Toxcatl

Though the AQ
Though the AQ”s heart is being ripped out by Penn”s recent results, he still believes in Coach Allen and the young Quakers.

Recently, I came across one of my old undergraduate notebooks. It was from a rather derivative course in Philosophical Anthropology, The Death Ritual in Ancient Civilizations: Meaning and Myth. As I flipped through the tattered, yellowed pages, I perused the notes on the practices of the Aztecs during the Feast of Toxcatl.

For one year, a flawless youth was selected by the Ancient Mexicans to live among the tribe as a God. The young man was perfection personified: the avatar of beauty and health. He was given lavish clothes, eight servants and four virgins to attend to his every wish. However, at the end of the year when the feast began, The Chosen One climbed the stairs of the great temple where priests cut his heart out and offered it, still beating, to the sun.*

*Full disclosure: There was never any course in “Philosophical Anthropology.” I’m not even sure such a discipline even exists. I simply lifted the preceding material from an article on Megan Fox in the February edition of Esquire Magazine. The actress’ sultry eyes, dangerous curves, and tattooed skin served as a necessary distraction to keep my eyes averted from the television as the St. Joe’s Hawks opened a “can o’ whup ass” on the Quakers.

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RG3, Eli, and the Quakers

The Ancient Quaker comforts himself and other Penn fanatics by urging perspective and looking optimistically at the improving youth on this blundering 2-11 squad.
The Ancient Quaker comforts himself and other fanatics by urging perspective and looking optimistically at the improving youth on this blundering 2-11 squad.

I understand this is a basketball article. So what then do these three seemingly disparate entities have to do with each other? Allow me to explain.

RG3, a rookie quarterback, arrives at a formerly woeful organization and, overnight, changes the culture of his team with his confidence and preternatural talent. On the other hand, there is Eli Manning: also a tremendously gifted quarterback, but during his first few years in the Meadowlands, Eli didn’t change very much. With every pass that sailed over a receiver’s head or fluttered toward their feet, the boos rained down from the tough New York crowd. Eli at times looked lost, out of control, overwhelmed, bewildered. Occasionally though, he would have a game that showed that he indeed had great potential: a flash of brilliance amidst the chaos of his first few years. Regardless, the postscript is well known by now: RG3’s career accomplishments, no matter how well he performed this year, remain to be seen, while Eli, the formerly befuddled rookie, has two Super Bowl MVP trophies and is probably on his way to the Hall of Fame.

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Brutilation

Watching the Quakers has not been enjoyable thus far, but The Ancient Quaker is encouraging Penn

fans to be patient with this young squad.

Long ago in a black and white world, in a time before LEDs, LCDs, flat screens and the electronic mugging that is pay-per-view, big time heavyweight boxing was routinely broadcast on network television. In November 1982, Howard Cosell was the announcer for the mercilessly one-sided match between Larry Holmes and his opponent, Randy “Tex” Cobb of Philadelphia. As Cobb’s blood spattered across the screen in front of millions of Americans that night, I thought I heard Cosell utter, “Oh, this is…it’s just…it’s ‘brutilation.’”

Brutilaton. A classic Cosell malapropism which I think means both brutal and mutilation. (Following the bout, Cosell was so horrified by the fight that he retired from broadcasting boxing permanently.)

After watching the Quakers bludgeon their way to yet another loss against an uncharacteristically poor Villanova squad, I thought of Cosell’s manufactured word. It was indeed

brutilation. They brutalized the Wildcats while mutilating the game. It didn’t even look like basketball. (The cheesy smugness of the announcers didn’t help either. “Well Ross, this game has taken almost as long as one in the NFL, two hours and thirty two minutes. I’m gonna miss my train.”) Another painful contest in which my beloved Quakers struggled mightily with field goal percentage, poor defense, turnovers and, of course, fouls. Penn is now in the top five nationally in committing fouls. They almost beg the opposition to don suits of armor before taking the court. (However, Henry “The Hatchet Man” Brooks somehow made it through Saturday evening’s contest without his usual DQ. I suppose during a season like this, one must be thankful for the little things.) Worse still, with Fran Dougherty the sole shining light in this awkward and ungainly season effectively neutralized over the last few games, no one has stepped up to fill the yawning scoring vacuum. The entire team plays but no one scores. There are obviously big problems everywhere and I’m exhausted just thinking about them, so where are we now that Ivy play is less than one month away?

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Checking in on Penn

The Ancient Quaker checks in with Penn, breaking down the growing pains of a young and inexperienced squad, but remaining optimistic about the Quakers” future.

Many years ago, a young man strode confidently onto a verdant campus in West Philadelphia. His eyes sparkled, his body lithe and sinewy, his mind was sharp and able. He had grand thoughts of becoming an engineer; to create wonderful machines to better mankind or perhaps destroy it, whichever job would pay him more. But there were parties to attend, beautiful women to meet and get rejected by, as well as many other diverse forms of collegiate debauchery to engage in. Still, life was good. That is until one semester when he took thermodynamics. Ah yes, thermodynamics, a trial by fire. It really brought the heat.

The Quaker Basketball season began in terrifying fashion. Twenty minutes into a brand new Zach Rosen-less year and down 24 to UMBC (KenPom: 314), the team looked disorganized, confused, lost, and the seemingly stillborn year was spinning hopelessly counterclockwise down the can. Then just as I was about to upchuck on to the shiny Palestra floor, nothing short of a miracle happened. The defense suddenly stiffened, shots started falling, and Captain Miles Cartwright took charge, dropping in 21 points while passing the ball to his teammates with aplomb. The Quakers showed grit, character, moxie and, after finally emerging with a 80-75 win, disaster (not to mention widespread fan alienation) was averted. Never, in all my years of watching Penn Basketball, had I witnessed such a comeback. Amazing.

Then of course came the next five games against Delaware, Fairfield, Drexel, Lehigh and Fordham. Looking at the schedule, I don’t think anyone would consider any of these programs to be particularly sphincter-tightening. In fact, I can’t remember The Quakers having such a relatively easy non-conference line up. Nevertheless, they lost all five games. It was a tough week for Penn Basketball but I still think it’s all good. Here’s why.

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