A Double Whammy

October 16, 2005

Of the many good things in sports that come in twos--foul shots, Williams sisters, new racquetballs--there is nothing as sublime as a doubleheader.

Sadly, the twin bill--unlike animals twinned on Noah's ark--has become a vanishing species. There were only 18 played in major league baseball this season, and seven teams didn't play one all year. We are witnessing, it would appear, the twilight of the twi-night doubleheader.

Football teams, it almost goes without saying, never play doubleheaders. No team has played a twin bill in NCAA or NFL history. It was Ernie Banks, not Carl Banks, who said, "Let's play two."

So when Northwestern College of St. Paul, which plays in Division III, announced last spring that it would play a day-night, home-road, football doubleheader on Oct. 8--hosting Trinity Bible College at noon, then playing five miles away at Macalester College at 7 p.m.--you could hear more than pins drop. "Jaws dropped," says Eagles coach Kirk Talley. "We started getting calls, 'There's a misprint on your schedule.'"

There were manifold questions leading up to this twofer in the Gopher State: Would the Eagles vow to give 55% in the first game (and save 55 for the second)? Would they take it one day at a time or one game at a time? (The two clichés, on this day, would be mutually exclusive.) "Should we bring in pizza after the first game or not eat anything or take the team to Old Country Buffet?" wondered Talley. "There's no one I can call to ask how you do this." (They settled on lunch at Quiznos.)

One more crucial question: Is it even legal to play two games in a day? Northwestern athletic director Matt Hill called the NCAA, where a woman told him after an hourlong consultation of the rule book, "There isn't a rule against it. Yet."

The biggest question at Northwestern was, Why play two? The answer: The Eagles wanted to squeeze a 10th game into their schedule before Oct. 28, when its Upper Midwest Athletic Conference tournament begins. "The kids pay to play here," Hill says, "and we want to give them as many games as possible. We could spend $20,000 and fly to Colorado. Or we could buy the team a meal and drive 10 minutes down the street."

And so on Saturday, outlined against a blue-gray October sky, came Four Score Norsemen of the Apocalypse--the nearly 80-strong Northwestern Eagles. They destroyed an undermanned team from Trinity Bible College, which spent more time taking offense than playing it in a 59-0 loss.

"I think it's offensive," first-year Trinity coach Jim Dotson said of Northwestern's doubleheader ambition, which was scheduled before his arrival as coach. "To me, it's kind of a put-down of both our program and Macalester's." Trinity had traveled six hours from Ellendale, N.D., with only 22 players, five of whom played on both sides of the ball and three of whom never even played high school football.

And yet Hill received Trinity's and Macalester's blessings before scheduling the two games in one day. "We were very concerned with what people might think," says Eagles offensive coordinator Bryan Johnson, voicing a sentiment that is quintessentially Minnesotan.

Between games Talley announced to the players that there wasn't time to wash their uniforms, only to dry them. (Forget TO. The biggest weapon in football is BO.) They did change from home-black to road-white shirts. "But we're Division III," said Talley. "We only have one set of pants."

Two hours after the first game ended, the Eagles boarded buses for the short ride down Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, hometown of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose famous line--"There are no second acts in American lives"--would be disproved in the nightcap (a word surely not in use at Northwestern, an abstemious, nondenominational Christian school).

On a frigid night the Eagles opened an undiplomatic 33-0 halftime lead on Macalester, U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan's alma mater. And though Northwestern went on to win 47-14, Macalester managed in the second half to play even with its exhausted opponent, 14-14. As Dave Campbell of the Associated Press pointed out, "Northwestern just isn't a good eighth-quarter team."

But they may be having more fun than any team in college football. "We play capture the flag and Simon Says in practice," says wide receiver Justin Jeppesen. "And sometimes after practice we get Popsicles."

Indeed, fun was a big reason the Eagles wanted to play two. While everyone else was focused on the word two, they were focused on the word play.

If you have a comment for Steve Rushin, Send it to rushin@siletters.com

Is it even legal to play two football games in a day? The NCAA told the athletic director at Northwestern, "There isn't a rule against it. Yet."

PHOTOSIMON BRUTY

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)