Ken Darby, RB:
Injury: Sports hernia.
Status: If he averages a first down over 100 yards per game for the next two seasons, Ken Darby, excuse me… Kenneth Darby would become the all-time career rushing leader at Alabama, ahead of Shaun Alexander, ahead of Bobby Humphrey, ahead of Johnny frickin’ Musso! Numbers don’t lie.
Tim Castille, FB:
Injury: Reconstructed knee.
Status: Younger brother Simeon will be wearing the famed ‘deuce’ jersey this season, but big brother may still get the extra drumstick around the Castille family Thanksgiving table this year if he’s able play in and out of the backfield as he did last year. His rehab has gone slower than the other 2/3 of said backfield and he’ll return to his starting role a couple of games into the season, but a bigger and more experienced Le'Ron McClain will help fill the need and keep Tim fresh. Also, in the ‘jumbo’ package, Alabama will field in excess of a quarter ton of running back.
Brodie Croyle, QB:
Injury: Torn right anterior cruciate ligament (current); separated left shoulder (2003) torn left anterior cruciate ligament (2001); delusional sense of invulnerability at odds with evidence (current – perhaps chronic).
Status: Indeed, after three seasons at Alabama, the Brodie has thoroughly exhausted the number of limbs to which he can injure. We have abandoned “if” and accepted “when” Our Blessed Saint of Rainbow City will hit the turf not to return. Brodie Croyle, for all his promise, has become a shadow. He is gone before he has left. However, he does not seem to know that, and thinks his destiny is to pull Alabama back to its traditional place among the premiere programs in collegiate athletics. But destiny, like any mistress, appears lovely at a distance (ask UTEP’s coach). I fear how much of himself he is willing to sacrifice, how much blood he is willing to spill. Lee Corso, put down that elephant head and do not speak ill of him.
Joe Kines, Defensive Coordinator:
Injury: Age that doth ravage all man.
Status: Here is where I would like to put in one of Coach Kines’s amusing colloquial metaphors, like “dancing with the broomstick at midnight” or “grabbing a hog by its what-it-wants” or “hitching your trolley to a burning barn,” but 1) I’m not sure which ones are obscene and 2) Grampy Joe got a much deserved pay raise and may switch the team’s defense to a scheme-crazed 3-3-5 this year. Oooh, I’m all a-tingle!
Mike Shula, Head Coach:
Injury: Stage fright.
Status: One hopes he will never be so comfortable as to start telling Ray Perkins stories around the players. However, like the team, Coach Shula seems on an upward trend. Take this quote from the missus, who after giving birth to their second child the weekend of the Tennessee game two years ago, made this comment regarding their expected third, “We planned better this time. This one is due just after signing day.” She sure sounds like a coach’s wife.
Alabama, University of:
Injury: Weight of high expectations.
Status: Scheduling Duke won’t help. Beating Tennessee, LSU, and/or Auburn will.
Alabama, State of:
Injury: Weight of low expectations.
Status: Admit it. Even you don’t wish to hear a Southern accent going into surgery.
Injury: (in ascending order) Corporate sponsorships; corrupt boosterism, Philip Fulmer; the BCS; the NCAA.
Status: One hundred years ago, people in this country viewed athletics as ennobling. Sport was a virtue unto itself, not a proving ground nor a disqualification of it, the triumph of will through the physical body over the limitations of the physical body. Football specifically was singled out as a tactician’s sport, a communal effort of individual sacrifice for a shared goal. That, of course, was before a gang of brutes from the Old South won the Rose Bowl and forever changed the image of the game. After that game, the emphasis increasingly became on the size of the physical not the drive behind it. The men on the field were now unthinking behemoths, not knowing soldiers. How else to explain their victory?
You lose the game but protect your dignity: It’s not that ‘civilized’ men couldn’t compete with those crimson-clad savages; it’s that they shouldn’t. While we’re on the subject of tactics, it should be acknowledged that that’s an old one. Much like when black jazz players parlayed the Baroque and Classical melodies over new rhythms in front of white audiences – musical ability was no longer an earned skill but a talent, a ‘gift’. Read the scouting reports on those teen sensations out of Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida sometime. There are lots of gifts going around still.
And nowhere are those ideas more prevalent than in the National Collegiate Athletics Association. Forget your conspiracy theories and loopy bylaws, the NCAA should be dismantled for one reason above all others: it hates football.
Poppycock, you say! Maybe, but it’s disturbingly plausible. While the NCAA busies itself with cosmetic issues and general prickishness, college football continues to toss young men through a meat grinder of a free NFL farm system. The men are compensated with a free education, yes, but if they chose a demanding program that could increase their preparedness for post-football life (which in most cases begins as post-college life), they are punished. If they seek benefits related to being a football player, they are punished. If they don’t remember to spin three times to right while hopping on one foot and singing the reprise from “Hail Britannia!”, they are punished.
Why limit the scholarships offered by a school when that only tosses more players onto the field more often, more tired, and more vulnerable? Why penalize a program for illicit monies changing hand by reducing the money it can take in and thus making it a target for more of the same? Why place the burden on new hires and new players not connected with any malfeasances when the perps skate and the rats rejoice? As much as I wish it were not so, my fear is the NCAA hates football.
They hate football for being so loved. They hate football for being so important to so many. They hate football for being self-contained. And most of all, they hate football for hording all the cash.
I’ll admit it: Having sports teams named after ethic groups (and especially ethic slurs) is a selfish, shallow and rotten thing. But for the most part, it’s one we can live with. It causes offense but not injury. It’s one of those things that most people know is wrong but seldom discuss, like the fact that Tina Turner’s music was much better when she was with Ike. But ask Tina about priorities. The mean things a man says are never as bad as the mean things the bastard does.
In college football, there are Tigers, Bears, and Nittany Lions. There are Angels, Blue Devils and Demon Deacons. There are Jayhawks, Sooners, and Volunteers. And, yes, there are Irish, Illini, and Seminoles. And while it is wrong, of course, to let those outside a people take that people’s very name for their own use, shouldn’t the NCAA know that the way to settle it is to let those people handle it themselves and not, yet again, have an outsider tell them what’s in their best interests?
In all of college football, perhaps in all of sport, there is only one team named after itself, not its region, not its history, not its shared proximity with another culture. Before being called the Crimson Tide, the University of Alabama’s varsity football squad was called just that. But after a game in which they played through a torrential rain – and kept playing through it – they were born anew. The players came out of the sludge and muck and muddy water a new thing, evolved from an earlier physical form to become their own self-referential myth, already telling their observers that what you see here may be limited in influence, yet is important unto itself. Let’s play ball.