely lacking. The coaching committee thanks Michigan for their efforts, but their crop of WRs will be left at home for obvious reasons of nomenclature.
Tight End: MAXX WILLIAMS, Minnesota
Alternate: DANNY FRIEND, Indiana
Not coming under any circumstances: JAKE BUTT, Michigan; PETER PEKAR, Iowa
Notes: Arguably our weakest position group, gentlemen, as far as cool heist names go. Fortunately, Maxx Williams was birthed during Steven Seagal's brief box office reign of terror. Danny Friend might lull security into a false sense of...security. We've heard that Jake Butt is proud of his name, as is his prerogative, but we can't risk a case of the giggles on such a sensitive operation. And Peter Pekar might have picked a peck of pickled peppers, but there's no guarantee he can snag the trophy for us.
Offensive Line: CHONGO KONDOLO, Nebraska; JACK DE BOEF, Purdue; ADAM DE BOEF, Penn State; ISAAC HAYES, Minnesota; BEAROOZ YACOOBI, Purdue
Alternates: BRAD NORTH, Northwestern; EVAN MULROONEY, Maryland
Not coming under any circumstances: BRADY TAYLOR, Ohio State; KEITH LUMPKIN, Rutgers
Notes: Gentlemen, this being the Big Ten, we've got a lot to salivate over when considering the offensive line. Just look at the heist-worthy names on this list! Hell, we've got two guys whose last name translates to "The Beef" in French. Not sure how we can ask for much beyond that. But there's more! Chongo Kondolo sounds like a mercenary that Djimon Hounsou would play in a Michael Bay movie, he's in. Isaac Hayes? Shaft 2.0? Check and check. Bearooz Yacoobi...not sure what's going on there. But anyone who hears that we're bringing "Bear Ooze" to a job is going to be getting out of our way quick.
Brad North sounds like a smooth operator, and Evan Mulrooney sounds like a guy who would break your nose in a bar fight. They'll do fine in reserve...kind of a good cop/bad cop situation. Now, Brady Taylor isn't coming. We're not trying to heist a 12-pack of wine coolers onto our dad's boat. Keith Lumpkin is being left behind as well. Can't have 7th-graders snicker at us when we're trying to get serious work done.
Defensive Line: SEAN MCEVILLY, Northwestern; MONTEZ SWEAT, Michigan State; CHANCE CARTER, Northwestern; TACO CHARLTON, Michigan
Alternates: ROBBIE BAIN, Illinois; DARIUS SLADE, Ohio State
Not coming under any circumstances: CHRIS ROCK, Ohio State
Notes: Oh, man. Sean McEvilly. Is that pronounced like Machiavelli/Makavelli? Or like a fast-food branding of evil itself? We're not sure, but there's no losing here. He's anchoring the D-line. Next up is Montez Sweat, who we should only allow into the crew if he shows up for practice in hammer pants with a high-top fade. Chance Carter--if they make an 8th Fast and Furious movie (R.I.P. Paul Walker)--should absolutely be one of the names of the guys boosting and drifting cars. Plus every crew needs a guy with a great nickname, and Taco Charlton takes that award home for us.
Robbie Bain is another on the bar fight potentials list, and if subtlety fails we may need to smash-and-grab. Chris Rock, on the other hand, still has not been forgiven for Lethal Weapon 4. He will not be joining us.
Linebackers: RAEKWON MCMILLAN, Ohio State; ANDY GARCIA, Purdue; TAIWAN JONES, Michigan State
Alternates: MYLES NASH, Rutgers; JOSEY JEWELL, Iowa
Not coming under any circumstances: COURTNEY LOVE, Nebraska; GREG GOOCH, Indiana; CHI CHI ARIGUZO, Northwestern
Notes: Who better to bring along on a heist than a character pulled straight from the Ocean's Eleven series? Andy Garcia is so in. Raekwon McMillan is coming along, to prove that B-1-G ain't nothin' to f*** with. And Taiwan Jones sounds like a bad, bad man. We're locked in pretty well here. Myles Nash and Josey Jewell would surely fill in admirably in reserve.
A rockstar-style tell-all book would certainly get us all arrested if it came out before the statute of limitations expired on the theft, so Courtney Love is out. Sounds kinda volatile anyway, no? Greg Gooch...hard pass. Same for Chi Chi Ariguzo.
Defensive Backs: V'ANGELO BENTLEY, Illinois; ARMANI REEVES, Ohio State; BLAKE COUNTESS, Michigan; DEJAZZ WOODS, Illinois
Alternates: DWIGHT WHITE, Northwestern; NICK NORTH; Illinois
Not coming under any circumstances: DAD POQUIE, Penn State; LUBERN FIGARO, Wisconsin
Notes: Where better to start than to pick a secondary named for the finer things in life? That's what we've always aspired to in the Big Ten, and always seemed to fall short of. Bentley and Armani will help us come closer to those dreams. Blake Countess...cornerback or bored playboy millionaire who commits cat burglaries by night? DeJazz Woods has got to be among the coolest on this team of entirely cool guys.
Can't argue with a good rhyming name involving a noun, so Dwight White makes the reserves. Nick North, like Brad North before him, has a whiff of class about him that we could use to legitimize our operation. On the other hand, nothing brings insidious plots crashing down to earth faster than parental involvement, so Dad Poquie is out. Lubern Figaro can't be trusted to skip the opera and join us, should there be a conflict.
As Urban Meyer holds up the final, gleaming list, the room falls into an awed hush. Fitzgerald's finger hovers halfway between his lap and his mouth--a single glob of paste dangles precariously from it, gravity testing its elasticity with each passing second. Thirteen mouths hang slack-jawed.
"It's...it's beautiful," Franklin says, eyes brimming with tears. "It's a hell of a plan. I think it's time we go tell our boys."
Two weeks pass. The coaches of the Big Ten beg, plead, and coerce their players into joining up with the heist crew. Beckman unearths a trove of Chipotle gift cards, which are more than effective in greasing the palms of his Fighting Illini players. Edsall distributes cases of Natty Boh and shakers of Old Bay to a few well-placed stooges, who make ample use of them in soliciting the services of Maryland's players blessed with cool names. Hazell hires an intern out of Purdue's school of graphic design strictly for the purpose of photoshopping his players onto the cover of Forbes magazine surrounded by stacks of cash and scantily-clad celebrities. Each coach devises his own set of ruses, but in the end the payoff is worth it. All twenty-two-plus players are on board with the heist, and all personae non grata have been effectively distracted by cakes, surprise parties, or bouncy houses.
The night of the heist arrives. Meyer has been waking up with cold sweats for weeks, alternately having nightmares that the heist has failed and that he has failed to adequately prepare his players for a tilt with Youngstown State. He orders every pizza place in the midwest burned down, just for safety. A fleet of blacked-out Ford EconoVans is dispatched from D.C.
The heist team arrives on the scene, ready to make their play for the trophy. They march forward, in vintage Power-I formation. The Trophy is being stored in a warehouse at an undisclosed location, protected by armed guards, razor wired-fence, and the spirit of tradition. Soundlessly, the team executes its first maneuvers. Chongo Kondolo dispatches two of the guards with a well-aimed roundhouse kick. Sean McEvilly rigs C4 charges on the fence. Jazz Peavy calms the large Doberman that trots out of the guardhouse by sheer force of personality. The charges are detonated, and the team is through their first obstacle.
Peavy: Looks like we just...blew up their spot. (All laugh and exchange high-fives.)
Les freres De Boef bowl their way through the opening, taking out a pair of guards who have come running at the sound of the explosion. With heads lowered they charge at all comers, clearing the way for their compatriots. Armani Reeves and V'Angelo Bentley each pull on a pair of designer sunglasses, a move so smooth that it fells three more security personnel.
In the meantime, Justice Hayes, Taiwan Jones, and Maxx Williams spread around to the other side of the Trophy's secure compound. Each carries a ridiculously large chainsaw, with which they make short work of a second level of razor wire. Sparks fly, lighting up the night, as the coolest names in the B1G go to work.
Justice Hayes: I hope we aren't held in contempt...of sport.
As Hayes speaks, sunglasses appear on his face as if by magic, and are removed by the same unseen hand. His teammates slap hands.
Chance Carter appears out of the darkness, a small package hidden beneath his track jacket.
Carter: A little gift from Coach Fitzgerald.
He unveils the package. It is a brown paper bag, containing a half-used jar of paste. Carter takes a popsicle stick out from behind his ear. With this crude implement, he smears paste all over the window of the warehouse, after being boosted up onto Jones' shoulders. Using a gloved fist he gives the sticky window a sharp rap. Instead of shattering with a violent noise, as glass is wont to do, cracks spiderweb soundlessly across it, and the team is able to peel the shards of window away without a sound.
Williams: Let's go, boys. Time to...shatter some dreams. (All high-five once more.)
Andy Garcia and Kato Mitchell approach around the corner where the team sits at the open window. Mitchell does a sweet front flip up onto the windowsill, just like the one you totally did into your pool that one time. Garcia hands up his jewel-topped cane, with which Mitchell probes down into the darkness. A red light catches the prism. It is just as the team suspected: a laser matrix covers the floor, moving at random intervals in an impossible-to-predict pattern.
Mitchell: We're toast!
A voice comes out of the darkness.
Voice: The only toast I'll stand for...is the victory toast we make once this trophy is ours. Out of my way!
It is Man Berg. The quarterback of the operation, and the one possessing the most stereotypically partriarchal moniker imaginable, has arrived to finish the job.
Berg: Don't blink. I learned this one from Brad North, at one of the parties we threw at his dad's place in Myrtle Beach.
Berg proceeds to breakdance his way across the laser matrix, an impossibly close shave from start to finish. It is unlike anything his compatriots have seen, except for the ones who brought their sixth-grade girlfriends to see Ocean's Twelve in theaters. He alights on the dais where the Trophy sits.
Berg: (in a sharp hiss) The paste jar! Now!
Carter hurls the now-empty glass jar across the empty space of the warehouse with as much accuracy as he can muster, playing for Northwestern and all. Berg grabs it with one suave movement, checking another box on his movie ripoff list as he swaps it for the Trophy before the sensor can detect anything amiss.
Tires squeal outside the warehouse. An EconoVan whips through the still-smoking hole in the razor fence. It is being driven by Montez Sweat, who has the dulcet tones of Montell Jordan playing at a reasonable volume from the van's stereo. In the passenger seat is Isaac Hayes. Andrew Stone jumps out of the back of the van. He has acquired a denim vest from somewhere. Stone expertly launches a cable through the broken window, which Berg catches with equal surety. Stone reels Berg back across the warehouse, avoiding the sinister laser matrix. The crew piles into the EconoVan and peels out in a smoky, rubbery haze.
The EconoVan joins its brethren, which sit parked and standing guard at the outer perimeter. Together, they rev their engines and drive off into the night, prize in hand. All of the vans look equal, but the one still-conscious security guard can totally tell which one contains the Trophy because it rides slightly lower to the ground from all the extra weight. He definitely didn't get the idea from Mark Wahlberg's The Italian Job remake. Nope. The lone guard pursues on foot, but Blake Countess reaches out the window of the EconoVan and catches the guard (named Stephen, with a -ph-) a good one on the head with a golf club. Stephen-with-a-ph falls down in a wacky fashion, and definitely doesn't actually suffer a traumatic brain injury from the hit.
The heist is a success. The Trophy, once only existing in the province of Big Ten dreams, is in the possession of the not-so-little conference that could. The team rides off into the night.
Garcia: Now THAT'S what I call an out-of-conference win!
(Laughter is heard from all of the vans.)