Friday, December 05, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 12/05/03

According to Burroughs and his scion, the worst part of being a junkie is the not being a junkie, the withdrawal pains that surely follow the tipping point where highs level into fixes and rides devolve into jags. Tomorrow begins the days defined by lack, the days when the team is not playing.

As I settle up accounts (in the polite parlance of capping, the word “debt” is rarely found) with Bird Dawg and the man he refers to as his driver (though, curiously, he always rides shotgun), I can feel fervor seeping away like the prior night’s rain on a cluttered rooftop, pooling dangerously near ad hoc dams of broken shingle and fallen limbs only to succumb to the constant drip toward the gutter.

In this manner, bemusement will fill whatever empty container keeps us poor Southern boys watching football until the spring thaw. We will watch the millionaires play on Sundays and the boys who will be millionaires play on Saturdays and appreciate the effort, but will not feel. Now our devotion turns to waiting, waiting, waiting…

Roll Tide.

Friday, November 28, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/28/03

Man’s troubling proclivity toward destination-bias, how our religions concern themselves with the afterlife rather than life itself, how even our most horrid anniversaries of closure are celebrated be they divorces or paroles, births added density into the effluvia surrounding tomorrow’s game on the Big Island.

For one class of seniors, this marks the end to a tenure that could not have embraced chaos more thoroughly if choppers evacuated them off the athletic compound’s roof after their last home game. For our new coach, Hawaii’s no-longer-Rainbow Warriors open one more laboratory in which to test his theories, one more hope for victory – that empty word that means everything before its achievement and nothing afterwards.

In the days gone by, Hawaii was the drop off point for the wretched. Lepers were beached under the palms’ shades and licensed to the care of the church, whose spiritual calculus must have conceived of a fractional denominator of so-much paradise canceling out so-much inferno, a formula that’s still blank beyond the equal sign.

The Alabama Crimson Tide football team landed in Hawaii well before the game and will stay well after, but whether these visitors come to conquer or merely wait for their wounds to kill them is undetermined. How much can you ask of men who travel half way around the world at the end of a damnable road to play in bandages, braces and casts?

If you’re at the helm of a program that lazy sportswriters affix the phrase “once proud” before in every breath, you ask for one more hour – 60 minutes, quartered and measured on 100 yards of grass where you kneel beside other men to pray, bleed, and pray again.

Roll Tide.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Friday, November 14, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/14/03

Somewhere in the desert, by the buzzing glow of too many neon lights, faceless men sit in each other’s company. Some scribble on notepads no bigger than a child’s dream. Others type nonstop on platinum-covered laptops. All of them say the same thing. The old men say LSU is one touchdown better than Alabama.

These men do not suffer doubters; they profit from them. The greatest football mind of any generation was not some iron-jawed stoic prowling a sideline, but rather one of these tattered mediums crunching numbers in his head, sitting patiently in a hotel room, waiting for his pager to start cooking. The old men have earned their reputation as much as they earn the money they part from the fools who think that for this day, this one game, the old men have it wrong.

That siren the underdog has pulled even the most logical minds crashing into the rocks. Those who succumb to it call hear its song with their hearts, not their brains. But then it is only natural. Men have an established history of letting the wrong body part handle the thinking when important decisions need to be made.

I’m reminding myself of these terrors and others waiting for the Bird Dawg to answer his pager. I know the right thing to do. Linemen with broken legs, tight ends with broken hands, quarterbacks with broken shoulders – all these things should make for a simple prediction. How can any team that has suffered so much hope to compete with the #3 team in the nation – much less beat them!

Then, just as the phone rings, I hear a small voice somewhere deep in my chest say, “But wouldn’t you like to see it if they do?”

Bird Dawg takes my bet and I take my scolding.

Roll Tide.

Friday, November 07, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/07/03

Welcome to the short season: four games in as many weeks to end a winner. The only problem is winning four games in his inaugural season is something no Shula offspring has proven he can do (yet?). But as a native of the state that perennially ranked 49th in education and 2nd in poverty, allow me to reiterate that mantra of childhood pride: Thank God for Mississippi.

Things may be turning around among the cotton fields though. MSU is already seeking a replacement for SEC football’s most loveable crook, and word had leaked that the Bulldogs are interested in the runner-up from the last big coaching search, Sly Croom.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should state I was rooting for Croom to come home to Tuscaloosa – Don Shula’s Steakhouse be damned! Croom played for Bear, yes. But more importantly, he played for a National Championship for Bear. Needless to say, Croom also played on a few SEC Championship teams. Our current coach can lay claim to neither.

Skeptics will say this is unimportant. But there’s a big difference between a coach becoming a winner and arriving as one – especially when fulfilling the promise of a four-game sweep.

Winning is weightless, yet losing possesses a terminal gravity that absorbs anything it touches. Once fallen into its depth, players’ best efforts and coaches’ best plans are crippled like so much light pressed inside a black hole.

An alumnus of Rutgers – the school that once ‘boasted’ the nation’s longest losing streak – told me last week, “I saw the Tennessee-Alabama game. Those close losses leave a bad taste in your mouth. Trust me, you’d rather lose by 40 points than like that.”

Lord! That we never develop such a palate.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 31, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/31/03

It’s Halloween, time for a ghost story.

The spirit we search for today is that of victory. But, truthfully, that search won’t begin until next week. This season, the Crimson Tide has had many sightings of her – like those campers in Oregon who return with nothing but plaster casts of muddy footsteps and loony stories of ancient beasts. But aside from a trio of times, she has proven elusive. And even though the uniforms will stay in the lockers this weekend, it doesn’t mean games aren’t being played.

Shula and his men are scattered across the state during this off week, talking to mamas and daddies, assuring them their boys’ futures will be best served by our losing coach and at our tarnished school. As the old saying goes, “Mothers, hide your children.”

It’s not hopeless, though. Shula has shown himself to philosophically consistent even if the team has not done so physically. After last week’s marathon disguised as a football game against Tennessee, he even declared his intention for the team to “win out.” (It’s too bad these types of surprising statements aren’t translating into the play calling.) Unlike football, recruiting is a game without a fourth quarter. It’s entirely possible Shula’s eye can spot tomorrow’s victories in some high schooler today.

Also, ghosts are important. In the Far East, departed family members are treated no differently than the living – except they aren’t asked to help pack the kids for college. Rather, they may be asked to accompany the kids on the trip. And “ghost” is rude, I should point out. Only when those of the past are forgotten do they sour and occupy our guilt as ghosts. When properly remembered and held in a place of honor, they are not ghosts. They are tradition.

As he drives down Alabama’s dirt roads in his company car, washes down yet another deep fried dinner with gas station coffee and reminds himself the name of the next young man’s mama, Coach Shula would do well to remember that this is one game he’s already won.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 24, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/24/03

He who imagines that what he hates is destroyed will rejoice.
– Spinoza
Ethics, Proposition 20 on the origin and nature of the affects

I hate Tennessee. I hate those giant checkerboards their players parade into in Knoxville. I hate those Day-Glo, road cone hued, prison convict styled jumpsuits their fans wear. I hate that droopy-eyed flea magnet they call a mascot. And I hate that damn song.

Perhaps the only saving grace of modern college football is that when people speak of ‘tradition’ and ‘rivalries’ you can trust they aren’t selling you anything. With the Volunteers and the Tide both tap-dancing on the event horizon of a losing season, one relies more than ever on the empty air of tradition to breathe life into an otherwise meaningless game. But records won’t keep the winner from lighting a cigar.

Shula was brought into Tuscaloosa to change Alabama’s program (actually, Mike Price was brought in for that, but the judge sez we no longer should concern ourselves with him). With an ever-extending losing streak (not counting court cases, of course), the team needs change right from the start. Word has leaked out that Ray Hudson may be replaced on kick-off return duty. This is a good move. Only a madman repeats the same action week after week expecting different results.

Then again, our saddlebag of clichés tells us that the earmark of genius is found in looking at the same thing as everyone else but seeing something different. Bird Dawg has abandoned his namesake’s instincts and thrown us a bone: Alabama is a four-point underdog.

Head or heart, friends? Logic cruelly dictates that as the season extends, our players will expire; there’s only so much tradition can ask of its sentinels. But to close on another philosopher’s musing on the nature of human affectation: Be true to your school.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 17, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/17/03

The 100th World Series begins tomorrow night, but not in Boston or Chicago. It’s a tempting week to believe in curses. But therein lies the trap: By extrapolation, if one buys into curses, one must also lay odds on blessing – ignoring the slightly less romantic world of actions and consequences. Also, my prejudice is to side with dynasty over doggerel, even if one’s preferred dynasty is a 3-½ point underdog in Faulkner’s hometown tomorrow.

Last week’s gameplan for Southern Miss – Avalos throwing the ball only seven times and only six times to men on the proper team – can be placed alongside this week’s news that China successfully launched a manned orbiter around the planet. Congratulations, boys, you’ve made it to the 1960s.

On the other sideline, this year’s much rumored Ole Miss running game is akin to Chinese democracy: a nice idea, but with little supportive evidence. Therefore, Eli “I am my own” Manning will be looking for the launching pad all day. If Alabama stands a chance to make up the predicted deficit against the Rebels tomorrow, they must enter the arms race. In this case, that term can be taken literally.

It’s 10 o’clock; do you know who your quarterback is? From the Alabama camp, the answer is “not tellin’.” However, I will be shocked if Our Blessed Saint of Rainbow City does not see some action tomorrow. And when I see Brodie Croyle do what he was born to do, wearing that number – Trammel’s and Namath’s and Stabler’s number – on his back, I’m tempted to believe in blessings all over again.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 10, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/10/03

The specter of behavioral economics haunted the University of Alabama’s coaching staff this past week. But thankfully Shula appears to maintain his rational maximizer credentials, confident that throwing the Brodie to the Dogs, literally, was the right decision.

And it was. Don’t let those fools suffering from hindsight bias tell you otherwise – even if they do write for The Tuscaloosa News. From acquiring food poisoning at a four-star bistro to making friends with a world-class point guard, bad results spring from good decisions all the time. Not all of them depend on the fullback laying down a block.

While we’re on the subject of ghosts, let’s address one that may be returning to Tuscaloosa tomorrow. It’s fitting that on homecoming weekend, Franchione’s presence may be felt once more. Yes, friends, with the team knocked down its third-string quarterback, the option might be slogged out again. Fitting yet ironic, too, the only reason Shula’s considering that QB meat grinder disguised as an offense is because his top choice signal callers have been reduced to ground chuck.

I stay upbeat by listening to soca or zouk music as much as possible: Lord Invader, Mighty Sparrow, even some newer stuff. As Bird Dawg calculates the line on tomorrow’s game, I argue that we should all have calypso names; it would add to general morale in these troubled times. He seems unimpressed and counters that official titles would loose their authority if scrolled out as “Officer King Melody” or the like.

Perhaps he has a point. It’s best to ignore the Dawg’s apocryphal connection to law enforcement.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 03, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/03/03

Researchers at Vanderbilt, a school that recently cast its athletic department into the lake of fire, state that those willing to call themselves ‘Southerners’ have declined in number by seven percent. Immune from this seven percent solution are, respectively, the filthy rich and religious conservatives: It’s either Sutpen or Snopes from now on, I guess.

This isn’t shocking news. People can tolerate losing, but not being losers. And the history of the South boils down to each generation hitching their wagon anew behind the same losing horse – with few exceptions. And that brings us back to my beloved Crimson Tide.

When as many things go wrong as seen in last week’s game versus Arkansas, it is impossible to point fingers. After all, a man only has two hands. With each week, Alabama loses more ground in the war of attrition. The defensive line, the receiving corps, the backfield, the offensive front – and, Lord help us all, even the Brodie – are suffering.

Sunday saw the birth of the Don’s new granddaughter, and that girl’s father now returns to the scene of perhaps his greatest triumph as a player – engineering the kind of comeback good enough to immortalize on a garish oil print. Is it too much to hope the paint hasn’t completely dried?

Back to these repressed Southerners for a minute. It is important that Alabama win. Note that verb is intransitive. Not “that Alabama win the game” or even “that Alabama win next year’s title,” but simply win. Despite appearances, the South’s rabid taste for football is not because these programs are perennial winners. Most SEC teams end their season in disappointment. Hardly anyone is alive today who remembers why football is so goddamned important.

Football is a proof. It is a game born of the utilitarian age, a game of industry, a game first practiced on these shores by the Ivy Leaguers. It demands ultimate cooperation and infinite strategy. It is chess with blood. And the Southerner, that rube unable to speak the Queen’s English, unable to live peacefully with his neighbor, unable to progress into modernity, perfected it.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 26, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/26/03

The first step to get out of a hole is to stop digging. Bird Dawg and his associates would not suffer this advice with a welcome heart. A cad leaves the game when winning – only a corpse tries that trick when losing. Be that as it may, another game is upon us, friends.

After last week’s humbling by a MAC school, Alabama must make a statement. In the grammar of that sentence, the subject will doubtlessly be Shaud Williams. Whether this proclamation, like a preacher, predicts victory or, like the man himself, simply dies trying, is anyone’s guess. Last week, the line was stacked and one run accounted for half his yards in the game.

The University of Alabama Walking Wounded welcome another SEC team to Tuscaloosa tomorrow, and few on either side expect something less than a fight. Those Hogs are bigger than the Huskies and they know how to watch tape. The secret is out if it was ever kept: Our Blessed Saint of Rainbow City can be pulled to earth – pulled, dug under, rattled, and planted. Even an arm touched by God cannot throw when its owner is on his back.

Early blacksmiths had to learn through trial and error which metals could be counted on, which ones could be tested by fire and molded under the hard weight of the sledge. Hence, some ores were refined to become jewelry, other swords. After four games and an even split, the Brodie will reveal if he is merely silver or if he can be steel.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 19, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/19/03

Don’t believe a word of what follows. In fact, don’t even believe that. This past Wednesday, in the eyes of those dirty, free loving yippies, yours truly became untrustworthy. But the peaceniks eventually nestled into Hummers and now they parade numbly down the highway, each locked inside an armor-plated womb. There’s little you can count on these days – on to football.

It’s apropos that Saturday’s game will be televised on pay-per-view, as the ending has as much uncertainty as the medium’s breadwinner: pro wrestling. But then again, Maryland’s dreams of taking home the belt were headlocked then bodyslammed by the Huskies in a shocking curtain jerker to open their season. Northern Illinois does not have a single player with enough talent to play for a Miami or an Oklahoma, but they have many players with something far more dangerous. They all believe.

This magic act is the footprint of good coaching. And a well-coached team should never be looked past. Ask Texas. Or better yet, ask Arkansas, who awaits the Tide for round two in this year’s SEC slugfest. Ask them, but not before Sunday comes.

Until then, wait for the explosion. Hope that the Brodie can earn himself the second half off. Pray for the healing powers of sideline fanaticism. Send some money the Snake’s way, or at least block for him and watch as he channels some of his playing days’ scramble when the taxman comes.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 12, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/12/03

There’s a limit to the tragedy one can endure without distraction. And sometimes it is hard to praise the mutilated world. That is why God (in her wisdom or by oversight) created Henri Matisse, Quaaludes, the Langley Schools Music Project, Jenna Jameson, and, blessedly, college football.

Contrary to the view from the press box, Riverboat Bob’s fake-punt gamble late in the game wasn’t a knockout blow in last week’s Oklahoma-Alabama showdown. Rather, the Tide suffered a death by a thousand cuts: a bobbled snap, a dropped pass, an [allegedly] out-of-bounds foot, a zone played perhaps a yard too soft perhaps once too often. Those are the mistakes a team can permissibly make against the 24 other top-ranked teams in the nation. But not #1.

More than proving Stoops a coaching Wittgenstein, Saturday reinforced that Bird Dawg and his allies in Vegas are not to be doubted. This week, friends, we are in the hole.

Tomorrow’s game should allow for less Maalox and more Maker’s Mark. Alabama is still at home [are the buses in the shop?] and enjoys a padded spread. However, the thought of Derrick Pope and DeMeco Ryans knifing through the line and getting a piece of Kentucky’s quarter[pounder]back Jared Lorenzen – listed at 260, which in the odd metric conversion of collegiate media guides places him closer to 300 – reminds me of a half-wolf breed I once cared for when living in-country: The beast loved chasing cars as they drove by the house, and all was right with the universe until the day she ultimately caught one.

Still, when the best team in the nation beats you only through your own mistakes and exactly by the spread, you can be disappointed, but you cannot complain – especially when your first conference game awaits the following week. Look forward, gentlemen. As the poet said, the light strays, vanishes, yet returns.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 05, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/5/03

On the phone Bird Dawg reminds me that, when paying a bet, men who run numbers are the most polite in the world. He exemplifies the high etiquette of all people who want your money in their pockets. It’s the reason street musicians smile and loan officers do not.

Politeness can sometimes bleed into flattery. So the Dawg omits mention of my doubts for the Brodie to focus instead on Alabama busting the spread.

How did I know Shaud Williams would have an ESPN GameDay kind of day, he asks. How did I foresee his two touchdowns, his 177 total yards? How did I envision that Williams, like blasting caps miners stow away for fun – small but noticeably explosive, would force USF’s linebackers to pull back, to hesitate, and most dangerous of all – if they ever had hope of stopping our blessed Saint of Rainbow City from tossing 200-plus yards through the air – to think!

(More importantly, he asks, don’t I want to let it ride?)

The football player, more than most athletes, cannot afford the luxury of thinking. The stakes are too high and the game too violent for that indulgence once players take the field. Shaud Williams was not thinking when he ran that punt into the end zone; he simply was. To return a kick means just that: return the kick.

That is why the Sooners are dangerous. It is why they are ranked #1. It is why they are a touchdown favorite on Bama’s home field – easily the friendliest place in the world where visitors expect to be smacked in the mouth. Some of these young men have not thought in four years.

How can you lay a spread, I ask Bird Dawg, for a team openly named after cheaters? He gets the joke right away; like most good bookies, he’s a historian. But sometimes, hopefully tomorrow, rather than learning from the past, odds makers merely live in it, like a widow whose heart holds an excess of love for which the present leaves no outlet.

Roll Tide.

Monday, September 01, 2003

University of Alabama Football Report for 8/29/03

Well, we're 24 hours away from the first step. Last year, in a back-up role, in an option offense, the Brodie threw for over 1000 yards.

Now he's the starter in a pro-style, throw-to-set-up-the-run (as best we can tell, since no one outside a crimson jersey has seen them in action) scheme. Some Rasputins are saying the Brodie breaks UA's career QB yardage record of 5000+ by the end of his junior year. And embarrasses it if he sticks around his senior year.

Furthermore, he's the son of Bear's All-American John Croyle, so he's a kool-aid drinker when it comes to the school and its tradition and its pomp. He very well may stay all 4 years.

Exhibit A: a quote from the Brodie on the subject of the offense's play calling, "Sometimes it's like you are reciting a poem out there."

Lord, can a heart this pure survive college football in the 21st century? I hope he can handle the pressure, much less live up to the hype. My over/under with the Bird Dawg is .500 -- 2 TDs to 2 INTs is my guess. We'll see how the Brodie fares under the scrutiny of wagering.

Incidentally, Bird Dawg is setting the line at 17 Bama but says the smart bet is USF and points. He is not a man of faith, a necessary sin in the bookie's trade.

Roll Tide.