Peak eerie will arrive as the Big Ten joins pandemic football this week after its notable deliberations and as Illinois visits the novel coronavirus hot-state of Wisconsin on Friday night before six more conference games Saturday and as the third quarter ends in Madison, presuming it does. That’s when the stadium speakers will keep their tradition and play “Jump Around,” whereupon the empty seats will not jump around.
“Jump Around,” House of Pain’s enduring contribution from 1992 to the global bloodstream of ever since, plays in many other stadiums, too. It shouldn’t. It always feels plagiarized anywhere other than Camp Randall Stadium in the great Madison. When Wisconsin plays it and the heaving crowd of Badgers jumps to it, it provides the single greatest spectacle in a sport chockablock with them.
On Friday night, Wisconsin will play it nobly, dutifully and emptily; while the SEC and ACC opted for scattered fractions of spectators, the Big Ten decreed its games fan-less. Friday night at Camp Randall won’t be the most wrenching part of 2020 or even the one-millionth-most, but it will be some snapshot.
It will be a glaring oddity tucked amid the new-normal oddities, such as when the giant stadium screens at Alabama show the band marching, coaxing the eyes to glimpse down onto the field, where there’s no band. (It’s a clip from the underappreciated past.) If this kind of thing leaves us in need of fresh football wrinkles, well, here: Arkansas looks like the early story of the year, Florida State looks giddy after beating North Carolina at home, and Kentucky fans look exuberant over the UFO (unidentified football object) they just saw.
Arkansas? Yep. The sudden improvement of the Razorbacks (2-2 and very close to 3-1) helps a sport that gets better when Arkansas gets better, not least because it grants more sights of a logo of a red feral pig. There’s even one slapped gloriously upon the microphone from which the coach speaks after games, and the identity of that coach might end up doubling as an old lesson.
The head coach Arkansas hired after spending two long seasons at a sullen 0-16 in the SEC might end up teaching us something salient about coaching hires. Surely 58-year-old wanderer Sam Pittman did not qualify as some splashy hire, but he did qualify as a hell of a coach. Here we go through his CV, and hang on to your suitcase: Princeton (Mo.) High, Trenton (Mo.) High, Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, Northern Illinois, Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Western Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, Northern Illinois again, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Georgia (where he was associate head coach, maestro recruiter and offensive line coach).
When he made his opening statement after the 33-21 win over Mississippi on Saturday, which followed upon the near-upset at Auburn with a controversial finish, Pittman spoke a couple of paragraphs before learning something funky happened with the sound. “Am I on or off?” he said gently at one point. He got asked to restart. He dutifully