Saturday, December 23, 2006

The University of Alabama Football Report Christmas Extravaganza

As the University of Alabama’s coaching search marks its one month anniversary (and they said it would never last), let us not forget the reason for the season. Stoke the fires, open your doors, and welcome visitors into your home.

The Ghost of Christmas Past:

We may no longer speak ill of Bill Curry. Let history be rewritten, as he was fired for some other reason than his inability to beat Auburn. How could that be true now? The man only lost to them three times in a row, a feat Mike Shula might see as amateurish.

The Ghost of Christmas Present:

We may no longer speak ill of Mike Dubose or Mike Price. Whatever dalliances either prior Mike may have had with boosters in Tennessee or bustiers in Florida, neither were fired for representing the University of Alabama in an unflattering manner. In firing our most recent Mike, Alabama has spoken the unspeakable: College football is about winning, and everything else is make believe.

Mike Shula may have been the most decent man to have ever been Alabama’s head football coach. But, to paraphrase Alan Barra, those men we admire are not the same as those men necessary to shape the men we admire and do not possess the same qualities.

The Ghost of Christmas Future:
We may no longer speak ill of Dennis Franchione. Rich Rodriguez will not be the next head coach of the Crimson Tide and Nick Saban most likely won’t be either. But whoever this man is, he will most likely follow the same pattern: When asked if he will be the next head coach of the Crimson Tide, he will deny it.

Eventually, someone will be lying. And that someone will be our coach.

Offer nothing but good cheer to Rodriguez. If anything he’s the anti-Fran, one who lied about leaving and then stayed – although asking his seniors to “hold the rope” was a bit over the top.

Earlier this year, Coach Rod asked West Virginia to commit to winning as much as he had, to upgrade the facilities across the board, to increase the salaries of his staff. Instead, West Virginia offered him an increase in his own salary and nothing more… until a plane from Tuscaloosa landed in Morgantown.

Coach Fran, for all his smarmy, self-serving, cowardly, sniveling charm, was most pilloried for not addressing his players about his decision to leave.

Mike Shula was not offered the chance.

Other ghosts come calling around Christmas, ones dragging chains for their sins and warnings for the sinners. Whatever rattling can be heard in Bryant Hall this season should be paid attention.

The old wives say more suicides occur on Christmas day more than any other time of year. Apparently, the lonely can stand only so much of others’ bliss. Is that true? Does it matter? If we’ve learned anything this year, what we once knew as true can’t be trusted.

God bless us every one.

Roll Tide.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for Thanksgiving 06

“I never met a man I didn’t like.”
-- Will Rogers

“Will Rogers never met Steve Spurrier.”
-- anonymous Alabama fan, circa early 90s

Along Germany’s western border, about fifteen kilometers from a business complex housing a textbook distribution warehouse, a dental supply company, and an electronics store’s overstocked inventory, tourists can find a modest six-bedroom home that welcomes visitors all hours, day or night. Especially night.

Inside, anywhere from six to fifteen of the most beautiful women you’ll ever meet will ask you your name. And if you ask any of them their names, they will, in the only breach of etiquette allowed by the proprietor, answer your question with a question:

What do you want it to be?

Once you’ve decided who you’re talking to, you can choose her wardrobe, her hairstyle, in some cases her accent, and ultimately, her bedroom. There are no wrong answers. There are no bad choices. There are only options and prices, the limits of your imagination and your bank statement.

Earlier this week, University of Alabama head football coach Mike Shula stated during his weekly press conference that he awoke to just “another normal Sunday”, this coming after losing another lead and the game to Auburn, the fifth in a row (fourth that Shula himself can claim), another end of the season losing streak, another fourth quarter collapse, another game marked by indecision and ineffectiveness near the end zone.

Sadly, he is correct. Such is the normal state of Alabama football.

The past four coaches of the Crimson Tide have been, in order, an adulterer, a liar, a drunkard, and Mike Shula. Perhaps by that comparison and per those standards, the man who currently sits in Bear Bryant’s office should continue to do so. By nearly any other measurable standard, those involving winning football games, he should not.

Mike Shula accepted the Alabama job at a time when nearly no one else would (The other leading candidate landed in Starkville, if that shows you how desperate he was for a coaching job). He came in promising to take care of some “unfinished business”, an allusion to the SEC and National Championships he never won as a player. That practice of inflating negatives to compensate for their existence should have given fans fair warning.

It was a good story though. The former varsity quarterback with the million-dollar name has returned home to lead his alma mater out of the wilderness. It was the type of story Alabama fans would eat up with a spoon. It fit so neatly into the anthology, along with the Rose Bowls that proved our worth, the broken leg that proved our toughness, the surprising offense that proved our cunning, the rings that proved our dominance.

But for all the pageantry and illusion, for all the fun and exhilaration, when morning comes you strip away the fancy clothes and the make-up, and you remember your real name.

College football is no place for honorable men. Any profession where Tommy Tubberville thrives is nothing you want your son involved with. So while Mike Shula deserves our respect for accepting a tough job at a tough time, there’s a reason nice guys finish 6-6.

The devil has a name, and he has a price. Someone in Tuscaloosa should visit him in Columbia and ask him what it is.

Roll Tide.

Friday, November 17, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/17/06

OK. Serious this time.




(Hell, Georgia did it.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey Football Report for 11/09/06

[Editor's note: The horrors besetting the University of Alabama during/due to Mike Shula's coaching tenure and their subsequent coke-fueled reflections will continue next week. For now, we seek joy and have found it.]

Many ills plague college football in the 21st century. As one member of the recently jobless might say, college football is "little understood" to the majority of people. The BCS offers a pot of gold without the rainbow. The NCAA loves the sin but hates the sinner. The networks offer free viewing of the sport (for a price). Yes, there is much wrong with the state of college football, but Rutgers beating third-ranked Louisville isn't one of them.

Rutgers, which is in New Jersey, played a smart, physical, disciplined game -- in other words, football -- to beat network TV's and armchair coaching search committee members' (ahem) favorite flavor of the month -- the Urban du jour, if you will -- Bobby Petrino and his high-octane pass attack.

Rutgers, whose mascot is a Scarlet Knight, deserved to win the game even if it took a second-chance chip shot field goal to make it happen. Sometimes college football is all about second chances. Ask UTEP.

Rutgers, who played in the very first college football game to beat Princeton 6-4, is a program on the rise. And if there's any sensible topography to the football landscape (there is not), Rutgers will land in the top ten next week.

Rutgers, which is not a joke and plays real football and should be respected, deserves every bit of love they get for this win, no matter how much it screws up ESPN's lovely narrative of Ohio State and Michigan slapping each other with their respective dead fishes of destiny.

If you watched the game, you saw the pre-packaged comedy bits of bewildered New Yorkers asking, "what's a Rutgers?" Ask Louisville, or any of the other eight teams Rutgers has played this season and beaten. Ask any of the one-loss teams in the top ten, eyes on one of the lead-in BCS bowls, whose defense they'd rather line up against: Rutgers or Notre Dame? Ask Ray Rice where he plans on being the weekend the Heisman trophey winner's announced?

Who's laughing now?

R U... Rah Rah.

Friday, November 03, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 11/3/06

America, fickle gal that she is, loves her failures. She loves them so much that she’ll rename them martyrs if she has to. Such is the case with the newly released Hart Crane volume in the Library of America series.

You’re familiar with the Library of America even if you’re not, the glossy black tomes of rat-flattening thickness with swooping brushwork titles underscored by a subtle patriot’s ribbon and corner illustration – an author’s photo usually, though sometimes a portrait.

So despite the warning, these books are desperately judged by their covers. These are serious books, compadre. Of serious matters by serious people, people who wore high collars, people like William Dean Howells, John Muir, Sarah Orne Jewett, even T.R..! These are the bricks in the gaddammed wall of civilization! And now that everyone’s favorite club kid is among them, there’s hope for us all.

Reading Crane’s letters next to his poems can be draining. He lays out the intention of his aesthetic so plainly, so eagerly to be attained, that the elusiveness of his lyrics jolts you with each new reading. His intellect was a hot rod idling at the end of the track, the driver’s hand slipping from the wheel.

The poems have always been of two worlds: the connotations modern, the diction antique. Had Crane lived, one wonders if he would have resolved the tension on his own or been stormed by the villagers, pitchforks and torches, Strunk & White.

Different tensions await the Crimson Tide this Saturday. Year three of Sly Croom’s tenure at Mississippi State has been another rocky one, perhaps best illustrated by close losses being re-defined as “improvement”. Comparatively, improving as the season goes hasn’t been Alabama’s M.O. in recent years, and some observers think that despite nagging injuries across the roster, the Bulldogs may bring in enough improvement to overcome the 15-point line dropped on them by Vegas.

What do I think? I think jumping headfirst into defeat makes for fine poetry but lousy football. I think teams that are accustomed to losing find ways to lose. And I think the song says they got a name for the winners in the world.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 27, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/27/06

“To mortify and even to injure an opponent, reproach him with the very defect or vice you feel in yourself”

-- Ivan Turgenev

As Homecoming weekend approaches, perhaps we should address this matter of fathers and sons.

1957 was a banner year for the Crimson Tide, for it was the last year of the horrid tenure of head coach J.B. “Ears” Whitworth, whose marquee coaching move was not playing future hall-of-famer Bart Starr. Also on the roster was fullback Cecil Hurt, progenitor of this site’s favored author of homer sports journalism.

Perhaps due in some part to that family history, Cecil Hurt (the younger) knows the damage poor coaching can have on young talent and takes to decrying it vividly and fully. He also knows the value of good timing. At the exact moment half the Alabama fanbase was wavering between frustrated hope in a close loss and relieved fear from avoiding the predicted 14-point blowout, Cecil drops the hammer on lowered expectations.

It’s too bad our head coach “didn’t read” the article, which may have been received by many readers but was prepared for an audience of one.

When it comes to fathers, Mike Shula’s got the golden ticket. His dad owns a steak joint and a golf course, not that he’d troll his own links because he’s also a lifer at Augusta. Pop can get boffo seats for any football game in America at any time. He can uncork one of those magic eyeball stares that can weaken men and repair machinery. Plus, he’s in a Nike commercial. Yup, the old man’s quite a winner. That may explain why the son’s such a mystery.

The previous Shula son who went into coaching didn’t fare very well and eventually landed out of football (i.e., How would you like your porterhouse, sir?). And the current son’s trajectory has been a mixed bag. From a distance, it’s a charmed life: brief stints at QB coach for a few teams, landing a job as OC for a Super Bowl contender – even when he was fired from that job, he scored a free trip to Hawaii out of it. Like I said, charmed.

But that one-way flight home from Pro Bowl weekend may be the only time “score” and “Shula” are that closely linked when discussing his Tampa Bay experience. Fans and media types grumbled that while the team’s defense was championship caliber, the conservative and predictable offense fired blanks. Too many field goals, not enough touchdowns. Sound familiar?

If Mike Shula is man enough to be the head football coach at the University of Alabama, these struggles – the special teams miscues, the red zone inefficiency, the depressing line play – will be little more than a stepping stone.

And if he is not? Well, it doesn’t really matter then, does it?

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 20, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/20/06

Halfway through the season, the mood around those following the Alabama Crimson Tide resembles the philosopher’s melancholia religiosa. The losses were wrenching and tense, the wins ugly. And with six chances gone and six more remaining, the team’s yet to put together a complete game. Alabama will have to play considerably better than a mere ‘complete’ game to win tomorrow.

Some onlookers have called for more offensive fubbery, but the results appear unpromising: the lone fake kick attempt resembled an elementary school fire drill and whichever page of playbook contains the direct snap to the tailback should be ripped out, burned, spat upon, buried, and ingested by a family of diarrheic naked mole-rats. Lo, if only the tackle-eligible were still, uh… eligible.

Others suggest scrapping the 3-3-5 for four down linemen. Indeed, had we but world enough and time to break in some new faces up front there might well be such a plan in the works for tomorrow. But such are the hidden losses of ugly wins: your young players stay young, and idle, and on the sidelines. Joe Kines may have been born on a train but he was not born on yesterday’s train, and he likely won’t try to reinvent the defense in front of the largest paying audience in college football.

Last week’s win over Ole Miss re-debuted more than just an old fashion statement. It marked a return to form for Kenneth Darby, not against a hapless and winless Duke team but against an SEC school, who was keyed in on him from the start and still couldn’t stop him.

Darby’s heteroclite, twining running style worked against him in the season’s opening half: he corkscrewed himself through the turf more than through the line. But the injuries and bad luck seem to be behind him now, and just in time. Because despite the accelerated progress of quarterback John Parker Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt and the increased optimism over the offensive line, Alabama’s chances live and die on Darby’s feet.

A few pretty runs from him, and I’ll settle for the ugliest win you can think of.

Roll Tide.

Friday, October 13, 2006

University of Alabama Football (& Concert) Report for 10/13/06

I've got the boys from the winery on the phone, so we'll have to keep this brief.

How I spent my weekend:

How a Memphis DJ/regional comic genius spent his:

And how I wish Alabama would spend this weekend:

Other points of interest:

* Coach O called out Shula's offense as predictable.
* Marc "The Signal-Callin' Sideline Pimp from Cali" Guillon quit the team.
* Alabama will don houndstooth-trimmed jerseys.

All three of those matters share the attribute of being tacky yet meaningless.

Roll Tide

Friday, October 06, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 10/06/06

Twenty years ago today, the man who established Alabama football as a frenzied, myth-drenched, quasi-religion, the man whom they called “Bear”, died. That man, of course, was Wallace Wade.

Wallace Wade?

Yes, Wallace freakin’ Wade, all right? In 1926, he took his Alabama squad on a cross-country train ride to play Washington in the Rose Bowl. Wade, an Ivy League man, knew all too well the attitude that awaited them. Barely two generations removed from the Civil War, it’s no surprise that Alabama was a severe underdog in the game. After all, football is a game of strategy and teamwork. What chance would a squad of Southern boys have?

History records the 1926 Rose Bowl as a hard sell. Local fans didn’t think they’d get their money’s worth watching Washington manhandle a hapless Crimson Tide. One imagines that many ticket-holders may have left after the first half, when the Huskies led by an impressive score of 12-0. Too bad, as those early birds missed a hell of football game, which ended as a one-point Alabama victory.

After that, the Alabama Crimson Tide was big, bad, and nationwide.

A little too big, probably. The notoriety brought increased attention, expectations, and accountability as George Denny, the university’s president – perhaps you thought his last name was ‘Stadium’ or ‘Chimes’, used Bama football to market the school’s image around the nation. Wade eventually left Alabama to coach the football team at—where was it?

Oh yes. Duke.


Freakin’ A, Duke! And he was won just as many games with the Blue Devils as with the Tide. Wade represents the primary crest in the wavelength measurement of Duke football coaches (with our beloved S. Orr Spurrier being the second). Nowadays, Duke football travels the nation accepting big paydays for four-quarter beatdowns. Tomorrow’s stop is Tuscaloosa. Plenty of seats are still available.

So if you go, remember the lessons of Alabama’s first bear. Underdogs are not to be trusted, and stay for the whole game.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 29, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/29/06

Denial: (Second overtime period)
“Well, it’s entirely possible that Arkansas, even if they score a touchdown, could miss an extra point, too, right? I mean, what’s with that ‘Return of the Drunken Master’ pre-kick ritual the punter keeps doing? Maybe all their kickers are that crazy. Plus, Nutt could go for two anyway. He is crazier than a shithouse rat after all. Right?”

Anger: (Saturday afternoon – Monday night)
Oh, anger. You are a bitch.

Bargaining: (nil)
Let’s just hop right into…

Depression: (Tuesday morning – current)
Times like these illustrate the desperation of the football fan during the summer months. Before the season begins, avid football fans seek out the opinions of various recruiting experts and fortune tellers to placate their need for actual football. Many of these aforementioned predictors labeled the Crimson Tide as the third-best team in the SEC’s Western Division, some as fourth.

At the time of their reading, these predictions seemed based in sound observation and accurate appreciation of the talents among our own team and of the competitors. But who reads that crap once the season starts?

Bleach the works, men. We could down those paper cups of methadone all day, but it wouldn’t run the horsepower out of our blood. And that’s why it hurts.

Acceptance: (scheduled prior to kick-off)
Florida’s spread-option offense seems to be working the kinks out quarter by quarter this season. The addition of true freshman Tim Tebow (and his dad?) as the short-yardage specialist previews the headaches awaiting the SEC East next season. But for now, they are Alabama’s next game and that’s all that matter here.

Last year, after an overtime loss to LSU, the Crimson Tide gave the Auburn game away in the first quarter. Much has been said of Mike Shula’s poor play-calling (poor play-non-calling, really) in relying on a true freshman kicker instead his redshirt sophomore quarterback and two junior receivers in the red zone last week. However, in this week’s context, Alabama fans must hope that it was a dumb move by a conservative coach and not the other way around.

This much is certain though: One way or another, this week’s game is unlikely to depend on a kicker.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 22, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/22/06

Due to violations of team rules during the off season, the University of Alabama Football Report blog’s sense of reverence has been suspended prior to the Arkansas game. Thankfully, Simpson, Johns, Hall, and the other four will be dressed and available.

Last week’s announcement that seven players were serving suspensions staggered throughout three games finally dispelled the myth that Alabama fans live perpetually in the past. The uniforms may not have changed much over 50 years, but Alabama football is totally 21st century, baby.

In a landscape populated by million-dollar coaches (losing coaches, at that!), limited scholarship numbers, big-time television, and BCS payoffs, there’s no room for nostalgic ideas of shaping the will of men through violence, teamwork, and – lost most of all – sacrifice.

Most of all, it’s time to pull the shade away from college football and name it what it is: a five-month long job interview for the NFL, a way to keep gamblers home with their families on the weekend, an excuse to mix alcohol and poor fashion, or perhaps just a way to numb away the rest of the world for a few hours.

In Fredy Neptune, Les Murray’s titular protagonist, shocked by the horrors of war, loses all feeling in his body. His psychic leprosy leads others to perceive him as invincible, but though he can’t feel it, the damage’s done just the same. Fredy’s immunity to pain doesn’t relieve him of empathy, though, and knowledge hits him harder than any fist. In the words of one of Fredy’s companions, “What have we learned from this?”

We have learned what matters. We have learned what things are worth. We have learned what we can get away with. We have learned that the job of the head football coach is to win football games.

We learned this a long time ago, but tomorrow we will choose to forget it again. Tomorrow, Alabama is on the road, on national TV, and almost at full strength. Tomorrow, we will lay our money down, feign ignorance, and cheer.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 15, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/15/06

A short time after John Coltrane died, Albert Ayler was visited by a celestial object of unknown origin proclaiming that he and his brother bore the mark of God on their foreheads. At age five, Pixies’ front man Black Francis observed a cigar-shaped missile hovering over his house while he played in the yard; his mother later revealed that the same object had appeared there when she was pregnant with him. I know a recovering librarian in Birmingham who lost a few hours of her life when an immense flash in the sky flooded the rental property she shared with two homosexuals from Mississippi.

Unexplained phenomena follow those who look for them. Last week, against one of the lowest of the lower-tier SEC teams, Alabama trailed at halftime and eked out a win via a legacy leg stepping up for an injured Jamie Christensen – a normal injury; this isn’t Northern Colorado! But for a 2-0 team, Alabama has left many questions unanswered.

What lies at the root of the red-zone problems?

Why has Kenneth Darby been bottled up?

When will defensive players fill the gaps (on the field and in the roster)?

The debate rages, but it could be worse.

Many people find comfort in the shadows. They’d prefer to believe the world fits neatly into a small package with no missing parts and an easy-to-follow instruction manual. This delusion leads the whackadoodles to say ludicrous things like man has never stepped foot on the moon and atrocious things like George W. Bush masterminded the 9/11 attacks. The dark comfort they find, the perverted solace, of an ordered world is worth thinking the order is out to get them: better to accept the New World Order than accept one lunatic with a god complex in a cave or one loser with a lucky shot from a book warehouse can fuck everybody’s shit up.

So if there are answers, like the devil, they are in the details:

Two fumbles.

Hip pointer and missed assignments on the right side of the line.

Soon (I hope).

But what about the mysteries in the sky and the conspiracies on the ground? Well, Ayler and the librarian were probably tripping worse than a one-legged double-dutcher. Ask Bart Sibrel what happens when you accuse Buzz Aldrin of faking it. And W? Please… he traded Sosa… before drug tests!

Black Francis? OK, that dude’s probably from space.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 08, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/08/06

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? … Why does Rice play Texas?

President John F. Kennedy
(September 12, 1962, on sending an American to the moon)

Dream big. Presidents used to talk like that, used to shoot for the moon, literally. Kennedy knew that you don’t sell ambition despite its obstacles but because of them. You offer the promise and the perils, not the mechanics. The benefit of this strategy disarms your critics by using their own artillery against them. Danger? Difficulty? Damn, right.

The current President makes speeches, too. He amuses himself, smirks while announcing the nation’s bold new initiative in “alternative questioning” techniques. The metro-riders across the pond label him a cowboy. First, that’s not an insult. Secondly, he preens a little too much to be a cowboy. I’ve seen Shane: Don’t pick up the gun. Real cowboys eventually help the little guy. When he’s on TV, my President says he worries about me, wants to keep me safe. Somehow though, I feel he thinks differently about me when I’m not watching.

In today’s football climate, the real question is not why Rice plays Texas but why does (the) Ohio State? If (t)OSU had played Rice this time last year instead of Texas, they probably would have played for the National Championship instead of the Longhorns. Big-time inter-conference games like this and Penn State-Notre Dame tomorrow represent one of the few positive side effects from our benevolent multi-headed multi-networked Worldwide Leader's influence on college football. Lee Corso’s employment is a small price to pay for such pleasure.

So if Jack were alive today, he might digress from the PT-109 story he’d be telling Lindsay Lohan long enough to ask a different question: Why did Vandy play Michigan, and why do they play Alabama?

The answer for the first part is that their president offered them up on the altar of guaranteed appearance fees. However, after Kenneth Darby was held to less than 30 yards against Hawaii, Vanderbilt may have a surprising answer to the second. As the Crimson Tide takes the field tomorrow, they would do well to remember they’re not the only ones dreaming big.

Roll Tide.

Friday, September 01, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 9/01/06

Thou art not conquered; beauty’s ensign yet
Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks,
And death’s pale flag is not advanced there.

Romeo and Juliet
(Act V, Scene iii)

The NCAA, in its infantile wisdom, has decreed that college football takes up too much of my time. New regulations affecting game clock operation will shorten actual time of an average game by estimates of half an hour. That equates to ten plays a game (per a PAC-10 coach) or two plays a game (per an SEC coach), and despite our West Coast brethren’s bluster as of late, this mathematical variation does not mean Southerners don’t know how to count. But it does mean we know how to play football and bleed at the same time.

However, the NCAA has agreed with my shrink that college football leaves me with too much idle time as well, as Alabama and every other school in the land will be playing a twelfth game during the regular season. Alabama, unlike other schools, will be doing so without luxury of an off week, which is no problem for me. Without my usual off-week agenda to worry about, I’ll have a few more Vicodin available for New Year’s when I really need them.

Neither of these changes benefit the student athlete, the supposed interest of the NCAA, but benefit television networks and their advertisers like nothing short of the new crime series CSI: Nudist Colony. The only more transparent and crass move would have been for the NCAA to outlaw Native American mascot names and replace them with shoe company logos. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your University of Illinois Fighting Adidas.

Lo, adjustments in college football’s space-time continuum are not the only changes in store for 2006. At the end of Bryant Drive, fans will notice a new face on an old hang out – and I don’t mean the long defunct Chukker. Bryant-Denny Stadium received a seven-figure style renovation over the summer: luxury boxes, high-def scoreboards, imported crimson marble accents. And aligning the new entrance plaza stand four larger-than-scale statues of the four National Championship coaches: Wade (1925, 1926, 1930), Thomas (1934, 1941), Bryant (1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, 1979), and Stallings (1992).

Best of all, at the end of the row sits an empty spot ready for a matching fifth. No pressure, Mike!

Roll Tide.

Friday, August 25, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 8/25/06

I live in an NFL town. Oh, a hockey team plays here, too – when the arena’s not occupied by American Idol tryouts or Vince Gill and Amy Grant’s latest holiday special (Speaking of which, they claim that although they fell in love while both married to other people, they did not consummate their relationship until married to each other. Great, so Amy Grant’s not just a dreadful singer and a home wrecker, she’s also a tease). But no one other than the people forced to live here by the NHL play hockey in this town because this is an NFL town.

I live in an NFL town. Oh, the local university fields a team, but no one gives a shit. They play in the best conference in the nation and are perennially the worst team in said conference. If this school had a top-three NFL prospect quarterback, I bet they wouldn’t even have a winning—uh, never mind. Anyway, all the moral victories in the world don’t matter to the locals. After all, this is an NFL town.

I live in an NFL town. No, we don’t have an NBA team. The NBA team is on the other side of the state but it might as well be on the other side of the planet. Their games aren’t covered here. It would be a waste of airtime because this is an NFL town.

I live in an NFL town. Alas, the NFL team is not very good. But being bad is good because it means we can discuss the draft. Bad teams do very well in the draft. There was talk that perhaps that quarterback from the local university would play for our NFL team, but no. The NFL team took the quarterback from the national championship team, but he will not play. Apparently, one does not become as good as Mike Tomczak or Trent Dilfer overnight (just for fun, Google the phrase “mediocre NFL quarterback” and guess whose name is the first you’ll see?).

I live in an NFL town so I am familiar with the same four variations of the West Coast offense played by all NFL teams. And I wonder if the people who cheer for the NFL team in my NFL town will still cheer for them when the NFL moves their team to Los Angeles, since someone has to move to Los Angeles. Besides, many of those people don’t bother learning the names of the players on their town’s team anyway because those players may be in other towns next season, other NFL towns. The only players they remember are the ones on their fantasy teams because it doesn’t matter which NFL town you’re in when you’re talking about a fantasy team. In fact, I doubt it matters which NFL town you’re in, period.

I know men who can name the third-string back up center on an Alabama squad from ten years ago but I know no one who plays fantasy football for college teams. College football is its own fantasy league and it starts next week.

Roll Tide.

Friday, August 18, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 8/18/06

Expect a light day today on the practice field in advance of tomorrow’s scrimmage, at least as light as any day with 100 plus degree heat index can be in full pads. News from fall camp has fallen into one of two camps so far: persistent, if not frightening, injuries and the moveable feast that is Alabama’s first-string offensive line.

Most of the faithful are optimistic regarding this year’s line, some of it due to the arrival of prized recruit and fashion plate Andre Smith but mostly because the line play couldn’t get much worse. Earlybirds report sighting Andre the Giant (or Andre 3000 lbs. – these nicknames await canonization) lining up at left tackle and picking up on movements not dissimilar with zone blocking techniques.

If this is true, Kenneth Darby will have to adjust his running style and learn that not all plays begin by dodging a down lineman who has bulled his way three yards deep into Alabama’s backfield. Hopefully, Darby has studied old game film of Shaun Alexander behind Chris Samuels (Hint: look for the expansive spaces of green playing field).

With the opening game still weeks away, some may wonder if the constant attention and commentary from the laypeople damages the clergy’s effectiveness. One can’t imagine Bryant’s secret installation of the wishbone offense prior to opening the season at USC in today’s wired, weird world. But privacy survives (I hope), and much of the hullabaloo is hyperbole, as long as we know who’s listening.

On the other hand, with cameras everywhere one must remember one’s stage manners and realize that the language one uses at home may not play well on YouTube. Is it crude to ask if Senator Allen kisses his mother with that mouth?

Roll Tide.

Friday, August 11, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 8/11/06: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

It’s been a busy, brutal summer. While John Parker (Harvey Wilkes Sirhan Sirhan) Wilson ran through “voluntary” workouts on campus, while D.J. Hall did not, while Juwan Simpson lived out a missing verse to an R. Kelly song, and while Ken(neth) Darby seethed over press clippings, I kept the dog days on a leash testing screw-tops, child-proof caps, and my patience until football season starts. Still, it could have been worse.

Part of the summer I spent on a coincidental Death Tour of Memphis, hitting the trifecta of Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum, and Logan Young’s house. Stately Young Manor is within pissing distance of the Liberty Bowl, so that if you are touring the site of Bryant’s last game and are not good with directions, you will turn right when you should have gone straight and be face to face with the front page of the Memphis Commercial Appeal before you have time to sober up. The landscaper will look at you funny and probably call you crazy (you won’t be sure because you don’t speak Spanish), but for a ten spot he will take your picture from across the street.

What more can be said of Graceland? The ginormous sofa. The jungle room. The bullet-riddled television. The monkey.

King, I love you, but your aesthetics are in doubt when even the Japanese – inventors of the robot dog, toilet-based game shows, and Donkey Kong – say, “whoa, I gotta see this!”

The National Civil Rights Museum is perhaps the most misnamed landmark in America. National? Arguably, but it is thoroughly Memphis, based in the same building where Dr. King was slain. Civil rights? Narrowly, yes. Women’s suffrage makes a cameo in the welcome film, Malcom has a poster in the stairway, and the only gay people you’ll see there are probably handing you your credit card receipt in the gift shop. Museum? Well, museums hold artifacts; this place holds ghosts.

Truthfully, the old Lorraine Motel has become the de facto Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial. But this understandable identity crisis probably meets enough expectation to do no harm. The same cannot be said for the museum’s annex across the street, where one can see the sniper’s nest and – unadorned, unannounced, unprepared for, in an evidence case with a small pink strip of paper beneath it – the God-damned bullet.

That bullet’s still doing damage, in Memphis and elsewhere. But another part of Memphis may heal the wound. Call it the inner city, the urban area, the ghetto, or whatever, but in the middle of it sits the old Stax-Volt record label. It’s a music school now. And it offers its own museum that may bolster some of the hope you felt drain away looking across the street at wreath on Room 306. Observe:

We learn two things from the above clip: 1) Otis would have made a hell of a tight end. Seriously, look at the size of him. I’ve seen Steve Cropper around town and he’s a big dude, but he looks like he’s playing a First Act Starmaker Special from the kiddie department up there next to the Big O.

And 2) Otis does not thank you.

You thank Otis. You thank God you got to see Otis.

Roll Tide.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 5/13/06

To hold us over until kickoff.

Roll Tide.

University of Alabama Football Report for 5/13/06

To hold us over until kickoff '07.

Roll Tide.

Friday, April 14, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for Good Friday 2006

Last of the gang to die

I come not to praise Logan Young, et cetera, et cetera.

Aside from the mixed bag of notable and infamous margin notes that become apparent when writing about Logan Young – friend of Coach Bryant, skybox renter, felon – he will possibly be most remembered as the only man known to have died by falling up a flight of stairs.

I first met Logan Young during a fever dream induced by homemade agave wine, brutal and primitive stuff given to me by a Korean-Mexican-American woman I’d followed to an after-show party for the Sex Pistols’ reunion gig in Memphis. The girl’s mother mailed her the wine in a 12oz. plastic Pepsi bottle, and some chemical bonding may have taken place to make the drink more hallucinatory than intended – this was in the days we didn’t fear our mail, so I can’t blame the Post Office’s eradiating machines.

The Pistols were obviously cashing out their fame (rumor was they even – gasp – rehearsed for the tour), and their rage was little more than a novelty act. How serious can you take Johnny Rotten saying, “fuck Elvis,” when to most of the crowd he is Elvis? Rotten was about three “fuck Elvis”es into his rant and I was about a third into the Pepsi bottle when I saw Logan Young. He was naked except for a discreetly placed University of Alabama licensed beer-bottle cozy, and he had heard enough.

“You don’t know anything about Elvis,” he told Rotten. “He could have been a fine split end and was a better singer than you.” He was clutching a stone-tipped spear with both hands and blood was welling up behind his eyes. Later, I followed him toward the Mississippi river and watched him wade into the current, wrestling large catfish to the surface with his bare hands. “The universe feeds me,” he cried. I woke up on the riverbank the next morning wearing Walter Lewis’s Memphis Showboats jersey and he was gone.

The miserable death of Logan Young marks, if not the extinction, then at least the endangered species warning for one philosophy of college football. To be sure, college football is not one bit purer, not one iota less corrupt at the end of this week than it was at the beginning, but the corruption itself is changing. The Cosa Nostra’s been replaced by the corporation. All the swindlers survive, but they’re not as colorful.

Young and his contemporaries sin in that they believe their support equals ownership, and in their ownership they become protective, deceitful, greedy, and deluded. However, these new behind-the-scenes players in college football sin in ownership without support. What’s good for “college football” the television show may not be good for college football itself. At least Young at his worst believed he was helping his team, believed he was part of something bigger than himself.

You can call bullshit on that if you want, tell me that it’s foolish to peddle a bunch of hype onto folks with money, say that people shouldn’t live their lives believing in some fanciful connection to greatness they haven’t earned. Fine. Just wait until Easter mass is finished to say it.

Roll Tide.

Friday, March 10, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report: Spring Practice Baedeker

Days 4 & 5

“Ladies, ladies, ladies, let's strike the pads, please, not lean against them.”
Joe Kines
University of Alabama defensive coordinator

Outside the PAC10 and the WAC (crack the code: everywhere football’s taken seriously), defenses are outpacing offenses this time of year. As such, Alabama’s spring practice has taken on the aspects of a carnival bumper-car ride, occasionally jarring but mostly predictable. Some personnel changes have continued and there is slight but important movement within the depth chart. We gawkers along the fence spend most of our time picking up our jaws whenever Jimmy Johns runs through contact drills.

The only curious thing happening is off the field. One of the onlookers, an elderly man the spitting image of Erhard Raus, has a habit of shouting non sequiturs about his domestic life while the players stretch. During warm ups, General Raus stands and sputters out his declarations as if he’s yelling over a Panzer.

“Anti-bacterial soap has cost me the use of my left arm and the love of my children,” he cries. A few minutes later Raus is screaming his fool head off about the importance of a dust-free fuse box and how one shouldn’t store potatoes in your spare bedroom. I’m not the public-shushing kind – I stopped going to movies when the crowds stopped talking back – but I’m tempted to put the kybosh on the general. Yet there’s just enough chance I’m imagining the whole thing, so it’s best to fold this hand.

The next day, I move closer to Raus and pour on the détente: Care for bratwurst? Ever driven through Europe? Gosh, western Russia looks like a shitty place to stage a war of attrition. Wouldn’t you agree, friend?

The old man ignores me and looks to the practice field. “The sock drawer is a Hollywood pipedream,” he says. “Man should lay socks in the space along his folded shirts.”

Sly fox. This isn’t over, general.

Day 6

I once cancelled a date so I could listen to Wilco's Being There five times through – this two years after I’d all but ignored their opening set for a band by playing air hockey with a buxom luggage saleslady while Jeff Tweedy puckered his voice through bad mutations of Beck and Gram Parsons.

I bring this up as proof that I believe in second chances and to preface that, by an objective standard, the Californian looked, let us say, capable during practice today.

Perhaps he is more comfortable in the offense after watching it from the bench for these past two years. Perhaps he is more comfortable with a fellow California product behind him running the scout team. But whatever the reason, one should remember that his past, non-medically related, troubles came from being a little too comfortable.

He still threw a cheap pick in practice, damn it.

Day 7

“I want the people to remember me as a winner, 'cause I ain't never been nothing but a winner.”
You know who

For about a week now, Kenneth Darby has been wearing an orange jersey. This being Tuscaloosa, you’d guess that orange would be the wrong color for a football player to be wearing, and you’d be right. Orange, among other things, signifies injury.

By Darby’s standards, his injury is barley noticeable. He finished out the 2004 campaign with either a fractured pelvis or a hernia, depending on which press release you believe. This time around, it’s slight soreness in his knees and a bruised ego.

Somewhere along the way, Kenneth Darby got the crazy idea that football players should play football, that your teammates expect you to take the field so you do. This, I know, is an uncomfortable idea for some. It is fully expected that Darby will close out his senior season eclipsing Shaun Alexander, whom you may have heard of, as the all-time leading rusher in the school’s history -- especially if he's running behind Alabama's big-time recruit, Andre the Giant.

In a troubled world, it’s fair to ask why things like this matter. One answer would be that the more troubles you have the more of an escape you need. The PE always had the rebel, but you could shake your ass to the rhythm too. Plus, 91000 people won’t herd into a stadium for a poetry reading, but they’ll come to watch the metaphor in action. As the wars get longer, victories get rarer. You may not make to the entree, so enjoy the appetizer.

Roll Tide.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report: Spring Practice Baedeker

Day 1

I miss the start of practice.

In fact, I miss the whole day’s practice being talked into attending a funeral with a hippie. He’s an old man, a casualty of old ways of thinking, but he likes following his bliss to younger women. He drops piles of hippie smack laced with techno-jargon about his digital Nikon. Next thing you know, the girls are clothed in enough French philosophy to maneuver a cocktail party, and little else. I’ve seen the pictures; he’s a good salesman.

Which probably explains how I end up at funeral for a 23-year-old raver chick, but here’s the kicker: The hippie doesn’t have balls to show.

The raver went missing two weeks ago -- dropped her three-year-old daughter off at grandma’s, said she needed to pick up some groceries, and followed a one-way route through a pawn shop, her dealer’s house, her dealer’s house’s floor, and ultimately here.

Funerals for the young mourn more potential than history. That math is easy to work out, but what I’d not carried into the next column was that the mourners would be equally saved from experience: Should one wear one’s pink mohawk raised up or slicked back when attending a funeral? Should one paint one’s black tear under the right eye or left eye to signify one’s sorrow? Are two tears tacky if the deceased is not a blood relative? Is there a club mix of “A Closer Walk with Thee”?

They ask “why” without wanting an answer. The available answer: The raver’s heart was weak. The raver’s desire was strong. The raver’s dealer was so smacked out of his dome that, when the raver’s aorta burst, he switched the record to something up tempo while he watched her seizures.

Out of their element, the raver’s friends take turns looking uncomfortable and saying saccharin hyperboles to avoid the silence. Because they can’t feel invincible, they try to feel important. Some try to out-grieve one another. One hot number in fishnets implores the crowd through her tounge-stud’s lisp, “You don’t need drugs! It should be about the music!” No, darling, Willie Nelson’s funeral will be about the music.

But god damn it, I’m no cynic. Their grief is real. They’ve been given verbs and conjunctions for a language they’ve never spoken. In truth, it should be this way. You don’t want a world where kids know how to behave at funerals. They’re weakness is that their grief is illiterate. My many weaknesses include patience with aging hippies and being the only person in the room who cares that football started today.

Day 2

Ezekial Knight has been switched from wide receiver to defensive end, where his ability to knock balls thrown in his direction to the ground will be put to better use. Ken Darby is sitting out most practices this spring and doesn’t look happy about it. He’s a bit tweaky in the knees, plus these are spring drills: You don’t hitch a plow behind a thoroughbred.

A Jack’s hamburger restaurant sits across the road from the Crimson Tide’s practice field, and for a moment I’m thinking either they’ve sold me tainted sausage or the Ramada’s minibar bourbon is the most potent on the planet because Alabama’s scrimmage looks to me like a brutal Rubik’s cube colliding and exploding.

However, one of the old timers at the fence explains that Shula has color coordinated the depth chart, game colors for the first team and a rainbow assortment all the way down. It’s a common practice. If you ever donate enough money to your university to be respectable, you may hear Ken Stabler tell the story of when he returned from serving out Coach Bryant’s suspension to find a brown #12 jersey hanging in his locker. Welcome to the shit squad, Snake.

Just to be safe, though, I dump the sausage biscuit and unpocket another baby bourbon.

Day 3

After stopping in three different mini-marts the night before for the right brand of Worcestershire, I finally have the right throw-togethers for a proper Bloody Mary. Unfortunately, while stirring the recipe together I stumble across a more alluring intoxicant: the NFL Network’s coverage of the 2006 scouting combine.

The NFL Network should come with a warning label as it’s more addictive that crack and has the same hold-over buzz. My first twenty minutes are mesmerizing, but then I spend the better part of the morning trying to recapture the initial high. It provides the viewer with the voyeuristic glee of being a professional scout without having to deal with a jackass like Bill Parcells.

The current scuttlebutt, discussed over hypnotic footage of 225-pound benches and 40-yard dashes, is that he who shoots holes in the theory that football is a team sport, Vince Young, has scored a basement-dwelling six points on the Wonderlic Personnel Test used to measure an incoming rookie’s general intelligence.

With a possible total of 50 points up for grab, random probability matrices indicate that a water-filled novelty woodpecker like the one your college roommate turned into a bong would average 12 points on at least one out of four tries.

But there are no geniuses in football anyway. At least that’s what Joe Theismann says, himself no Norman Einstein. On my way to the practice field I ponder the different world Vince Young has entered. It has taken professional football and its bizarre corporate tribalism less that two months to reduce a good kid to a cruel joke.

Once, when asked by a New York reporter if he majored in basket weaving or some such puffery at Alabama, Joe Namath replied that he wasn’t smart enough for that.

So he majored in journalism.

Roll Tide.

Friday, January 06, 2006

University of Alabama Football Report for 1/06/06

It’s been a big week for those from and around the University of Alabama. Shaun Alexander was named MVP of the League. Tyrone Prothro was awarded ESPN/ABC/Disney’s Pontiac’s Game Changing Performance of the Year. The Crimson Tide won their bowl game and landed inside the top ten in the final AP rankings.

As for me, I was booted in the first round of a poker tournament at an off-shore casino, lost a fight, skipped out on a bar tab, and narrowly avoided a spot on the unemployment line. On the bright side, I did answer the bell to see the infernal 10am kick off of the Cotton Bowl and my Player’s Club membership is in good standing. It’s been a weird year.

With time to kill in international waters, I watched Rutgers lose a shoot-out in their first bowl game in three decades, their second bowl game ever, against the same team they played last time. Different score, same result. Hopefully, it won’t take another thirty years for the first school to play college football to make it back.

Slot jockeys have more superstitions than pitchers and more advice than drunks. They’ll lead you to so many altars that your knees will buckle on instinct: Play the same slot all night – never play the same slot twice – always play after someone steps away – never be the next person – always bet the max – never bet the max. Try watching a football game with this noise in the background while you’re drinking your watered down bourbon and Coke.

But to their credit, those who make slot machines stumbled across a great discovery a few years back, one that made their beeping, cash-vomiting robots more popular than ever before: Never pay out.


Even if you win.

Especially if you win.

During halftime, when there’s nothing to keep your attention but highlights of plays you’ve already seen, that’s when you notice the missing sound. You hear the grannies jingling their plastic cups of tokens, you hear the high-speed beeps from the slot wheels revving like a cartoon chainsaw, you hear the buttons being slapped and the levers being released – but you do not hear coin.

In the old days, the only certain joy in the slot room was the payout – not your own, of course, but someone’s. And the payout was signaled by the sudden flush of hard coin into a metal basin at the bottom of the machine, a dull thunder of metal on metal dozens, hundreds, of times in succession. A sound no sweeter to the slot jockey than “Come home, faithful servant” to a Christian.

However, the digital revolution has taken God’s voice from the slot room. Instead of coin, now there is credit and the slot jockey can do one of two things with this credit – pay it out or play it again. The reason you never hear coin is the same reason you never see just five beer cans in your neighbor’s recycle bin.

Sadly, that’s how it is with college football lately. There’s a lot of credit and seldom little coin. So if ever I were to get ahead, I hope somewhere in the back of my brain I’ll remember to pay out. After all there is some coin out there to be had: Rutgers even making a bowl, Spurrier beating Fulmer again, Reggie Bush stacking up 500 yards past midnight, Navy running the triple option, Joe Pa going batshit crazy, Brodie Croyle hitting two bench seniors in a row to set up the last winning drive of his college career, wounded ducks winning the Cotton Bowl, DeMeco freakin’ Ryans, and Vince Young being the biggest man in America by playing like a kid in the backyard – a very fast, very big kid who it turns out can read zone coverage and escape the blitz.

See you at spring practice.

Roll Tide.