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Big Mick Energy: The case for Mick McCall

Outside zone. Mesh. Speed option. Repeat.

Northwestern v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

The year is 3020, and the apocalypse has finally arrived.

Everything is ruined. The carnage is vast — so vast that even University Hall, the only Northwestern building to survive the 1871 Chicago Fire, has been reduced to nothing but ash.

Ryan Field withstood some of the wreckage, but the stadium is unrecognizable. The four fabled towers surrounding the stadium have fallen, and cockroaches scurry about the burnt, blackened field. Dumpster fires are everywhere, and not even as a metaphor for something else this time.

The press box, astoundingly, remains upright amidst all the chaos. It was fortified and disaster proofed in the late 2080s, when fears of catastrophe reached a fever pitch. We could risk losing football, but not the journalists.

Somehow, someway, one man has managed to survive the calamity. For all we know, he represents the end of humanity as we know it. He broke into the press box’s lifetime supply of Hecky’s Barbecue, and has trained his body to survive on one plate of pulled pork sliders for weeks at a time.

He is an enigma, a wonder of scientific possibility and a beacon of the human spirit. He looks down at the empty field, eyes fixed on where the 25-yard line would’ve been.

Hushed, but confident, he speaks.

“Outside zone.”

In a world without life, without joy, Mick McCall has found his zen. Centuries after the last people who could have run them disappeared, he gets the same rush from calling plays.

There’s no SP+ to evaluate him anymore. No expectations to reach, no games to lose. He doesn’t have to worry about keeping up with the offensive schemes of the times. The shackles are off. He’s himself — the real Mick McCall, raw and unfiltered.


His hypothetical players march down the field, methodically dissecting the imaginary defenders in clock-killing 20 play drive after clock-killing 20 play drive. The roars of approving fans fill his ears.

“Speed option.”

There’s an old adage in sports media, particularly in radio, that when others zig, you zag. That’s why when LeBron James brings home a title to Cleveland, Skip Bayless tells you that the victory actually hurts the King’s legacy. Similarly, when Andrew Luck retires after years of paper-thin offensive lines have rendered his body most similar to that of an abused voodoo doll, Doug Gottlieb blames millennials.

Today, I will be taking this progression to its natural next step. I am leaving the world of reality, where RPOs constitute communism and email addresses are made up of various hashtags, and entering a post-take universe.

Take the leap with me, Inside NU readers. The weather is beautiful over here.

Let me begin by listing the many positives of Mick McCall’s thus far illustrious tenure. The offensive guru has:

  • Kept his job for 12 full years despite masterminding offenses ranging from ghastly at worst (read: 2019) to mediocre at best
  • Helped three quarterbacks get drafted into the NFL
  • Recruited two four-star signal-callers and a five-star transfer at the position
  • Scored 54 points that one time against Michigan State
  • Last, and perhaps most important, remained steadfast in his commitment to the bit (AKA making his play-calling so predictable that it actually might be unpredictable)

Perhaps most importantly, though, Mick McCall is a unifier. As Northwestern fans, he gives us something to feel strongly about every week, offering a communal experience that brings an entire fanbase together in a way that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

He’s also a nice guy. McCall was always pleasant to interview, and, though he didn’t always divulge much strategic insight, as is required from all students of the Pat Fitzgerald Stats Are For Losers School of Media, he didn’t give me snarky answers just for the sake of doing so (and you can guess that many of the questions weren’t exactly the most positive).

He’s even a master marketer. Northwestern’s offense is so putrid at times (like against Nebraska) that even the national college football media chimes in, bringing valuable exposure to a program that doesn’t always make national headlines. All publicity is good publicity, right?

One time, in the midst of yet another underwhelming run of offensive struggles, I asked him how he deals with getting so much criticism and hate online.

Of course, he responded with, “What criticism? Who’s criticizing me?”

I think I replied with the cop-out of “some people on Twitter,” despite the overwhelming temptation to just say “everyone.”

Yeah, that exchange actually happened.

Look, I probably feel the same way as you do about Northwestern football and its problems, or more accurately, problem. I want to see a change as much as the next fan. I love complaining too, and the Twitter jokes never grow old.

But football is supposed to be fun, even if it usually isn’t. So we should try to enjoy this season, even if it ends with a Hat game that is really just a competition for the Big Ten West cellar. The defense, for obvious reasons, is fun to watch, but the offense can be equally as fun, just in a different way.

If anger from the fans actually affected Pat Fitzgerald’s staff decisions, McCall would’ve been gone years ago. Our complaining won’t solve this problem — I’m not sure anything will, to be honest (although, if you are an alum with a several million dollars or more to donate, it might not hurt to make a few calls).

If that change ever does happen, though, the first time I see someone else calling Northwestern’s plays I’ll smile to myself and think about all of those inexplicable, excruciating seasons.

All the sighs and shouts that follow third down sacks, all the puzzling play-calls in big spots and the halves in which getting a first down seemed more difficult than finding high-quality late night food in Evanston.

Let’s appreciate the good, the bad and the ugly. And whatever Northwestern’s offense has been for the past decade-plus, too.

I’m sure things will get better against Ohio State this week. Mick McCall forever.