Really? Coke Bottle at EVERY press conference?

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This week’s brouhaha surrounding Alabama’s coach, Nick Saban, has to do with his decision to start and play Tua Tagovailoa in a meaningless game against The Citadel, a team that has already lost to Wofford, UT Chattanooga, Towson, East Tennessee State, and Furman.  Tua is injured.  He’s the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore.  He will likely be the top draft pick whenever he decides to enter the draft.

There are arguments to be made on both sides.  We’ve seen players of great promise (Robert Griffin III) whose careers have been upended by injuries aggravated by playing  when not fully recovered.  On the other hand, coaches believe the team’s morale is undermined when a star gets to sit out; everyone is playing with injuries, they’d say.  Holding out a star player essentially admits that the upcoming game is hardly worth playing, demeaning the opposing team.

Cut to the chase – The Citadel already knows they are lambs about to be slaughtered; it’s not news to them.  Tua’s teammates know that he is special, special enough to be essential in their bid for a national championship.  What’s worse for morale?  Sitting Tua or carrying him off the field?

What rankles this week, as it does with every Saban press conference, is the condescending arrogance with which Sabin meets questions from reporters who cover his team.  He is the most successful college football coach of this era without doubt.  He is adored by Crimson Tide fans; there is a statue of Saban outside Bryant-Denny Stadium.  The venue was built in the 1920’s and was named in honor of Alabama’s president, George H. Denny, but then the universe righted itself, football took its proper place as the heart of Alabama’s cultural life, and famed coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant’s name was added in 1975.  Bryant racked up 323 wins in his career; Saban has 228 but is tied with Bryant for most national championships.  He makes eight million dollars a year in salary and another three to four million in assorted other football related enterprises.

Life is good for Nick Saban.

He does have to deal with idiotic questions about “his” team, but that gives him the opportunity to grouse from the podium about how little fan support Alabama gets at home games, not-very-patiently-putting up with reporters, the developmentally challenged serfs somehow able to get past the moat at Castle Saban.  And, it gives a place of prominence to the sixteen ounce unopened bottle of Coca Cola placed at this right hand.

I am stunned by his shameless shilling for Coca Cola, placing that full bottle on the lectern, label prominently facing cameras, a silent nod to the income streams that swell the Saban bankroll while hapless reporters wither under his thinly veiled contempt.  He’s arrogant, but many of the most successful coaches are; they live in the football bubble, protected by boosters and fans.  As the dreadful and sad end of Joe Paterno’s career with Penn State proved, even the most despicable acts cannot dissuade the true believers from canonizing coaches.

He’s got a statue too.

At least “Joe Pa” didn’t act as a huckster for Klynveld Peat Marwick Goesdeler (KPMG) the auditing firm based in the Netherlands, Rolex, Workday, Inc., Callaway, Mizzen + Main (performance menswear).  That’s Phil Mickelson, professional golfer and billboard.  Saban’s brand of product placement is more subtle (!) in that he doesn’t wear the logo on his hat, jacket, shirt, and shoes, but … really?

I confess I may have forgiven some excesses on the part of coaches I like. ..

Actually, no, I haven’t, because my teams are coached by coaches rather than corporate robots, coaches who understand that they have a special relationship with the fans (and reporters) who give themselves heart and soul to the sports we love.

Alabama will probably roll again, with or without Tua Tagovailoa, Nick Saban will probably emerge triumphant one more time, and I ‘ll probably sit alone and friendless, wearing a Michigan Rose Bowl shirt (2008 – USC, L 18-32), eating Doritos and drinking Pepsi.

Twenty Four Days Until Kickoff

College Football, Sports history

I receive the occasional urgent message from and about University of Michigan sports, primarily alerting me to the importance of the next football, hockey, basketball, or volleyball game.  I scan them all, which is odd in that I did not attend the University of Michigan, have not sent children to the University of Michigan, and have very few friends or acquaintances who are connected with the University of Michigan.  And yet…. on game days I sit in my living room in Oregon wearing my lucky Wolverine cap and any one of my Michigan t-shirts or jerseys.  I wear a less lucky, sweat stained Michigan cap out in the world, responding to those who recognize and share my fondness for the university with a hearty “Go Blue!”.  Two of my children have grown up with my elaborate game day rituals and have become Michigan fans, slightly less likely to wear Michigan gear and much less likely to stop strangers on the street to talk Michigan football, but loyal to the Blue nonetheless.

I’m not entirely sure how it is that sports keep me sane, and my game day behavior certainly does not look like measured sanity, but for a few moments I’m not keeping track of global warming, the loss of species, political chicanery,  inequality, injustice, and the looting of America.  Thoughtful observers of my quasi-fanaticism will argue that we’re talking more than a few moments, as I do enjoy the four-day ramp up to the next game and allow myself a day or two of celebration or consolation after the last game.  I enjoy those pick up conversations as well, some of which are with fans of other programs.  I don’t have much in common with several acquaintances, but I do know that they are as captivated by sport as I am.  I know who their team faces on Saturday and am more than willing to run through their lineup even if we never get around to my current favorite topic: Michigan’s chances in the opening game against Notre Dame.

I’m not stupid.  I know that Michigan’s chances against Notre Dame aren’t great.  Well,  I know, but how can I?  Who really knows?  Hope springs eternal.  One leg at a time.  And so on.

I experience a second level of puzzling emotional instability even as I name Notre Dame or more frequently, Ohio State.  I do have friends with attachments to those universities.  They are good people; they have not poisoned my pets or stolen my identity.  And yet I loathe their alma maters with unvarnished ferocity.  This does seem marginally unreasonable.  And yet …

I’ve lived in each quadrant of the United States and have found that with one exception, each asks a newcomer to commit.  Duke or Carolina?  Alabama or Auburn?  Florida or Georgia?  I grew up in New England where state universities served their constituents well but had not attached themselves to signature athletic programs at the national level.  As I travelled through the greater world then, I had no ready rejoinder when put on the spot.  I have significant memories of the years I lived and worked in Michigan.  One of my children was born there.  Ann Arbor was within easy driving distance and season ticket holders were generous, inviting me to Michigan’s stadium, The Big House.  I sat with 107,601 rabid wolverines and gave my heart away.

It’s been a bleak summer here in Oregon; the heat is brutal and fires continue to funnel smoke into the Rogue Valley.  The Red Sox are running away with the division title and LeBron is going to the Lakers.  Bleak, I say,  and unlikely to change, but when the “24 Days to Kickoff: alert hits my mailbox, the fog lifts, the clouds part, and for a moment, all is right with the world.

I do have a life outside of Michigan football, one in which I care for my family, consider the great questions and think long thoughts.  I read a fair bit and write as well.  There’s the grounds work to do and dogs to romp.  After all, game day is just one day … except that I’ve just committed to writing for GBMWolverine again, bringing the older fan’s perspective to a young man’s game.  I think that will be ok; an hour or so a day is relatively easy to grab, especially as I have followed the Marie Kondo’s advice and actively begin the art of tidying up, keeping only those things that “spark joy”.  I’ve got another box of books in the car, mostly history books untouched since my college years.  I remember them fondly but not a lot of joy sparking when I took them down from the shelf.

I’m a work in progress.  Keep the flannel shirt?  Time to admit that I really don’t need three sets of golf clubs?  The Barbie Michigan Cheerleader set?

A work in progress.

The Greatest?

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In the interminable weeks between the end of the conference championships and the start of Super Bowl LII sports commentary waxed hyperbolic, having no real reporting to offer, resolutely chewing on the same theme hour after hour.  Tom Brady, The Greatest Quarterback of All Time, would carry the New England Patriots to yet another Super Bowl victory, despite having recently managed to wedge his throwing hand into a crevice in running back Rex Burkhead’s helmet, despite the likely loss of  Brady’s favorite target, a man described as “a self-aware lump of protein powder”, pass catching Golem Rob Gronkowski, despite the glaring weaknesses in the Patriot’s defense, and despite the best efforts of the talented and well-coached Philadelphia Eagles.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is also Greatest of All Time, an honorific now somewhat diminished when squashed into the acronym and meme GOAT.   The Patriots themselves are occasionally termed the Greatest Football Dynasty of All Time, and in empty hours in sports journalism, strident argument rages as the case is made for LeBron James or Michael Jordan as, you know, the Greatest of All Time.

We (sports fans) were charmed by the effrontery, the chutzpah, with which a young Muhammad Ali declared himself The Greatest, but cringe a bit when Wayne Gretsky is still termed, The Great One.  Those who survived the Depression and fought in World War II are the Greatest Generation, and I’m told Alexander, Catherine, and Gatsby were all pretty Great.

Then, in addition, Time, I believe, is something of a mystery, perhaps vulnerable to manifold topology, but maybe not, an obscure way of observing that even the most prescient of us has a fairly limited set of experiences against which to judge the absolute standard of performance in any sport.  The same holds true for actors and entertainers, but we seem less compelled to deify even the most obviously superior.  Is Meryl Streep the Greatest Actress of All Time?  Dunno.  Maybe.  Doesn’t seem to matter as much as the LeBron/Jordan battle.

I’m not sure why this need to wax hyperbolic has set in; perhaps having known what might have been the best of times and now sliding into what feels like the the worst we find comfort in speaking with absolute certainty ?  Maybe the ferocity of competition and the necessity to keep score inherent in sport as we know it demands final judgment.  My guess is that since we experience the great moments of sport from a distance, second-hand, our sport becomes the championing of one athlete or team over another, a game that never ends.

In those long weeks before the NFL championship game, sports outlets routinely drag out whatever football footage they happen to have in the can.  Over a period of two days, I saw clips of Walter Peyton, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Gayle Sayers, Marcus Allen, Tony Dorsett, LaDanian Tomlinson, Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Jerome Bettis, and Earl Campbell. Nobody’s screening O.J.’s scrambling breakaways at USC, but I remember them well.

Want to pick one as the greatest?

Go ahead, but don’t forget the runners whose feats may not have been so meticulously preserved on film.  I’ve seen grainy footage of Red Grange breaking loose for a touchdown, but only have the sportwriters’ words to describe the heroics of Jim Thorpe, Glenn Davis, Doc Blanchard, and Doak Walker.

I keep my collection of Mickey Mantle memorabilia close at hand in case someone drops by and wants to see a copy of his rookie contract or my well-oiled 1959 Rawlings Mickey Mantle baseball glove, and I treasure my memories of him in the field and at bat, but is he the greatest of all time?  A version of this sort of question came up as a friend of mine who had attended Bolles School in Florida as did Chipper Jones asked if Jones, a first ballot Hall of Famer, had a place in my list of the ten best third basemen of all time.

I have two lists, of course, the best to play the position for the New York Yankees and the ostensible best to have played in the major leagues.  In responding, I was aware once again that I take a player such as Adrian Beltre for granted as I took Paul Molitor and Ron Santo for granted.  I knew Wade Boggs was a heck of a third baseman, but thought of him primarily as a hitter as I did George Brett.  The Braves weren’t on television every day back when they played in Milwaukee, so I didn’t see enough of Eddie Matthews.  Writers assure me that Hall of Famers Pie Traynor and Jimmy Collins should be in the mix.  In the end, however, it comes down to my memory of Mike Schmidt’s dominance in his era, particularly in the Phillies’ world series victory in 1980, and my reverence for the fielder known as “the vacuum cleaner”, Brooks Robinson.

All of that said, Chipper more than earned a spot in the top four or five.  Will Kris Bryant, Manny Machado, Kyle Seager, or Josh Donaldson make the cut twenty years from now?  I hope so.

As for the Jordan/LeBron argument, the game is still afoot.  Steak or lobster?  Pie or ice cream?  Valhalla or Olympus?  I have only this to add to the conversation:  Jordan played on his high school’s junior varsity team until his junior year; LeBron averaged more than 20 points a game as a freshman.  I saw LeBron play for St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School.  In my mind, case closed.

Except … I also saw Jordan literally fly.

 

 

The Cleveland Browns are on the clock

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There are three or four corridors of desperation for sports fans, or at least for sports fans who follow sports commentary.  Baseball’s All Star game break is the worst – no baseball, basketball, football, hockey, golf, tennis, sailing, horse racing, or battle of the NFL wives.  The Home Run Derby is ok, but there’s not much to say about it in advance.  The two weeks before the Super Bowl could be better as both basketball and hockey are in play, but sports radio and tv land almost exclusively on Super Bowl prognostication,  and interviews with celebrities who follow sports and athletes not playing on the contending teams get tedious in the extreme.

The first week is almost over, and even though NOTHING is happening in the Hot Stove League, I think I’ll have more than enough going on after the Super Bowl in  the other sports to keep me sated until the NFL Draft.

Remember last year?

Seventy-five THOUSAND football fans stood outdoors in Philadelphia last night to witness the selection of the most highly regarded college football players by NFL teams eager to concuss them.  Worst teams pick first, which sounds absolutely fair until we notice that the same worst teams seem to get the same slots in the lottery.  Well, it’s actually the same team, the Cleveland Browns, feeding off the bottom year in and year out.  Browns fans, and they do exist, were on pins and needles until the first selection was announced as the front office has picked non-functioning quarterbacks with stunning regularity.

Why do I hover over the Brown’s pick?

A.  Because it doesn’t matter – the Browns will be awful.

B.  Because there were no other real issues.

C.  Because in delivering the announcement of the selection, universally despised Commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, faced the full-throated disapprobation of seventy-five thousand haters.  Full-throated hating is what Philadelphia does best, and viewers were not disappointed.  Goodell appeared unimpressed with their efforts, however, perhaps because he pulls down thirty-four MILLION dollars a year.

The draft provided no drama or gripping tension, and yet, we have had three weeks of non-stop prognostication from “experts” who have analyzed every vertical leap, every second shaved in the forty yard dash, every misdemeanor and felony.  The human bobble-head, NFL Draft Guru, ESPN’s Mel Kiper, had grappled with every possible contingency, assuring everyone within the sound of his voice that he absolutely with complete certainty and aggressive assurance knew precisely which players would be chosen by which teams and in which order.

I may be flying in the face of long-held convictions, but my experience has been that weather forecasts, economic forecasts, palm readings, burnt entrails, and recent Presidential polls have all performed with about the same level of success.

So, last year Kiper landed about twenty-two percent of his predictions.  How did Nostradraftsmus do this year?  Let’s just take the first ten to keep computation simple.

Team                         Kiper                                                      Actual

Browns                     Mitch Trubisky QB                               Myles Garrett DE

Bears                         Solomon Thomas  DE                          Mitch Trubisky  QB – moved up

49ers                          Myles Garrett DE                                 Solomon Thomas DE

Jaguars                       Leonard Fournette RB                       Leonard Fournette  RB

Titans                         Jamal Adams S                                     Corey Davis  WR

Jets                              O.J. Howard  TE                                    Jamal Adams S

Chargers                    Deshaun Watson  QB                           Mike Williams  WR

Panthers                    Christian McCaffrey  RB                      Christian McCaffrey  RB

Bengals                       Jonathan Allen DL                                 John Ross WR

Chiefs                          Evan Engram  TE                                   Patrick Mahomes QB – traded

So, twenty percent, which is to say, he correctly guessed that the two running backs would go to the teams needing running backs in the order in which running backs were evaluated.  What he, and the entire gaggle of pundits, forgot is the NFL’s fondness for offense and the passing game in particular.  Lots of talk this year about a weak quarterback class, an insanely strong group of defensive players, and the idiocy of drafting running backs in the first round.  Less talk about the first ten turning out to include two quarterbacks, three wide receivers, and two running backs.

Are there moments of grace beyond the greeting given Commissioner Goodell on EVERY announcement?  Well, despite anchor Trey Wingo’s unfortunate confusion of Sasquatch with Chewbacca, we were spared the nasal wit of long-time host, Chris Berman, whose fondness for punning nicknames was legendary.  He, after all,  came up with Sammy “Say It Ain’t” Sosa, Mike “Pepperoni” Piazza, Miguel “Tejada They Come, Tejada They Fall” and his finest (?), Chuck “New Kids on the” Knoblauch.  There is no doubt we would have been treated to his wry dubbing of the Houston Texan’s pick at quarterback, Deshaun “Elementary My Dear” Watson.

Enough for now.   The Lions are on the clock.

Saint Thomas of Foxboro

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His Holiness will see you now, but, please, only for a few moments.

Yes, of course.Thank you.  Uh, I brought Francis a …

His Holiness Pope Francis, Most Holy Father …

Ok, yeah.  So I brought a Pats sweatshirt, “You Hate Us ‘Cause You Ain’t Us.”  I figure he’s a large?

I’m sorry, your business with His Holiness?

Well, we figured he’s the guy to see about getting Brady his sainthood early, you know, before he checks out.

Before he dies?

Before he retires.  Like in eight or nine years.

I’m not sure …

It should be a snap.  We’ve been reading up on it, and the miracle thing is pretty clear.

I’m sorry.  The miracle thing?

From what my wife found out, Brady moves from Venerable to Saint when we present the miracles and the Pope drops the hammer.

Are you suggesting that this Father Brady be canonized?  If so, the process begins …

Not Father Brady.  Tom Brady.  Tom Terrific, California Cool, GOAT.

You want to propose the canonization of a goat?

G-O-A-T.  Greatest Of All Time.  Brady.

And he performs miracles?

Does he perform miracles?  Is the Pope … never mind.  Sure, miracles.

Water to wine, I suppose, loaves and fishes.

Fishes?  What?  No,  and not just miracles; he’s been martyred.

So, deceased?

Nah, Remember 2016?  The four games?  Deflategate?

I’m sure I should know what that means.

It means Goodell and the whole league had it in for him … and the Pats.

So, alive then?

Certainly.  According to Giselle… heheheh.

I fear you have misunderstood the process by which a Servant of God is beatified then venerated …

OK, let’s start with the 92.9 completion percentage in the 2007 playoff with the Jaguars.

This Brady was more than 90 percent eaten by jaguars?

No way.  24-20 Pats.  And, how about this?  Brady can’t run, you know?  His 40 at the combine was ridiculous, but 2006, against the Bears …

Bears?

Urlacher’s ready to rip him a new one on the 20, and Brady, Brady jukes him.  Jukes Urlacher!

These are miracles?

Ok, maybe not miracles, exactly, but 2001, Drew Bledsoe is the franchise quarterback, Belichick’s second season, Pats 0-2, Mo Lewis out of nowhere, not only hits Bledsoe, he puts him in the hospital his chest filled with blood …

Oh, we have always considered stigmata indicative …

So, Brady goes in, the Pats go from 0-2 to the Super Bowl.  Against the Rams.  Greatest Show on Turf.  Miracle, right?

Uh….

Yeah, but, listen.  even Madden shut up when Brady takes the ball with 1:21 on the clock, starting at their own 17, no time outs, tied at 17, smart money said go to overtime, but no, Brady takes ’em down to the Ram’s 30 in 5 plays, Vinatieri nails it and second-string quarterback carries the Pats on his back to win Super Bowl XXXVI.

You don’t actually speak in Roman numerals?

I gotta.  But wait, there’s more.  Ok, fourth quarter Super Bowl comeback against the Legion of Boom?

You mean a Legion of Doom, apocalyptic visitation, the horsemen?

No, Boom.  Boom.  The Seahawks hadn’t give up more than 7 points in the fourth quarter all season, then Brady drops 14 leaving room for Butler.

I’m not …

No, ok, no question about this one.  Pats down to the Falcons 28-3.  third quarter, Super Bowl trophy definitely not going back to Foxboro …

Seahawks?  Falcons?

Down by 25 points and Brady has to pick up a long third down running the ball, himself,  start of the fourth quarter, and don’t forget, he’s been suspended for four games, his mom is fighting cancer, he’s the guy who barely got the start at Michigan, picked up by the Pats as the 199th pick in the draft, this guy picks up 19 in the fourth quarter and 6 in overtime.  Game over.  Good night, Falcons, enjoy the trip home from Houston.

This Brady is still alive?

Yeah, sure.  He’s got to play the Eagles in a couple of weeks.

We can’t … well, we don’t actually do anything.  Once deceased, the Servant’s life is brought to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and then…

New Orleans?

What?  No, Rome.  Rome.  I’m afraid the Pontiff will not able to hear your petition.

So, what?  We have to wait until he’s gone?

At the very least …

Yeah, the way things are going, that might not happen.

Everyone deals with the inevitable process of aging.

Have you been listening to me?  That’s another miracle.

I’m sorry, but I do have one question.

Ok, shoot.

Can we keep the sweatshirt?